The history behind Haulin’ the Hume

Back in the 1950s, the drive between Sydney and Melbourne took almost two days – provided you didn’t have too many breakdowns or flat tyres – and the trip was punctuated with welcoming truck stops that served ‘mixed grills’ and real vegetables as a side instead of the corporatized fast food that now makes up the drivers’ menu.

By modern standards, the trucks of the post-WWII era were as agricultural as the roads they navigated, but that was no impediment to the people who drove them. A truck with 180hp was considered ‘top dog’ and single drives (two speed diffs, of course) were in the majority.

To recognise the highway pioneers of days long gone, the Western Sydney Historical Truck Club organised the 2013 ‘Haulin’ the Hume’ event, which was held in brilliant autumn sunshine in May. 

Interest from owners of restored – and some unrestored – commercial vehicles was so overwhelming that the organisers had to cap the entry numbers at 260, a limit that was reached months prior to the event and well up on the 143 vehicles that made the inaugural trip held two years ago.

Starting from Casula on the south western outskirts of Sydney, the vehicles followed what remained of the original Hume, though at times they got to comfortably cruise along the dual carriageway of today’s Highway 31 where it overruns the track of the original.

The main criterion for trucks to be eligible to participate was that the vehicle had to be at least 30 years old. There were many almost three times that age with Ford T’s (including a tow truck version) and other early makes rolling along at a steady pace to complete the journey.

Following the original Hume ‘Highway’ brought with it the realisation of how far trucks and roads have come over the past century. Not only was the highway very narrow in parts, but the immediate roadside was lined with trees and power poles that would have been unforgiving to any vehicle unfortunate enough to veer off bitumen. At some time in the 1950s, a Government decided to dedicate the road as a sort of war memorial and named sections of it the ‘Remembrance Driveway’ and proceeded to add to the danger by planting rows of ornamental deciduous trees along the very roadside. At least it presents a picturesque scene now – especially in autumn – but would have been dangerous back when almost all of the traffic between Sydney and Melbourne had no alternative but to use the Hume.

The event wasn’t exactly a convoy as the relative road speeds between the trucks of different eras varied considerably. The result was that groups and even individuals went at their own pace which added to the enjoyment of the various sized congregations of spectators who lined the sides of the Hume at vantage points. A number of these were well organised with their own marquees, portable barbeques and play facilities for the children. Their reward was several hours of intermittent groups of classic trucks passing by, acknowledging the support with air horn blasts and friendly waves.

On downhill runs, the staccato sound of Jacobs brakes filled the air, while on the climbs, the roar of hard working diesel and petrol engines going through the gears was true music to the ears of the enthusiasts. On any other day of the year it would have been regarded as noise pollution, but everyone seemed to enjoy the sights and sounds as the trucks made it up and over the steep grades of the Razorback Range.

Morning tea was held at the historic town of Berrima and with the co-operation of the authorities, both sides of the road were lined with rigs. While on their break, the drivers discussed such vital issues as which gear they were down to when climbing Razorback.

As the images show, there was a variety of trucks from a fully restored chain-driven solid tyre Mack AC Bulldog – which obviously rode piggy back behind an equally impressive B model Mack – to SAR and W model Kenworths from the 1970s. Presentation ranged from nut and bolt restorations to trucks in original condition, complete with the genuine patina of a workhorse that has probably only received mechanical attention for the past 50 years rather than paint and polish.

A number of the pre-1930 trucks had been retro fitted with such modern technology as UHF radios and cup holders, but were still sans side windows and the passengers rugged up in blankets for warmth as heaters were probably a couple of more decades away when the truck was originally built.

Throughout the morning the trucks made their way to Gunning, long since bypassed by the modern Hume, but still a thriving country town. The Gunning Historical Society, with the co-operation of the local council, hosted the trucks at the Gunning showground where various food outlets did a brisk trade feeding the famished truckers, and the locals got the opportunity to look at the machinery up close. This was another opportunity for participants to catch up with old friends and even make a few new ones.

Bob Sutcliffe and his wife had driven their International AR130 from Perth just to attend the event. Bob’s 8,000 kilometre round trip just to be involved in the 280 kilometre rally is an indication of the esteem in which ‘Haulin’ the Hume’ is now held by historic truckers throughout Australia. Vehicles and crews from most other states were in attendance including a fleet of classic Ansair ‘Flexible Clipper’ buses. 

The trucks began to leave Gunning at 3pm to make the final leg to Yass, where a reunion function was held at the local memorial club and some good-humoured awards were presented.

Bruce Gunter, one of the organisers and club spokesman, expressed his gratitude to the numerous authorities and volunteers who were involved in the months of pre-planning as well as the on-day control. 

“We have had fantastic support and assistance from the RMS, NSW Police and every Council involved,” he said. He went on to pay particular thanks to Greg Watson and his team from the RMS Checking Station at Marulan.

In addition to the great experience, the event also managed to raise in excess of $14,000 for its chosen charities, including Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect) and the Special Needs School in Yass.

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