Legacy lives on

By: Warren Aitken


Following a tragic accident on the family farm, Peter Yates bought and customised a stunning black Kenworth T909 in honour of his late son Kye, who passed away this year at age 10

 

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Today guys I’m writing a different kind of story, with a different tone to what I normally do, so I appreciate your patience with this one. As a journalist and, in-particular a trucking journalist, I get to meet some pretty cool people. From ‘old timers’ with stories that you swear couldn’t be true, too young guys with an optimism and passion for polishing I wish I still possessed. And then there’s everyone in between.

This story is different though. At the heart of it is someone I wish I had been able to meet – Kye Yates. Kye was only 10 years old when he passed away earlier this year in a tragic accident on his family farm.

Under the shadow of a breathtaking black Kenworth T909 I sat down with Kye’s mum and dad, Peter and Sheridan ‘Shez’ Yates, as well as Kye’s lovely sisters, Bella and Alysha to learn the tragic story behind the rise of the black Kyecon truck.

The truck may be an eye opener, but the reason we get to enjoy it is that it’s a heart breaker.

The Yates family are born and bred in the Illawarra area, Kiama to be precise. For those that have never been there, just imagine a nice relaxing weekend away, a picture perfect postcard view, a sandy beach, some inviting swimming areas, maybe a bit of bush walking as well as a few cold beers and friendly people. That image you have in your head, that’s Kiama.

Peter Yates began his business, Yatcon Civil, when he was still young enough to get ID’d at the pub and has grown it into one of the most successful civil construction companies around. While the civil construction business grew, so did his family. Peter and Shez first had Bella, who I must admit was a fantastic help during our long night of photos. Then came the ever-smiling Alysha and then in 2008, Kye was born.

In my short time with the family, I learnt what a great kid Kye was. It was also evident what a close family unit the Yates are.

Peter and Shez Yates with the big black T909 at the memorial built for their late son Kye. The memorial is at the sight of the tragic accident on the family farm at Kiama

The whole family are into anything with wheels. They’re also extremely community driven, ready to pitch in for anything. However it is Kye that we are here to learn about and somehow, on these pages, I need to find a way of getting across what an amazing kid Kye was.

Peter made many quips about Kye and the fact he wasn’t your average 10 year-old, with descriptions such as "old beyond his years" and ‘lived 50 years in that short space of time". They are rather cliché lines, yet in Kye’s case they are spot on.

I laughed uncontrollably when Peter told me one particular story: "We used to all get together at the holiday park down here for wake boarding and stuff.

"One time the owner of the park walked up to Kye and asked him what he wanted to drink." ‘A Captain Morgan will be good thanks’." True story. Sure, bourbon would have been a better choice, but the kid was 10!

Not convinced yet? Well, what other 10-year-old asks Santa for a whipper snipper and lawn mower for Christmas so he could help around the yard more? Santa delivered, by the way. Must have been annoying for the reindeer.

But what really separated Kye from the norm, which ultimately was the driving force behind the stunning black Kenworth, was his compassion and desire to help others. At just five years of age Kye rode with his father in the company’s Iveco Powerstar to partake in the Illawarra convoy and he had a ball. The money raised from that convoy was going to help sick kids which pleased Kye immensely.

When he moved from kindergarten to Minnamurra Public School he was able to learn alongside kids with disabilities. He became friends with young Dexter who suffers from cerebral palsy, and Hunter who battles with muscular dystrophy. So, becoming involved in the i98FM Illawarra Convoy every year was a forgone thing after that.

When Kye learned that the lead truck was also the truck that raised the most money, he was in dad’s ear again. "He asked me if we could get the lead truck," Peter admits. "I said it would be difficult, it’s a lot of money and a lot of work."

The dam on the Yates’ farm was a favoured place for Kye, though his sisters admit it was often more for the mud bath than the water

Crowd puller

While the reality may have been understood, it wasn’t the end for Kye. He worked on convincing his dad for a way that would help get more people along to the event. From that came the idea of sponsoring an FMX show to draw in the crowd.

For those unaware of what an FMX show is, let me describe it. You take a bunch of motorbike riders, with the skills and precision of a jet pilot, gonads the size of basketballs and medical histories longer than … well, long. You then build ramps, jumps and damn near vertical paths, and you let them ride around while you nearly black out as you hold your breath every time one launches off the pre-mentioned platforms.

After a good hour or so, you clap ferociously, gather your breath, wipe the sweat from your forehead and spend the rest of the day wondering how the hell they did that. That, my friends, is an FMX show.

So, at Kye’s request, the Yates family brought the Yatcon Civil FMX Jam freestyle motocross to the big Illawarra day, recruiting names like Robbie Maddison and Jackson Strong to help pull more and more people into the event.

It wasn’t all management for Kye though. He was as hands on as a 10-year-old could get. Kye and his sisters would be down helping to construct the ramps and jumps in the lead up to the event. The whole family would then be at the top of a ramp, waving to the bus loads of kids as they came in each year.

It wasn’t always an easy task either; between the increasing bureaucracy and the intrusion of this stuff that Peter referred to as "rain" (I was unfamiliar as well, but its moisture from the sky that makes the ground very soft and unstable).

There were times when Peter admitted the difficulty of the mammoth task. "Kye would always come back with ‘Dad, we have to do it for the kids’ please’," Peter tells me. He follows that up by showing me the bracelets that he had made up with Kye’s words on them: ‘Doing it for the Kids’.

Like the rest of the family Kye was a fan of anything on wheels. His hero and idol was Ryan Dungey (the American Motocross star). He had many riding tips from family friend and Redbull legend Robbie Maddison and there wasn’t a lot he couldn’t steer.

Kye’s sisters are the ones that taught him to drive the farm ute, but it was his own skills that saw him driving around the farm while having lunch. Did I mention the ute was a manual? Not impressed yet, well what if you were his dad and you arrived home to find your 10-year-old on the tractor with the slasher, mowing the yard because, as he put it, "Everyone will be proud to come here, Dad". I can testify I wasn’t that thoughtful at 10, or 40 if I’m honest.

The FMX show became a major drawcard at the i98FM Illawarra Convoy and the family loved being involved. Kye never relented with his dad though, always dropping little hints about getting the lead truck. While Yatcon have several impressive trucks in the fleet, a sharp Western Star and a big Mack that even Ronald would respect, Peter admits, "we’re not a transport company." So, there was always a Yatcon truck in the convoy, but not at the front. But as-long-as Kye felt they were helping raise money for those less fortunate than him, he wasn’t complaining.

Peter Yates placed Kye’s helmet on the front of the truck once it arrived at Shellharbour Airport

Tragedy strikes

On June 10, 2019 young Kye Yates sadly passed away after an accident on the family farm. Even with Kye’s level of skill, his experience and knowledge, sometimes accidents can just happen. It was a tragedy that rocked all of those that Kye had touched over his short life.

Five days after the accident, Peter Yates rang Mick Maranda at Illawarra Truck Centre. During his grieving, Peter had made the decision to get Kye that lead truck spot and to do it with a truck especially for his beloved son.

Mick, who himself had recently lost his father, admitted, "As much as you like an enquiry, that’s one that you never really want". When, Mick and Peter sat down and discussed it, Peter told Mick what he wanted. An all-black truck, bumper to bumper, tyres to tailpipe.

They talked a bit about Kye, and Mick offered up some suggestions and deviations from the all-black idea. They stuck with Peter’s low-line T909 look, with the round tanks and 8-inch pipes. Aside from that, Peter put the project and faith in Mick’s hands. Peter’s words were, "Look I’m going to leave it with you, you just build what you think will stand out and look cool".

Mick admits that the night before he handed the truck over to the Yates family he barely slept a wink. Most of the T909 and its special features were kept from Peter, adding to Mick’s nerves.

"Peter pestered me for photos all the way," Mick admits. "I just sent a few random ones, where you couldn’t see much."

A huge shout out must-go to the Kenworth team in Melbourne who went out of their way to add a number of custom features. The KY logos, the personalised embroidery on the seats and the vanity panels are just a couple of the extras that Kenworth put into the truck themselves.

Mick was also extremely thankful for some inside help during the build. "There were a few sneaky phone calls to Elizabeth in the Yatcon office to find out some information." Her help ensured Kyes favourite colour, Kawasaki green, was featured as well as getting Dungey (Kye’s hero and Peter’s nickname for him) into the gearstick surround.

The truck was sent to RC Metalcraft for finishing. Mick had given Rob Chapman his outlook for the truck and he admits now, "Rob was able to get all that done and done with class."

There were a few other changes as well, tidying things up with the removal of some tank steps and other ideas. RC Metalcraft is not new to the game and their experience and ideas tidied the truck up even more.

The Kenworth T909 arriving at Shellharbour Airport for a family fun day. It fulfilled Kye’s dream of a YatCon Civil truck one day being the lead convoy truck

Leading truck

Handover day finally arrived, and Mick’s sleepless night was for nothing. Peter and Shez loved the truck, loved the look, loved the details and knew it had all the things Kye would have loved. Kye’s colours, Kye’s style, Peter even got Kye’s picture on the back. Step two was now to get the truck to the front of the 2019 i98FM Illawarra Convoy.

Again, another sign of Kye’s ability to leave an impression on everyone he touched became evident when the fundraising began. Money came in from as far afield as the Cairns Professional Game Fishing Association, where Kye had caught marlins bigger than him. In a very rare gesture, family friend Robbie Maddison donated his helmet from his pipeline stunt (never seen it? Seriously google it! It must be seen to be believed) for a charity auction. The family have been flat-out, with massive local and regional assistance. Golf days, ladies nights, charity auctions, drive days … you name it, they’ve tried it.

The Yates family gave it a red hot ‘Kye’ go to get Kye’s truck to the front of the convoy.

On November 14 it was officially announced. With a record total raised of $500,000, Kye’s black T909 would be the lead truck in the convoy. Not only that, but Yatcon Civil was also the successful bidder in the motorbike section, making them the first team to lead both trucks and bikes in the i98FM Illawarra Convoy.

"We’ve achieved Kye’s dream for our beautiful boy," Shez says. The tears were building in the eyes of both parents as they contemplate the significance of getting a truck built for Kye, and raising a record amount of money, to go to community programs that were so important to Kye, all in such a short time.

So much done, in such a short space of time. It seems the perfect way to describe both what has happened, and the young man at the centre of all of this.

My condolences to the family and to those fortunate enough to have known this young legend.

Rest in peace Kye, knowing that your legacy will live on.

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