The story of Henry Ford (1863 -1947) and his legendary Ford Motor Company is perhaps one of the best researched and documented in the world. The American industrialist revolutionised the automobile world with the release of his legendary Model T and was responsible for development of both the assembly line and mass production principles. Born on a farm in the small town of Greenfield near Detroit, Michigan Henry Ford was the eldest of five children. His father, William was born in County Cork, Ireland, of a family originally from Western England and Mary, his mother, was born in Michigan the youngest child of Belgian immigrants. The young Henry Ford grew up with an appreciation that the world was much bigger than his own neighbourhood and with an avid interest in all things mechanical. It is reported that when his father presented him with a pocket watch in his teens he dismantled it and re-assembled it so many times he earned himself the title of watch repairman among his friends and neighbours. As the eldest of the Ford siblings his father expected Henry to eventually take over the family farm, but Ford had grander plans. He later wrote, "I never had any particular love for the farm - it was the mother on the farm I loved. He was devastated when she died in 1876.
Ford moved to Detroit in 1879 where he undertook an apprenticeship as a machinist with James F Flower before working for the Detroit Dry Dock Co. In 1882, he returned to the family farm where he operated the Westinghouse portable steam engine. He later went to work for the Westinghouse company and studied bookkeeping at the Goldsmith, Bryant & Stratton Business College in Detroit. Ford also qualified as an engineer working for the Edison Illuminating Company. By the mid 1890s he had married his wife Clara, had a child (Edsel Ford1893-1943) and was running the family farm and a sawmill. He never lost his interest in mechanics. All his spare time and cash went into his personal experimentation with gasoline engines and the eventual production of his self-propelled Ford Quadricycle in 1897 It wasn’t an easy start for Ford to launch himself into the automotive industry. While there were certainly many successes there were also considerable disappointments and a few stops and starts. Ford always had a steely determination to do it his way and while this got him into the odd crisis it no doubt formed the basis on which his empire was built.
Thomas Edison encouraged Henry Ford to continue his work with the automobile and in 1898 a second more advanced Quadricycle was released. Detroit lumber baron, William H. Murphy, was so impressed with it he financed Ford into starting the Detroit Automobile Company in 1899. It was a short-lived venture. Ford himself was displeased with the poor quality of the vehicles and the high price tag he had to put on them. He dissolved the business in January 1901 and with the support of several original stockholders in the Detroit Automobile Company he formed the Henry Ford Company later that same year. However, when Murphy brought in Henry M. Leland as a consultant Ford left the company less than a year later. With Ford gone, Murphy renamed the company the Cadillac Automobile Company. Ford then formed a partnership with Detroit coal dealer, Alexander Y. Malcomson. "Ford & Malcomson” immediately set about designing an inexpensive automobile. Times were tough and sales were slow and this was compounded by the Dodge Brothers demand that an order for parts, for over $160,000, be paid in advance. The result was the Dodge Brothers accepted a share in the new company.
The Ford Motor Company came into being in June 1903. Among the stockholders were Ford and Malcomson, the Dodge brothers, Malcomson's uncle John S. Gray, James Couzens, and lawyers, John W. Anderson and Horace Rackham. Fords first release subsequently set a new land speed record of 91.3 miles per hour at Lake St. Clair. Race car driver Barney Oldfield took the car, dubbed “999”, on a tour around the country promoting the Ford product.
Records at the Ford Discovery Centre show the first Ford came into Australia in 1904 and that several others followed in subsequent years. However, it was The Model T that gave Ford international recognitions. Introduced on1 October 1908 it was an overnight success. It had the steering wheel on the left and the entire engine and transmission enclosed; the four cylinders were cast in a solid block and the suspension used two semi-elliptic springs. This was an automobile that met Henry Ford’s personal goals; it was easy to drive, simple to repair and at just US$825 it was cheap to purchase. Every newspaper in the country carried stories and ads about the new product.
Ford wasn’t going to leave its success to chance. The success of the Model T not only promoted the Ford product but the very concept of driving. Sales literally skyrocketed and for several years the company posted 100% gains on the previous year every year.
It was in this era that Ford made its first real move into Australia. While the Duncan and Fraser Oldsmobile dealership in Adelaide is believed to be the first official dealership established in Australia, the first professional car sales team arrived in Australia in 1909. R. J. Durance and his wife, Ivy, on appointment of Ford Canada, were tasked with promoting the Model T and establishing a Ford Agency network in Australia. The move had come from Ford Canada because import duties were less stringent on trade between countries of the Commonwealth. Durance travelled all round Australia promoting the Model T, setting up distributorships and recording orders in his notebook. At the end of their first year’s trading, they had sold “on paper” an amazing 1400 Model T Fords although other documentation from that year indicate a total of 350 were sold for 1909. Interestingly, Duncan and Fraser also eventually became a Ford Distributor The West Australian Police Department was one of the first to realise the advantages that speed and mobility could bring to administering law and order in the sometimes unruly settlements. One of Australia’s first imported police cars was 20hp Model T Ford. It began service in Perth in 1911.
Even though Ford had made a couple of unsuccessful attempts at commercial vehicles in his earlier years the history of Ford, for the trucking industry at least, really begins with the Model TT of 1917 – and what an introduction it was. Based on Model T mechanicals, the TT was rated at one ton and had several unique features including a stronger frame, worm-gear differential and solid-rubber rear tyres. Initially it came only as a chassis with cab until 1924 when Ford offered it with the Express body with a pickup bed. The Model TT had a 20-horsepower sidevalve engine, two- speed planetary gears and high ground clearance making it the ideal choice for many outback applications and it certainly played a major part in popularising motor transport in Australia. It was ideal for Australian roads, which were generally corrugated, rough, dusty and occasionally flooded. The TT was sometimes called "the squatter’s joy" in Australia because of its popularity with farmers.
However the Model T, and its commercial cousin the TT were universally known as the “Tin Lizzie” and there are several versions of where this originated. These vary from Elizabeth being the name of Henry Fords daughter , to Lizzie being the most common name of horses, to the car being a reliable servant made out of tin – Lizzie was the slang given for a reliable servant. However the most likely origin comes from the fact that in the early 1900s, automobile manufacturers would promote their new releases by hosting car races. A t one such championship race in Colorado Noel Bullock entered in his Model T,named "Old Liz." Old Liz had no paintwork, lacked a hood and looked worse for wear - Some spectators and said she look like an old tin can and she went on to be called “Tin Lizzie” for the rest of that day To everyone's surprise Bullock won the race in his tin can called ‘Old Liz’ and it was reported by newspapers that Ford’s Tin Lizzie was the new champion of automobiles.
The trucks arrived in ‘knock down condition’ from Canada and were assembled in Australia with each agency responsible for fitting out and dressing the trucks they sold. This meant there were noticeable differences not only from those models in the US and Canada but also between the states of Australia. Ford had sold a total of 250,000 vehicles by 1914 and by 1915 were exporting just under 2000 vehicles a month into Australia. In 1918 the Fordson tractor arrived and the following year Ford Canada opened a office in Melbourne. Australian business quickly found plenty of applications for the Model T and the later TT Commercial. While many deliveries were being carried out by bicycle or from box type side cars on motor bikes bigger companies such as Dunlop Tyres used T Model Fords for their deliveries.
Back in the USA Ford had introduced moving assembly belts into his plants which enabled an enormous increase in production at considerable cost savings. While Ford is often credited with this idea several other company’s had earlier used versions of it. As production increased so the price reduced. By 1916 Ford was selling the basic touring car for just US$360. By 1918, half of all the cars in America were Model T's. They were mostly all painted monolithic black. Ford’s assembly line mandated black because of its quicker drying time, Model T's had earlier been available in other colors. The marketing was at fever pitch and Ford vigorously defended his design. Production of the Model T range continued until 1927 when total production reached a staggering15,007,034 - a record that stood for the next 45 years.
During WWI Ford was called upon to contribute to the war effort. Ford was a pacifist and actively involved in the peace movement. Never the less Ford plants spent the war years building Liberty aircraft engines. Having acquired those skills Ford was keen to use them and acquired the Stout Metal Airplane Company in 1925 when it came up for sale. Ford plants in Britain also produced tractors to increase the British food supply.
In 1918 Henry Ford shocked the industry when he handed Presidency of Ford Motor Company to his son Edsel Ford although he retained final decision authority. He was also known to have often reversed decisions made his son. Henry Ford then founded Henry Ford & Son. No-one could quite understand why he did this until it became obvious the goal was to scare the remaining stockholders of the Ford Motor Company into selling their stakes to him. Ford was determined to have full control over strategic decisions. It worked. Henry and Edsel purchased all remaining stock and the Ford family now had sole ownership of the company.
There were many businesses in Australia that used either the Model T or TT in their businesses crudely adapting the chassis and cab to suit the application they were going to use it for. Very few long term businesses in Australia would not have had Model T at some stage. The famous Dion Brothers from the Wollongong region started with a market garden delivering their produce by horse and cart. In 1923, the family started operating a bus service using an enclosed T Model Ford on the road from Wollongong to Balgownie and Bellambi and eventually to other nearby locations. The home made bus was painted bright red and fitted with the luxury of canvas blinds to protect passengers from the inclement weather. With wooden seats, and solid tyres, it was licensed to carry 20 passengers. By 1926, the family had added another two 20-seater buses and several other routes to their growing business.
The five Dion brothers, Tom, Ted, Charlie (Barney), Ernie and Les drove and maintained the buses assisted by their sisters and wives. In 1927, the family moved to its depot on the Princes Highway in Fairy Meadow. The Dions were they first in the Wollongong area to conduct regular excursion trips to places like Canberra, Goulburn, Sussex Inlet and the Blue Mountains. At the time, a return day trip to the Jenolan Caves cost nine shillings per adult. During the years of the Depression, the Dions were known to give free rides to passengers and often delivered, free of cost, parcels and freight for regular customers who were finding the going hard. The Dions endeared themselves to the locals because, unlike other bus operators of the time, they never drove past anyone walking along the road whether they had the fare or not.
Another such operator was Albert (Bert) Sadler who pioneered cream carrying by motor truck in the South Burnett region of Queensland. After serving in Belgium and France during WW1 where he was wounded three times as well as being gassed he started a cream carrying business from the Tansey-Oakfield areas into the Goomeri rai l- head for trans-shipping to cheese factories. Most of the farmers had come from Germany under sponsorship of religious organisations and the area was a hub of activity for lucerne and dairy goods. His canvas-covered, two-ton, T Model Ford with crude tin roof and solid rubber tyres is believed to be the first truck of its type in Queensland. It was certainly the first truck in the hilly South Burnett district.
Bert would have to reverse his old Model T up some of the steeper hills on the tail end of his rounds. The fuels system was gravity fed and if Bert drove his truck forward he found that the motor starved of petrol because the tank was low at that stage of the trip. Even though the truck often bogged in the black soil country take hours to dig out sometimes it was a much faster service than the traditional horse and dray. Like so many of this country’s early carriers Bert Sadler much more than a truck driver. Many German settlers were unable to speak English and Bert often pre-empted their requirements. He always did a run around Goomeri before he started his rounds picking up the mail from the rail and meat and grocery orders. There was no fee for this service. Bert looked on it as part of the goodwill of his cream carrying run. Likewise, many people availed themselves of Bert’s cream truck for a ride to town to see the dentist or go shopping. Quite often he loaded his Model T full of school children to take them on a picnic or carry visiting dignitaries to the more remote areas of the district. The arrival of the Model T or TT in remote rural properties like Goomeri did much more than provide business opportunities, it enhanced the social fabric of the community especially if the truckie was one like Bert Sadler.
Yet another family business to grow from such modest beginnings is E.W. Day & Sons of Oaklands, NSW. Trading as Day’s Freightlines, they are one of the oldest privately owned transport companies in the Southern Riverina of NSW. The story began when Edward William Day (Ted) started work with his father driving a one-ton T Model Ford in 1928. They carried 18-bag loads of wheat and in the off season they worked clearing timber and repairing phone lines in the Boree Creek and Rand areas.
The Mclver Family Transport business commenced operations in the small country town of Bell on the Darling Downs in Queensland in the early 1920s when Charles Guilter Hubert Mclver purchased a T Model Ford to carry goods to and from the Bell railway station. In 1934, Charles’ sons, Guy and Stan took over the business and Mclver Brothers Transport was formed. The brothers extended the business to include a general freight and livestock carrying business. In 1935 they were appointed local oil agents and in 1938, they took on their first major livestock contract delivering pigs, calves and sheep to the Toowoomba sale yards. During WW2, like many thousands of other small operators all over the country, severe petrol rationing forced the brothers to fit gas producers to the trucks. At the end of the war, they purchased their first semi-trailer and their future was set. By 1965 the business assets had grown to include rural property and 26 vehicles which carried general goods, livestock and grain.
Following a feasibility tour in 1924 Ford Canada borrowed US$3 million from Ford US and built a subsidiary factory in Geelong, Victoria. The first Model T rolled off that production line on 1 July 1925. Hubert French was the first Managing Director in Australia. Fords had previously arrived in Australia in passenger car or chassis only form and local manufacturers and distributors re-modified them, adding traytops and bodies and using them for all sorts of passenger, commercial and rural operations. In 1928 Ford released his 1-1/2 ton Model AA which was also very popular. By the 1940s he was building trucks rated up to three ton.
Ford Australia gained international fame in 1934 with the production of the ute (utility). It was a concept that was immediately duplicated the world over. The concept is said to have originated from farmer’s wife’s letter to Hubert French, Manager of the Ford plant in Geelong, suggesting the need for rural customers to have a vehicle a bit more versatile than what was currently available. Something that could “be driven to Church on Sunday and take the pigs to market on Monday” was her suggestion. French thought it worth considering and forwarded to his design department, which at that time was just one man; a 22 year old by the name of Lewis Bandt.
At the time most light trucks were still of the buckboard design with fabric roofs and sides that offered little comfort or protection from the weather. Lewis Bandt suggested modified frame and extra pillars to strengthen the join between the cabin and the tray. Bandt was pleased with his prototype and is reported to have said to his boss at the time, “them pigs are in for a luxury ride.” Bandt was invited to America where Henry Ford himself viewed the prototype. When asked what the purpose of the vehicle was, Brandt replied it was a “kangaroo chaser”.
Ford Australia went on to release its first Ford Coupe utility, the Model 40, in 1934 with a start up run of 500. Bandt stayed with the Ford until he retired in 1976. By that stage he had spent nearly 50 years with Ford and had many achievements to his credit including designing long range fuel tanks for the Spitfire and Thunderbolt fighter planes in WWII, the Ford Zepher and the 1967 Ford Fairlane. In a twist of fate Bandt was killed in 1987 in an accident while driving a replica of his vintage ute – his legacy to the world. The trusty work “ute” went on to become an institution in Australian transport history, widely used in many commercial applications from checking windmills on remote properties, to fetching supplies from town and serving as run-arounds for transport, mining and pastoral companies.
With other manufacturers offering vehicles with modern features and the concept of the “payment plan” being introduced competition was strong. Contrary to Edsel’s recommendation Henry steadfastly refused to incorporate new features into the Model T or to implement any type of customer credit plan. Not surprisingly, sales of the Ford range started to decline. By 1926 Henry knew the run of the T Model was over and he had to design and produce a new model. The outcome was the 1927 release of the successful Ford Model A. Over four million of these had been produced by 1931. By this time Edsel had also managed to talk his father into implementing a payment plan. Ford now owned Universal Credit Corporation which went on to become a major car-financing operation. Amazingly, Ford did not believe in accountants or auditors. He managed to amass one of the world’s greatest fortunes without ever having the company audited under his management. By 1932, Ford was manufacturing one third of all the world’s automobiles.
Henry Ford was a pioneer of "welfare capitalism" and all activities in the factory and on his assembly lines were introduced with the aim of improving conditions for Ford employees. This was sometimes in conflict to his position against the unions which he despised. Efficiency to Henry Ford meant hiring and retaining the best workers and he shocked the industrial world by offering a US$5 per day wage doubling the rate of most production workers. It worked - the best mechanics in Detroit flocked to Ford. Later Ford also set a new reduced working week. The details of this vary in different accounts. In 1922 records describe the standard working week as being six eight hour days (48-hour week) while in 1926 they described the working week as being five eight hour days (40-hour week). Profit sharing was also offered to employees who had worked at the company for six months or more and maintained high moral standards. This was managed by a ‘Social Department’ which monitored heavy drinking, gambling, and men who did not support their families. Ford's incursion into his employees' private lives was highly controversial.
Edsel Ford was as anti- unionism as his father. They provided themselves in giving better to their employees than the unions were able to get in other automotive factories of the era. Subsequently, the Ford Motor Company was the very last Detroit automobile manufacturer to recognise the United Auto Workers A huge strike in 1941 had Henry Ford threatening to close the plant rather than meet the demands of the union. Legend has it that Clara Ford told her husband she would leave if he destroyed the family business. Wanting to ensure a future for his grandchildren Henry complied with his wife's ultimatum.
The Ford Motor Company also played a pivotal role in WWII. With Europe under siege Henry Ford turned his genius turned to mass producing for the war effort building the B-24 bomber which becames the most-produced bomber in history. The aviation industry was producing one B-24 Bomber a day before Ford became involved. Ford produced one B-24 an hour at a peak of 600 per month working his plants 24 hours a day. In Australia the Ford Plant in Geelong also turned its attention to full time defence production building landing craft, cargo vessels, marine mines, pontoons and artillery components. The Geelong plant came of age during WWII and with the increased technical knowledge and experience of Australian staff Ford considered manufacturing in Australia for the first time themselves. While this was supported by Governments it was difficult for Ford to compete against the thousands of ex-military trucks and cars sold to the public at surplus military sales at greatly reduced prices.
After Edsel Ford's death from cancer in 1943, Henry Ford resumed control of the company despite the fact that he had suffered a series of strokes. Henry Ford was basically a figurehead with real control in the hands of senior staffers Charles Sorensen and Harry Bennett. Bennett subsequently ousted Sorensen in 1944. The company floundered and options for a governmental take-over were discussed even in Washington. By the time WWII had ended the Ford Motor Company was in serious financial trouble and at risk of bankruptcy. Edsel's widow took control. She installed her son, Henry Ford II, as President and his first task was fire Bennett. Henry Ford Snr died in 1947 of a cerebral hemorrhage at age 83 in his Dearborn estate. Up to 5,000 people per hour filed past his casket during the public viewing. America had witnessed nothing like it before. It was the end of a era and the passing of a legend.
In 1948 the Ford Motor Company released another commercial truck that would go on to become a classic. It was the first of the F series. The little ½ ton ‘pickup’ was initially called the F1 but a few years later the nomenclature changed to add ‘00’ making it the F 100. In the following years the F series had remarkable success worldwide and Australia was no different. The F-Series was a series of full-size pickup trucks from Ford Motor Company which has been sold continuously for over six decades. The most popular variant of the F-Series is the F-150. It was the best-selling vehicle in the United States for 24 years and in Canada for 34 years. The larger commercials through to the F8000 range were very popular in Australia.
This was followed a year later with the Thames range of trucks being released. Business was booming. In 1958 Ford Australia announced they were building a $37 million new plant at Broadmeadows. By 1961 another $31 million expansion was announced and this was followed in 1963 by a $27 million expansion for their farm implement range.
Ford also produced freight panel and delivery vans which were popular om shorter hauls. Ford released its 192-inch and 226-inch wheel base R series buses in 1967. These came with the choice of a 333-cubic-inch diesel or 300-cubic-inch petrol engine and proved popular with bus operators. This year also marked the production of the 1,000,000th Australian built Ford.
The introduction of the famous Ford Louisville or “L” series heavy trucks into Australia in 1975 was well accepted by the road transport industry. They were the first right hand drive versions ever built. It would be ten years before Ford Australia assembled the LTL 9000 in Australia.
The later LTN9000 and LTS9000 were just as popular and Well known Territory road train operator Dean McBride operated a fleet of nine LTL roadtrains on the gruelling Alice Springs to Darwin linehaul operation where each truck hauled three trailers and traveled an average of 300,000 kilometres a year on a non-stop turnaround of freight from the Alice Springs railhead.
In 1979 the new Trader medium duty truck range was released.
In 1982 Ford Australia was successful in gaining a $13 million military contract providing 550 Cargo and 170 F Series trucks to the Australian Army.
In 1999 the Ford Discovery Centre in Geelong was opened.
Today Ford is the everything Henry Ford could have imagined. In addition to the Ford and Lincoln brands, Ford also owns a small stake in Mazda in Japan and Aston Martin in the UK. Ford's former UK subsidiaries Jaguar and Land Rover were sold to Tata Motors of India in March 2008 and in 2010 Ford sold Volvo to Geely Automobile.Ford discontinued the Mercury brand after the 2011 model year. Ford is the second largest automaker in the U.S. and the fifth-largest in the world based on annual vehicle sales in 2010.
Members of the board as of early 2011 were Richard A. Gephardt, Stephen Butler, Ellen Marram, Kimberly Casiano, Alan Mulally, Edsel Ford II, Homer Neal, William Clay Ford Jr., Jorma Ollila, Irvine Hockaday Jr.
In 1969, Stan’s youngest son, Bruce, commenced work for the organisation as a driver. Tennant Creek was then a wild frontier town renowned for its colourful characters and unruly lifestyle. Dave found employment as a general handy man at the local store owned by Harold Williams. The job included driving the supplies truck to Alice Springs to meet the train and bring back the perishables and other stock. In mid-1936 Dave moved to Alice Springs where he drove for Charlie Simmonds on the mail run to Huckita Station and served a brief spell driving for various other carriers on the Tennant Creek run. In 1937 purchased his first truck, a single- wheeled V8 Ford tray truck with a three-ton carrying capacity and began his own Alice Springs to Tennant Creek freight run - a venture that would turn him into a household name in Central Australia and write him into Australian road transport history.
Dave followed the route of the Overland Telegraph Line to operate his freight service and along with the few other trucks that used the line at the time, weaved in and out of the poles following the best track, sometimes having to leave the line for long detours to avoid bulldust or stony patches. The two wheel ruts they carved into the earth, so deep the trucks could follow them without being steered, formed the basis for the first-ever road to the north.
Dave generally carried perishables which arrived in Alice Springs in railway coolcars that had ice packed in each end. There was no such thing as refrigerated trucks in those days and the perishables would be loaded onto the back of the truck, covered with a tarpaulin, and Dave would drive non-stop to Tennant Creek, usually overnight, to prevent heat damage to the goods. It took an average of 18 hours to travel the 320 miles from Alice Springs to Tennant Creek if the running was good. It was not unusual for Dave to have to dig himself out of sandy bogs, or muddy creeks up to six times a day. On one occasion, during a particularly bad wet season, it took 19 days to do the trip.
In late 1938, Dave purchased a second Ford truck and with increasing competition on the track to Tennant Creek he operated both vehicles himself until he was financially secure enough to employ a second driver. He solved the predicament of having two trucks and one driver by loading both trucks in Alice Springs. He then drove the first, laden with perishables, to Tennant Creek and left it there to be unloaded while he flew back to Alice Springs to drive the second truck up. With both trucks unladen in Tennant Creek, he would then piggyback the second truck home on the tray of the first. This system worked quite well as at that stage as the goods train from Adelaide only arrived in Alice Springs once a fortnight.
The Ansair factory, which was used during the war to build aircraft componentry, was turned into a coach manufacturing plant. Coaches were built from second-hand Federal and Ford truck chassis that had to be extended to fit the coach bodies. One particular model was so long that three tail shafts had to be incorporated into the design. Reg was determined from the beginning that his buses would be the best on the road. Public address systems, radios and heaters soon became standard features in the Ansett Pioneer fleet. By 1948 Pioneer was carrying 5000 passengers a week on more than 200 routes that covered every state of except Western Australia. It would be 1960 before the company undertook its first road tour to Perth across the Nullarbor. The tour was called appropriately, the Westlander Tour.
Reg was determined to stay the best in the business. An overseas trip to inspect the standard of buses in other countries took him to the Flixble Company in Ohio, US. It was here he found Flixble’s Clippers which he thought would be ideal for Australian conditions. Unfortunately, the cost of importing the Clipper was too much for it to be a viable proposition. Not to be outdone, Reg entered into an agreement whereby he built and marketed the buses in Australia under a royalty agreement. They became known as the Flexi.
Tourism is without doubt one of Australia’s quickest growing industries. The unique beauty of Australia’s rugged outback is gaining much popularity on world markets as a tourist destination and no other single attraction in Australia would be as well known as Ayers Rock (Uluru) in Central Australia. The huge potential of Ayers Rock as a tourist destination was first realised by a man called Len Tuit in the early 1950s. Len had first arrived in Alice Springs in 1932 and spent his first few years there shovelling coal for the Commonwealth Railways and driving a truck for Dave Baldock.
Len Tuit’s first encounter with tourism happened in 1944 when he offered his services to take a party of local school children on a three-day excursion to the beautiful Palm Valley. The success of the trip soon spread and Len was called upon more and more often to take excursions of government officials and sightseers to various scenic attractions around Alice Springs. There was no such luxury as plush seats in an air-conditioned coach. Len’s passengers sat on straw filled palliates on the tray top of his Ford truck, completely exposed to the weather, insects and other hazards of the outback.
Sam initially started his road transport career with a mail contract between Williams Creek, South of Oodnadatta, to the opal fields of Coober Pedy. Later he started carrying goods and passengers between Kingoonya and Oodnadatta with Douglas McDowell in a T Model Ford. Cash was hard earned in those days and it is believed Sam had a lucky bet on a horse and that provided him with the money to purchase his first Reo truck. Sam and the Reo worked the mail run from Quorn to Oodnadatta for a few years. At this point in time the mail continued on from the rail to places like Kingoonya and Alice Springs by camel team or pack horses. Sam could see no reason why he couldn’t continue further northward with the mail and began to lobby the postal authorities to let the contract to road transport. In 1921 Sam won the lucrative Kingoonya to Oodnadatta mail contract.
A determined Sam Irvine set off cross country with only the stars to guide him and mates, Jim O’Neil and Harry Fabian, as travelling companions. Sam made this first historic trip through the inland in not much better time than the camels had done. However, as the road on the 170 mile trek improved so did the times. There was no road to speak of during that first trip, not even a dirt track. This was virgin scrubland. Ever hopeful of proving the sceptics wrong the three man team dragged logs and chains behind the old Reo literally scratching the road into the scrub behind them as they travelled. The ‘new road’ they trail-blazed into the rugged earth behind them is now a part of the Stuart Highway, still today the only main north-south road that links the Northern Territory with South Australia.
Another early mailman to operate in Australia was Jack Dawson who had the contract to do the run between Burketown and Camooweal. Jack is believed to have operated the first motorised mail service in that area, starting up some time in the mid l920s with a T Model Ford. Like many other pioneer mailmen all over Australia, his duties involved much more than just delivering the mail. On one occasion, in 1926, he was called upon to transport Mrs Jane Moss, and her newborn son, Ernie, from the hospital in Burketown to the Gregory Downs Hotel where she was to be picked up by buckboard and travel on to the family’s home at Mellish Park Station in the Gulf country.
The T Model was minus the hood and many of the other accessories that it had arrived with. The rugged Gulf country had ensured that anything other than the vital working parts had long been forsaken in the black soil plains. Cattle were at the time still being driven by drovers on horseback, and much to the dislike of motor operators, the cattle drovers often followed the path of the roads, causing long delays and untold damage to the dirt surfaces. There is an irony in the fact that many of the original users of motorised transport followed the stock routes and tracks of the teamsters. Nevertheless, all transport modes believed that they should have right of way and priority on the tracks.
The Norm Tunnicliff story began when he started driving a truck for Hap Latta in 1946. By 1948 he was the proud owner of a second-hand KB5 International truck. From here, he progressed into a Ford Hercules, powered by a four-cylinder Perkins diesel. It was in this vehicle in 1950, that Norm, and another truck driven by Les Howell, took 10 weeks, loaded with car bodies and Leyland bus chassis, to cross the Nullarbor carrying the first load of Ford bodies from Geelong to Fremantle. So unusual was the trip at the time that radio stations gave hourly news of their progress and entire populations in small towns came out to inspect the trucks.
Norm then purchased a Leyland Comet with a 90 hp diesel and named it “Lady Progress”. It was in this vehicle that he was pulled up by police because it allegedly had too many lights down the side of the trailer. Three in fact! He was accused of having it “lit up like a circus”. Tunnicliff’s Transport has always had a close association with the Ford Motor Company. Even in these early days Norm was carting Ford car bodies from Sydney to the other Ford plants, particularly to Geelong. The driver’s log book of April 1956 details an eight-hour drive from Geelong to Wodonga with another hour for a break at Euroa.
Ford trucks naturally became Norm’s choice for the next 15 years as a sign of loyalty to the company for whom he was hauling. In 1956 he purchased a Ford F600 V8 petrol and named it “Red Fury”. By comparison to the Leyland, which was not well suited to Australian conditions, Norm considered it was sheer luxury. It had rear vision mirrors on both sides, blinker lights, a push button radio, fog lights, an electric two speed duff and a full bench seat to sleep on.
A single axle trailer ‘with pipe frames for carrying two decks of cars completed the outfit. Carrying four vehicles at a time, the unit was considered to be a big rig for its day. The bottom two cars could be driven on, but the top two had to be craned on. The F Series became a very reliable unit for Norm, but once, when times were hard and he did have a problem, he slipped the motor out of the family’s Ford Customline and used that as the engines were the same. Norm ended up with four F600s in his fleet before finally purchasing a new English Ford Thames diesel-powered forward flyer. These were quickly nicknamed “Sputnik” in the industry because of their use by a new form of long distance operator using rigid vehicles, the “overnighters”.
The Thames was just about impossible to sleep in, with the engine cover taking up a substantial part of the cabin space. According to Norm they were cold, noisy and ugly but they kept on going, and that’s what counted in road transport. They weren’t very complicated and could be repaired with parts off tractors, and this was an advantage when the vehicle broke down in rural areas. Fortunately this was not often the case, but Norm was renowned for his willingness to stop and help any who did. It is said that a strand of fencing wire from a farmer’s fence, was often the best method of getting the truck back to the next town. And, in those days, the Hume highway was edged by fanning communities for most of its length.
Creature comforts were few and far between on the Hume in those days. Food and drink had to be taken in the truck as there were no 24-hour cafes or roadhouses as there are now. Even those cafes that did cater for the road transport industry, were usually quite strict about only serving food at set times. If you didn’t make it on time then you waited for the next meal or drove on hungry to the next stop. Other cafes, how ever, made a special effort to cater for the needs of their regulars. To a certain extent this developed close relation ships between the hauliers and the cafe proprietors. The drivers became part of the ex tended family.
In general, the men who drove the highways relied upon each other for constant support in times of flood, accidents, breakdowns and road closures. This camaraderie of the road is still very strong today, although many old timers would argue that the CB and mobile phone have removed the vital personal contact, saying that while you couldn’t use the mobile phone or radio for help, you could depend on the next truck coming by to stop and lend whatever assistance was possible.
Norm’s sons followed him into the industry with the purchase of a new 1418 Mercedes-Benz. The 1418 is without doubt one of the great success stories leading up to the 1970s, but they also brought their share of problems. On the road between Wodonga and Melbourne, it wasn’t unusual for ten or more 1418s, all line abreast rolling through the Victorian country side and all unable to pass each other because they were all fitted with the same 58 mph differential. Slipstreaming to get a run at the bloke in front became an art form and the industry was getting tough.
Instead of the five days it used to take to do a trip, doublers became the requirement. Hire purchase, freight rates that didn’t make sense and fuel prices that kept going through the roof played havoc with the industry. Norm was one of few operators who continued to pay road tax. Most other operators had chosen by that stage to register their trucks in South Australia using $2 shelf companies. While this was certainly a form of evasion, it was an action the industry had been forced into by inequitable legislation imposed by government.
Norm Tunnicliff died in 1975 as the result of a freak car accident when driving to Brisbane on business. Yet another family business to grow from such modest beginnings is E.W. Day & Sons of Oaklands, NSW. Trading as Day’s Freightlines, they are one of the oldest privately owned transport companies in the Southern Riverina of NSW. The story began when Edward William Day (Ted) started work with his father driving a one-ton T Model Ford in 1928. They carried 18-bag loads of wheat and in the off season they worked clearing timber and repairing phone lines in the Boree Creek and Rand areas.
Just prior to 1930, Ted Day purchased his first truck, a burnt out Reo which he rebuilt and used to haul a semi- trailer he had made up from the rear of the I Model. In order to start what is now a multi mil lion dollar operation, Ted borrowed £10 from an Oaklands storekeeper and worked tirelessly for the next year until the loan had been fully repaid.
The fact that the motor car fascinated many Aborigines was highlighted when one young Aboriginal boy, an original driver for the Wallis Fogarty store in Alice Springs, chose to adopt the name of Henry Ford as his own. A most appropriate name for a truck-driver he, and everyone else, thought!