It was just seven years after man first landed on the moon that Mason Stevenson gave the first Clifford Brick and Tile truck its distinctive look.
This year, the 85-year-old signwriting veteran was back at the Ballarat headquarters of Clifford Brick and Tile to decorate the company’s three new trucks; two new Mercedes-Benz Actros models and a Freightliner Cascadia.
Mason has signwritten around 65-odd trucks for the business since the first little Hino in 1975.
“He’s done all but one of our trucks,” said Neil Clifford. “One day I got a call from Mason, who had just spotted the one truck he didn’t do going down the road and was asking if there was something he had done wrong.
“I quickly explained that it was an insurance job and that they had to paint it as part of the settlement. He hasn’t missed one since.”
The softly spoken Stevenson, who moved to Australia from his native Scotland in the
1974, has just clocked up his 70th year of signwriting. That’s right, his 70th year.
“It sounds terrible,” Stevenson said as he pondered the massive milestone. “I’m glad it’s a job that I like.”
Stevenson and his wife Patricia had five children and all but two have become sign-writers. He said the other two have disappointed him – one is a doctor and a science teacher, but he does it with a proud twinkle in his eye and a big smile.
It should be no surprise that signwriting appears to be hereditary in the Stevenson clan, after all, Mason learned the trade thanks to his father who had a house painting and signwriting business and brought Mason on as an apprentice at 15 years of age.
“When we were doing a job, Dad would let me do the signs, under his supervision of course,” said Stevenson.
After a stint in the RAF and attending a night school course to learn more about signwriting, Stevenson started out on his own signwriting for a company that built vans in Edinburgh.
By the 1970s, Stevenson and his wife had grown sick of the cold and wet weather of Scotland and decided to move out to Australia, choosing Ballarat in the goldfields region of Victoria, largely due to a family connection.
The irony of moving to Ballarat to get away for bad weather has a certain irony, given its relative cool temperatures and long winters, but it was still better than Scotland.
The art of signwriting was very different when Stevenson started work in Australia in 1973.
“Everything was hand painted lettering back then, nothing was stuck on,” he said.
“When I first came to Australia, none of the signwriters had computer letters, everybody just painted it on.”
Stevenson was an early adopter of computer graphics, but continued to do a lot of work with his brushes until the last few years.
Big Rigs caught up with Stevenson at the Clifford Tile and Brick workshop, where he was applying some pinstriping to a Mercedes-Benz Actros.
He applies the stripes with the kind of skill you build up over a lifetime, with his hands remaining rock steady despite his age.
Stevenson works on many jobs with his son Harvey, who started as an apprentice at the age of 14-years, and runs his own signwriting business in Ballarat.
They came to look at the Clifford’s new Cascadia, one of the first in the country. It is a new shape, so the traditional design had to be updated.
“Dad and I came and had a look at it in person and came up with a design and then went back and prepared all the material,” Harvey said.
“It is a bit of a challenge with some of the new trucks because of some of the design elements, you might have an odd shaped moulding or angles on doors which can really play with your eye,” he says. “You just have to work with the design to suit the truck.”
While Mason was still painting the lettering for a recent Mercedes-Benz Actros the Clifford’s bought in 2016, the latest two trucks use all vinyl cut elements.
“I spent hours getting Dad’s scrolls on the computer and adapting them in design programs. This way, they can live on forever and be a feature of Clifford trucks well into the future,” Harvey said.