“At school, they told me I’d never get paid to look out the window, but I proved them wrong,” laughed Perth-based owner operator Bill Carruthers, 62.
“I often say I bleed diesel not blood. I love that side of the life. I couldn’t work indoors. I’d rather be getting pounded by the rain and cold or in the blistering heat than being stuck in an office.”
Carruthers runs Westwide Transport, servicing mine sites throughout Western Australia and into the Northern Territory with his beloved 2014 Western Star 4900.
“I’ve had the 4900 nearly a year now. The one before that was a 4800 I had for 12 years. I wanted to come back to the 4900 for a bit more cabin comfort. It’s super comfy and super quiet. I like the Western Stars for their look and comfort, and most of all, it can be worked on in the outback which is good. I’ve spent a lot on it to customise it – I take a lot of pride in my gear.”
In fact, Carruthers has even installed an external shower and water tank on the truck. “The heat of the drive warms the water and then I can pull over anywhere and have a shower. I do the Tanami and various locations where there are no services, so I come out pretty grubby and I don’t want to jump back in the cabin like that. I may be a truckie but I still like to be clean and tidy, so like this I can stop anywhere for a shower and then take off again.”
Though when Carruthers chatted to Big Rigs, he was on a return leg from Queensland. “This is the first time I’ve gone into Queensland in 12 years, it’s very rare that I cross over the border that way,” he said.
“Yesterday I pulled in from Mackay and then I’ll be back for a week before I load up and go back out again. On this trip I noticed how rough the roads were in Queensland compared to here in WA. You see all these crashes on the roads and often wonder why, but many of the roads are just not up to standard.
“I’m Perth born and bred, it’s the best part of the country in my opinion. I love travelling anywhere on the WA coast. Esperance and Broome are beautiful. If I’m not truck driving, I’m camping or travelling. I’ve been around Australia twice on holiday and WA has the best beaches and best coastal locations of all, but you can’t get to too many of them with a truck. Getting in the middle of the outback and meeting the characters and seeing how some people do life is what I really enjoy.
“But complying on the east coast compared to the west coast is a minefield. There’s no freedom out east. If you make a mistake on a logbook, you’re hung – and we don’t run logbooks over here. Of course you want to do the right thing by the rules, by the diary and by your family and come home.”
When asked what led to his four-decade long career in trucking, Carruthers says it all started with a little toy truck. “I reckon it started when I was four years old. I was brought up at a time when children were seen and not heard; so I would sit behind my grandfather’s chair on the floor and I would play with this little toy truck. I reckon that’s what birthed it. When I was 17, I got my licence,” he reflected.
“My old man was a transport manager for a paper recycling company called APM. They had a fleet of trucks and that’s where I started, in the rigids.
“Then I met a bloke with a big rig and he asked if I wanted to come for a ride, so I did, and I told him I wanted to make that a career. He said I was mad,” chuckled Carruthers.
“Then another bloke gave me a go in 1981, doing long haul from Perth to Marble Bar in the Pilbara.”
He says that was back in the day when many trucks didn’t have air conditioning, and before road rules existed the way they do today.
“There’s a big difference in the way the industry was back then compared to how it is now. It’s lost a lot of the fun,” Carruthers added.
“Legislation has changed for the worse and there’s also a lack of comradery. It’s now a cut-throat for the dollar. Being an old fella comparatively, the soul of the industry has gone down the gurgler – you can’t do this and you can’t do that. And that would be the biggest challenge.
“It’s been a gradual change, a bit like a frog in hot water. I think things started to change during the 1990s, where they started telling us we had to wear long sleeve shirts and long pants. And it progressed from there. The old school hands-on teaching of young fellas is out the window. Somebody else packs it now and you just pick it up and run. There are too many steering wheel attendants versus properly trained drivers.
“But there’s no point getting annoyed. You need to embrace it or get out. If it’s in your blood, it’s in your blood and if it’s not, you just can’t do it.”
Through his many years in the industry, Carruthers says there’s been some incredible highs, but there have also been terrible heart-breaking lows too.
He started working as an owner operator about 20 years ago – and has continued on that journey apart from a short stint as a workplace assessor and trainer. “That was only short-lived though and then I was back behind the wheel,” he said.
At one point, Carruthers built his company up to a fleet of seven trucks, before things turned sour.
“I had seven trucks a few years ago but lost them all, through a lack of wisdom in that area. I took a man’s word instead of doing due diligence, and they took me to the cleaners. I lost my trucks and my house of 27 years. But I didn’t lose what was most important: my wife or my son. I also had a heart attack nine months ago but I’ve lost a lot of weight and now I’m looking ahead to better times. I get a kick out of providing good service and seeing people happy,” he said.
“I used to carry food into the outback and seeing the kids’ eyes and faces light up when you pulled in was just amazing. It makes you realise how much of a thread to lifeblood truckies are for the people. Then it all moved from that personal touch to productivity, time schedules and performance. I’ve been lucky enough to have retained a few good clients who have a heart for the family and as much as they can, they plan their trips Monday to Friday so I can be home on the weekends and have a work/life balance. This industry still has highlights or else I wouldn’t still be there,” Carruthers added.
“I love being out there, out of the city, out of the traffic and in the countryside where people actually stop and say hello. Up until you get to the mine site, you’ve got time to process your thoughts and appreciate the country we live in. We’re very blessed to call it home.”
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