Celebrated engineer retires after 50 years in the industry

After dedicating half a century to the industry, at the age of 72, the Australian Trucking Association’s (ATA) chief engineer Bob Woodward decided the time is right to embark on his next adventure. 

A highly celebrated figure of the industry, Woodward is credited with revolutionising the way freight is carried on Australian roads. Among his biggest achievements were his involvement in the design of the first Queensland B-double, the tandem/tri-axle B-double, the Finemore Stinger car carrier and the 19 metre B-double.

He was also involved with the first central tyre inflation systems introduced in the Australian logging industry and took part in the first meetings that resulted in PBS.

With a career that has been so highly distinguished, there have been many high points, but Woodward credits his role in the development of high productivity freight vehicles as his biggest highlight.

What’s interesting to note however, is that Woodward actually started his engineering career almost by chance. “I was working at a sugar mill in north Queensland where a new tipping truck (a Bedford) suffered a chassis failure whilst tipping. The chief engineer tasked me with determining why,” he explained. And then, as they say, the rest is history.

Woodward’s career began as a cadet mechanical engineer with the Department of the Navy. “This was at a time when engineers and draftsmen weren’t communicating so the department decided to train persons that were both engineers and draftsmen. I then did time in the sugar industry in Queensland and New South Wales – tramway, small trucks, barges, bigger trucks, B-doubles, cane bins, side tipping sugar B-doubles. Then came the car carrier (the Finemore Stinger) road trains, AB-triples, ATA HPFV demo days, and the first NSW BAB-quad at Narrandera in 2009 (thanks to Kelvin Baxter Transport). I still have a laminated copy of the permit,” explained Woodward. 

As for his involvement in helping to get B-doubles onto Aussie shores, he modestly says, “I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time.

“Bob Pearson was the ‘mover and shaker’ who really made B-doubles happen in Australia. With much support from Ron Finemore who was very progressive not only in productivity but also safety, Finemore Holdings introduced a world first tandem/tri-axle B-double in 1988 in logging. This concept allowed the use of a standard trailer at the rear.”

Having officially retired in late December, Woodward is looking forward to what lies ahead.

Woodward’s career with the ATA extends over 30 years. He first represented the ATA (then called the Road Transport Forum) in 1990 in a technical capacity while working with Finemore Holdings.

As you’d expect in a career that extends over 50 years, Woodward has seen – and been a driving force behind – a great deal of change in the industry.

“The focus on safety and compliance has certainly changed, which is not a bad thing. But the uptake of technology hasn’t been without its frustrations,” he said. 

“Australian operating conditions quickly identified the weaknesses of early air suspensions – now they are tough as. Engine electronics were initially viewed with much scepticism, now this technology isn’t even questioned. Emissions has been topical, with the heavier trucks typically operating in Australia having a power demand that is considerably higher than in most other parts of the world. Electronic braking systems have been a challenge and have given more than a few brain damage, but the technology has matured, and ABS and roll stability is now a no brainer. Rules and regulations need to be fit for purpose – but bureaucrats are overly keen to simply adopt international and European standards because it makes their job easier!”

Reflecting on the last 50 years, Woodward added, “I have had a great career and have been fortunate to have some great mentors (and believers) along the journey. I’ll miss the many good people and friendships: the members of the Industry Technical Council, the Technology and Maintenance Conference.”

Having officially retired in late December, Woodward is looking forward to what lies ahead. His plans include plenty of flying, gliding and restoring a mid-1970s Haines Hunter tri-hull outboard boat.

“I decided to retire while I am fit enough to enjoy it. I maintain a CASA (Civil Aviation Safety Authority) medical and I am the chief flying instructor at a recreational flying school. I enjoy the instructing and will continue to instruct whilst able,” he said.

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