WORST DAY OF HIS LIFE
Ted Scarfe has retired after 60 years on the road. He tells Tamara Whitsed about the worst memory of his long career
TRUCKS HAVE changed dramatically during the years Ted Scarfe has spent on the road.
“I started driving trucks in 1957, and I stopped driving them earlier this year,” says Ted, 76, who lives in Cooranbong, New South Wales, with his wife Joy.
“The first truck that I ever really drove was when I was working in the bush at Club Terrace in East Gippsland. I drove a Leyland Comet with a timber jinker on it.”
That was back in 1957, and the Leyland only had 75hp. Compare that to the 500hp cab-over Kenworth he was driving when he retired earlier this year.
Ted has plenty of great memories: the camaraderie of the 1960s; his transition from employee to owner-driver in 1963; crossing the Nullarbor when 2500km of the road was still dirt; induction to the National Road Transport Hall of Fame in 2007; and publication of his autobiography, Diesel in My Veins, in 2015.
But not all the memories are good. In his book Ted refers to a fatal accident on the Hume Highway as “the worst day of my life”.
“That accident happened in 1976, and I can describe it to you in detail right now,” he tells Owner//Driver. “It’s something that has never left me, and it never will.”
He was in his new Kenworth K125 carting vegetable oil for Brambles Bulk Haulage.
Gunning hadn’t yet been bypassed from the Hume Highway, so at 3am he was winding his way through the Cullerin Ranges, NSW.
He slowed to about 50km/h because of the rain and fog. A car travelling towards him was less cautious and crossed double lines to overtake another truck. Ted hit the brakes as soon as he saw headlights on his side of the road. He steered as far left as he was able but the car slid into the front of Ted’s truck.
When the collision was over, Ted’s Kenworth was in a paddock, leaning to the right, and his two passengers were piled on top of him.
With minor injuries, all three managed to climb out of the truck. Fortunately the other truck avoided the collision.
But a passenger in the car died instantly and a second car passenger died in hospital. Ted later needed a hip replacement.
The subsequent emotional scars have affected his life more than the physical injuries.
“I travelled up and down that old highway for many years after the accident. Every time I went past that particular point, there’d be a shiver down my spine.”
He blames the accident for the depression he has experienced in the decades since.
“I think if I hadn’t had that accident I probably would’ve never had any depression. Prior to that, even though you were poor and it was hard work and you travelled a lot of miles, there was really nothing that got you too disappointed.”
Looking back, Ted says one good thing came out of the accident – his long friendship with John Duff, a policeman who arrived at the scene.
He believes other police attending accidents could learn from John’s example and “go in there with an open mind and an open heart”.
“Any time I hear of a truck accident involving a car, irrespective of who’s in the wrong … I know exactly how that truck driver is feeling. I’d love to be able to go and talk to them and try and help them to get through the trauma that they’re going to have, because that trauma is never ever going to leave them.”
Ted says it is important for people who have witnessed or been involved in road accidents to talk about their experience.
“You need to either talk to somebody who has experienced that sort of trauma, or talk to somebody that you feel that you can honestly talk to and safely talk to.”
He challenges those who believe men shouldn’t cry: “There’s nothing wrong with showing your emotions.”
Ted knows drivers who left the industry because of road trauma but he is glad support from his family helped him continue to work and enjoy a long and rewarding career.
One of his career highlights was buying his first truck in 1963 – a second-hand International AB 184. This was followed by a Deutz Jupiter, a B Model Mack, the 1975 Kenworth K125, a 1924 Mercedes, an AEC Mandator and a 14304 MAN.
He also owned a Grey Ghost K125CR for a while. He bought it from Kwikasair in 1973.
As a subcontractor, Ted moved freight for Kwikasair, Brambles, Mayne Nickless, Fluid Freight, F Murray, R&H Transport, TNT, Ken Thomas, Barney Kerr, Frigmoble and others. He sold the last of his trucks in 1998.
Since then he has clocked up millions of miles as a staff driver.
“I preferred being an owner-driver but I wouldn’t be one these days. There’s not the camaraderie, and there are more demands on you now than what there was.”
Ted also spent a few years driving coaches: “The freight used to walk on and off. But sometimes the freight was a bit hard to get on with.”
A chapter of Ted’s book is devoted to the accident. Writing this chapter was therapeutic, but that isn’t what inspired him to write the book.
“I’ve been telling the different stories in my life to other people and they’d say, ‘Well, why don’t you put it in a book?’”
He began writing it in about 2000. “I just wrote stories as they came to mind,” he says. Ted published Diesel in my
Veins in 2015 to raise funds for the National Road Transport Hall of Fame at Alice Springs which sells the book for $15 plus postage.
Phone 08 8952 7161 or email [email protected]transporthall.com to order a copy.
“I’d love to be able to go and talk to them and try and help them to get through the trauma”
Ted Scarfe is enjoying retired life at Cooranbong, NSW and powerful more comfortable Trucks have become in 1957 since Ted began driving
Ted pulled a B-double with this Kenworth * Support after a traumatic event can aid recovery. For help or information talk to your local GP or health professional. For phone support, contact BeyondBlue 1300 22 4636 or MensLine Australia 1300 78 99 78....
An AEC Mandator