Truckin' Memories: Cruising with the Admiral

BACK IN THE DAY: The late Jack
BACK IN THE DAY: The late Jack "the Admiral” Taylor driving the brand-new Bicentennial Super-Liner Ned Kelly when it was part of the RTA fleet.

THE second half of the 1980s was a time of change.

It could be called the era of the Super-Liner, the time when Mack's flagship reached its peak and many older drivers still think of the period as the age of the real truck.

The Super-Liner Mk II was seen to be the epitome of truck engineering, back in the days when the glory trucks, the trucks on the posters, the dream trucks, were seen to be the bulldogs.

Oh yeah, the Kenworth was popular but the bulldog was the truck.

The Bicentennial Macks encapsulated what the Mk II Super-Liner was completely - here was a truck built to work in the roughest conditions yet as far as comfort goes, broke new ground entirely: the cab was air-conditioned, drivers had television, a video player and a whole suite of home comforts.

Today, of course, the Mk II Super-Liner is a collector's item and the Bicentennial version is probably the hottest ticket on a collector's shopping list.

I did a run in one of the new Bicentennials that had been bought by Dick David for Road Trains of Australia.

I travelled with the driver, Jack "the Admiral” Taylor, one of the old Buntine drivers, many of whom - like Jack himself - were legendary in the Northern Territory.

At the time, the country in north Queensland was in the grip of drought. Jack Taylor sat high in his Super-Liner searching for the turnoff to Lavera Station in Queensland's Gulf Country.

Ned Kelly was the name of the big Bicentennial Mack, pulling two trailers, four empty decks, across the dead plains.

The wet season had not come, the graziers were in trouble. We passed Dalgonelly Station and the road train began following a narrow bush track.

"You got a copy, Jack?”

The long-distance radio chortled into life and Jack shouted point-blank into the microphone that yes, he did have a copy.

"When you cross the second rocky causeway, swing hard to the left. You can't go wrong.”

So Jack swung her hard at the second rocky causeway and 5km later we pulled into Lavera's trucking yards.

Two RTA trucks were parked and already loaded. Jack pulled Ned Kelly up to the loading ramp. The clanking of iron gates and the first draft of calves rattled and blurted up the ramp onto the top deck of the lead trailer.

Then came a draft of mother cows, still strong, just starting to show the ravages of drought.

The cattle rushed up the loading ramp, up the trailer ramp and onto the top deck, cows bellowing to calves, a maternal bellowing they would continue for the next 24 hours until the animals were hoarse.

Once loaded, the convoy consisted of 12 decks of cows and calves. After a quick cup of tea, the string of road trains headed out across the wide sea of gulf country plains, the dust clouds billowing into the sky.

The haul back south was slow over the rough narrow station tracks.

At the roadhouse at Julia Creek, 15 road trains from all over Queensland and the Territory mustered in the dusty parking area, in our group all were Macks except one RTA Kenworth.

The trucks travelled eastward from Julia Creek, following the ribbon of black bitumen across the blackened plains. A head wind played havoc with the road speeds.

Bill was in the lead driving an RTA 500hp Super-Liner and it was pumping out all of those horses and more.

We brought up the rear in Ned Kelly, as Jack was boss drover and it was his responsibility to make sure all was going well.

In the middle was Brad in the "little” 400hp Kenworth, where he copped the worst from the wind, the double-decker stock rates having the aerodynamic qualities of a brick wall.

There was a whooshing explosion and a tyre went and Jack pulled the road train off the highway at the first opportunity. Of course it was an inside dual on the dolly and in a matter of minutes Jack had it changed, with the rhythm of a job done a thousand times.

We travelled into the night, stock trucks were everywhere, road trains to horse floats, the activity was frantic, the urgency of too much stock to shift and too few trucks, the needs of drought.

We fuelled up, had a feed and cleaned up at a roadhouse just outside Charters Towers and headed south along the Developmental Rd, driving through the dark and the dust clouds of road trains ahead.

With daylight came a different world, filled with green grass, shining cattle and waterholes brimming.

Fences and bridges told the story of recent floods, we were in the country but Cyclone Charlie had speared, plunging deep into central Queensland bringing heavy rains and floods ... and green fresh feed.

Jack had a spell in the bunk, lying back in the lavish upholstery of the big air-conditioned sleeper. The television was on, a boomerang of an antenna picking up national ABC and he watched with intense interest the kids' program Play School.

For a man who had spent most of his life driving the hot, rugged B-model Macks, the fact he could sit back in comfort and watch television was more of a revelation than the program he was watching.

But the fun was not yet over. There was a twisting dirt track on the way into the yards where we were to unload and a steep creek crossing with a tight corner on the other side.

Bill made it across with his four decks, Brad in the Kenworth made a run, hugged the corner a little too tightly and the second trailer sagged into the soft bank. He was stuck.

Bill, on the other side of the crossing, dropped his second trailer and backed onto the Kenworth, we stiffed barred the two trucks together and the Mack and Kenworth pulled clear.

Then it was Jack's turn. Ned Kelly bellowed as the master spurred the 500 horses down the creek bank.

A twin jet stream of black smoke fumed from the stacks and Jack swung wide, pulling his trailers around and safely up onto the opposite bank.

Delivery point was made and it was time to unload.

Big Rigs