It is quite a contrast from a petrol-powered Dodge horse truck to a current spec Kenworth T909 with a quad fridge van, but it reflects the continual evolution of transport over the last 44 years, the length of time in which Mick Dwyer has been running the highways and outback tracks around Australia.
Driving for Churchill Transport of Holbrook, Dwyer and the Kenworth were putting in a Saturday evening making their way down the Hume to the Woolworths DC at Truganina.
Loaded with produce out of Sydney and with a bit of time up his sleeve Dwyer was more than happy to have a chat about his times in the transport industry.
“I kicked off up in Maitland with a rigid Dodge horse truck on local and interstate…it was a ‘660’ with a 360 V8, 5-speed/2 speed diff and a big exhaust pipe out the side and she looked really neat. My family them moved to Dapto where my father was the secretary at the Dapto Dogs, so I worked local there for Heggie’s and when I got my semi licence, I got a start with Murrell Freight Lines in a plastic-cabbed Atkinson,” he explained.
Spending a number of years in the familiar red-and black Murrell fleet colours, Dwyer worked his way along operating a variety of trucks including an International S-Line and then a number of Kenworths, which included highway work from coast to coast and running road trains to remote parts of Australia.
“We would run bricks to Perth, freight into the rocket range at Woomera and a lot of gas pipe all over Australia and into Moomba in particular…we would go in with a single trailer from Yunta or as a double road train from Lyndhurst up the Strzelecki track – we did a helluva lot of work up there, but it is really remote and out in the middle of nowhere!” he said.
Along the way Dwyer also drove a Peterbilt for Alan Lever, worked for John L.Pierce, spent time carting paper reels for Visy and had a stint on tipper work around Holbrook before reuniting with Anthony Churchill around two years ago, an operator with whom he has had a long association.
“I have probably worked with Anthony for the last 30 years over a few different stints, I’m on here as a permanent casual and work the back end of the week to give the drivers their time off especially at this time of the year the trucks are kept fairly busy running between Griffith, Sydney and Melbourne,” he continued.
“I will give it back to the regular driver tomorrow night. He has had a good weekend, so he is nice and fresh. Anthony looks after his drivers really well and he has some of the nicest gear out on the road.”
With so many years and miles passing under the wheels Dwyer has many good memories of times past but appreciates the advances in technology over that time.
“The old Atkinson with the Hendrickson rear end…she was rough! She used to do a bit of kicking! Now we have a Kenworth with airbag suspension, a microwave, fridge and all the gear like mobile phones….we don’t have to chase around looking for a phone box to find the phone not working. We worked hard in those days; everyone did big days back then. The gear was reasonably good but the places along the way we would go through when the roads weren’t so flash – the Cullerins, Little Sydney Harbour and so on. But it was the mateship, I made a lot of good mates out on the highway and there’s still a lot of good fellas out there,” he reflected.
On the flip side of the coin the Dwyer reckons the unity amongst truck drivers has largely disappeared.
“Everybody has a different attitude these days, that can get on your nerves a bit – you used to have someone flash you in when you passed them, nowadays you’re flat out getting a flash…I miss the old school ways – you would look after those that look after you on the highway and it will never come back,” he lamented.
The Kenworth Dwyer was steering down the Hume is one of a number of fridge van units in the Churchill operation, and with a 550hp Cummins providing the motive power Dwyer reckoned the truck was more than suited to the job.
“The Cummins goes well pulling the quad tailer – it’s a 26-pallet unit, I was a bit iffy with the extra length when I first started loading them but now I’m used to them I find them really good. I wasn’t sure about doing fridge work when I went back to Anthony but maybe I have matured, I just open the doors and away I go, no doing straps or rolling up tarps,” he said with a smile.
As is the case with a lot of people in transport, Dwyer was christened with a nickname which has endured over his time over the road, being somewhat curiously known to all and sundry as ‘Wonder Woman’.
“I got that at Murrell’s,” he explained. “I used to do three a week down the coast from Wollongong to Sale in the S-Line which only had 230 horsepower, so they christened my ‘Wonder Boy’ in the Murrells yard…of course Wonder Woman was on TV back in those days, so it soon got changed so now I have been stuck with it for the last 40 years.”
Away from the highways Dwyer and his family have been involved with show horses, with the family having a long association with the Sydney Easter Show, with the Champion Hackney Pony awarded each year with a trophy in his grandfather’s name.
Having presented the trophy in years past, in 2021 Dwyer will be one of the judges.
“Dad showed ponies for a number of years and my brother was on the shortlist for Olympic selection in show jumping with a horse he had – as a family we have all been involved with horses, it’s just horsepower and trucks that have occupied most of my time.”
At just 62, Dwyer reckons there is a few years and miles left to be travelled, and with his home at Woomargama not too far from the Churchill depot he thinks he is in a pretty good position to keep at the wheel for a while yet.
“Mostly its 3-4 nights a week, I might do a week here and there especially when it’s busy …I will keep it going as long as the passion is there! I can’t complain, you take the good days and the bad days you take on the chin – that’s transport.”