I don't drink and drive

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Action and Adventure  |  House: Booksie Classic


This story took place a long, long time ago, in a far, far distant land. To be precise in Australia and the year was 1970 or damned near. The setting was the Western Australian outback, at the time
of the discovery of vast amounts of iron ore.

Submitted: June 30, 2018

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Submitted: June 30, 2018

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‘I Don’t Drink and Drive.’

 

This story took place a long, long time ago, in a far, far distant land. To be precise in Australia and the year was 1970 or damned near. The setting was the Western Australian outback, at the time of the discovery of vast amounts of iron ore.

 

My mate Don and I were a two-man driving team, working for a very large company called Bell Brothers. Don and I had worked together in England as long distance lorry drivers, before we had immigrated to Australia together with our families in February 1968. At the beginning of 1969, Don and I were lucky enough to find employment together with Bell Brothers, and they had put us to work on the same truck.

 

Bell’s had a multitude of equipment, such as earth moving machines for mining and road building. They also had hundreds of trucks for carrying out these tasks, multi-wheeled low loaders to carry the plant. Six and eight-wheeled tippers and tipping trailers, to haul earth and stone then to be used for mine work hauling ore. With a large fleet of articulated trucks to supply the growing mines and towns with the goods and equipment they needed.

 

We worked on the long distance freezer section of this group delivering frozen foods, and we had earned the nickname of the ‘Flying Pome’s,’ but not because we drove fast! We just didn’t hang about; we just got on with the job in hand. All the runs were timed. If you got back early, you were still paid, for the hours it should have taken.

 

They also had semi-mobile camps with sleeping accommodation and cookhouses, made for them out of building units that bolted together for easy transportation. The camps were set up for the men they supplied to build the mines and installations. Then when the mines were up and running, these same camps would house the men working the mines until the towns were built and their families joined them.

 

We were three months or so into a yearlong stint, on the milk run to Port Headland. We would drive out of Perth with one thirty-six foot freezer trailer, to the Bell’s truck marshalling yard, just outside the city limits. Here we would pick up a second freezer trailer to pull to Geraldton, some three hundred miles up the coast.

 

Back then, you could only pull two trailers from Perth to Geraldton. From Geraldton, you could pull up to five. Our run only required three, so we would pick up the third freezer from there, which someone had taken up to Geraldton for us. From this point on our work really began, we would stop at all the roadhouses and coastal towns. Plus every station and mine on the way up.

 

From here on up it would be all dirt roads, except for short asphalt strips leading into and out of the towns, plus, there would be the concrete strips through the creek beds.

 

By the time we got to Carnarvon, our tail trailer would be empty. It would be left there for reloading with whatever produce was in season. We would carry on with two trailers until we got to Dampier. At Dampier, what was left in the second trailer would be unloaded. Then it too would be left, to be picked up by us on our homeward return trip. The empty trailer from Headland and this one would also be reloaded in Carnarvon.

 

 

Dampier was to be the outlet port for Tom Price and Paraburdoo. Now there is a name to conjure with, it must be an Aborigine name. For no non-Aborigine tongue, could ever conjure up a word like that. They were both iron ore mines, which were served by the Wittenoom freezer.

 

I can also claim to have been on the first freezer truck to roll its wheels. On the land that by now is a deep hole, from which thousands of tons of iron ore has been dug from that mine at Paraburdoo. Then it was just across on the Western Australian map, designated as hill fifty-four by the survey company doing the tests to see how much ore there was actually there.

 

Now back to Dampier, a string of small coral Islands formed an ark out into the bay. They were building a road over these Islands to make a deep water harbour. Once again Bell’s supplied the camp, plus manpower and equipment to do the job.

 

Where the rail track ended, there would be a marshalling yard and a large area to store the ore awaiting the ships to carry it away. A long conveyer belt from this yard would run along the side of the road, to where the ships would be berthed for loading. I would be in Dampier many times before it would be completed.

 

We got into Port Headland in the early hours of the morning and were unloaded just as the sun rose at four am. Going to the cookhouse, we sat down to have the large breakfast the cook had prepared for us.

 

While we ate, two mechanics which we knew quite well entered for an early starters breakfast. They were heading south as well, but only as far as Dampier. They were going to service the trucks working there, and would return that night. We said that we were going to find them, as soon as we had eaten because we had some goodies for them.

 

So, we waited for them to eat, and we all went to our truck together. We handed them their parcels, which they put into their two-ton van. It was part mobile workshop, part service van. We said goodbye and climbed into our eighteen-wheeler rig.

 

Both of us pulled out of the yard together, but they had the faster service van and soon left us behind in their dust! Don and I settled down to the long thousand odd mile drive home. Apart from picking up the empty trailer at Dampier, and the reloading at Carnarvon, we would have a quiet ride home to look forward to.

 

It is roughly one hundred and fifty miles to Dampier from Headland. Almost one hundred miles down the track, there is a large creek. This creek is one of the main runoff arteries for the high country inland called the Pilbara-Hamersley range. The creek is called Wimm creek, and in the wet seasons, within hours it can change from a dry riverbed to a raging torrent.

 

Not only does the creek change in appearance, but also the outback changes in the ‘wet’. As the rain came down, the miracle of nature took over, and the red dust landscape became a carpet of flowers.

 

Going south, the creek approaches the road at a forty-five-degree angle from the left. To get the road to cross at ninety, they had swung the road to the right two miles before the crossing.

 

Then they gave it a slow curve to the left. This lines you up for the straight run over the concrete strip through the creek. On the other side, a slow right curve led you onto a fifty-mile arrow-straight road to the Dampier turn off.

 

There was a large, flat parking bay on the south bank of the creek, which had been rolled hard by the continual use of trucks parking there. Here you could park to bathe in the pool the raging water has eroded from the creek bed. As the water rushed over the concrete, it made a large swimming hole at least a hundred feet by fifty feet wide. The depth of the pool varies throughout the year.

 

Don was driving and I was riding ‘shotgun’ in the passenger seat. We used to drive for four hours each; I had been in the bunk but found I could not sleep. So I sat just passing the time away to keep him company. As he was scanning the road for potholes to avoid, I was the first to see it. There was something unfamiliar in the line of trees at the creek, a dark square shape which I did not recognise. As we got nearer, I saw what looked like four wheels at a right angle pointing towards us.

 

Still nearer, the angle of sight changed, now I could see the back of a van lying on its side. One rear door was flat on the ground, the other red door hung closed with a big yellow letter B and E and the first part of an l on it. “Hell,” I said as I turned to Don, “it’s the grease wagon.”

 

We couldn’t park on the road, although the road was never very busy. Back then if you saw two trucks every hour, you would say it was rush hour. But if one did come thundering through and we were parked in the road they might not miss us.

 

So, I leapt from the cab and ran across the road as Don drove to the other side of the creek to park. I was halfway to the van when I saw what looked like a bundle of rags when I realised what it was I was violently sick.

 

Their van had rolled over several times and the passenger door was open and crushed. The body lay between the road and the van. From the state of the body, he had been thrown from the van and the van must have rolled over him, mangling his body to a pulp.

 

Moving to the van, I tried to look in the windscreen. It was intact but covered with blood. Then I saw half of the driver’s body protruding from and pinned under the cab. Both men were well beyond any help we could offer. We covered them as best we could, then Don said: “what are we going to do.”

 

I asked him if he wanted to stay with them. He just shook his head, so I said: “unhook the unit and drive to Dampier, it will be quicker without the trailer.” I grabbed the two water bags hanging on the bull bar, two packs of cigarettes and a bag of fruit from the cab then waved him away.

 

It was fifty miles to the Dampier turnoff, then ten miles to Dampier itself, time spent finding someone and organising. Then the return journey of sixty miles back, I didn’t expect to see Don for at least three hours, more than likely four. So, I found somewhere shady where I could sit and still see that no dingo’s interfered with my lost friends, and then I settled down and prepared myself for the long wait.

 

The first to arrive was a police car I looked at my watch and thought that was quick. I had just climbed out of the pool, where I had gone to cool off. He pulled off the road opposite the crash site and waited for me to walk up to him. The other police officer stayed in the car writing. “You alright?” he asked, “I take it you weren’t in that?” “No,” I said, “I was in our truck, and found it then sent my mate down to get help.”

 

He had a puzzled look on his face and asked. “How did your mate know, we were parked there? We were well hidden; he couldn’t have seen us until he was right up to us. When we saw the cloud of dust coming we thought it was a tornado or at least a Ferrari. The amount of dust he was kicking up and the speed it was approaching. We reckoned he must have been doing a ton.”

 

“We were surprised when we saw it was a truck. I was getting ready to give him a ticket for low flying, but when he came into the range of our speed gun, he was doing the regulation forty. Then he slowed right up and stopped opposite us. He jumped out of his cab and ran over to tell us about the crash. As he was getting back in the cab, I asked how he knew we were here. He closed the door looked at me, and, as he pulled away he sang. ‘Sun de rise in de morning,’ what did he mean by that?”

 

I looked at him shrugged my shoulders and spread my hands, “don’t know, I think Don has a sixth sense.” I wasn’t going to tell him our secrets and have every trucker booked for speeding. He had nothing better to do, so he sat hiding in the bushes with his engine going, and his windows closed so he could sit in air-conditioned comfort.

 

Now I have given you the impression, that the sides of the roads had a thick growth of vegetation. That is not the case at all; in fact, the bushes in the outback were very sparse. But here and there, there would be thicker patches.

 

Just enough growth to camouflage the shape of a hidden car, but thin enough for you to look through. If you weren’t looking too closely at a particular spot, you wouldn’t see the blue and white of his car. When you did see it say at two hundred feet, he would have already shot you with his speed camera.

 

Anyway, it was his wish to be comfortable that told us he was there. We were always going south, at about this time of day. I say south generally the road from Headland to just above Carnarvon actually runs south-west, which puts the sun looking up our tailpipes. I said the road was straight, but it wasn’t flat, it undulates and you ride up and down like a ship sailing over a very long swell at sea.

 

It reminded me of my Navy days when we were closed up for action. I was a stoker, and when I was not on duty below, my action station was the feeder to a pom-pom crew. I would stand on the wings of the bridge deck, and look at the ships fore and aft. Watching the signallers with their adis lamps, flashing (…---…).

 

I wasn’t going to tell him that with the sun at the right altitude his car was sending out Morse code.

 

We had walked to the first body, bending, I took hold of the tarpaulin. I looked away as I lifted it to show him the body.

 

“Bloody strewth,” he said “cover him up mate, I haven’t had my lunch and I want to hold onto my breakfast. Any idea what made him end up this way?”

 

As I beckoned him back to the road, I said: “there are two of them and he wasn’t driving.” I indicated the marks in the road I had found. “Going to fast and half asleep I reckon you can see where he started to drift on the loose gravel. And the deep ruts where the wheels dug in and flipped it into its death roll.”

 

“Is there any evidence that something else could have caused the accident?” he asked.

 

“Sorry I’m not with you” I answered, “No beer cans to suggest he was drinking?” he asked. I looked around the area then said, “I don’t see any do you?” “No not one at all, but if there were, I would have suggested that they disappeared as I searched my car for my measuring tape” he answered.

 

My opinion of him changed at that moment because his measuring tape was already clipped to his belt. Anyway, there were no beer cans because I had already thought of that as a matter of course and had policed the wreck site, picking up all the shiny cans. I had even picked up the torn carton to put the cans into, and carried what I could to the trailer and put them inside it.

 

Then I returned to search for more I even climbed into the cab, where I found the driver’s legs wedged behind the driver’s seat. I found one can in there between the seat and the door. The seal had not been broken, but it was dented and covered in his blood.

 

I washed the can and my hand in the pool and then put the can with the others in the trailer. Then, I climbed in and counted them. As I hid them between the two bulkheads, we had pushed up to the front of the trailer so that no one would see them if they opened the door.

 

There were six missing from the twenty-four which would have been in the carton. These could be anywhere along the side of the road, from here to Port Headland. I just hoped they were not under the van. 

 

When I got out of the trailer and closed it, I cried like a baby. As I kicked seven bells of hell, out of one of the tyres. I was full of hate, anger, sorrow, desperation, frustration, and even guilt. These men were not just workmates, we knew them socially. We knew their wives and their kids. One of their sons plaied soccer in the same team as mine.

 

We had been to their barbeques as they had been to ours. I had danced with their wives, and they had danced with mine at the soccer club dances. We had been on picnics together and spent Christmas day on the beach with them. That’s why we brought goodies up for them from Perth, you know, homemade birthday cards from the kids.

 

Letters from their wives and homemade cakes. Once, a milk tooth from a little girl who wanted her daddy to have for keep's sake. Then there were the things which were cheaper in Perth than up here, like writing paper and suntan lotion, packets of biscuits and sweets, cartons of cigarettes, and beer!

 


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