Hall of fame for Co­bram driver

The Cobram Courier - - NEWS - By Gra­hame Whyte

It was a big sur­prise to Co­bram’s Bob Willis when he went to the Na­tional Road Trans­port Hall of Fame in Alice Springs with his wife.

‘‘Un­be­knownst to me, I got in­ducted,’’ Mr Willis said.

‘‘I started driv­ing at 14 and my fam­ily used to own the ser­vice sta­tion at Strath­mer­ton at the time,’’ he said.

‘‘There was an el­derly chap who used to come into town from Ulupna Is­land, and he got to the stage where he couldn’t drive.

‘‘He left the car with me and said, ‘When I ring up I want you to come and get me and bring me into town’.

‘‘Then when I was fin­ished I would bring the car back.’’

Mr Willis started cart­ing fruit to the Shep­par­ton can­nery when he was 16 and was cart­ing hay and bags of wheat.

‘‘I was 17 when two of the lo­cal po­lice of­fi­cers went out when I hap­pened to be load­ing fruit and they said, ‘Bob, have you got your li­cence yet?’ ‘‘I said, ‘No, I’m not old enough’. He said, ‘Well, don’t let us catch you on the high­way’ and I said okay. ‘‘They were the good old days. ‘‘We were load­ing fruit cases — none of these bulk bins — and cart­ing them to Kyabram and Shep­par­ton.

‘‘The truck driver did ev­ery­thing him­self, in­clud­ing stack­ing and un­load­ing at the can­nery.

‘‘I am still work­ing at 76 — I’ve worked hard all my life. Hard work won’t hurt any­one.’’

In the fam­ily busi­ness Mr Willis took on the truck driv­ing and at 18 was due to take a load of fuel in 44-gal­lon drums to a dozer con­trac­tor from Strath­mer­ton who was work­ing over at Conargo.

He thought it was time to visit the lo­cal cop­per and get his li­cence sorted.

‘‘I pulled up at the po­lice sta­tion and parked the Bed­ford and fuel trailer out­side.

‘‘The po­lice­man said, ‘What can I do for you, young bloke?’ I said I want to get my driver’s li­cence and he asked what I was driv­ing.

‘‘I said, ‘See that truck out there?’ ‘Oh, all right, here’s your com­bi­na­tion,’ he said. He just wrote down HC — heavy com­bi­na­tion.’’

Mr Willis has ex­pe­ri­enced some dra­matic changes in the trans­port in­dus­try dur­ing his many decades as a driver.

He said B-dou­bles had prob­a­bly re­duced some con­ges­tion as far as prime movers were con­cerned, but it was still dif­fi­cult for the op­er­a­tors to make money.

‘‘It’s a dif­fer­ent world nowa­days.’’

Mr Willis and his wife Jan had five chil­dren.

‘‘We lost one to a truck ac­ci­dent 20-odd years ago. Now we have about 14 grand­kids,’’ he said.

‘‘I have been do­ing well — I’ve been truck driv­ing for 61 years.

‘‘I’ve been out and done a load this morn­ing — I do a load ev­ery day. I start at seven o’clock in the morn­ing, or ear­lier if I am go­ing fur­ther.

‘‘We still go to Jer­ilderie and I was over at Nathalia this morn­ing. From Wunghnu to Yar­ra­wonga, we cover a fair bit of coun­try.

‘‘Grand­fa­thers, fa­thers and sons — three gen­er­a­tions I have de­liv­ered to.’’

Long haul: Bob Willis from Co­bram has been hon­oured with in­clu­sion in the Trans­port Hall of Fame and (right) the framed tes­ti­mo­nial that hangs in the Na­tional Road Trans­port Hall of Fame.

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