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Poetic tributes of life on the road

As is the story of many truckies, truck driving wasn’t just a job for Gray, it was a way of life. Nicknamed Shiny because his trucks were always immaculate, Gray was taken off the road five years ago, once his Parkinson’s symptoms began.

“It started with a tremor in the legs, severe fatigue and shaking of the hands. I’ve been off the road since and I miss my trucks so badly. It’s the one thing in my life I can’t replace, it’s that itch I can never scratch. I draw trucks, I write about trucks,” he said.

“When you’re used to working 100+ hours a week; and go from that to sitting at home every day, it’s like torture. I was really angry at first, but I’ve had to come to terms with it. It’s taught me a lot of patience.

“It doesn’t matter how much worry or stress you put into something, what will be, will be, and you can’t change it. You’ve just gotta go with the ride.”

With the extra time he now has, Gray writes poems about trucking and the lifestyle, reminiscing about his life on the road:

“He shuffled out the door that morning

In his usual way

He grabbed his hat & walking stick

And set off for his day

His days were long & boring now

He longed for days gone by

When he had his trusty workhorse

As down the roads they’d fly…”

“I’ve always been into writing. When I was a kid, I loved writing and drawing trucks. Even when I was trucking, I’d still scribble out something. I’ve always been eloquent with my words. I write a lot now, it’s a bit cathartic,” explained Gray.

“No one tells when you first begin

Of the bond that you will make

With a piece of bloody machinery

That took a week to make

They don’t tell you of the tears you’ll shed

As you’re forced to say goodbye

To the thing you built a bond with

As the miles flew on by…”

Though Parkinson’s disease is most common in those aged 60 or older, Gray’s symptoms started when he was just 48. Now 53 and unable to drive, Gray spends his time writing poems about trucking and enjoying the company of his Corgi/Jack Russell cross, Jack.

“He’s my best mate in the whole world. We’re inseparable now. Sometimes I can choke in my sleep, and he wakes me up by barking or nibbling at my hand. And if my arms are tremoring really bad, he’ll lie on my hands to try to calm them down.”

A young Chris in his 20s with his first interstate truck, a Ford LNT9000.

Having grown up on a farm in Wallendbeen, NSW, Gray has been surrounded by trucks his whole life. “I was born into it, because my dad was a truck driver and my uncle was a truck driver as well. I used to go with him interstate a lot.”

Gray learned to drive in an F Model Mack, taught by his uncle, who was a hard taskmaster.

“I was only 12-13 but I was a farm kid. My uncle told me I was only allowed to drive backwards for six months, so any time the truck needed to be reversed, that was my job. When I was allowed to start driving forwards, if I punched a gear, he’d whack my hand with a ruler. Uncle John was a cattle truck driver and we lived on a farmhouse there. He was a hard teacher but that’s how I learnt.”

At 18, Gray secured a good job selling a spare parts, complete with a good salary and company car. But just a few months in, after seeing a truck drive past, he quit on the spot and turned to driving trucks.

“I’ve had a go at everything, local and interstate; tippers, tautliners, refrigerated, containers. I had visions of me dying in a truck or going to sleep in a parking bay and not waking up.

“It’s sad because when you get taken out of the trucks, there’s no chance to say goodbye, or see your mates because they’re all out still trucking. It’s a bit weird like that. I still talk to them heaps and they drop in now and then. But it’s not the same. There’s no more pulling up at the truck stop. Trucking to me was a lonely contentment that you could never name.

“It was a lifestyle. That’s what I miss the most. I miss getting home on a Friday night or Saturday morning and I’d park the truck and sit out the front with a beer, listening to the truck while it cooled down. Then the next morning, you’d get up and wash it and clean it all up. It was pretty much my life. I’d be out there with the truck, my three kids and the dogs,” recalled Gray.

Gray has also turned to restoring old farm trucks with his youngest son Zeb (16), who goes by the nickname Northbound.

“I gave the 1969 Dodge we restored to a mate to bless his life. There’s no point being selfish. I’ve just bought a 1972 Dodge. It was sitting in a shed and hadn’t been started for 10 years, but we’ve got it running now. That’s our next project. Northbound wants to be a diesel mechanic and get in the trucks like Dad.”

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