show stopping argosy
This eye-catching 2010 Freightliner Argosy is the pride of the fleet amongst the variety of trucks and trailers which carry the Bells Amusements carnival around Australia.
Elwin Bell senior, a 74-year-old showman, has been travelling highways and byways all over mainland Australia for as long as he can remember. In that time he’s had to be good at improvising with trucks and trailers.
For example, travelling up the infamous Clyde Mountain in southern New South Wales in the early 1960s with his showman father Roy, the big end went in the old truck they were driving.
Elwin drove one of the other convoy vehicles to Goulburn to get new bearings, which they then had to fit into the old engine five times before getting it up the mountain.
When Roy Bell kicked off with a boxing tent in 1924, the Hume Highway was dirt, the only bitumen was between Melbourne and Geelong, and his wife could get out and walk at points along Victoria’s Great Ocean Road and in the Snowy Mountains of NSW.
Really steep bits required going up in the stronger reverse gear, while the downhill brakes included a log dragging on the back.
The founding couple’s first truck was a threequarter ton T-model Ford, but in 1938 they splashed out on a brand-new International prime mover, incorporating a very early version of the sleeper cab for Elwin’s older brother and sister.
The Inter pulled a custom-made all metal trailer,
which was a big deal in itself in those days. Elwin loves old trucks and has a fully restored 1948 tray body Chevvy – his first truck – sitting in his shed at home in Queanbeyan, near Canberra. Not that he and wife Sandra are home much.
Also retired at Queanbeyan are three old W model Kenworths, the oldest a 1962 “Seattle” model with a two-stroke 871 Detroit in it.
“Just put a bit of rego on any of them and you can jump in and go to Darwin,” Elwin says.
Also recently retired is an old fibreglass Atkinson.
Was Elwin worried about rolling over in a plastic cab?
“If you drive sensibly you shouldn’t be in a rollover,” Elwin replies. “You don’t want to roll over in any of them.”
Elwin reckons the Atkinson with its 350 horsepower (257kW) 871 GM engine was the biggest truck on the Australian show circuit 35 years ago.
“I lost the title for a while but I’ve got it back,” says Elwin proudly, referring to his 2002 Freightliner Argosy with a 600hp Cat in it.
The old 18 speed Argosy is comfortable and “goes very nice”, he adds.
Meanwhile, Elwin Bell Junior is equally happy with his 2010 Argosy, with its 550hp (405kW) Detroit DD15 engine and Eaton automated manual transmission.
He bought it two years ago for $85,000 from a Blue Circle Southern Cement contractor with 700,000 kilometres on the speedo, and has only put 40,000 kilometres on it.
“It’s been terrific, the best truck I’ve ever bought,” Elwin Jr says. He says he’s had no problems with it, and has only put a new Horton fan and clutch in it as precautionary measures.
“It’s beautiful inside, with a great big bed,” adds Elwin. The bunk is cooled by a Kubota diesel motor, which if left on standby, will also automatically fire up to keep the batteries charged.
That’s because the Freightliner could be parked up for a week at a time at a show, and when
Deals on Wheels spotted it, the Argosy was spending nearly a month at the NSW holiday hotspot of Batemans Bay while the nightly carnival went on around it.
Not that Elwin sleeps in the truck much, because he and wife Selina have a 50-foot trailer home they live in.
Selina tows the trailer behind a single drive DAF which is short enough for the combination to stay under 19 metres.
Elwin says the DAF’s 430hp (316kW) Paccar engine will “pull anything”.
The Freightliners and DAF are part of a mixed fleet which includes the Volvo, Mercedes-Benz, Kenworth, Isuzu and UD brands, in both prime mover and rigid form. The Bells do routine servicing themselves, and they and their other drivers have to be jacks of all trades with the rides as well.
Fascinatingly, the Bells Amusements rides – ‘thrills without the spills’ – are also their own trailers.
‘No Limit’, ‘Thunderbolt’, the ‘Cha Cha’ and so on all fold down on top of the axles to move on to the next town or city. They are inspected by engineers every 12 months.
Registration for the trailers and trucks is a very sore point with the Bells.
The company is charged the same as if they were running their equipment 24 hours a day, rather than the 15,000 to 20,000 kilometres a year which the Bells believe justifies a plant hire rego rate.
It’s beautiful inside, with a great big bed.
Elwin Bell Snr Bells’ ‘terrific’ carnival carrying Argosy.
Left: Three of five generations in Bells Amusements: Elwin Bell senior, Roy Bell, Elwin Bell Jr and Selina Bell.
Right: The Argosy’s plush interior.