Fast & fu­ri­ous

Deals on Wheels - - Contents -

A relic from a time when ex­press was a whole dif­fer­ent ball game

full-time un­til the mid-80’s when it was re­tired in favour of a 1418 Benz. The AB’s fi­nal rest­ing place was un­der a tree at the fam­ily farm.

The O’Con­nell trans­port job was rel­a­tively sim­ple – get in the loaded truck, get out of town and then hold her flat. For the most part th­ese trips were changeovers; the O’Con­nell trucks orig­i­nally had dis­tinc­tive blue clear­ance lights on top of the cab. There were no CB ra­dios of course, so once you saw your changeover truck you’d pull up, grab your bag walk across the road and jump be­hind the wheel of the other truck.

The blue clear­ance lights soon raised the ire of the wal­lop­pers so th­ese were then changed to or­ange lights mounted on a tri­an­gle plate above the cab.

Ac­cord­ing to Hans, Bill O’Con­nell Se­nior how­ever, would watch as the fuel bill steadily rose when the driv­ers were on changeover work be­fore declar­ing that ev­ery­one then had to go straight through. Sure enough, the fuel bill would then go down.

On straight through work Hans reck­ons that the Chrysler small block would guz­zle through 450 litres of fuel. Com­pare that to the 580 litres or so of diesel an av­er­age B-dou­ble would use on the Hume th­ese days!

HAL­CYON DAYS

Hans grins at the rec­ol­lec­tion. “When you were do­ing changeovers you could spend a bit more time so­cial­is­ing on the way home. But be­cause you were drag­ging the chain you’d drive even faster to make up time. If any­thing was said you’d just blame it on your changeover be­ing late.”

This truck was the sole In­ter in the fleet. The other seven trucks were 7-Se­ries Dodge AT4s. “The In­ter­na­tional V8 only lasted for about 50,000 miles be­fore blow­ing up; they’d had a bit of trou­ble with it,” Hans re­calls. “So the de­ci­sion was made to re­power it with the en­gine and gear­box out of one of the Dodges that had been rolled.”

The In­ter re­tained its orig­i­nal Num­ber 4 Ea­ton two-speed diff and six-spoke spi­der hubs.

It’s hard to imag­ine any trans­port com­pany in this day and age be­ing built on the need for speed. Back then the speed limit for trucks was 40mph, but th­ese trucks were geared to travel at be­tween 70 and 80mph, nearly twice the le­gal limit.

“They used to give us 13 hours but you could do it in 12 if you drove fast,” Hans reck­ons. “The best time I ever did it in 10-and-a-half hours.

“But in those days once you were out of town there was no­body else on the road af­ter dark.”

INTERDODGENAL

There are of course plenty of sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween the AB In­ter and the 7-Se­ries Dodge. The In­ter cab was pressed lo­cally by a di­vi­sion of Chrysler and con­versely In­ter­na­tional helped out by cast­ing parts for Dodges.

This par­tic­u­lar truck has had its share of ex­ploits over the years. “One bloke put it up­side at the hole in the wall at Pic­ton,” Hans says. “He reck­ons he ran out of brakes.”

Which could well be true. While th­ese old bangers could get up and go at high­way speeds those old brak­ing sys­tems were never awe­some.

As the Viet­nam War ramped up dra­mat­i­cally, the O’Con­nell trucks were some­times called upon to grab mil­i­tary sup­plies at the Ban­di­ana Army base near Wodonga. “I even carted some ma­chine guns one night!” Hans says.

Once the load was de­liv­ered to Mas­cot, O’Con­nell driv­ers would then find a place to park and stretch out for a kip across the front seats.

The In­ter­na­tional V8 only lasted for about 50,000 miles be­fore blow­ing up

Han’s wife Peta also came along on a few trips. “I loved it,” she en­thuses. “It was bit scary some­times though.”

Even today Peta loves go­ing for a run in the old banger. In fact, it was Peta who en­cour­aged Hans to re­store the truck to its for­mer glory.

As we chat the sto­ries from back in the day start to flow.

STORY TIME

“One night up near Goul­burn the rear diff neau­tralised!” Hans says of some his more colour­ful mem­o­ries be­hind the wheel. “Be­cause I had no gears I had no hand­brake ei­ther, I had to roll to a stop, grab the jack from un­der the seat and hand out the door to throw it un­der the back of the front wheel as a chock!

“That was the only way to hold it while I hit the diff with a ham­mer to get it back into gear,” Hans says.

O’Con­nell trucks were fit­ted with three fuel tanks, two side tanks and one cen­tre tank lo­cated un­der the driver’s seat. “When the en­gine started to splut­ter you’d just switch the fuel tank tap to an­other tank.”

Hav­ing a fuel tank un­der your butt while driv­ing at high speed must’ve been a pretty good in­cen­tive to keep it shiny side up.

One night a high­way pa­trol car pulled Hans up. “I hadn’t filled out my log book.” So Hans let the truck roll back away from the po­lice car a bit to stall for time as he madly scrib­bled in the dark. Luck­ily the of­fi­cer saw the funny side of things as only the car­bon copy of the log­book page had reg­is­tered any info, “I’d been writ­ing with the wrong end of the pen!”

CLOSE SHAVE

Han’s clos­est shave hap­pened when climb­ing Sylvia’s Gap one night. “A Ley­land semi was crawl­ing up the grade so I pulled out to over­take, just as an­other truck crested the hill com­ing my way.” The lop-sided grin re­turns as Hans con­tin­ues, “I hit the brakes to pull back in be­hind the Ley­land, trou­ble is so did the driver of the Ley­land! We ended up al­most at a stand­still side by side look­ing at each other with an­other truck bar­rel­ing to­wards me. It was a close thing but I got it go­ing again.”

Hans drives the In­ter out of town, that V8 ex­haust note is a glo­ri­ous thing, es­pe­cially as it needs a boot full of revs to make the truck move.

DRIVE TIME

Then it’s my turn to take the wheel. I roll out onto the Hume Free­way work­ing my way up through the gear­box. This thing ham­mers along for an old truck! That ex­haust note climbs to a crescendo

but I de­cide to be a good boy and stick to the high­way limit.

We turn off the free­way at Win­ton to get a glimpse of what it would’ve been like to fang this truck on a skinny sin­gle lane road.

With the In­ter wound up I can’t get over how tight this truck is to drive. Hans reck­ons there’s a bit of free play in the steer­ing box, how­ever I didn’t think it was that no­tice­able.

Hans com­pletely re­stored this truck in his back yard, do­ing ev­ery­thing him­self, “Ex­cept for paint, I’m no good at paint­ing.”

HOWL­ING V8

As I drive I find it hard to be­lieve that this is a 55 year old truck. I try and pic­ture what it must’ve been like back then, flames spit­ting from the dual ex­hausts in the dark­ness, the Lu­cas demis­ter keep­ing a lit­tle patch of wind­screen clear of frost and ice, a tiny af­ter­mar­ket heater pro­vid­ing a small amount of heat. Swing­ing that mas­sive steer­ing wheel as the white lines flick past at a manic pace.

The howl­ing note of 361 an­gry cu­bic inches re­ver­ber­at­ing off road­side cut­tings in the dead of night. At odds with the calm idle, wind noise and driv­e­line whine as the speedo cranks off the clock in an­gel gear on a de­scent.

The five-speed syn­chro ‘box is an easy shift and the two-speed diff shifts rea­son­ably quickly. Both Hans and I are grin­ning like idiots as we roll into Glen­rowan.

Hans points out the old Glen­rowan Post Of­fice. “Betty Poep­ple was the Post Mistress here back then, she was Bill O’Con­nell’s daugh­ter,” Hans says. “If we were held up on the road we used to pull up and bang on the back door in the mid­dle of the night to give her the mes­sage, she’d then call the de­pot and let them know we were run­ning late.”

Driv­ing this truck is a blast, the sight sound and feel of mov­ing at speed. Th­ese trucks were still ply­ing the Hume as the Grey Ghosts be­came the main­stay of overnight freight. “The Ken­worths were about 10mph faster on the flats, but we were al­ways chas­ing them, and we could stick with them on the cor­ners and hills,” Hans says.

Truck­ing soon moved into the age of diesel, O’Con­nell Trans­port closed in 1972 and by this time Detroit and Cum­mins were be­com­ing the dom­i­nant mid­night sound­track on the Hume. Small block V8s con­tin­ued to have their place for a lit­tle while longer in smaller Dodge AT4s and Ford F100s haul­ing news­pa­pers. How­ever, the writ­ing was on the wall for petrol power as it grad­u­ally faded from the high­way.

For Hans and Peta Jensen how­ever, those days have never re­ally ended.

1. 2. 3. This 1962 AB 180 In­ter­na­tional is an old high­way hero and a relic of 1960’s ex­press freight

The UHF ra­dio is the only con­ces­sion to moder­nity in this old fire breather

Hans Jensen drove this In­ter as an em­ployee of O’Con­nells in the late 60’s. He then bought the truck when the com­pany closed its doors in the early 70’s

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