Such was the catalyst for a career in road transport which has seen Steven Bell – better known as ‘Whizza’ around the traps – spend the last 43 years in an occupation where he has covered by his best estimate 10 million kilometres and most of Australia in doing so.
Today, he makes his home at Gerogery West, not far off the Hume Highway just out of Albury, but it was in the late 70s when the wheels began to turn for Bell in New Zealand, having gone across the Tasman at the age of 20 to play rugby.
“I started out at a place called Howick [in Auckland] on the North Island in a KT Bedford working for a company called Winstones and worked my way up to a Leyland Major 8-wheeler truck and dog before finishing off with an Isuzu.”
Making his way home back to the Illawarra area of New South Wales there was soon an opportunity for the young driver to start clocking up the kilometres.
“I came back and started driving a Deutz hauling sand around Wollongong. In the 70s and 80s coal was big around the area with a lot of it being shifted by road and I got a go in an International 3070 doing coal and then running coke out of Cessnock across to Adelaide and carting salt back…it was a pretty steady trip across and back in the 3070 fully loaded but with the 903 Cummins they were a good truck back in the day.”
Along the way Bell had a couple of stints driving for Heggies and also Allan Doherty of Fairy Meadow which saw him cover a lot of the countryside behind the wheel of a variety of trucks which were indicative of the era including Mack R-600s, a White Road Boss and a Ford Louisville. On the second stint shifting coal with Heggies he made the move from driver to owner-driver, purchasing one of the company’s W-Model Kenworths.
“I got the W-Model and went out on my own and in the late 1980s I sold it for a Kenworth T650 with a 425 Cat. We moved down here, and I went on grain haulage with it. She was a good truck, but I had a head-on accident with it and that was the end of her, and I gave driving away for a while.”
Getting back into the transport game saw Bell spend 12 years both in the office and once again behind the wheel with Lewington’s in Wodonga which at the time was a large diverse fleet covering livestock, fuel and refrigerated transport.
“I drove everything they had but spent most of my time on the fridge vans, I was assistant manager of the van division there,” he said.
Following his stint at Lewington’s, refrigerated freight was again the focus, running up and down the east coast for Don Watson.
“Real good to work for and I was fortunate enough to have seven brand new trucks in the 13 years I was there.”
By this time Bell’s son Rory had started to get involved in transport himself, having purchased a cab-over Kenworth. He was looking at expanding when Bell was ready to start to wind things back a bit.
“I finished at Watson’s and I was going to start to slow down but the young bloke said, ‘I will buy you a truck’… so he did! Nothing else but a Kenworth….If I had my way it would be a Mack but that’s what he wants so that’s it.”
Today, along with doing a few trips for Anthony Churchill of Holbrook, Bell is still on tipper work, with Rory’s SAR working for Robert Hendy at St Arnaud with the wheels of the Kenworth kept turning fairly well.
“We go all over the place with stockfeed and grain, plenty of on-farm work and feedlots, I run from here to Melbourne and back to Corowa to the Ridley mill.
With a tipper you can be flexible as you can put anything in it, just open the tailgate and send her up,” he smiled.
Over his time on the highway he has seen a lot of changes in roads, trucks and the industry in general and laments a lot of the spirit and camaraderie has gone out of the business of transport over the years.
“Back in the day if someone was pulled up, blokes would pull up and give him a hand changing a tyre or whatever – now if you’re pulled up with your triangles out people just drive over them – it’s a shame but that’s the way it is unfortunately.”
On the subject of roads, a lot has improved but a lot still needs to be done Bell reckoned.
“Running the east coast up to Brisbane is brilliant now, the Newell has a few good parts but the worst bit of road I have travelled is between Goondiwindi and Brisbane through Warwick – it’s shocking, but you just have to treat your truck and the road with respect wherever you are.”
Having tinkered about in the past with a Kenworth S2 as a bit of a backyard project, Bell is casting his eye about for a Mack R600 as a potential ‘doer-upper’ to take along to heritage shows and events such as Crawlin’ the Hume.
“I drove a couple of R-Models for a long time and really enjoyed driving them – over the years about the only truck I didn’t have a go in was a ‘Gumboot’ Scania – I drove a cab-over Scania but never a Gumboot.”
As he began making preparations to head off up to Sydney he reckons there are a few years left before he puts away the work diary and the hi-vis gear. But with Rory looking at a new truck purchase that might seal the deal, Bell said with a smile.
“I’m 64 and still enjoy it and will keep going for a few years if my health is good but ifRorybuysmeanewone,I guess I will have to stay for five years for him to pay it off.”