At age 78, Michael Lewis still loves driving trucks but realistically intends to retire when he becomes an octogenarian in September 2024.
Veteran driver Lewis has been with Carey’s Freight Lines based at Tamworth in NSW for 10 years, and drives a Freightliner carrying refrigerated goods as far away as Brisbane.
“I deliver a lot of groceries for supermarket chains like Woolworths and Aldi and my latest load for frozen chooks to Beresfield near Newcastle,” he said.
He rates the Freightliner highly and said it was well suited to the job. “It has more than 700,000km on the clock and is a workhorse,” he said.
Lewis oozes knowledge about the road transport industry and that is not surprising when you consider he has been driving since he was aged just 19.
“Back then my first job was driving for O’Brien Glass in a Ford F100 and I was there for six years. After that I worked for Mainline Transport in their depot yard,” he said.
Several more jobs as an employee followed before 35 years ago Lewis made the move to become a small fleet operator which he did for 25 years. “I had Fords and have always been a fan,” he said.
After that he joined Carey’s which he said was a great company to work for numerous reasons. “They have a good workshop and maintain their trucks well,” he said.
A colleague of his, Alan Byron, told Big Rigs that Lewis was a genuine character and top truckie who was also a down to earth septuagenarian (aged more than 70). “Mick is a top bloke and great to work with and a real friendly fellow,” Byron said.
I certainly found that Lewis had a great sense of humour when I asked him his date of birth and how he would feel when he becomes an octogenarian.
“I don’t even know what that means,” he said. When I told him that it refers to somebody who is aged 80 he had a chuckle. “I will turn 80 on September 25 of 2024. I was born in Sydney during 1944 and grew up there,” he said.
During life’s long journey, Lewis has experienced plenty of tragedy including the death of his beloved wife Susan about 10 years ago.
Also the loss of his eldest daughter from cancer two years back and she was aged just 56. “I have two other daughters aged 48 and 52 and a son who is 46. They live in Tamworth, Sydney and Perth. The deaths were hard to cope with but life has to go on. Death is a part of life,” he said.
I asked Lewis what his favourite roadhouses had been during his travels along the highways and byways.
“I have been to Queensland, Victoria, WA, SA and many places in NSW. My favourite one these days is at Fisher’s Park near Cunningham’s Gap and the Star as you come into Tamworth. Good service and food. Many years ago I loved what was called the Golden Fleece at Singleton and another at Parkville,” he said.
On the subject of rest areas, Lewis, like many drivers, doesn’t think there are enough. “Some are being used as gravel dumps when roadworks are in progress and we could do with more between Tamworth and the border. Most have no toilets and facilities. But there are plenty of good ones in Victoria between Wodonga and Melbourne,” he said.
In his twilight years as a driver, Lewis puts road safety first and was recently stopped at a heavy vehicle inspection station near Willow Tree in NSW. “They checked my log book and gave me a drug and alcohol test and I passed and so did the truck,” he said.
With his long tenure, I was sure that Lewis would have experienced numerous breakdowns. “I have and worst was I bogged on a dirt road for six hours and an old timer pulled me out,” he said.
That certainly was a courteous and helpful act, however Lewis reckons the camaraderie amongst truckers these days is not what it used to be. “They would stop and help you back then but these days many just drive past,” he said.
Having said that, Lewis said he had met many great people during his decades driving.
“And I got so see many places that I would not have,” he said.
Describing himself as a bit of a clown, Lewis said a mate once wrote a poem about his travels. “It was entitled ‘The Original Overnighter’ but it was never published anywhere but [it] was good,” he said.
As for hobbies outside work, Lewis said he used to enjoy a game of pool but not so much these days. “Nowadays I just work, come home and have a meal then rest and sleep. My favourite food is steak,’’ he said.
The end of his long driving career may not be far away, but I asked Lewis for the reason he was going to retire at aged 80.
“It is difficult for truck drivers to keep a licence past 80 as you have to have an a annual medical as well as eye and hearing checks,” he said.
But with 15 months to go before his 80th birthday on September 25 next year, there is still plenty of kilometres ahead for this wonderful and likeable truckie.