How the Leech family ended up in trucking
IN THE years I’ve been writing about trucks and the men who drive them, I’ve been lucky to come into contact with some wonderful characters.
They are blokes who have dozens of great and often funny stories, interspersed with the odd very sad one.
In Part 3, the final in the series for now, we meet yet more characters of the industry.
Some 77 years ago, at age 17, Jack Leech started a trucking business in Castlemaine, Victoria, with a Maple Leaf Chevrolet.
After the Chevrolet came a Dodge. Whatever needed carting, Jack carted. From those early days, Jack built up a fleet of 20 trucks.
Married to Dot, the couple raised three boys who all eventually moved into the business. The eldest, Jeff, was the quiet one, followed by Graham, the mouth, and lastly Owen.
Jeff didn’t immediately follow in his father’s footsteps, instead taking up a trade as a fitter and turner.
“Three years of that was enough for me, so I got my licence and that was it.”
Graham worked for a local wool mill for six months and then told the boss to get stuffed because he wasn’t paying him enough. The boss rang Jack and told him that his son had abused him.
Jack replied, “If he did, he must’ve had a good reason.”
So it was into the family business for him as well.
Owen, having watched his brothers fail in other ventures, wisely decided not to fight fate and, leaving school at 14 and a half, joined them in the company, serving petrol at the family- owned Golden Fleece servo (now a Shell) before jumping behind the wheel – like his brothers, before he had a licence.
“I figure the statute of limitations is long past, so I don’t mind admitting it,” he said. “As I remember, the coppers never paid me too much attention.”
Jeff’s first driving was at 15 from Castlemaine to Elmore to Shepparton where he hand-loaded canned fruit.
“The old man was in the truck with me. Coming out of Elmore, a copper pulled us over and declared I was too young to be driving. ‘No he’s not,’ replied the old man, ‘he is learning,’ forgetting that we had no L-plates on.
“We managed to get away with it, only because I had already started shaving and Dad sort of convinced the cop I was 17.
“They must’ve found out my real age because a month later an official warning in bold red print arrived in the mail not to do it again. Back then the government didn’t realise how much money they could make out of fines. Wouldn’t happen these days.”
“We had a big fleet of Internationals,” said Owen.
“They were the truck of the day. We bought the first R 200 that International in Bendigo sold. We had a few problems with it. It would grab a piston at 75 miles an hour so you would have to pull up and wait for the motor to cool down.
“The standard line was: ‘But Dad, I was only doing 40.’ ”
❝ They must’ve found out my real age because a month later an official warning arrived in the mail not to do it again ... Wouldn’t happen these days.
— Jeff Leech
GREAT MEMORIES: Jeff Leech remembers his first trip driving in the truck.
Graham Leech started out at a wool mill before trucks.
Owen Leech started working for the family business at 14.