Legendary operator keen to pass on his knowledge

Rodney Bielenberg, born in Longreach in the late 50s, had little chance of dodging the transport industry as a third-generation operator. 

When the outbreak of World War 2 saw a rapid growth in the demand for beef, Queensland’s transport operators, servicing Australia’s primary cattle producing state, had no choice but to respond. 

Today, Rod is working as a supervisor for LCR, enjoying the challenge of keeping up to 18 trucks and their drivers moving.

As primary production became subject to Commonwealth control, chilling was suspended and all surplus meat available for export was bound for the United Kingdom, quantity took priority over quality. 

Rod’s father, Gundy was expected to maintain his father’s small transport business while his eldest brother, John, served in the army. Aged 13, Gundy tasked with servicing sheep and cattle stations between Longreach and Windorah in the state’s central west, and was given a special licence to drive during the wartime in order to do so. 

Faced with their father’s untimely death in 1946 and John’s return from service the same year, Gundy and John became business partners. Aged 17 and 24 respectively, Gundy and John embarked on their first trip as Bielenberg Brothers Carriers. The brothers, running Internationals, predominantly concentrated on livestock haulage, but also did the Longreach district mail service until 1998.

It follows that most of Rod’s hours out of school were spent off-siding for his father or Uncle John. Regardless of age, it was expected that Rod knew how to pen up sheep and cattle and load wool. He was taught to service the trucks, change tyres and load the mail run on a Saturday to ensure Gundy and John could stay on the road. 

The 1960s brought many changes to the business, first in a new name – Longreach Transport Company Pty Ltd. Next, they switched their Internationals for B model, R model and F model Mack trucks, which were better equipped to handle the triple road train work the business was undertaking. The tubeless tyres were an added bonus.

Rod learnt how to drive in a 1967 R-model Flintstone Mack with his Uncle John. With its 711 motor and quad box, it was behind the wheel of this Mack that Rod would often be seen pulling 2, single-deck cattle trailers or, occasionally, a double-deck cattle trailer on the front and a single behind. 

The 1960s brought about many changes, including a new name for the business.

Despite Rod’s academic success, being awarded dux of the college, he left school after finishing year 10 to offside for his father. Gundy’s poor health meant that Rod needed to attain his licence to step into his father’s driving role. 

On Rod’s 17th birthday, he and his brother loaded up a crate of cattle before pulling up outside the police station. Rod went into the station to get his licence, while his brother went into the nearby Midlander Pub to enjoy a beer while Rod faced the Sargent. Rod requested that he be taken for a test to earn his truck licence, and the Sargent obliged, jumping up in the loaded road train alongside Rod for a lap of the block. The Sargent asked Rod two questions: “How many gears has it got and who brought you up here?”. “Twenty gears and my brother is at the pub!”, Rod replied. The Sargent, impressed with Rod’s confidence, asked to see his car licence. “I don’t have one. That’s what I’m here for!”. Rod was given his car, truck, tractor, bus and motorcycle licences that day. Try doing that today!

Once Rod had his truck licence, he made his debut in a single-drive Ford Louisville, equipped with a 903 Cummins engine. The increased horsepower made light work of pulling the double-deck cattle crates. In 1978, Rod returned to the make he was most familiar with, running a cool-powered R-model Mack. The late 1970s saw a sharp increase in sheep prices as the live export market boomed and wool prices stabilised, so Rod swapped the cattle crates for 3-deck sheep crates. 

In 1982, Rod moved into a Mack Super-Liner with a 400-CAT motor and 4×5 gearboxes. He notes that the early 80s were an incredibly tough time for Australia’s primary producers as the country was in the midst of one its most severe droughts. 

Competing with drought, shearers’ strikes and the Ash Wednesday bushfires, Rod played his part in not only maintaining, but building Longreach Transport Co.’s fleet, including 18 purpose-built trailers. Rod is grateful to have spent these years sharing the road with many legendary operators – the likes of fellow Wall of Fame inductees Barry Meyers, Jim Oliver, Toby Harris and Bill Baskett. 

Not only mentors, these men were friends to the young driver. Rod also passed some familiar faces on the highway in the form of his schoolmates, who had all grown up in trucking families. Rod has noticed over the years that transport has got faster and time is now scarcer. “Nobody has time to stop and help or socialise like we used to because of the regulations now”.  

Once he turned 30, Rod and his then wife, moved out on their own to start R & K Bielenberg Transport.

Once he turned 30, Rod, his then wife, and his faithful Mack Super-Liner moved out on their own to start R & K Bielenberg Transport and, next, a family. By 1990, Rod had three daughters and a new Mack V8 525 Super-Liner.  

Following a divorce, Rod moved to Gracemere to raise his three young daughters. As he had sold his trucks and trailers in 1994, Rod spent the next decade exploring the many different facets of haulage on offer in the industry, carting everything from coal with Zeilke’s Transport, milk with Jordan’s Transport and rock for a new seawall. 

Today, Rod is working as a supervisor for LCR, enjoying the challenge of keeping up to 18 trucks and their drivers moving. 

He hopes that he has “a couple more good work years” in him in which he plans to pass on his knowledge and experience to the industry’s newcomers before he retires. 

After spending countless years away from home, Rod looks forward to spending quality time with his wife, whom he married in 2008, and his children. With 10 grandchildren and the antics that come with them, there is no doubt that Rod will be kept busy when he eventually decides it is time to retire.

Rod was inducted into the National Road Transport Museum’s Shell Rimula Wall of Fame in 2011, nominated by his youngest daughter. His induction was made more meaningful by the fact that he was joining his father, Gundy, inducted in 2000, and Uncle John, inducted in 2010. 

The museum is privileged to have played a part in showcasing the Bielenberg’s continuing impact on the road transport industry.  

  • Ainsleigh Bilato is advisory committee member at National Road Transport Museum, Alice Springs

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Send this to a friend