It was a big surprise to Cobram’s Bob Willis when he went to the National Road Transport Hall of Fame in Alice Springs with his wife.
‘‘Unbeknownst to me, I got inducted,’’ Mr Willis said.
‘‘I started driving at 14 and my family used to own the service station at Strathmerton at the time,’’ he said.
‘‘There was an elderly chap who used to come into town from Ulupna Island, and he got to the stage where he couldn’t drive.
‘‘He left the car with me and said, ‘When I ring up I want you to come and get me and bring me into town’.
‘‘Then when I was finished I would bring the car back.’’
Mr Willis started carting fruit to the Shepparton cannery when he was 16 and was carting hay and bags of wheat.
‘‘I was 17 when two of the local police officers went out when I happened to be loading fruit and they said, ‘Bob, have you got your licence yet?’
‘‘I said, ‘No, I’m not old enough’.
He said, ‘Well, don’t let us catch you on the highway’ and I said okay.
‘‘They were the good old days.
‘‘We were loading fruit cases — none of these bulk bins — and carting them to Kyabram and Shepparton.
‘‘The truck driver did everything himself, including stacking and unloading at the cannery.
‘‘I am still working at 76 — I’ve worked hard all my life. Hard work won’t hurt anyone.’’
In the family business Mr Willis took on the truck driving and at 18 was due to take a load of fuel in 44-gallon drums to a dozer contractor from Strathmerton who was working over at Conargo.
He thought it was time to visit the local copper and get his licence sorted.
‘‘I pulled up at the police station and parked the Bedford and fuel trailer outside.
‘‘The policeman said, ‘What can I do for you, young bloke?’ I said I want to get my driver’s licence and he asked what I was driving.
‘‘I said, ‘See that truck out there?’ ‘Oh, all right, here’s your combination,’ he said. He just wrote down HC — heavy combination.’’
Mr Willis has experienced some dramatic changes in the transport industry during his many decades as a driver.
He said B-doubles had probably reduced some congestion as far as prime movers were concerned, but it was still difficult for the operators to make money.
‘‘It’s a different world nowadays.’’
Mr Willis and his wife Jan had five children.
‘‘We lost one to a truck accident 20-odd years ago. Now we have about 14 grandkids,’’ he said.
‘‘I have been doing well — I’ve been truck driving for 61 years.
‘‘I’ve been out and done a load this morning — I do a load every day. I start at seven o’clock in the morning, or earlier if I am going further.
‘‘We still go to Jerilderie and I was over at Nathalia this morning. From Wunghnu to Yarrawonga, we cover a fair bit of country.
‘‘Grandfathers, fathers and sons — three generations I have delivered to.’’