GENTLE GIANT


Noel Bransden of Heyfield, Victoria, will be remembered long after his death. His friends tell Tamara Whitsed about the respected truckie and his famous Kenworth

  

Noel Bransden was inducted to the National Road Transport Wall of Fame in 2013 

The late Noel Bransden of Heyfield, Victoria, was well known in the trucking industry – especially Gippsland – as the owner and driver of Big William, a mighty 1982 W Model Kenworth famous for the massive loads it carried.

Noel passed away on June 29, and his trucking mates were among over 400 people at his funeral in Heyfield, Victoria.

His partner, Julie Bryer, hopes Noel will be remembered "as the gentle soul he was, and as the achiever that he was".

Photos taken by Noel illustrate some of Big William’s enormous loads. He specialised in moves for power stations and coal mines but enjoyed the challenge of all heavy, oversize, awkward loads. Julie lists a tram, aeroplanes, ‘a massive boat’ and even a locomotive among the memorable objects Noel and Big William relocated.

And yet Noel remained so humble, and insisted the big lifts he was famous for were just part of his job.

Julie says Noel was most comfortable wearing shorts and a blue singlet, so that’s exactly what he wore when he was buried. Big William carried Noel on his last journey from the funeral service at the tranquil Heyfield Wetlands to the Heyfield Cemetery. A dozen trucks owned by Noel’s friends joined the funeral procession, escorting Noel to his final resting place.

Big William moves a head-end drive frame at Loy Yang A, using a Drake trailer up front and 4x8 metre steerable jinker at the rear 

The man

Noel’s story begins in Tasmania. He was born at Ulverstone in 1952. His family moved frequently because of his father’s work in the Tasmanian and Victorian logging industries. Much of Noel’s childhood was spent in Gippsland, and in time he came to think of Heyfield as home.

As a logger’s son and grandson, he was in the bush and around machinery from an early age. This kind of experience had currency in timber towns, and a local timber mill gave him work during school holidays. By the age of 15 he had finished school and was working full-time at a mill.

Next, Heyfield Logging Company put him to work as a dozer driver and from there he progressed to driving a tray truck for Raymonds and then interstate heavy haulage for Goldhill.

Noel’s early career was strongly influenced by his friend Graham ‘Molly’ Carstein. In the early 1970s Noel returned to Heyfield and spent about three years carting sawn timber to Melbourne for Graham.

With Graham as guarantor, Noel borrowed money in 1977 to buy his first truck – a 1966 International AB 184.

Noel bought a couple of trucks from Graham – first a Mercedes 2632, and then a Kenworth SAR. In 1981 Noel used the SAR to cart sawn timber in Victoria and interstate. (In the early 1980s Noel operated in partnership with Kevin Conway.)

Big William is pictured moving a head-end drive frame into position at Loy Yang open-cut coal mine. A B Model Mack and D8 Caterpillar dozer (not pictured) assisted with the move

The machine

Noel discovered Big William on display at a Bairnsdale dealership in 1982. The W Model had extraordinary specs for the day. Noel thought it would be ideal for the heavy loads being moved by International Combustion Australia Limited (ICAL), which was building power stations in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley.

Manager of ICAL Group Transport, Dave Crighton, assured Noel there would be plenty of work for him if he bought the W Model. Noel and Dave worked closely on many of the loads pictured on these pages.

Soon after buying Big William, Noel boosted the 400 Cummins to 450hp (336kW). The W Model had dual-range two-speed Eaton 58,000lb differentials, and a GVM of 125 tonnes.

Dave says Big William’s Spicer 18-speed gearbox and a reduction gearbox "gave it a huge lift power".

"It could start off from woe to go with a big weight behind it. That’s what made it unique," he adds.

"And then later on, Noel had a torque converter added to that. It was an exceptional drive train. It actually was capable of 42 speeds. There wasn’t much between fourth and seventh. It was very small increments. But with a torque converter it could be just like a steady progression to move off and that was its winning formula."

A low-geared truck – often a B Model Mack or a White – was used as a pusher on some of Big William’s moves.

Many of the big lifts were in Victoria but Noel and Big William also hauled enormous loads as far as Western Australia and Northern Queensland.

Dave says Noel was in his element moving big loads from 1982 to 1995.

"You’ve never met a person in your life more steady-minded than Noel Bransden. He never got worked up over pressure. Never lost his temper. He just went about the job. He was the easiest bloke in the world to work with."

Noel owned Big William for 37 years. In that time the mighty truck clocked up over five million kilometres.

He cherished his role as father, step-father and grandfather. In 1986, Noel married Helen Byrne. They raised their family on a farm at Heyfield and later at a home at Darnum, Victoria.

After the marriage ended, Noel discovered Julie Bryer was also recently divorced. They had courted in their 20s and in 2004 they rekindled their romance. Noel and Julie bought a farm at Glencairn, in Victoria’s High Country, and Noel continued trucking interstate and locally.

It came as a great shock when Noel was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 2008. He was only 56. He attempted to continue working, but the MS made it impossible.

So in 2009 he shifted out of the driver’s seat, hired a driver for Big William and managed the business from home. His friends phoned and visited to share news of their trucking adventures and ask Noel’s advice. Noel continued his association with the Heyfield and District Vintage Group, and travelled to Alice Springs in 2013 for his induction to the National Road Transport Hall of Fame.

Even during his time at Laurina Lodge Nursing Home, trucking mates were frequent visitors. Noel welcomed their company, especially when they arrived in trucks.

His friend Garry Pedersen was among the regular visitors. Garry took Noel a copy of Owner//Driver every month, and recently contacted the magazine suggesting we should write this article.

"I’ve never ever heard him say a bad word against anybody," Garry says. "That’s why everybody just loved him. He’d just grin away and just get on with it."

Garry recalls one time when Noel phoned him from the nursing home to tell him: "I’d just love to be out there in the desert with four blown tyres – in my blue singlet, my shorts and my thongs."

Garry suggests Noel was "bigger than the Beatles" in the Heyfield community where Noel was well known and loved. Even in his time at the nursing home, Noel made close friends with residents and staff. Garry was moved to see nurses lined up like a guard of honour outside Laurina Lodge, paying their respects as Noel’s funeral possession passed.

The trucking community’s fascination about Big William endures. The W Model is now owned by Noel’s friends – a father and son. It has been restored and attracts plenty of attention at truck shows.

Repositioning a precipitator at Loy Yang A. It is 9 metres from the ground to the top of the precipitator

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