WA legend has host of surprises on his farm
NEARLY 47 years ago, Eddy Van Dongen and his brother Herb bought an old 20-acre chook farm that’s now just a couple of kilometres from Perth’s Kwinana Freeway and the Mandurah Railway.
They sold off half for some spending money, but the remaining several million dollars worth of real estate is home to his collection of trucks, loaders, trailers and caravan, as well as rigs owned by a bunch of trucking mates who started using Eddy’s farm as a depot, for a carton or two initially.
They formalised the arrangements when they had more beer than they could drink and a farm full of prime movers, trailers, dollies and buses.
Eddy in the meantime has retired from a lifetime of trucking, but his in-built restlessness drives him in other directions.
As an accomplished artist, with many pieces on display at the Road Transport Hall of Fame in Alice Springs, Eddy is usually found foraging for truck bits that he can turn into models or sculptures.
One of his favourite projects was a 2D triple road train model that stretches nearly 30-metres along his front fence line.
The council took exception, and called on him one day to point out there was no approval for the fence and he needed to take it down.
Eddy: “It’s not a fence.”
Council inspectors: “Yes it is, and you haven’t got approval. So take it down.”
Eddy: “I’m tellin ya; it’s not a fence. It’s an artwork.”
Furious checking of the regulations, then they left. He hasn’t seen them since.
And the “artwork” has become a Thomas Rd landmark.
It’s now painted pink for breast cancer research, and fully fitted with lights.
When Eddy needed to tow his caravan on long trips, what better than a retired ex-Centurion Transport T650 Kenworth he picked up at auction.
The rig has the biggest sleeper available, enough fuel for an Adelaide run and (now) all the appliances needed to make a truck driver’s life on the road as comfortable as possible.
That wasn’t enough for Eddy. He built a tray body which attaches to the turntable and can be forked on and off and got ready for some holidays on the road.
Christened as ‘Me Big Yoot’, the rig is startling to say the least.
The 20-foot van is dwarfed by the truck and, as you’d expect, there are absolutely no stability issues.
A few weeks ago, some friends had a need for some containers down south, so a quick change exposed the turntable and he was off for some pocket money.
Eddy left school at 13 and his first truck was a Commer Knocker which he drove for four years before he had a licence.
At 18 he headed for the southeast to drive graders, and got started on trucks full-time.
Stock transport was his specialty.
He prefers cattle to sheep.
“At least they’ve got something of a brain. Sheep are so stupid – prod them to move and nothing, absolutely nothing.”
After three years on the road he decided it was time to be a truck owner, so he started with an eight-tonne Inter, then a single drive Volvo, then the second F12 Volvo sold in WA. He christened it ‘Highway Bandit’.
Eddy’s trucking days have not all been easy though.
On one urgent trip to Geraldton he heard on the radio that the police were looking for him, calling out for anyone who had seen the Highway Bandit. It was before mobiles, so he stopped at a property to call home.
His friends had bad news – his first wife Kaye was in hospital after an asthma attack.
After reversing the rig about 1km back to the main road, he dropped the trailer and hightailed it back to Perth.
Tragically, Kaye didn’t make it. She was just 32.
Eddy sold the truck, took a year off and focused on getting the kids settled and his head straightened out, before he went back to work as a contract driver, doing interstate runs and driving block trucks in the grain season.
Eddy has many memories of his 20 years crossing the Nullarbor.
He remembers seeing birds dropping out of the sky when the temperature hit 50C.
His biggest fright was heading east at the west end of the 90-mile.
A road train was drifting across to his side of the road and not responding to lights or the radio.
Just before the road train reached him – now completely on the wrong side of the road – Eddy ran out of options and went bush.
Miraculously, the gutters levelled out for a wash-away.
A mate travelling a few kilometres back got his number and when they reached Balladonia they called the Kalgoorlie coppers who pinged him for dangerous driving.
‘Truckin’ Eddy’ was coined when one of his mates bought him a hat with it on many years ago.
Eddy bought the number plate for his Landcruiser, the name has stuck and Truckin’ Eddy is as much a part of the WA truck scene as the 10-acre chook farm that is home base to a community of owner-drivers.