“It’s fairly obvious…you park close to the road and the amount of people that slow down or turn around and come back for another look – there’s always someone looking at it!” said Robert Rawlins with a laugh.
And it is a sentiment that would be hard to argue with as his 1979 Atkinson 3800 with matching trailer is indeed hard to miss as Rawlins, from Murray Bridge in South Australia makes his way around the country.
Originally painted lime green in the colours of Fluid Freighters, the Atkinson came into Rawlins’ possession in a run-down state around two years ago. Having been on the lookout for an Atkinson or an International Transtar for a restoration project, through Facebook he found the 3800 for sale on a farm north of Adelaide and bought it sight unseen.
“There was a guy from NSW who was after it, and I thought I had missed out on it, but I had Covid on my side as he couldn’t get across the border to check it out – so for ten grand I was able to grab it,” he said.
The Atkinson underwent a full restoration, with the Detroit ‘Silver 92’ engine and gearbox getting some close attention.
“We went right back to the rails, didn’t do the diffs as they were okay, but we had to do the gearbox as a bearing had collapsed in that. There was also a complete rebuild on the motor – it was very smoky and very ordinary – we had no idea how many k’s it had done,” he said.
The project was completed in around 18 months with the Atkinson hitting the road late last year for the first time.
“I outsourced a lot of it as I didn’t have the time to do it myself – I had restored a 1951 Bedford previously and it took me ten years to do it, I did source a lot of it out and it cost a bit more doing it that way, but I got it out on the road sooner.”
Hooked up to the Aktinson is a customised 1987 Freuhauf trailer which has been nicknamed ‘The Toy Carrier’, which had a varied work life up until Rawlins purchased it with another ten-thousand-dollar investment.
“When I bought the truck, I thought I’d just get a 41-footer drop deck or something and put a container box on it. A mate rang me up and said, ‘I have found you a trailer’- I thought it would be too expensive when he told me about it and he said, ‘for ten grand its yours!’- but I have spent an awful lot of money on it since!
Originally it was one of the 1988 Bicentennial Expo trailers that went around the county, and then the Ford Motor Company had it for a while. It was then bought by the Richmond Football Club to sell their merchandise out of, so it was at Punt Road Oval for about 10 years.”
The trailer has also been overhauled and is fitted out with a drop-down wall, along with a generator and living quarters, and provides a space to carry either Rawlins’ prized 1974 Valiant Charger or the Bedford truck.
The red colour on the both the Atkinson and trailer and the Bedford have been coded to match the Charger as closely as possible.
“The Charger was built just down the road from home in Adelaide, and they only made 399 of them. It was a ‘limited edition’ colour, so I did the Bedford with back guards and matched the red for the cab, so I did the Atkinson the same.”
Since taking to the highway once again, Rawlins has piloted the Atkinson to shows in Clunes and Yarra Glen in Victoria, Peterborough in SA and took a longer run to Queensland for the Rocklea Heritage Show in May, before making his way south again to the Echuca American Iron show in September.
“The GM is only putting out around 330hp so it’s not real powerful, on a windy day she struggles but on a good day it will do 100 easy.
“They have a sound all of their own. Anything under 1500 revs she blows black smoke…you have to boot them along. They sound like they’re running hard but they’re not. With the Hendrickson Walking beam she drives well but she’s a bit rough, so I take her pretty steady.”
After a lifetime of driving trucks Rawlins is planning to take things at a steady pace for the foreseeable future with an open-ended schedule and a few more places to check out through the windscreen of the Atkinson.
“My nephew wants the Valiant back at home for his wedding next year and after that I will head for Western Australia. The plan is to end up at Alice Springs in 2025 for the Hall of Fame reunion.
“I have certain things I want to do so I just head off and fill in the gaps wherever. I had 56 years driving around the countryside at 100k’s and never stopped to look at anything, so it’s time to stop and have a bit of a look about.”