Outback, Truck driver, Truckie Profiles

Lost friend inspires change for outback super quad driver

From behind the wheel of a new 700hp Volvo prime mover, carrying a 140 tonne payload, with 100 tyres going down the road, Elaine Jackson, 51, says she’s absolutely “loving it!” out in the west.

Based in Mount Gambier, SA, she flies into Port Hedland to carry out her role with Qube Bulk, doing four weeks on and two weeks off. Her run is 400 kilometres each way, from the camp near Port Hedland to the Woodie Woodie manganese mine site.

Prior to her outback road train work, Elaine had spent about 10 years driving log trucks. Her most recent role in logging was with Tabeel Trading Nominees (TTN) in Mount Gambier, where in December 2022 she was named their truck driver of the year and, shortly after, given the keys to a brand new 770hp Scania.

Elaine (right) and her dear friend Angela both went for their HC licences at the same time. Tragically, Angela passed away from cancer in April last year. Image: Elaine Jackson

But it was the tragic passing of a dear friend to cancer about 12 months ago that made her see things from a different perspective: “After my friend passed away at 56 years old, I thought to myself, tomorrow is never guaranteed so it was now or never. It had always been my dream to try FIFO in the big rigs and I just needed to do this for myself,” she said.

Fast forward to late last year, when Elaine applied for a job at Qube Bulk.

“They called to tell me I was successful and when did I want to start. I asked when they wanted me and the answer was yesterday! I wanted to spend Christmas with my family and my 95 year old grandmother, so we could all celebrate my 4 month old granddaughter’s first Christmas – so I flew out to start with Qube on December 28th.”

With a 40-acre hobby farm complete with sheep and cattle at home, Elaine says her partner Anthony Winterfield (who is a log truck driver himself) was very supportive, with the family offering to help out at the property if it was needed. “They all said you do whatever you need to do.”

Prior to hitting the road solo, Elaine spent three weeks training with other drivers and four days travelling to the Woodie Woodie mine site with a trainer.

“Before starting with Qube Bulk, the biggest combination I’d ever driven was a B-double but they weren’t too concerned about that because all the training was provided. The first day the trainer drove, then I drove with him in the passenger seat.”

The Qube truck Elaine currently drives is a twin steer tri-drive prime mover, with the super quad measuring 60 metres.

Prior to her current role, she was working for TTN, driving log trucks. Image: Elaine Jackson

“It’s very stable and tracks very well,” she said. “It’s probably more stable than the B-doubles I was in because it’s longer and has more pivot points. It’s all spring suspension on the trailers and dollies, whereas back home when I was in the B-double log trucks, it was all airbag suspension so they rolled around a little bit more. Even the turning capacity of the quad, so long as your second trailer is clear of the turning/pivot point before you turn, the other trailers just track around with it.”

Though the trip to the Woodie Woodie mine site is her main run, there are a lot of flood-ways along the route that see their fair share of drivers.

“There was about six weeks recently where we couldn’t cart from Woodie Woodie because we couldn’t get to the mine; so I was going to the Wonmunna iron ore mine, down south towards Newman instead.”

The manganese she hauls from Woodie Woodie is mixed with iron ore as part of the steel making process, making it stronger – and heavier.

“We cart it both in crushed and in rock form, after it gets loaded by a big bucket loader. These loaders have on-board scales that tell me the weight as it’s tipped into my trailers. These weights are pre-set by the company to legal requirements and are written on the sides of the trailers for the loader operators.”

The truck operates around the clock, 24 hours a day, 6 days a week – with the seventh day put aside for servicing.

“All up, it takes about 12-14.5 hours to complete the Woodie Woodie run. I share this run with two other drivers, with the other driver taking over when I get out. I work with them for two weeks at a time, then the other driver flies in and I run with them for the next two weeks before I fly out.”

When Elaine first got in the truck just four months ago, there were only 4000km on the clock – now the truck has done over 100,000 kilometres.

Elaine started with Qube Bulk at the end of 2023.

“I was very lucky to get into a nice brand new truck, and the fellas I share it with keep it really clean and tidy too. It’s a pretty dusty environment we operate in, so they’ll often give the truck a good clean and a wash.”

Talking about the most challenging stretch of road along her route, Elaine called out the spot she and fellow truckies in the area have nicknamed “Everest” – a public road called Ripon Hills Road out from Marble Bar.

“It’s a long and steep incline and because we’re towing 140 tonne up there, 10-13km/h is all you can do. And if you miss your gear changes, you can get caught out. There have been a few drivers who’ve been stuck and had to get towed over.

“Touch wood, I haven’t had to do that yet, but I have had to tow a loaded truck out over another hill on the Great Northern Highway near area C. I was shitting myself getting there but was so pumped up once it was all done!”

For all its challenges, including the long hours, time away from home and family, and navigating some of the country’s most treacherous terrain, Elaine says she’s really enjoying the role at Qube Bulk.

“It’s the freedom. You’re out there by yourself, taking it all in. The scenery outside is amazing and you get to see all sorts of different wildlife. The views out there are truly spectacular and they change every day. The sunrises and the sunsets, it warms your heart driving out there, I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve certainly fallen in love with the place.”

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