Life on the RoadbyCromagnonman©
I was late getting out of Darwin so I pulled off the road at Katherine to grab a cup of coffee and a bite to eat to fuel me up for the long night ahead. The truck was fuelled up and with over 1000 litres in the tanks I wouldn't have to stop for fuel until I got home.
There was one other rig in the parking bay, an old and battered Louisville with 3 cattle trailers hanging behind. There were a couple of dust-covered utes complete with bull bars and a row of spotlights on a bar over the cab, a Range Rover and a couple of soft roaders completed the collection.
I pulled in and let the engine of my Mack idle for a while before I shut her down. I had five trailers on with general cargo, including a refrigerated one with tropical fruit, mangos and papayas for the Southern markets.
I climbed down and strolled into the road house, the people inside glanced as I entered then continued to munch their way through truckie serves of steak, salad and chips. I grabbed a mug and helped myself to the bottomless urn of coffee and fronted the counter to order.
The name badge told me that Steph was on duty and she smiled at me, "What'll it be?" Pencil poised for my reply.
"Steak, rare, just whip off its horns, wipe its arse and chuck it on the plate. If it doesn't moo when I shove the fork in it's too well done." She smiled as she always did. "Toss a salad on the plate and that'll do me."
"Sure thing Honey, take a pew anywhere, we're not busy, I'll bring it over to you."
I looked around the dining room and most of the customers were in pairs or groups, all except one. She was probably about my age although it's hard to tell when a person's been out in all weathers, she was slim, dark hair and not bad looking in an outdoors kind of way. She wore jeans and a check shirt and R M Williams boots, a battered Akubra was on the table beside her plate. I tried to match her to the vehicles outside and settled on the Range Rover.
"Do you mind if I sit here?" I asked as I placed my cap on her table.
"Thanks, I'm Mike, Mike Swain, Where are you heading?"
"Kate, Kate Findlay. Down south, got a load of cattle heading for Adelaide."
"Is that your rig out there, the old Louie?"
"Yeah, she's getting on a bit but she's pretty reliable for the work I do."
"Is that all you do, cart cattle?"
"I usually back-load with building gear for the Station, we're always having to repair buildings, bloody termites'll munch their way through a shed in no time."
"So you work on a station?"
"My parents own it, Wattle Creek, it's about a hundred K's off the highway. We've got a couple of thousand square Kilometres and run a few thousand head of beef cattle, mainly Santa Gertrudis and a few Zebus. Our agent tells us the best prices are being fetched down south so we thought we'd ship some down to see how they go. What about yourself, what've you got on?"
"Mainly general freight, I've got fruit in the fridge trailer and bits and pieces in the others."
"How's the Mack to drive?" So she had noticed me pull up.
"She's good, she moves along nicely and I'm thankful for the auto trans when I'm doing an East Coast run, some of those B roads would be hard work with a manual box."
"We might look at something like that, we've decided that it's time to pension old Louie off, she's starting to cost a fortune in maintenance."
My steak arrived and it was singed on the outside and bloody in the middle. "You must save a fortune on fuel." She said nodding at my plate. "That's as near as damn it to raw."
"I find that if I ask for rare steak I usually get it medium rare at best, anything more cooked than that is tough and tasteless. I could safely order medium rare here but I like it this way and if I can get it the way I like it that's a bonus."
"I know what you mean, once it loses the pink in the middle I might just as well be eating my RM's."
While I worked my way through this meal Kate tapped the bottomless urn for another coffee for us. She drank hers quickly and stood up. "I'd better be going, I hope to bump into you again, soon."
"Sure thing, I'll take my time with this so I should be on the road in about half an hour, maybe I'll see you at the next truck stop."
"That'd be great, see ya." With that she was off. I didn't much like the sound of her gear box as she crawled onto the bitumen, I hoped she would make it.
Hope wasn't something that I relied on. I had only been on the road about twenty minutes when my CB crackled into life; "Any truck heading south out of Katherine, I need help."
"Is that you Kate, it's Mike, what's the problem?"
"I can't get the old bastard of a thing to move, it goes into gear but nothing, it won't budge."
"How far did you get?"
"I was on the road about forty minutes so I guess I made fifty K's."
"Okay," I pushed the button on my trip computer, "I should be with you in ten, we'll have a quick look and see if it's an easy fix, if not we'll work something out." As I drove towards her my mind was working over-time, she couldn't sit on the side of the road for long if it was a major problem, so what could I do to help her. A plan was just forming when I saw her rig on the gravel shoulder. I pulled in behind her. I could see the worry on her face as she came back to me. I switch off my headlights and climbed down.
"Thanks for stopping Mike, I don't know what to do if I'm held up here for any time."
"Let's have a look at it first." I crawled under the truck and in the light of my torch I could see a stream of oil coming from the back of the gearbox housing. I grabbed the tail-shaft and shook it, it was loose. It didn't look good. I crawled out, her look said it all; could she continue or was it worse. "It's not good news I'm afraid. It looks as if the output shaft in your gearbox has broken, it's flapped around like a fart in a bubble bath and chewed out the oil seal. You're up for a new gearbox."
"Damn. Damn, damn the mother fucking thing! Why did it have to do this now? Why couldn't it have shit itself at some other time."
"Now before you get too carried away and take a sledge hammer to the old girl, I have a plan." She looked at me with a degree of suspicion at first and then, when she saw that I was serious, she relaxed a little.
"Tell me, what's your plan."
"How about this. I'll contact my father and get him to organise a heavy lift tow truck to come down from Darwin and drag your truck back so that you can either get it fixed or junk it."
"But what about the cattle, I can't just leave them here."
"I'm getting to that. While I'm talking to Dad I'll organise a prime mover to come and pick up my load. We'll drag yours out from under your trailers and slot mine in. It's no big deal if my load takes a day longer to get through but yours needs to move now."
"I don't know, it's a lot of trouble for you and it'll cost you heaps."
"But not as much as it'll cost you if you're stuck out here for days, you probably don't have enough feed to see you beyond two days and there's no water here. I reckon you'll lose around thirty percent of your load and the rest'll only be good for pet food."
"Why would you put yourself out like this?"
"Believe me if you'd been a middle aged truckie in a navy singlet with his gut hanging over his shorts I wouldn't have even considered it, but seeing as how you're a gorgeous looking sheila, I decided to make an exception."
"Okay, but if you've visions of giving your sleeper cab a pounding, you can forget it."
"That thought never crossed my mind."
"Well not for more than a minute or two, a bloke can dream. We can't stand here exchanging pleasantries, we have work to do." I lowered the legs and jacked my trailer up so that I could drive out from under, then we did the same to Kate's although I had to hitch up to it and drag it out. Then we hooked up and we were ready to roll.
She climbed into the cab and sat there looking at my office. "Wow! This is some rig, your dash looks like an aeroplane cockpit, and you've got a CD player and even, bliss, aircon, and these seats, wow." I pulled out onto the highway and started to wind her up, she couldn't believe how smooth the acceleration was compared to the old Louie and the lack of noise impressed her.
I opened the centre console. "See if there's any music there that you like." She picked out a CD and slotted it into the player and the surround sound kicked in and filled the cab with classical guitar music.
"You surprise me." She said.
"What did you expect, some whining hillbilly crap or thumping truck driving music?"
"I love classical music but with the racket my truck makes it's a waste of time."
We made a quick pit stop at Tennant Creek before heading south once more. It was an easy drive and driving two up we didn't have to stop other than to change over, so we made good time into the Alice. Mid morning we pulled in to a truck stop and I topped up my tanks, I didn't need to but I was playing it safe. Kate hooked a hose up to the tap and filled up the water troughs in the trailers. The cattle drank thirstily, it was as if they knew that it would be a long time between drinks. I gave her a hand to drag some hay bales from a box on the front trailer and we gave them a feed as well. "Do you have to do all of this yourself?"
"Yeah, it's hard yakka but if I don't do it the cows suffer."
Apart from a couple of kangaroos that chose to try us on, it was an uneventful trip. We passed through Pt Augusta on sun-up. "We have to turn off just this side of Pt Wakefield, they're going into agistment for a couple of weeks before hitting the markets."
"What were you going to do for those two weeks?"
"I was going to head to Adelaide for a couple of week's rest, then I was going to come back, haul them to market. While I was down there I was going to look for a new truck."
"There's a Mack dealer in Adelaide, if you like I can take you there, I know the Sales Manager."
"You've done too much already, I'll never be able to repay you."
"I'll think of something."
She looked at me, then over her shoulder to the sleeper cab. "Oh no, not that."
"No, not that, although I can still dream. No, what I had in mind was that I was going to take a couple of week's holiday. I have a holiday house down at Victor Harbor and I thought that you might like to join me, what do you say?"
She thought about it for a minute or two. "I say yes."
It took us a couple of hours to unload the three trailers and make sure that the cattle were well fed and watered before we drove to Adelaide in the prime mover. As I pulled into our freight depot the office door opened and a man in a wheel chair rolled down the ramp, stopping beside the truck. A knowing look came over his face when Kate climbed out of the cab. "So this is the reason why you left your load on the side of the road."
"Dad, this is Kate, Kate my father Bill Swain. Kate had a load of cattle for the markets down here, we couldn't leave them on the side of the road. Her truck did its gearbox in and it wasn't something that could be fixed quickly, so I decided to unhook my load and bring her load down here, I figured that the refrigerated trailer had enough fuel for a week and the rest of the load was fine, so, as long as we got it picked up quickly. I was looking at six hours to get a truck down from Darwin so there shouldn't have been a problem."
"I think you made the right decision," He looked at the both of us, "in more ways than one. What are your plans now?"
"I was thinking of taking Kate down to the shack for a couple of week's R&R, if that's okay with you."
"Sure, I can cover that. Well, have fun you two." The look that he gave us suggested that he thought that my idea of R&R was sex, sex and more sex.
We walked over to the car park and I opened the door of my pride and joy, my toy. It wasn't an Italian supercar, or a Jaguar or Aston Martin or Mercedes, Audi or BMW, or even an American muscle car, for that would have been too normal. It was an unusual car, there had only around 500 sold in Australia, it was a Subaru SVX. I had read somewhere that it was Subaru's six cylinder 4 wheel drive tilt at the Porsche 911. In terms of performance there apparently wasn't that much in it but the SVX had more creature comforts.
"What is it? I can see by the badge that it's a Subaru, but what is it?"
I explained a bit about it as I fired her up, you could barely hear the boxer six as it moved smoothly out of the yard. "Do you prefer to drive automatics?"
"Oh this thing, around town it's easier but this thing has a trick up its sleeve, if I push this red button on the stick it goes manual and it changes gear whenever I want, not when it wants. The only difference being there's no clutch. Not bad for a car that's almost twenty years old."
We weaved our way through the often erratic traffic that is the bane of a truck driver's existence, this point was brought into stark reality by Kate's question. "What happened to your father?" I thought about what had happened and when I hadn't answered after about thirty seconds she reached over and touched my arm. "I'm sorry Mike, I didn't mean to touch a nerve."
"No it's all right. He was driving in heavy traffic on his way to Melbourne, the main access road from the depot runs through the posh part of town and this woman cut in front of him and braked heavily to make a turn. He hit the brakes and swerved, the truck jack-knifed and rolled. He'd seen the yellow diamond on the back window of her car that told him that there were 'kids on board' and his reaction was that he didn't want to kill any kids. What he didn't know at the time was that she was on her way to pick up the ankle biters from school and was running late. As a result he's a paraplegic and can't drive a truck any more. He didn't even touch her car and what made it worse was that she showed no remorse at all, she didn't even get charged because what she had done wasn't illegal, just stupid." It was still a sore point for me.
I had decided to take her along the coastal, more scenic, route south to the Fleurieu Peninsular and as we cleared suburbia and entered the more rural areas I pointed out some of the features. "Do you see all of those grape vines along here?" indicating the row upon row of young vines. "All of this area used to be almond groves until the late 80's early 90's when two things happened to change all that, the first was the price of wine grapes went up through the roof and there was a glut of imported almonds from the US that saw the price of the local product plummet to the point that the industry was no longer sustainable in this region. Now there's an oversupply of wine grapes and some of these vineyards are no longer profitable."
"How do you know all this?"
"I was studying Ag. Science when Dad had his accident, I chose to give it up to help him in the business."
The road wound its way around the foothills of the Southern Mt Lofty ranges before turning inland through dairy farming country and passing through a couple of small towns before turning once more to the coast. The scenery here was spectacular with steep hills coming almost to the foreshore and the road running along the narrow strip of land beside the sea. After a few kilometres it weaved its way through interlocking spurs in the hills before making a return to dairy country.
As we passed a sign pointing to Rapid Bay I told her of the gypsum mining operation that had been there and the jetty that had been used to load ships taking the rock to the cement works in Adelaide. "Now there's a general store, a camp ground and one of the best fishing spots on the coast. Do you like fishing?"
"Can't say that I do much fishing, there's barra (barramundi) in the creek but you have to keep your eyes peeled for salties (salt water crocodiles), they're none too friendly."
"I know what you mean, we have the famous white pointers around here, they munch on the unsuspecting from time to time."
I turned off the main road at Delamere and headed through pine plantations on a smooth, gently sweeping road. I set the SVX on auto pilot and let her ease along the road at the speed limit of 100KPH, not slowing down for corners even though the advisory speed signs told me that I shouldn't be travelling at more than, on some bends, 80KPH. "This thing handles well." Kate said.
"You should be glad that I'm not in a hurry. If I were I'd have it in manual and be going for it, these 80K corners she can take comfortably at 140. I'm not in a hurry because I want to prolong this pleasure for as long as possible."
"Oh you do, do you?"
"Yes, do you blame me?"
"No. I have to confess that I'm enjoying it too." Her hand reached over and rested lightly on my leg.
"There it is," I'd just come over a crest. Spread out below us was Victor Harbor and the coastal plain that stretched from the Bluff round the curves of the beaches to the Murray Mouth. "Beautiful Victor Harbor."
"Wow! It is beautiful."
We drove along the coastal road and I pulled into the driveway of a two storey town house. "Welcome to my holiday shack." I showed her around pointing out the amenities and the bedrooms, she didn't seem all that interested in the second bedroom, or maybe that was just my wishful thinking. "We'll slip down to the shops for a few essentials to tide us over for the night and tomorrow we can hit the supermarket and stock up for the duration. Tonight we dine out." I made it sound like a big deal.
We cleaned up and changed into fresh jeans and shirts. Milk, coffee, bread, butter and cereal later we had enough for breakfast in the morning and headed into town for a meal at one of the hotels. Any one of them served good local seafood and Kate was in food heaven, calamari and salad and lots of it instead of steak. A good wine to go with it and we were both laughing and carrying on like a couple of school kids instead of responsible adults. I had never enjoyed the company of a woman as much as this.
"Thank you for a great evening." Kate said as I closed the front door behind us. "I really enjoyed it, the food, the wine and the company. It was all the best." She put her arms around my neck and pulled my face to hers. "Mike, I'm scared."
"You. You and what is about to happen. I want to make love to you but I'm scared that if I do I'll fall in love with you."
"And that scares you how?" I couldn't understand her reasoning.
"I'm not scared of falling in love with you as much as I'm scared of what will happen when that happens. I'm scared that you won't want to live in my world and I don't know whether I can live in yours."
"I fully understand, but it's a hurdle that we should be able to clear when the time comes, but for now, and I know that this is going to sound trite and corny, but I love what I see and see what I love."
"God that sounds like something straight out of Mills and Boon or Barbara Cartland. I never took you to be a soppy romantic."
"Romantic yes, soppy no. What's wrong with a man being romantic?"
"Nothing, it's just that I'm not used to it." We were still in each other's arms and the words came between kisses. I felt her hand slip between us and grab my wedding tackle. "What have we here?"
"Don't tell me you don't know what a cock is."
"Oh I know what one of them is and much bigger ones than that." She caught the look on my face and laughed. "On horses, you can't live on a cattle station and not witness a stallion mounting a mare. You should have seen the look on your face." We both laughed and her hand stayed where it was.
My hand moved between us and opened her shirt and slid around her body pulling her to me and feeling her soft, warm flesh. "Who gave you permission to do that?"
"You've got to be kidding, here you are groping me and turning me on something fierce and you expect me to ask permission to put my hand inside your shirt?"