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 - - Contents -

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.”

Early days

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.”

Clas­sic trucks

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

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