Trek 2002 – Tractors in the Outback – Week Eight

Saturday, 24th a day that the most memorable breakdown of the trek occurred. Kim Henderson was driving “Priscilla’ when the steering arm snapped and bent the A-Frame. This sent him out of control off the track. What could be done in the desert without parts or a workshop?

The men circled the tractor, scratching their heads, and rubbing their beards. How would they meet this challenge? It was a joy to witness the synergy of the “coming together of minds” where true endeavour exists without ego.

It was decided to dig a trench and light a fire in it, and to use it as a forge. As a result, the women were dispatched to get some firewood. However the light, spindly wood in the immediate vicinity was not very conducive to making heat! So Wesley and Darcy walked way over the hills and returned with some “serious wood”, which was used for the fire, with the remainder being taken into camp that night. Full marks to Joan Snook who made a great effort with gloves and her trusty axe.

George Bass took charge of setting up the forge and asked everyone for their BBQ hotplates, which were used to cover over the top of the trench to retain the heat. A chimney was set up by cutting a hole in a disc and putting the pipes into the centre of the disc and settling this in into the far end of the forge.

Cumber found an “exhaust fan” which he was supposed to have fitted to his camper van but had somehow not gotten around to it; He took the lead from the fan and hooked it up to Priscilla’s battery, and then ran it into the front end of the forge to blow the heat through, and then out the chimney. Ingenious!

In the meantime, some of the other men had jacked up the tractor, taken the wheels off and removed the A-Frame (axle). The bent part of the A-Frame was heated up in the forge. It was agreed that once the A-Frame was hot enough, there would only be a minute or two, to manoeuvre the steel back into shape.

Cedar Armstrong laid out some tow hitch bars onto the ground ready to receive the hot metal. Everyone got into position to secure the A-Frame between the tow hitch bars, while others straightened the bent “cylinder bit” with a crowbar and hammer. After it was straightened it was left to cool down (after first bending the crowbar in the process!!!). Phill Astill welded a plate onto the crack on the A-Frame, and then it was all reassembled.

This is a fairly simple account of what was really a feat in raw ingenuity. A major repair, without proper facilities, in the desert, leaving the tractor as good as new in less than 5 hours. If anyone had seen this event as it happened “Reality TV” on show like Survivor, they would say that surely this was a set-up. How could they possibly have done it? Who would just happen to have a spare fan lying around? Well it happened!

The main crew completing the repairs included: Cedar Armstrong, Phill Astill, Geoff DePledge, George Bass, Hugh Campbell, Gary Snook, Wesley Henderson, Kim Henderson.
After the women had assisted with the wood gathering and feeding the men, they took off to set up camp at Georgia Bore. Once again, many took the opportunity of the time and the water and caught up on the big laundry jobs like hand washing the bed linen and towels, as well as clothing. Showers were set up, and on this night there was no shortage of hot water, which had been heated up over the fire.

Some cooked roasts and other yummy meals in the camp-ovens to await the arrival of the men. There was great celebration around the campfire that night and congratulations on a job well done with the repairs on ‘Priscilla’.

Sunday 25th was good going for the first 40km of the day apart from a few bumps and corrugations. There were three camels on a sand hill to the right, and then a very sick, skinny camel at the 45 km mark.

By morning teatime, we had really only had trouble at one sand hill. Somewhere along this stretch we came across a group of about 40 camels grazing. We all stopped and climbed on top of the vehicles to get a better view and take photos.

Noreen and Stanley Snook premiered the opening of Canning Radio. The first item was an interview of Hugh Campbell. Hugh related the highly successful and interesting repairs to Kim Henderson’s tractor. About mid-morning we came upon Lake Disappointment, discovered by Frank Hahn (?) in 1897. It is a large, dry salt lake. The trekkers inspected the lake, looking for fossilised beetles and insects.

Then we stopped at a shady grove of Desert Oaks for lunch. The Esperance crew had kept travelling while the repairs were being made to Priscilla, and they arrived and set up camp at Durba Springs for some R & R. The Albany group, which had now grown, included the remaining Dongara tractors as well as the Snooks and the McLaughlins.

Bullsbrook had also gone on ahead and were now having trouble with some very bumpy and horrible holes, as well as crossing a swampy claypan. The worst crossing was at Savoury Creek, where the water was three times saltier than the sea. The vehicles bounced through it and a lot of water got in up underneath them.

At about 4:15pm we found a campsite on a saltpan. Some of the tractors were again experiencing trouble on the sand dunes.

Monday 26th and the sand hills were creating a few problems, but nothing that could not be overcome. Contact was made with the Bullsbrook group but there was some disagreement about all the groups connecting up again before taking off together. It was decided for all groups to wait until the second half of the convoy arrived at Durba Springs.

Well 18 was full of thousands of tiny brown frogs – a very unusual sight. There was a lot of rocky ground between FX18 and FX19, which made the going quite slow. A magnificent scenery of red gorges and rocky hills as we got closer to Durba Springs.

The camping facilities at Durba Springs were very beautiful, close to a stream and pool. Although the pool was too stagnant to swim in or to collect from. There was a composting loo and plenty of water.

Just on dusk, a group of young lads on motorbikes drove in and set up camp next to the tractor trekkers. That evening, there was a get-together around the campfire. Brenda played her accordion and sang, and the trekkers joined in.

Judge Judy (alias Ken Taylor, complete with earrings, wig and dress) fined individuals for various misdemeanours. We were told that Cumber ran out of fuel, half way up a sand hill!!!!
Tuesday, 27th had a bright and early start with Esperance leading the way off at 6:30am, the Bullsbrook team 20 minutes later and 9G South last away. The motorbike boys lined up with 9G South for a photo shoot before they all left.

The road was good in patches, however there were also a couple of washouts which were exceedingly bad, with rocky outcrops and boulders all around. We came across Murray Rankin’s trolley, which was abandoned on one of his walks heading north. That trip was unsuccessful, although he tried again later and did succeed.
There was water at Well 15, which had been restored in 1998 by a 4WD club, mainly from Victoria. Continued on further and came upon another 4WD going north, with 2 men occupying it. A few kilometres down the track there was yet another trekking mob of 6 x 4WDs. Four big sand hills to conquer then onto some clear running. A few water ruts on the way into Well 14, and we continued on to Well 13.

Wednesday, 28th. The day started off well, until Bassy broke a front left stubb axle on his tractor. Everyone went to the rescue. At first it was thought that it was an ‘action replay’ of what had happened to ‘Priscilla’. People turned up with blocks, axles, welders, grinding papers etc. plus the cameras. Luckily there was a ‘spare’ stubb axle and the repair was carried out in record time. (About 20 minutes)

Two junior trekkers, Darcy and Maddie Stephens were present for the whole trip. They decided to hold a fundraiser for the Royal Flying Doctor Service. Each day they would go around to all the campers and ask for the ring-pull tops off their aluminium cans. (Soft drink cans of course!). They counted them all, and then held a guessing competition. They raised about $30.00 for the RFDS. What a fine contribution these two children made, not only to the RFDS, but also to the trek in general.

Wells 11 and 10 were generally bypassed as they were in ruins and with no water. Well 9 was an historical site, but now used as a station windmill tank, where cattle now “water” and lie around. There were also remains of an old fort.

Seemingly out of nowhere, we came upon some graded road, and then some more tracks, which had been badly eroded by water. There was plenty of wildlife in these areas, as we headed through station country. We saw kangaroos, lizards and emus.

We were amused to see a ‘Give Way’ sign, in the middle of nowhere. Of course, we all obliged!

Late in the day, Doris and Boris had a mishap with their vehicle, when one of the springs broke. Once again, the mighty ‘9G outback workshop’ was assembled and the ingenuity of the men prevailed. Someone had picked up an old spring from on old abandoned Mac truck near the Wolfe Creek crater the way, and it was welded onto the broken spring, which was enough to get the vehicle mobile, and to last the distance all the way back to Albany where the spring was replaced.

Thursday, 29th and each morning now, the wake-up calls were getting earlier and earlier, and louder and louder. Jock and Bob were the main culprits with early morning music, which was rather well received by the contingent.

Bullsbrook group headed off first, and like sheep everyone else followed, until it became evident that once again, we were on the wrong track. We picked up the right road at Well 8 and continued on.

We stopped at Well 6, (Pierre Springs) which was very beautiful with River Gums flourishing. The Geraldton 4WD club had restored Well 6. There was a cairn built there to commemorate the restoration as well as a toilet.

The road had been excellent for quite some time before we ran into some rough and rocky creek crossings with steep inclines as well as bull dust. Jimmy Cole’s tractor “Dusty” broke a spring around lunchtime. Later we pulled into Windlich Springs, a beautiful fresh water hole of immense length, which had formed into a river. The road became quite rough as we travelled over some “lake” country. It was amazing that all of the caravans and some of the unlikely vehicles all made it through.

As we drove through Cunyu station country, we met up with the station owner, who gave the trekkers permission to camp on the station, as long as rules were adhered to as far as removing rubbish etc. The camp set up in a big circle on some extremely rocky ground, as this was expected to be our last opportunity to camp out as a club. The ground was so hard that most people were unable to even get their tent pegs in. Well 5 was the deepest well of all.

Friday, 30th. The camp moved off early, with Bullsbrook in the lead then Esperance and Albany. The road had deteriorated in many places with washaways causing deep ruts. Then some places were almost like a freeway.
Just on lunchtime, Jock radioed back to say he was in need of the welder again. He had broken his trailer hitch. Kim to the rescue once again. We stopped in at Well 3, which was a restored well. The Foothills 4WD club were responsible for the restoration. Canning had carved his name into a tree at the site there.

Apparently, Canning and his men were without food or water, and so they blew a hole in the ground, large enough to catch water, now at Well 2A, which is also known as the granites.
Finally, we reached the corner of the Canning Stock Route and the built up road into Wiluna. All the trek vehicles assembled just out of town and waited for a police escort into Wiluna to celebrate the end of the trek.