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Derham family hits the gas for Crawlin’ the Hume

As part of the many and varied trucks that made their way up the Hume Highway in March in the 2021 Crawlin’ the Hume convoy, the 1984 Kenworth owned by the Derham family also saw the Aftrans’ fleet name and colours once again take to Highway 31.

The 37-year-old Kenworth, with matching tanker trailer was once again rolling along the Hume having covered the trek between Melbourne and Sydney on the old Hume many times over in its working life.

Having been sold in the mid-1990s the truck was re-purchased by the family a few years ago and fully restored to as-new condition, with father and son David and Andrew Derham sharing the driving duties in this year’s convoy.

In its first incarnation the Kenworth rarely stood still, with David working the truck hard and its Detroit ‘Silver 92’ proving to be a solid performer hauling both gas tankers for Aftrans and overnight express freight.

“It was the first Kenworth I had bought new, had a few others prior to buying it, from memory it was around $105,000 out of Kenworth in Footscray,” David explained.

“It was very reliable with the 8/92 in it, we had it tricked up a bit and breathed a bit of extra power out of it, so it was up around 500 horsepower and used to go very well. In the summertime when the gas job dropped off a little bit, we worked out of IPEC as casuals doing a lot of Adelaide running with one of their express trailers.”

Of course, back in the 1980s in terms of trucks on the highway the Kenworth/Detroit combination was a pretty handy weapon to have, and with the Aftrans work taking David from ICI at Deer Park in Melbourne to Brisbane, Sydney and Adelaide on a regular basis the Kenworth was able to set a good pace.

“It was very quick, back in the day there wasn’t much better around – they were right up there…probably the V8 Macks and trucks like that were probably a bit quicker up the hills but we lived on plenty of momentum and plenty of speed at the bottom of the hill,” David said with a smile.

Having worked the truck for just over a decade and putting 1.3 million kilometres on the odometer, the truck was sold to FCL where it was put to work on shutting containers around metropolitan Melbourne.

The Derhams always knew where the truck was working so when seeking it out to buy back it was a simple process to locate, and once back in the family workshop, Andrew took on the rebuild project.

The Derham Kenworth in its Aftrans paint colours shines in Albury.

“It worked for FCL for about 20 years and only did about another 500,000km so it’s only got about 1.9 million on it. When we got it back a few years ago it was painted in the FCL colours, and we fully stripped it back-it had only done the container work, so it was pretty good. It’s still all original with the 8/92, thirteen speed Roadranger box and Ryco rear end.

“We just wanted to get it back to how the old man had it, it was a big job tidying it up, but it came up well, about nine months solid all up. Steve Thomas who is  good mate of mine did it, he’s a bit of a perfectionist so he did the bulk of it and has done a great job.”

Once a regular sight on the highways around the country, the Aftrans name has long disappeared having been absorbed into the Chemtrans group, which itself is today part of the K & S Corporation. Having worked on a variety of transport roles including running an Atkinson on fuel transport for Knights at Kilmore, it was the purchase of another Atkinson in the early 1980s  that got David into the Aftrans’ colours.

“I bought Frank Webb’s truck and contract off him – at the time Aftrans had six sub-contractors in Wodonga, and they were going to start carting a lot more LPG out of Melbourne interstate. 

Frank had an Atkinson with an 8/71 Detroit in it and it was mechanically like new as he was a very good operator, so I bought that truck off him with the job. It was a 24-hours/seven day a week job, as long as you could keep your eyes open you would keep going.”

And keep going David did, building up his fleet along the way eventually running eight trucks with Aftrans, and later under the Chemtrans banner.

“Back in those days – Aftrans had basically all the gas tankers running up and down the highway, they were there before the likes of Cootes and Stephensons . When I started in 1983 on the gas about all you would see at night was Aftrans tankers – you could tell by the two lights on the tankers at the back, and the orange and white were a good colour,” David said.

The Derham family was undertaking the Crawlin the Hume event for the first time with both Andrew and David enjoying the experience of steering the Kenworth up the old stretches of the Hume once again, and for Andrew his first opportunity to go for a longer run in the truck from the driver’s seat.

“I loved it yesterday, I had done plenty of time up and down the highway in it as a kid. I was 18 when we got rid of it so only drove it once with the ‘Driver under Instruction’ plates on it and I had to wait 25 years to drive it again,” he said with a grin.

For his father, the trip bought back the memories of how the Hume was back in the era before today’s freeway which connects Melbourne and Sydney and allowed him to give an old mate a ride up the Hume for old time’s sake.

“It used to be pretty horrific on the old Hume. You had to be on the job all the time with a lot of trucks, especially at night and for years and years we put up with the roadworks when they were doing the duplications, so they were hard days. I drove it from Kilmore up to Winton – my first driver I had back in 1978, Phil (Tiger) Merry had a stroke, but we were able to get him up into the passenger seat and I took him from Kilmore to Winton for a run which made his day,” David said.

With the Derham family based at Lara today running a sand quarry and a large fleet of tippers covering south-west Victoria, the event provided a good chance to get away and take in the nostalgia of the event.

David reckoned his Kenworth would still be able to hold its own with a lot of today’s trucks, along with illustrating how it used to be out on the road with the ‘Silver 92’ strutting its stuff.

“It’s really good to have these 2-strokes out and about. A lot of the younger generation have never heard these engines running and see them blow a bit of smoke, it’s really good fun. It’s still an excellent truck to drive, you could still be doing interstate in it if you wanted to, she purrs along beautifully.

But it’s just great to come to an event like this and see some of the old original trucks that were up and down the highway and the people that were with them.

“You can switch off from worrying about customers, and so forth, and just think about changing gears and relax.”

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