Saved from the grave

By: Steve Skinner, Photography by: Steve Skinner


If you’re heading to Australia, there’s something special to see on the Olympic Highway – one of the main tracks between Melbourne and Brisbane, where a collection of old workhorses evoke memories

My first job out of school was unloading wheat trucks and loading wheat trains at the silos at The Rock, a lovely small town between Wagga Wagga and Albury in southern NSW.

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We’ve earnt a rest: from left to right an old Bedford, International, Ford, miniature Daihatsu; Austin, cabover Ford, cabover Dodge, and cabover Bedford

It was 1980 and nearly every farm truck that trundled in was a small rigid built in the 1960s, with a grain bin perched on the back. Unloading involved opening usually very stiff old side chute doors. So it was quite a novelty and a relief when the occasional semi-trailer tipper turned up.

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Out the chute: a slip-on grain bin which was the norm before the advent of bigger tippers

Fast forward several decades and, of course, the grain game has got much bigger in every way, but on country roads, you can still see the occasional ancient old rigid with a grain bin or livestock crate on the back, usually poking along much slower than everybody else would like.

And, of course, there are plenty of them to be seen nicely restored at vintage truck shows and hot rod meets.

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Vigilant: This 1940s jalopy keeps an eye out for its mates

But it’s rare to see a single collection in original condition like these 20 old classics. We spotted a group of old trucks in a paddock while on the move between Wagga and Melbourne earlier in the year and went back for a closer look more recently. Ironically, this truck ‘graveyard’ is bounded by the highway and a local road, which leads to the local cemetery.

The aspect that stands out is the absence of Japanese trucks – they didn’t start their domination of the rigid market in Australia until the late 1970s or so.

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Does anyone want me? This old Ford hasn’t moved far from its former home at Culcairn further down the highway

Instead, there are long-gone American truck brands such as Dodge, Fargo, and Ford, and extinct Brits such as Austin, Commer, and Bedford.

There were no airbag suspensions to be seen on any of these old bangers, which were often horribly overloaded in their heyday. And there were even a couple with spider wheels, something you never see on rigids these days.

Works of art

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Before the advent of air-suspended bucket seats: Rigid bench with coil springs in a rusty old International AB160 

This set of vintage trucks has already been sold to a single buyer for parts by Wagga and Uranquinty general antique dealer John Gilfillan, with a new batch expected to arrive from farms and clearance sales soon after the time of writing. Both pick-ups and deliveries can be organised via tilt tray or low loader.

John says nostalgia is a big factor in the antique trucks game and his favourite type of buyer motivation.

"If someone started driving a truck when they were 18 or 19, they want it in their backyard when they hit retirement age," he says.

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Wish I was that young again: an old Fargo watches a modern grain carter roar up the Olympic Highway

"Another group are farmer’s sons who remember the truck on the farm when they were growing up."

However, there’s also a buying segment who just want a cheap truck in running order to use on their current farm.

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The famous International brand once dominated global truck and farm machinery manufacture. This bonneted beauty was built in the late 1950s.

I remember seeing an old Bedford "fire tanker" on a farm that had just enough boards left on the tray to support a massive water tank, which was so heavy on the poor chassis rails that a clear bow could be seen in the middle of the ancient unit. The seat was an old milk crate.

On the supply side of things, John says a lot of older farmers might have bought a truck new 50 years ago or more and can’t part with it, whereas a lot of the younger generation and corporate farmers are more likely to just want to clear everything out of the shed. John describes himself as an "artist at heart", and enjoys what he calls these "sculptural" objects.

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View from the highway: a reminder of rural trucking days long past.

"A truck could be as ugly as sin but sometimes they’re more beautiful when they’re ugly," he reckons.

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