Words & Pictures: WARREN AITKEN
I’m going to be honest with you right off the bat here. This story has not turned out the way it was intended to. Or, to be more precise, the subject of this story is not as it was intended to. See when I made the long journey down to a small farm just outside of Ballarat in the Central Highlands of Victoria, I was chasing a lovely lady called Eve Hay. Eve is one of Australia’s pioneering woman truckies.
This amazing lady started her trucking career at a time when no one really considered a woman for a role behind the wheel. This was in the era when loads were hand loaded and tarped. If you broke down or blew a tyre, it was expected that you would be the one covered in grease and dirt in order to get moving again. There was no calling for assistance on your iPhone. The idea of putting a petite young lady into a cramped cab and expecting her to hold her own was almost beyond comprehension.
Eve Hay was not one to be discouraged though, her persistence and resilience ensured she was given a shot. Eve went on to not just flourish but excel with a story-packed career in trucking, hence you can see why I had made the journey to Ballarat. With that lead in, it’s hard to envision what could have distracted me enough to end up putting such an inspiring story into the ‘next edition’ folder.
Well, I will be honest, and this may sound a little superficial, but I can’t lie to you. It was an extremely attractive, mid-30s stunner! You know when you just happen to be walking by and out the corner of your eye you catch a glimpse of such style and beauty that all else goes out the window. That’s what happened to me.
As I pulled in the drive to Rick and Eve Hay’s place I almost collided with their gate as the gleam off the front of Rick and Eve’s 1985 Ford LTL just knocked me over. Then I heard the history behind it. Now I’ve had to book a second trip down to Ballarat so I can sit down with Eve and get her story as my time in Ballarat was monopolised by her husband Rick Hay and the 350hp LTL that has become more than just a truck, it’s become a talisman for Rick and Eve’s trucking life.
Before I introduce the Ford LTL, I should be polite and introduce Rick. Rick is only one fifth of the Rick and Eve show but seeing as Eve’s story will be more like a full-length feature film, we are going to keep the spotlight on Rick and give him the attention today. I’m sure you are questioning my maths skills when I said a fifth. Well, alongside Rick and Eve you have their two sons.
Bill is their eldest who is a skilled driver in his own right, having spent his childhood alongside one or both of his parents. There is Dalton, who now spends his time serving his country but started out behind the tools and still puts his apprenticeship to good use in the family workshop. Then there is Radar, Rick and Eve’s dog who, along with having his own PPE gear, travels everywhere with them.
Rick’s history in trucking is a story as traditional as melted thongs on the old Ford’s floor. He grew up with not just his father behind the wheel of a big rig, but his brother as well. Therefore, it came as no surprise to the family that after leaving school Rick would choose to undertake an apprenticeship. However, it came as a small surprise to find that, unlike Rick and Eve’s youngest son who would go on to pursue an apprenticeship as a diesel fitter, Rick chose the option of an apprenticeship in gardening. Yes, you read that right. Rick is a qualified gardener who hung up the tools and ended up a truckie.
“I always had a bit of an interest in it,” Rick says. “When I did my apprenticeship I used to watch them all the time, so when I finished I took a job with Stepnell’s, doing local work.”
This was back in the mid-1980s and Rick had the pleasure of steering a classic old Bedford around the streets of Ballarat doing general freight deliveries. As much as the round town stuff was fun, it didn’t take Rick long to accept the fact that the highway was where he wanted to be.
From the Bedford he quickly progressed into one of Stepnell’s Macks and he started doing interstate work. From Ballarat local to running Adelaide with steel, it was a mighty Mack change. It was a change that only fuelled the flames for trucking and in no time flat Rick was hooked.
He spent another five years running for Stepnell’s before he stepped up to another challenge. The tarps and strapping were replaced with fridge vans and express freight.
“I ran for Eastoe’s for a while, loading Moama Friday for Perth Monday, then Esperance back to Sydney markets Wednesday, Sydney to Melbourne and home to load Moama again Friday,” Rick laughs. “It was a big week, but they thought nothing of it, it was just a done thing.”
All this was done in a subbies LTL and the fact that that truck performed so well might just be the reason for the LTL love affair that transpired. The ‘launching it’ lifestyle didn’t last and when Rick’s brother picked up a new contract for NTFS (Northern Territory Freight Services), Rick’s life changed again.
“I did the Eastoes thing for about six months then I bought my own truck. It was a Ford LNT,” Rick recalls. “My brother had picked up a contract for NFTS doing the bottom leg of their Melbourne to Darwin run.” That particular run consisted of Rick and his brother running NFTS trailers from Melbourne to Adelaide, where they would be put on a train and sent to Alice Springs, then trucked up to Darwin.
At the time of his first truck Rick was still fairly young for a truckie, much less an owner-driver. “I was about 24 when I bought the LNT; it cost me about $64,000,” Rick says. “But because I was 24 I couldn’t get insurance for it, not until I was 25.”
The wee LNT had a Cummins VT903 and really used to crack along on those Melbourne to Adelaide runs. When Rick’s brother, who was running opposite legs to Rick, decided he wanted something bigger for himself, he opted to sell the LTL he was running to Rick. It was this purchase that would change Rick’s life several times because that first LTL, way back in 1990, is the same one he is still earning a quid in today.
Rick was the third and fifth owner of the classic 1985 Ford LTL but I’ll explain that discrepancy soon enough. When he bought the truck off his brother, it was five years old and had over 700,000km under its belt but was perfectly set up for the NTFS run. His brother had painted it from the original Kevin Spence colours into the NTFS scheme which it stayed in until Rick took on a subbie role with Thompsons Transport in late 1990 and he decided to paint it gun metal grey.
From 1990 until the mid-2000s Rick predominantly hauled trailers for Thompsons Transport and his LTL was a regular site on the Melbourne-Adelaide-Sydney triangle. For a young owner-driver, the truck was perfect.
“We did the regular sort of stuff, bushes, air compressor, standard stuff. But I didn’t actually rebuild it until 1.4 million kays,” Rick explains. “When I pulled it down it didn’t even really need doing, it was still as good as gold.”.
The LTL got another bit of a makeover partway through Rick’s time with Thompsons. Well actually he wasn’t with Thompsons at the time, he had decided to give himself a bit of a break from the interstate work and do a little local to catch his breath. Unfortunately, the LTL also decided to take a bit of a break and had a bit of a lie down itself. “Yeah, I had a bit of a brain fade and tipped it over,” Rick admits.
He’s truckie enough to know sometimes you can just fix it up. So, it came to be that the LTL was written off after the inverse parking situation, but Rick and Eve opted to buy it back, with plans to return it to life.
“ReCar did the cab, straightening it and that. Then it came back home for me to do the rest,” Rick says.
Obviously, the years of tinkering around on trucks, alongside the gardening apprenticeship, gave Rick enough skills to set about rebuilding the 13-year-old workhorse.
“I spent four months rebuilding it. Mum used to come round and look after the boys because Eve was busy working for Thompsons,” Rick says. “We didn’t really have a choice, we had a mortgage and truck payments, with 19 per cent interest. You did what you had too. It was a labour of love though; I had an attachment to the old girl.”
It took four months in the back shed repainting, rebuilding and resurrecting the LTL but it finally came together. There was a lot of blood sweat and tears put into bringing her back.
“I had a deep respect for the old thing, a deep love. It’s almost like it was part human, as silly as that sounds,” Rick says.
As soon as it was ready Rick had it back in the Thompsons Transport yard and was straight into it. The four months rebuilding also meant poor Rick was four months off the road, so he was just as eager to get back out there as well.
Rick and the truck did almost another decade with Thompsons before the next big change in Rick and the LTL’s life.
“We sold the LTL in 2007; I was absolutely burnt out,” Rick admits. “We’d gone through the fuel price rises after the Gulf war and I was over it. I also really wanted to spend some time with the kids as they were starting secondary school.” With a heavy heart Rick put the truck up for sale, eventually finding a farmer up the back of Ararat who needed a truck to help out around the farm. I can picture a tear in Rick and Eve’s eye as they watched their truck wander off into the sunset on that sad day in 2007.
This would be the part of the movie where we skip forward 13 years. Eve kept herself in the trucking industry for those 13 years but Rick, without his LTL, opted to get away completely. He spent time working for the Department of Sustainability and Environment, as well as the Country Fire Authority and even tried his hand at some fly-in, fly-out work.
Then the movie would jump to 2020 and fade in on Rick and Eve finding out that the lovely Eve Hay had gotten nominated into the Road Transport Hall of Fame (I told you she was a pioneer, stand by for her story). Anyway, when she got nominated Rick and Eve tried to track the old LTL down so they could get a photo with it.
Down on the farm
As it turned out the LTL was still with the cow cockie they had sold it to. They arrived up at the farm and found the old girl parked up in a shed. The farmer had noticed a pretty bad oil leak a couple months previously and decided to park it up rather than risk killing it. Much like Rick, the farmer had grown rather fond of the old girl.
“It had been well loved,” Rick says. “It was a farm truck, but it had been loved. It did one trip a week from Ararat to Ballarat and the farmer absolutely adored the old girl.” In fact, Rick was extremely impressed by the state of it, it still had the original tyres and even the Anzac badges on the dash that Rick had collected over his time in it.
“I think it was sitting there waiting for us to come pick it up,” Rick laughs. “As soon as it started, she just had that grumble and growl and I thought, ‘Yea, she’s coming home’.”
The farmer hadn’t had it for sale; it was parked up purely because he didn’t have the time or coin to pull it apart and fix it up. There were a few words spoken between the Rick and current owner and the deal was done with a handshake and a nod. Rick was stoked to have his LTL back and the farmer was stoked to have someone who loved it as much as he did, taking it home.
“There was stuff all to do to it when we got it home,” Rick says. “It was the main seal leaking, so we popped the gearbox out and did the main seal. We did the brakes and it was roadworthy in no time.”.
Once it was running again Eve took the wheel for a while before Rick went and saw Ross Quick, a local transport operator and started hauling for them. It was like those 13 missing years had never happened.
“I never intended to get back into trucking once we’d sold her,” Rick explains. “It was the truck that got me back in. Once I had it back, I just wanted to take it up the Hume and let it have it again.” That comment from Rick just shows how much character the old school trucks have.
Even now, after Quick Freight Express closed its doors, Rick and Eve are still working the LTL. And loving it.
“It’s as quiet as a Volvo, it has everything a new truck has, just without the technology, No AdBlue, no computer, no ABS, no central locking. I break a wire; I find a wire and I join it,” says Rick with pride.
As the LTL homes in on its 40th birthday it still looks as good as it did on day one. It still runs as well as it did two million kilometres ago and it still has a stranglehold on both Rick and Eve. In fact, it’s worth noting before I sign off that the couple have added a second LTL to their stable now. This time a 1986 which, just like their original, is still earning its keep and just as easily distracting truck lovers as they visit the couple’s Ballarat home.
Now go and lap up the pictures of this stunning classic and wait patiently for Eve’s story. She has some tales to tell.