Guest Post by Mark Preston
In 1976 I was 8 years old, living on a farm in Kiacatoo, outside Condobolin in central New South Wales, and… into trucks. For Christmas that year I was given my first LP: ’24 Great Truck Drivin’ Songs’. It even had CB Trucker Talk code words on the back to decode the “secret” trucker talk, and this led me to build myself a side band radio to listen to the truck drivers in the vicinity!
Being on a farm in the wheat country meant a lot of trucks and I would often be found sketching ‘18 wheelers’ (see CB code for a 5-axle truck) with chrome and spotlights adorning the cab and bull bars. We would often go to the Farm Days in local towns to check out equipment with my dad and uncle to see what new ideas were available and admire the shiny rigs and monster tractors that are common in the outback of Australia.
Image source: www.discogs.com
Each year in the harvesting season, when not in school, I would join my dad and grandfather on the trip to the grain silo in the centre of the town, about 30 miles away. We would carry around 10-15 tonnes of wheat in each load.
My dad remembers his favourite story of me being an earnest young man. He was driving the F600 with a dog trailer fully loaded with 13 tonnes of grain, from the farm to the wheat silo in Condobolin.
Pictured: My father with the multi-purpose F600 Ford with a 500 gallon tank with optional tipping tray and cattle pen
Given the angle of the truck on a crossroads, he asked me if there were any cars coming.
I replied: “No cars.”
So he set off changing through the gears of the 8-speed gearbox with the fully loaded truck.
“But there is a truck”, I said literally
“£(%*£@£(£*£!@”, was the reply…
But we made it to the silo and he learned to ask very literal questions from then on.
Fixing the Staines Truck
One school holiday my cousins and I decided to fix a truck to keep us busy. We found an old Comer truck pictured below, that my uncle had taken the crane off the back and onto a new truck chassis. The old Comer had stood around for many years and was not operational.
Over the next few days we would walk into my uncle’s shed and ask how things worked. After vacuuming out the spiders and ants we tried to start it with the keys that were in the ignition. No joy.
First question: How do engines start?
“You will need some fuel and a battery.”
“How does a battery work and why would this one be broken”, we pointed to the truck battery we had brought into the main workshop. “Be careful with the battery acid.”
After learning about the water in a lead acid battery and hooking it up for the night on a trickle charge we left to create makeshift seats out of bean bags and a chair for the driver!
Next, the fuel tank
Next was a fuel tank, as you can see in the picture, a 44 gallon drum, NOT strapped down to the chassis! We had to learn how to prime a fuel pump and then finally, bump start the truck with a tractor. Oh, and I think we also had to learn how to drive at the same time, as there were multiple jobs to be done!
Pictured: Mark in the driver’s seat with sisters and cousins
As we sped past the main shed, my uncle looked out and noticed that not only did we not have the fuel tank strapped down, but we also had an exhaust which did not have a muffler, and in the middle of Australia, that is how bushfires get started!
All good fun!
Pictured: Tractor used for bump starting our truck adventure
From driving to designing
After university, I started work designing dangerous goods trails for a company called Tieman in Melbourne. My first vehicle was a hydrogen peroxide tanker, my first experience at designing a Class A pressure vessel. The second one was a bitumen tanker. I really enjoyed that experience as I travelled around with some of the truck drivers understanding what they – as the customer – really needed and made updates to the design of the tanks accordingly.
Pictured: Tieman bitumen tanker
Little did I know that I would get back to trucks through a career in Formula E and Formula 1 and bring that technology to the autonomous trucking industry with StreetDrone. StreetDrone is pioneering the commercialisation of yard logistics in the trucking sector with our highly successful project at Nissan’s Sunderland plant where we work closely with Hitachi Vantec, Nokia, BP, and the North Eastern Automotive Alliance. I’ve come full circle, only now with technology that we couldn’t have imagined in the 70s, like teleoperation, electric powertrains and, of course, autonomy.