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.

Deals on Wheels - - News & Reviews - Steve Skin­ner writes

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.

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