Historic trucks which have been overhauled and restored to their former glory provide a rolling (or static) tribute to times that have passed in transport, and allow people to reminisce about trucks that are no longer built or seen regularly around the country.
In the case of Matthew Santas’ restored 1977 Dodge, the truck also provides a link to a freight commodity that was once a common sight, but is now rarely seen transported in large quantities on Australian roads.
Over the years the Santas family had a long connection to the daily delivery of newspapers and magazines and as such, the Dodge would not look out of place somewhere on the Hume or coming out of the city on an overnight express run sometime in the 1970s or 1980s, when news travelled at the speed of the truck delivering it from the printing press to the newsagent in a distant town.
Matthew had recently made the relatively short trip from his hometown of Cootamundra to Gundagai to the annual Tractor Pull and Swap Meet, which is put on annually by the Australian Road Transport Heritage Centre, with the Truck Show and Shine drawing a large number of old and newer trucks from a wide area.
The Dodge was purchased by Matthew about seven years ago as a 70th birthday present for his father, Jim, who operated a similar D5N-400 model on paper haulage for a number of years, with the truck originally having been put to work on the western side of the Snowy Mountains, not far from Gundagai.
“Originally it was a ‘cocky’ truck, it was used to cart stud bulls from Adjungbilly to the Easter Show and we bought it off a fella in Nelligen to do it up for my father’s birthday,” explained Matthew.
“We pulled the tray off it and mucked about with that and got it how we wanted, did the sides and got it painted. It did a couple of paper runs but Dad doesn’t use it much so we take it where we can.”
The Dodge has only done about 130,000 kilometres and as such is all original, with the restoration being a fairly straightforward process.
Under the bonnet sits a 318-V8 motor and a five-speed drivetrain which runs along fairly well these days once Matthew cured a few issues with the oil filtration setup.
“It’s nothing fast, it will poke along around 90km/h and it’s not too bad but any more than that and it’s working hard and will burn the petrol.
“Of course, they used to drive them a lot harder in the day!” he added with a grin.
The Santas family were based out of Sydney for a number of years, with Matthew following Jim into paper delivery out of the city to the south-west slopes area of New South Wales on a nightly schedule for 25 years.
“I started out in a T4100 Mazda, then a FD Hino, then a number of Isuzus and Mitsubishis. I worked my way up to around 5-6 trucks and had a pretty good little operation going.”
The body on the back of the Dodge is a pointer to how papers used to be carted, and as such today with the decline of print media circulation, it would be rare to see a paper truck on the road regularly with newspapers, which was once an item requiring express daily delivery, as Matthew lamented.
“It’s gone now. Running on a Saturday night you would have 6-tonne chock-a-block full of papers.
“Coming down to Cootamundra I would have 120 bundles of ‘Teles’ [The Daily Telegraph] and 60 Bundles of Heralds for the two drops in Young, and by the time I finished it was about 60 bundles of Teles and about eight bundles of Heralds.
“It’s the same with magazines, you would be loaded with magazines and have 40-50 deliveries. Now they are just doing it with utes these days. It’s just dropped off massively. Today’s generation wouldn’t even pick up a newspaper, it’s all on the internet or phone.”
With the newspaper delivery work winding up, Matthew made a ‘tree change’ a few years back and moved to Cootamundra from Sydney, where today he works for Sutherlands Transport, driving a Kenworth K200 A-double with containers on a daily run to Sydney.
“I do that five days a week. We cart containers of export meat out of the Junee Abattoirs to the port and bring two empty ones back.
“It’s a pretty steady run up there but I quite enjoy it. The first couple of months getting in and out of Botany were interesting, but now I’ve got my head around it,” he said with a smile.
Back when he was based in Sydney, Matthew and the Dodge were regulars at the Penrith Truck Show, and they have also made the trip to the Clarendon Classic.
Keeping the Dodge’s originality extends to the number plates which have been on the truck since new.
“It’s still on full registration on the original plates as when I bought it I was doing a few paying jobs with it. I have had a few blokes wanting to buy the plates because of the link to KTM motorbikes but they keep it authentic.
“It’s due for rego in September so I might do something then as it’s a lot cheaper on club rego as opposed to full registration.”
With the passage of time seemingly passing quickly, Matthew’s Dodge stands as a testament to the changing nature of transport and freight movement in Australia, and with the truck also a tribute to those who used to drive when trucks were rough by today’s standards and the roads a lot rougher.
“We have got it easy these days, back in the day they used to have to drive them. They were drivers back then. They knew how to drive.”