Mack Valueliner is a reminder of how one truck accelerated a fuel delivery company’s growth
John Payne says mateship is the best thing about the trucking industry. Tamara Whitsed travels to Mulwala to learn about his 50 years on the road
OWNER-DRIVER JOHN PAYNE has been trucking since the 1960s, and the 70-year-old still works full time when his business is busy. If he’s not behind the wheel of his Kenworth K200 quad dog you’ll probably find him screening sand at his sandpit north of Mulwala, New South Wales, or feeding Herefords at his farm at Myrtleford, Victoria. “We’ve got regular sand runs. They’re 50 weeks of the year,” John says. He fills his Hercules tippers with sand, gravel, fertiliser, lime, gypsum and grain for delivery throughout north-east Victoria and the Riverina, NSW. He also collects fertiliser from Geelong.
“The K200 keeps the bread and butter on the table,” he says. It is painted in his favourite shade of blue.
“It stands out good with the aluminium bodies, I reckon, and the aluminium wheels.”
His back-up truck is a Kenworth K125, which his parttime employee, Nan Carrow, likes to drive. If there’s more freight than his two trucks can carry, John subcontracts to his mates. Good health has helped him enjoy a long career.
“I suppose it’s just motivation. It’s self-discipline, diet and a bit of exercise if you can find the time.”
His work allows him to eat at home most nights, and he is glad he can avoid highway tucker. John believes exercise is an important issue now because manual labour is rarely part of a truckie’s day. “In the old days it was shovelling grain out of flat top trailers, double-tarping, loading wool. There’s no manual work anymore.”
In his day, hand-loading pumpkins or watermelons was as demanding as any gym session. “You put straw on the floor and every watermelon had to be packed in straw. And pumpkins had to be hand on, hand off.”
There was no time to rest after he hand-loaded bags of potatoes at Daylesford, Victoria. He would climb straight in the truck, drive to Sydney, and then unload by hand.
“We didn’t know any different. We were fit, I suppose.” Today there is less heavy lifting and more pen pushing. John resents the paperwork involved in running a couple of trucks, his sandpit and the farm. “It’s over-governed.”
He delegates the paperwork to his bookkeeper, Leanne Laffan. “She’s great. She knows farming and trucks.”
John has spent most of his life in Yarrawonga-Mulwala, on the Victoria-NSW border. He attended school there but left when he was 14 to drive a dump truck and dozer with his father, Brud Payne, at a Myrtleford quarry.
He began trucking in his teens and is proud to name
Les Stewart of Mulwala and Hec and Pod Francis of Corowa Trading among his first employers.
His uncle, John Flanagan, was also a great mentor, and helped him find work at East Coast Transport.
During his three years with East Coast Transport, John travelled overnight to Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide in an ERF. The British truck didn’t have a sleeper, but this didn’t matter, John says, because he didn’t do much sleeping back then.
Highway life was exciting, but the interstate work kept him away from his family. “I had five kids under about seven.”
So in the late 1970s he became an owner-driver. First he bought a V8 Ford. Soon after he bought the International TranStar he had earlier driven for Corowa Trading. “I had it for years. It made us money.”
Based in Mulwala, the business specialised in earthmoving, sand and gravel. The local community showed great support. “We gave them the service. They gave us the work.”
At first he sourced his gravel and sand from local farmers. He established his own sandpit on leased land north of Mulwala in the 1980s and bought the property about five years ago.
Of all the trucks John has driven, his favourite rig was a Mack Super-Liner B-double. He liked it because of the road handling and stability. “I’m a bit long in the wheelbase,” he says, referring to his 183cm height. “Everything was just in the right position.” He sold it recently because it was “too heavy on fuel and too heavy on tare weight”.
He has had several great employees through the year, including Ian Bond. John loved working with his brothers too.
“It’s selfdiscipline, diet and a bit of exercise if you can find the time.”
Colin ‘Cab’ Payne operated his own transport business. “We used to work together, sharing the trucks around.” And Chris Payne worked with them for a while.
Business was thriving in the 1990s but the tragic loss of his brother Cab in a road accident prompted John to reassess his priorities. He decided to downsize by selling the most demanding divisions – the backhoe and excavation service and garden supplies business.
He chose to concentrate on bulk transport, “just to get out and have more space, more freedom”.
He still operates the sandpit near Mulwala. And he expects to be carting sand out of there for years to come. John’s success with the transport business enabled him to buy farmland at Myrtleford about 25 years ago.
He remembers when the owner-drivers in the region cooperated. “There’d be heaps of little owner-drivers that would all pool in together and do the job and help one another out.” But the industry is much more competitive now.
John still services clients who have been with him for about 40 years. But these days it’s hard to compete with the big companies, and he has lost several big clients.
Grain cartage was an important part of his business until about three years ago. Now many of his former farming clients have their own trucks, so there isn’t as much graincarrying work up for grabs. “And what there is around is too cheap,” John says. “Anybody looking for trucks now is like, ‘This is what we’re paying – take it or leave it’.”
He has this advice for anyone keen to become an ownerdriver: “Forget about it! Go and drive for a good company.”
Attending truck shows with trucks from his collection of restored classics is a great way to relive the camaraderie of the old days. John likes “catching up with old mates, and seeing who’s restored what, and what sort of job they’ve done with them”.
His D-Line International has a 180 Cummins and he still puts it to work occasionally. ‘Payne’s Daughters’ is signwritten on the door.
The R Model Mack was previously owned by John Gilligan of Sydney. It’s now painted blue and has ‘Old Mate’s Mack’ written on the sun visor.
The International R180 originally came from Myrtleford. John says R180s are noisy, slow and rough but are put together well, “like it was made yesterday”.
He also uses a trusty old 1986 F Model Mack at the Myrtleford farm. “It’s bullet proof. The things I’ve done with the poor old thing!”
John still loves his job, but plans to gradually decrease his workload so he can spend more time with his partner Gail, his five children, and “almost a dozen” grandchildren.
Above: John loved his Mack SuperLiner – pictured here on Sylvia’s Gap Road RunBelow: John Payne drove this ERF during his three years with East Coast TransportOpposite: John Payne at Albury after Crawlin’ the Hume 2018. John carried his D Line International and R Model Mack behind his Kenworth K125
Above: John Payne still gets behind the wheel when requiredOpposite top L to R: John drove this International TranStar for Corowa Trading and later bought it from the company; John’s R Model Mack is a show truck, but also works when neededOpposite below: An International Loadstar at John’s sandpit near Mulwala in 1982