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Return of the Mack: A touching reunion for veteran truckie

Its fresh white paint job and thorough restoration, complete with the words ‘Hwy Master’ emblazoned on the side of its bonnet, make it easy to forget that this beast is well over 30 years old. 

With more than six million kilometres on the clock, the history of this 1984 Mack Super-Liner is almost as interesting as the man who used to drive it.

For the Maxwell family, it seems trucking is in the blood. Big Rigs spoke with Ray’s son Peter Maxwell, a third-generation truckie – and that’s on both sides of the family too.

He’s lived in Darwin and Brisbane, and has now settled in Tamworth, where he runs his transport operation from.

Ray, 77, has been driving trucks since before he was actually old enough to be behind the wheel. For a number of years, the 1984 Mack, or ‘old girl’ as it’s affectionately known, was his pride and joy.

“Dad’s done over 60 years behind the wheel and never tipped a stock crate over. He pretty much did road train work all his life, mostly livestock but a bit of everything else too,” said Peter.

“My mum and dad used to drive this Mack and I used to go with them sometimes. Mum used to drive it better than Dad.

When Ray was reunited with the ‘old girl’, it wasn’t in the best shape.

“I’ve got some great memories of this truck. They ran around doing stock on road trains, but they fell on tough times and in the early 1990s, Dad had to sell it off. It broke his heart. Dad has had a few trucks over the years but this is the one that left an impression.”

The 1984 Mack was originally owned by industry icons Kay and Sid Ballard, from Camooweal, Queensland.

Kay is credited as the first woman to drive a cattle truck and run cattle transport. She was also among the first women to drive a truck across the Barkly Highway carting cattle – a trip she took many times.

“It was an incredible truck. Kay and Sid were pioneers of outback trucking in Queensland. They had the truck custom built to their specs, so it was really heavy duty. They would use it to pull double decker trailers of livestock through the desert. It would go to a lot of really remote cattle stations,” explained Peter.

“Kay and Sid had this truck specced up way heavier than other trucks around at the time. It still has its original 5×4 gearbox combination. It was specced up with stronger mounts, a nine-tonne front axle. It’s pretty rare to get a truck from back then that’s like this. Sid Ballard was one of the first guys to transport livestock in the outback on a truck.”

Ray bought the truck from the Ballards, and then went on to sell it to his mate Ian Walker, who founded Walker’s Transport in Dubbo in 1960. From one truck, Ian Walker built the business up to 42 at the height of its operation.

“This truck was at Walker’s for many years. Ian made a promise to my Dad, that if he ever sold the truck, he’d sell it back to us. But when the time came, we couldn’t afford to buy it,” recalled Peter.

It was sold to a farmer in Narromine, some 40 kilometres west of Dubbo. And that’s where it stayed – until it was back in the hands of the Maxwells.

The truck left such an impression on Ray that seeing a photo of it brought back so many fond memories.

While attending a Walker’s Transport reunion in early 2019, a picture of the beloved 1984 Mack popped up on the big screen.

“Dad said that’s my old truck, then he excused himself and went outside. He’s driven road trains all over the country for 60 years, so it was a bit of a surprise to see him like that,” recalled Peter.

And it was at that very moment, Peter knew exactly what he had to do – find the truck!

“I spoke to a few guys at the reunion and they helped me out and got me some numbers. The very next day I went on a mission to track this truck down.

“We were able to find it and I called the guy who owned it. I don’t think Dad really believed it or took it seriously until we actually found it. A few days later we went out and had a look. The old girl was in pretty bad shape. They let Dad take it for a drive and we bought the truck.”

The most recent owner had been using the truck to cart grain around his farm property.

“The truck was still running but it had deteriorated so much that it was unroadworthy, so he couldn’t register it. We took the old girl for a drive and were prepared to fix whatever was wrong with it. It turned out there actually wasn’t that much wrong with it in the end. Dad is pretty chuffed that we got it back,” said Peter.

Peter spent the next six months or so restoring the truck in his backyard with his own two hands, to get it mechanically sound and back on the road.

This included a new steering box, sandblasting the rear suspension to clean out any corrosion and fixing the water leaks. The truck started as yellow and white, then was painted in red and white, and then painted again in a different red and white colour scheme – which was very faded and worn by the time Peter and Ray had found it.

“It’s done about six million kilometres and it feels like it’s got another six million left in it.”

By December 2019, the truck was back to work, delivering donated hay to farmers affected by the bushfires, along with some paid jobs too. But then COVID struck and put a spanner in the works.

When we spoke to Peter, he had just picked up a brand new quad axle float trailer, which he was custom built by Moore Trailers to go with the restored truck. He plans to get straight to work doing bulldozer and machinery recovery work.

“When COVID hit, work went quiet again so we decided to park up the truck, paint it all up and get it looking pretty good again while I had some time on my hands. I went through the truck like a pack of salt and got it all back up to its former glory on a very limited budget,” said Peter

“After the restrictions lifted, my dad came and visited me once again and when he saw his old truck looking good, he went a little teary-eyed, but they weren’t tears of sadness, they were tears of joy.”

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