Ruffy: Diamond in the rough
Singer, songwriter and poet, Rod Dowsett was wandering around a cemetery one time. Looking at the graves he noted the dash that separates the dates of birth and death on the headstones.
He got to thinking that the dash represented a person's whole life and how little it told. Rod went home and wrote a wonderful song based on this observation. If he had been writing the song about Ruffy, the dash would have looked more like this: "- - - - - - - ".
Ruffy Doyle lived life to the fullest. Dot, family, trucks, motorbikes, the road and people were his loves. Wherever Ruffy and Dot lived, they were magnets to anyone who crossed their paths. This was reflected in the attendance at Ruffy's funeral held on January 20 at the Heritage Pioneers Chapel, Woori Yallock (Victoria).
Ronald Victor Doyle started life as he intended to continue it. He was born in the back of an old Ford coming down Mitcham Hill on the way to Ringwood. That was Ruffy: top gear, flat out, no time to waste.
His beloved brother, John was born nine years later and his death in Darwin in 1988 hit Ruffy hard. As Paul Witte who drove with both Ruffy and Johnny recalled, "In the many conversations we had throughout the years, Ruffy would almost always reminisce about the times he, Johnny and I shared. He would often say, 'I took Johnny for his first ride and I took him on his last,' referring to Johnny's coffin being transported on the back of a truck. Today it's Ruffy's turn to ride on the back of the Kenworth."
Ruffy was a highway legend. Starting in the transport industry at 15, he drove jinkers, tow trucks and the 2nd S Model Kenworth in Australia for Bloomfield's out of Red Hill. He drove for Doug Prior, a job that didn't last as Doug was religious and that didn't fit with Ruffy's view on life. Then came, in no particular order, Model Dairy, Mickey Bodavis, Cameron's, Scarf's, Cold Storage and Aboud's - to whom he gives credit for turning the boy into a man.
Long-time mate, Murray (Muzza) Peel recalled: "In those early days the Hume was a goat track. The Western Highway to Adelaide wasn't any better and the road to Perth was dirt. The Darwin run probably has the most stories to tell. The drivers these days would have no idea what it was like back then. The corrugations would wreck the dash, the truck - every damn thing - not our spirit though. Ruffy was a person who lived by the old code."
Mick McCabe became lifelong mates with Ruffy when he joined Eagle and Brahms as a novice, and where Ruffy was ops manager.
"He was free and easygoing as long as you toed the line and did the job. If you messed up and admitted it he'd give you a kick up the arse and tell you not to do it ever again. Run a tyre flat and that was sacrilege - he'd put you in the yard for a week! As a manager he had a knack with the blokes," said Mick.
"Everyone was very loyal to him. He didn't worry about the company. One time he 'borrowed' both tray trucks and went to Philip Island for the motorbike races. Blokes on one, girls on the other and a keg in between with a tarp over for shade. Old man Brahms was watching the races and unbeknown to us, we got ourselves on TV.
"On the Monday he calls Ruffy into the office and asks him what the trucks were doing at the races. Quick as a flash Ruffy explains that it gave great PR and free advertising. 'Good idea,' says Brahms. 'Should do it
"I needed a radio for an interstate trip. Ruffy told me I could have one fitted but he wanted me to go to that night. I kept bleating and when I got to the truck a little later I discovered that he'd knocked off the Blaupunkt from Mrs Brahms Porsche for me. That was Ruffy."
Daughter, Brenda described her first experience of road rage at age 10.
"I was with the Dad in a cab-over Peterbilt, just moseying along Doncaster Rd at dusk. Out of nowhere comes a carload of six fired-up young blokes. They scream at Ruffy to 'Get out of the way you silly old bastard!' The old man looks down and thinks 'Fair enough'. They pull in front then jam the brakes on and do it repeatedly until finally pulling up at a set of traffic lights. Ruffy didn't say a word. He just casually pulled up to the back of their car, nudged it and then pushed them straight out into the middle of the intersection. Cars were everywhere and those blokes were screaming. Ruffy pulls beside them and says, 'Who's a silly old bastard now, eh?'."
The other journey that Ruffy went on was bikes. He loved motorcycles.
Peter Wells (national president of the Outlaws) relates: "My first meeting with Ruffy was in the late '80s at the original Oz HOG meeting in Dandenong. We were sitting there drinking white wine and eating caviar and we looked at each other and thought, 'Maybe we're in the wrong place'. So we moved on and that's when the Ringwood HOGS started - a bit more down-market! After three or four years he moved on to the Vietnam Vets Motorcycle Club and then to the Outlaws and Ruffy being Ruffy, of course I followed.
"Ruffy was from an era of dirt roads, straight bars and belly tanks," said Bear. "You can't go anywhere in Australia without meeting someone who knows Ruffy and Dot.
""We 'starred' in an episode of Blue Heelers once. Ruffy became the centre of attention straight away. Lisa McCune and Libby Tanner fell in love with him. You would've thought he was the star of the show.
"He told the producer that the 'cops' weren't rough enough or tough enough with the bikies when searching them so there was a re-take with more aggression.
"A couple of stuntmen were at the clubhouse scene. Ruffy asks one of them if he knew how to do donuts on a Harley. With a negative answer he explains how it's done. The stuntman gives it a go, loses it and ends up in a hedge. The director asks if we can do something so Ruffy and I get on our Harleys and start doing burnouts next to a 'cop car', covering it with gravel. Two big, burly 'cops' get out of the car. 'We're real coppers, you dickheads, piss off'."
One recent year Ruffy was booked to go to the Hall of Fame at Alice Springs.
"No way are you to get on a plane!", ordered his doctor. With Dot heading to Perth, Ruffy had to find another way. He contacted good mate Two-stroke Doug. (so-called because he has had two strokes).
"Doug was unable to drive so he would navigate and Ruffy would drive with the oxygen bottle behind him and the mask strapped on.
"Off they went with a pact that if either was to die on the way they wouldn't tell a soul. Just strap the belt on the corpse and head the hell back home.
"Everyone knew Ruffy's funny side but there was also the serious one. He did tireless work for charity, as both Liz Martin (Ruffy was an inaugural inductee of the Transport Hall of Fame) and Dianne Carroll will attest."
There is so much more to the man than space allows here. The first time he shook my hand I felt the bones crush - and this from an ailing old feller. The second time we met I put my hand out, dreading the pain.
Instead he gave me the Ruffy Bear Hug. As my life passed in front of my eyes and I struggled for breath I realised that I had been accepted 'as a mate' and I can think of no greater honour.
There are legends of the road. and legends written about people in this industry, but there'll never be a legend written like Ruffy Doyle's, or what he achieved.
Ruffy's ashes will be placed at the Hall of Fame in Alice Springs in August and upon the roads he loved. RIP Mate.