Kenny Dennis was born with just one hand, but he’s never let that hold him back in life.
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During his 75 years on earth, he has done everything from flying aeroplanes to driving every type of truck under the sun.
“I never had two hands in my life, but I was doing my bootlaces up on my own when I was three years old,” he tells Deals on Wheels.
“I’ve driven everything on rubber and everything on tracks, and I can pull a tarp down with a double shank as quick and as tight as anybody.”
Originally from the tiny town of Licola in regional Victoria – which registered just 11 people in the 2016 census – Dennis moved to Nambrok with his parents and worked on their dairy farm after leaving school.
In the mid 1970s, he switched from farming to trucking – and as the years went on, he started to notice that a few of his trucks were having the same issue.
“I had a few trucks of my own, doing livestock and hay carting at the end of the year, and then went on to interstate.
“Some of my trucks started to have the same problem and I wouldn’t take no for an answer as to why they were doing this.
“The truck that I had in 1986 was a brand-new International S-Line that I was trying to drive from Melbourne to Sydney, Sydney to Melbourne, going interstate every night of the week.
“It was such a pig to drive, brand new, that if you hit the rough with the windows down it would spit you out both doors at the same time!”
Dennis took the truck back to the dealership to be looked at, only to be told there was nothing wrong with it.
“The guy at the dealership did everything known to man to the truck – 27 wheel alignments, new pumps, hoses, steering boxes, offset wheels…
“My boss at the time, a bloke called Max Burls, he told me that the guy said to him: ‘There’s no point in bringing the truck back, it’s fully up to the manufacturer’s specifications. But we think we know what the fault is. It’s your driver – he’s only got one hand.’
“When Max told me that, I said if I did one thing in life, it would be to work out the problem with the trucks.”
That same year, Dennis figured out what was happening – and he’s spent the decades since building up his evidence.
“When he said it was fully up to specifications, I realised there was no way that specification was right.
“Through a combination of my own research and engineers’ reports, I worked out that we have steering that is not fit for purpose.
“And this problem came in only when they introduced power steering.
“The maximum steering and driver control that we have is 70 to 72%. So that 28%, 30% that’s missing out of the 100% is where all the problems are.
“When you hit a bump, all the inertia from that big wheel going around – and she hits the ground 30,000 times every hour – all that inertia goes straight through the steering system.
“It goes up through the steering wheel, it destroys all the components and everything that goes with it.
“The truck drivers are also going from left to right, right to left the whole time – like the Hokey Pokey!
“That creates huge driver fatigue.”
After his big discovery, Dennis continued driving until he developed depression in 2000.
“The black dog got me. I was working for Lindsay Brothers at the time, and I just couldn’t make a mile.
“I had to take time off the road – my head was just all over the place.
“So, I started calling a few of my mates in and they were wheeling in these pieces of crap and driving out angels.
“I got off my ass and decided to do something about it.”
Dennis set up his own workshop, based in Benalla, Victoria. There, he does steering upgrades to reduce vibration, eliminate under-steer, correct steering wander, reduce component wear and combat driver fatigue.
Although he already had a nickname – Bandit (due to having only one hand) – he decided it was time for a rebrand.
He became The Truck Whisperer, and his reputation precedes him.
“Drivers are coming to me from all over Australia to have their trucks fixed,” he says.
“I’m upgrading their steering to 100 per cent, so the trucks are just rolling through the bumps.
“The trucks are holding their path, you don’t get that same feedback through the wheel that’s just sometimes about to break your wrist!
“After I’m finished, the drivers are absolutely amazed by the difference.”
He remembers a driver who came in a few days previously with a $400,000 truck he was struggling to keep on the road.
“It drove him mad driving it, it was constantly pulling one way all the time. He was constantly going to the physio because he was in pain from driving it.
“He had brought it everywhere and couldn’t fix it.
“I sorted it out for him and we brought it out for a drive, he couldn’t believe the difference.”
A week later, the customer called Dennis with an update.
“He called me and said he had taken his kids to the pool, and normally he just sits at the side of the pool because of his pain.
“But he said he actually did 10 laps of the pool because he felt so much better.”
Dennis says the work he does is not only improving people’s lives, but saving them as well.
“The steering issue applies to every vehicle that’s got power steering – Scanias, Volvos, Western Stars, Kenworths, F250s, Ford motor homes, school buses…
“When they’re rocking from side to side because of the lack of steering control, everything is out of control.
“I have school bus drivers coming to me and they are s**t scared because if you go off the edge of the road with a busload of kids, you’ve no idea where they’re going to end up.”
He continues: “When a truck has a blowout, everything goes to the weakest point.
“So that truck will plough you straight off the edge of the road, it could be into a car or the nearest tree.
“When you upgrade the steering, you can steer it exactly the same with the palm of your hand, it won’t make an ounce of difference.
“If that’s not a life-saving factor, I don’t know what the hell is.”
He says his upgrades also reduce tyre wear.
“A bloke came to me with a 409 Kenworth with tyres that were continually being worn out at 80,000km.
“After he came to me the tyres lasted 190km.
“That’s just from giving him more control of the vehicle and keeping the wheels dead straight.”
Sometimes, Dennis claimed, customers come to him having already spent thousands of dollars replacing steering boxes and having wheel alignments done.
“I had one bloke come in, he was on his third steering box at 227,000km. The truck’s not even been worn it at that stage!
“They’re just throwing parts at the truck and wasting so much money. It’s what I call the Circle of Doom.”
As his “Truck Whisperer” name would suggest, Dennis keeps a sense of mystery around what exactly he does to the trucks that come into his workshop.
“People don’t really have a right to know what it is I do. It’s my intellectual property.
“Lots of people try to guess, but they are just speculating.
“There are so many ways to do a steering upgrade, and if you do it wrong it’s not going to work.
“What applies to one truck does not apply to another truck and it could be extremely dangerous for the driver and the person coming at you.
“We try to keep people from playing around, trying to save a bit of money and having a go.
“It’s not the money side of it for us, it’s the safety side.”
Dennis has tried for many years to get the word out about the issues with power steering, but he says those in power just don’t care.
“It appears to me that the world of engineers don’t want to know, the government doesn’t want to know, the regulators don’t care.
“I’ve been hitting Facebook up pretty big time, talking about this, and I have a lot of followers.
“The regulators actually got in touch with me and I suggested my engineer meet their engineers.
“We organised it for six weeks down the track, and they never turned up.
“Accident investigation people, they get all excited and then they lose sight.”
The Truck Whisperer has made it his mission to train others to do his steering upgrades, and get the word out as much as possible.
“To me, it’s not about money. It’s about passion, and it’s about helping people in the industry.
“I’m 75 now, I’ve been doing this for many, many years and I’ve never had a failure.
“I’m going to form a Truck Whisperers’ Association, and early next year, I plan to start training people up throughout Australia and pass on my knowledge.
“My clients are really starting to get on board with this and we’re starting to move a little bit, but we need help.
“It’s time to start making some noise.”
To learn more, check out The Truck Whisperers Facebook here.