An Atkinson fit for a King

With such a diverse range of modern trucks working across the country it is somewhat of a rare occurrence to see a truck that is still working hard with its owner in an association that began in 1980.

Such is the case with John ‘Kingy’ King, who is based in Shepparton and recently ventured to the Lockhart Truck Show with his Series 2 Atkinson which still earns its keep across a wide part of southern Australia on hay and grain transport.

“I have owned it for 42 years having purchased it out of Adelaide in 1980, where it had been doing road train work and it has mainly been used on a 41-foot Lusty tipper which I also bought in 1980,” said Kingy.

“It’s all original and has done over a million miles. It has a 335 Cummins and a 15 speed Roadranger in it and had an out of chassis rebuild in 1984 at Cummins in Wodonga and has done over 700,000 miles since.”

The Atkinson was at Lockhart with a triaxle drop-deck trailer which was loaded with a Cletrac crawler tractor which has also been in the King family since 1952.

A proud John King with his loyal servant of 42 years in Lockhart.

Along with his father, Kingy purchased a brand-new Dodge in 1964 and he continued to work the truck when he moved from Cobar to Coleambally in 1969, pulling a 36-foot McGrath strap trailer hauling livestock and wool to Melbourne and Albury on a regular basis.

Having always had a liking for the Atkinson product, Kingy upgraded to the Atkinson in 1980.

“We started out with the petrol Dodges and in 1980 I ordered the new tipper,  which was a big thing in those days, so I needed a bigger prime mover – I just liked Atkinsons, I have a Mark 1 and this Mark 2 with the half sleeper,” explained Kingy.

“I always wanted a Mark 3 which was the last of the ‘true’ Atkinson’s before International Harvester took over but instead, I finished up with a W-Model Kenworth which I also still have today.”

The Atkinson was a familiar sight around the Riverina for a number of years working solidly on numerous grain and hay harvests with truck and driver travelling as far afield as southern Queensland and across to Adelaide.

Now based in Shepparton, both the Atkinson and W-Model Kenworth are kept on full registration and over the last few years have continued to earn their keep on both local harvest work and on bigger trips.

“With the drought a few years ago, we had a lot of work with hay moving around and last season there was a lot of grass so whenever there is some hay to shift this old girl will be tied up with that,” said Kingy.

“I use the W-Model for the bigger distances up to Coonabarabran and the Queensland border as it’s a more comfortable truck but for the tighter places I need to go this is the one I use – getting over culverts through gateways into paddocks is easier and I don’t need 40 acres to turn around.

“As the season goes on, I will keep this on the hay and use the Kenworth for the weekly grain runs.”

Like most people of his generation who lived and grew up in rural Australia, learning to drive trucks was part and parcel of life, with Kingy cutting his teeth behind the wheel of a Lend-Lease Chev at quite a young age.

“I grew up in the back-country of New South Wales where my dad had about 100,000 acres of billy-goat country out between Cobar and Wilcannia and we used to cart our own wool into Cobar and put it on the train.

“We lived about 80 miles out and it was hot and hard work…my dad used to like a few refreshers so sometimes junior here at about 8-9 years old was required to pilot the old Chev with its 4-speed crash-box home and a fruit box under my arse so I could see over the steering wheel.”

With a couple of Dodges and machinery such as the Cletrac crawler in his collection to go with the two Atkinsons and the Kenworth, Kingy has a shed in Shepparton where he undertakes the basic servicing such as oil changes and greasing with the larger jobs handled by Full-On Truck Maintenance also in  Shepparton. 

“I lease an old fruit packing shed; I call it my ‘Men’s Shed’. I’m a bit like a bower-bird, I keep everything I inherit,” he grinned.

Having previously attended the old Lockhart Country Festival in the 1970s and 1980s he was showing the Atkinson at the truck show for the first time after a nudge from another Shepparton local, Ian Sidebottom, who had his recently restored D-Line International on display.

“My old mate ‘Sidey’ got me here this year – we were doing the grain harvest out at Dookie and he said, ‘It’s about time in your semi-retirement you start doing a few of these shows, you have got some old gear that is still working and in original condition so you should come to do a few shows with me’, so here I am.”

With the Atkinson still running its original engine and driveline it has stood the test of time well, and Kingy reckons eventually he would like to donate it to a truck museum such as the one at Gundagai or potentially the new MOVE museum project in Shepparton, but going by his parting comments that might be some time off yet.

“I’m 74 and having this interest keeps me going. I really look forward to somebody ringing me and asking if I can get a load of grain or hay and I can’t wait to go.

“Golf or bowls don’t interest me. I would rather much muck around with my toys and make a bit of noise and blow a bit of smoke.”

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