As 2020 comes to an end, long-time interstate truckie John Furler will swap the truck cab for a caravan, signing off on a career that has taken him all over Australia.
The veteran South Australian truckie has been driving the highways and by-ways around Australia for the past 50 years and has a wealth of knowledge about the road transport industry.
I caught up with the quietly spoken owner-operator, who is retiring at the end of this year, to find out a bit more about his history, and what he plans to do next.
Aged 66, Furler is based at Clare which is located in a wine producing region about 120km from Adelaide.
For the past three and a half years Furler has driven a Mercedes Benz Actros 6258 with a 580hp motor and a 12-speed automatic gearbox.
“Every Monday I load up timber at Mt Gambier and take it to Brisbane and then have a backload of steel to bring back to Adelaide. It is a 4600km round trip and takes five days,” Furler said.
Furler who has been an owner-operator since 1984, said he has been to all states and the NT as a truckie, except Tasmania.
“I have had a Kenworth, a Mack and a Freightliner before the Mercedes and all were purchased brand new. When I sold my previous truck, a Century Class Freightliner it had 2.5 million kilometres on the clock,” he said.
Furler was glowing in his praise of the Mercedes which had travelled 570,000km when I spoke to him.
“It is a great truck and gets regular services. All it has needed has been a set of front shockers and wiper blades,” he said.
The first one Furler had was a Morris 4-cylinder petrol driven vehicle with single back wheels, which was used for selling potatoes.
It was a far cry from the comforts of the state-of-the-art Mercedes.
I asked Furler if he thought there were enough rest areas for truckies.
“No there isn’t. But I pick the rest areas I want to stop at and try and stay away from ones where fridge vans and stock crates are parked. Between Narrabri and Gilgandra really needs more. But there is a great one at Lillyvale between Cobar and Wilcannia where there are toilets on both sides of the road where you can wash the hands. And shaded seats and tables where you can get out of the sun,” he said.
This long-time truckie has driven some of the worst roads in the country including the notorious Strzelecki Track.
“I would have to say the roughest now is between Goondiwindi and Yelarbon in Queensland. Many years ago I got stuck for three weeks on a bad road,” he said.
As for camaraderie between drivers today when compared with previous eras, Furler was quick to offer his opinion.
“It is buggered and not the same as it used to be. Before they would stop and help if you broke down but now most drive past. Lots of the old-timers who are my mates have retired,” he said.
The subject about if there is enough young drivers is often raised by truckies and also how many female drivers are active.
“I don’t see that many young fellas and maybe might see one or at the most two female drivers a week on average,” he said.
During his long career, Furler bought a fruit shop for about six years but still used to truck it into Adelaide regularly to buy supplies.
His loyal wife Helen does the books and administration side of the business and the couple have been married since 1977.
They have three children, a son and two daughters and nine grandchildren.
“One of my grandsons is aged 15 and is 193cm tall and is a ruckman in a footy team down this way,” said Furler who is an Adelaide Crows supporter in the AFL.
When he does get time off and that is not often, Furler enjoys fishing, camping and sailing and catches some whiting around Port Lincoln.
Early next year there will be lots more recreation time as Furler has sold his truck to a Clare company which will take it over at the year’s end.
“I will be hooking up my caravan and going around Australia,” he said.
On those journeys, Furler and Helen are sure to be listening to songs by his favourite performers Elvis Presley and Furlerny Cash.
“I like most country and western music and songs,” he said in conclusion.
I look forward to meeting Furler and Helen next year when they travel to my neck of the woods in their van.