Peter Thompson’s Peterbilt is an ideal fit for an owner-driver who has twice helped move AC/DC on tours around Australia from his home base at the aptly named ‘The Rock’.
The locals call it the “lion of the plains”, a stunning geological formation which rises up from the surrounding grazing and cropping country between Wagga Wagga and Albury in southern NSW.
The Rock Hill towers over the small town named after it, which caught global attention in 2014 when legendary Aussie rockers AC/DC launched their 15th studio album Rock or Bust there.
Peter Thompson’s fleet of five ‘Thommo’s Express’ trucks is based at The Rock. So it was appropriate that Thommo should enjoy the privilege of towing a trailer full of concert gear for AC/DC’s ‘Rock or Bust’ Australian tour behind his rugged-looking 379 Peterbilt.
“I loved it,” says the AC/DC fan, who adds the transport was well organised. “I met some nice blokes there.”
Peter is referring to other tow operators, but he did meet the band members while helping transport them around Australia during an earlier tour in 1997.
“They’re short fellers,” he recalls. “They only come up to your shoulders.”
In April Peter met another celebrity in the form of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, and yarned
with him for about 15 minutes. Caught up in the minimum rates mess, Peter was part of the truck convoy in Canberra on the eve of the abolition of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal.
Peter, partner Carolyn and daughter Jess found themselves plastered all over the national media, along with the Peterbilt of course.
Peter Thompson, 48, has been an owner driver for most of his adult life since buying an old Ford LNT9000 when he was 21.
Growing up in Yass on the Hume Highway in the days when interstate trucks used to rumble through town, Peter reckons he and a mate could pick a model of truck unseen, from the sound of the engine.
So it’s no surprise that three years ago the trucking tragic achieved a lifetime goal in owning this great-looking Peterbilt, manufactured in the United States in 2000 and converted to right-hand drive in 2007 by Frank Christie of Melbourne.
The big Pete is nearly 9 metres long with a 6.6-metre wheelbase supporting a massive 63-inch bunk with fridge, TV and cabinets. It’s got a 14-litre Cummins N14 engine putting out 525 horsepower (386kW) and 1650 pound-foot of torque (2240Nm); a 10-speed box about to be replaced with an 18 speed; and 3.7 Spicer diffs.
Peter says the engine is “brilliant” on fuel and reckons it rides like an armchair. “You don’t feel bumps,” he adds. “You have to remember where it’s rough and slow down for the sake of the truck.”
As well as touring work the Peterbilt pulls a float at times and helps out with single trailer general and express work. The rest of the fleet is Kenworth – a T950, T601, 404ST and Aerodyne.
“I fix them up before they break down,” Peter says of his trucks. “That’s what you have to do otherwise you wouldn’t be in the business.
“I don’t see many owner-driver trucks on the side of the road, but I do see a lot of company trucks.”
Running five trucks is a seven-day-a-week job with Peter doing all the routine maintenance himself, including bearings (except for the steers).
Most parts for the Peterbilt come from the
US, but occasionally Peter can improvise – for example, by using International ACCO engine mounts.
If he gets stuck with something on any of the trucks, mate and next-door neighbour Ian Birch,
I love owning my trucks and I love being a boss. Sometimes I think I’m an idiot … but I do it because I love it.
a former diesel mechanic, is usually on hand to help out. For bigger jobs Peter uses the Toll workshop in Wagga – which is open to the public – or Detroit.
“I love owning my trucks and I love being a boss,” Peter says proudly. “Sometimes I think I’m an idiot … but I do it because I love it.”
Peter Thompson says he can’t do what he does without the support of Carolyn, along with Jordan, 18 (a builder) and Jess, 11.
Carolyn works a couple of days a week in nearby Wagga Wagga as well as doing the books for the business, with regular help from an accountant.
She says in the early days she couldn’t pick the difference between a Kenworth and a Peterbilt, identifying the trucks only by their colours.
It’s Jess who has been the other truck nut in the family since she began travelling with Peter as a two-year-old. Jess still rides with her Dad every school holidays, and most weekends helps out at the shed just a block away from home, including truck washing.
However, despite all the grease and grime, Jess wants to be a beautician when she grows up.
1. Thommo’s Express family affair: Peter, Jess, Carolyn and Jordan. 2. That’s a long bonnet. 3. The Pete is like a small apartment inside. 4. Getting up front and personal. 5. Frontal protection from Bar Up Bullbars of Wagga Wagga. 1
Main: Impressive sights: The Rock’s Peterbilt. Inset: Peter, Pete and family with a familiar face in Canberra