Running a transport operation in the Northern Territory is often requires a certain kind of character. Bob Holt, from Katherine, is one such character, with plenty of stories to tell and still running big trucks on a daily basis in the modern business environment.
In 1967, Bob bought the first Kenworth in the Northern Territory. He had been using a Bedford, with a carrying capacity of 12 tonnes, until this point. He had also been pulling a dog trailer with another 12 tonnes. This had been followed by a petrol powered Ford, an International bought secondhand out of Alice Springs then followed.
“I used to bring all of the ANZ Bank’s money from Darwin to Katherine with the International,” recalls Bob. “I was parked outside the ANZ in Smith Street in Darwin and the cops came along and went to arrest me. What had happened was the man who had sold me the International had never paid for it himself – it was still on the dealer’s floorplan.
“A bloke called George Stephens used to run from Darwin to Katherine and he had bought a brand-new Peterbilt direct from America. After that, I bought a Kenworth, and then I had a lot of Kenworths. The first one was a cabover with a 250hp Cummins, naturally aspirated. It had no door trims, just aluminium door panels. Just a basic truck.
“We used to pull two trailers with it. We had built a depot here in Katherine. After Cyclone Tracy, I was the first to cart fuel out of Darwin. There was one truck loaded and ready to go, but then the cyclone struck. It was an eight wheeler Atkinson with three trailers on the back. Major General Stretton was in charge after the cyclone – he told me to just take and get rid of all the fuel and don’t worry about paying any money for it.”
In those early years, the Kenworth product in the Territory was supported technically by the well-known Kenworth personality Alan Stead.
“I had bought a Kenworth 903 in a hurry, because Shell wanted me to handle some new work,” says Bob. “Then we realised it did 2,600rpm, so instead of doing 85km/h it was doing well over 100. Alan Stead and I changed the gearbox to an underdrive one in my yard. Alan had got all the gears out of America from Eaton and turned it into a brilliant truck.
“Those days are gone now. It’s hard to tell anyone there is something wrong with your truck. We used to have a truck and, under power up the big climb coming from Darwin with quad trailers, I had to go up there three or four gears lower than I should. I was sure it was going bust something – I thought the tail shaft was at a stage where it was going to wrap around itself. On the new trucks now the tail shafts are so much bigger – I climb the grade and you can’t hear a murmur.