This week we are please to change things up a little bit. This yarn (and the beautiful photos that accompany it) was written by one of our customers, Peter Wright, who while holding the copyright to this story and the photos has kindly allowed us to share here. Even though he didn’t use it, we bet he was glad to have the safety net of off-road recovery. Do you like to document your travels in the same way? Shoot through your articles to [email protected] and we’ll gladly publish them!
It was always going to be a slow trip across the Simpson. We were planning to smell the roses, well, maybe some cane grass and catch a glimpse of a wren or two. We had a route from west to east planned that included a couple of nights at Dalhousie with some walks out to a few of the less visited springs in the area and a night at the Spring Creek Delta lookout. From there the plan was to meander slowly along the Rig Road with no particular schedule and no particular plan.
We were travelling in our OKA motorhome in company with friends in a Canter. None of us had crossed the Simpson before although we have been fortunate to have toured most areas of Australia over many years and our friends had not long before completed a road trip to Scotland from Australia via China, Mongolia and Russia and back via Turkey, India and Myanmar, so we had all had to contend with the occasional unplanned minor breakdown or diversion from time to time.
It was clear from the outset of the trip that we were all going to thoroughly enjoy the Simpson. We dawdled along the Rig road, typically heading off at about 8am each morning and camping up for the day well before lunch. At one point we spent 3 nights and 3 full days camped on top of a dune on the Rig Road and never saw another soul for the whole time. Better even than that is that the little critters and birds that were frightened away when we arrived all begin to come back after a day or so. We took long walks each day through the dunes and even did some night time walks in torch light to see some of the nocturnal critters. We weren’t disappointed
Camped along the Rig Road. Dinner, undisturbed in the middle of the track.
We turned north onto Knolls Track, spent most of a day exploring the Approdinna Attora Knolls and surrounding areas and then we were back on the French Line, with all its traffic. The following day, I was negotiating a moderate dune when there was a “bang” from the rear of the vehicle. Not a good sound. Something had broken and that was going to be bad. It did not take long to confirm that it was either an axle or the rear differential. A little more investigation showed that it was the rear LH axle. It had broken just 100mm from the outer flange. A most unusual failure position (which later investigation suggested was due to a fault in the axle, but that was no consolation at the time).
What should we do now?
Many years ago, Margaret and I were driving a Mini 850 from Adelaide to Darwin on the still to be sealed Stuart Highway. We were following a semi, keeping well behind to stay out of his dust, when he pulled over and stopped for no apparent reason. By the time we had caught up to him, he was out of the cab, had lifted the bonnet and lighting a small fire off the side of the road. We asked if everything was OK. He said he thought he might have a flat tyre, but was putting the kettle on before checking. When the fire was going and the kettle was on, he took an iron bar and walked around the truck, giving each tyre a clout as he went. When he returned, he confirmed that he did indeed have a flat, but before attending to it he made his cuppa and drank it quietly and calmly seated on an old log next to the fire. Only then did he attend to the flat which he fixed completely and refitted to the truck before having a second cuppa and then proceeding on his way, relaxed and refreshed.
I have never forgotten that truckie.
The Stuart Highway, 1967. The truckie.
By now, our friends had stopped on the top of the previous dune. We walked back to their truck and they put the kettle on. We discussed the options available to us. We were 20km west of Poeppel Corner on the French Line.
Option 1. Drive/tow using the Canter to tow us and using the front wheel drive of the OKA with the rear tail shaft removed. Once in Birdsville we would be able to drive home in front wheel drive without too much hassle. The down side was that we were planning to go east to Brisbane rather than home to Adelaide, so this would mess up the rest of our trip. There was little doubt that we could do this and it was a cheap and immediate option, but it would put extra strain on both vehicles.
Option 2. Call up Barnsey and get a recovery to Birdsville. Easy and obvious. That might cost $5 or $10,000, but we had this great recovery insurance from Club 4X4, so that would be no problem and this was exactly the reason we had taken it out. Then we could drive back to Adelaide as in Option 1.
Option 3. As per options 1or 2 but to effect a repair at Birdsville by fitting a new axle there and then continuing east according to our original plan. This had some merit so we telephoned our OKA parts supplier in Melbourne to establish the timing associated with getting a new axle sent to Birdsville. He confirmed that he had one in stock and estimated that it could be in Birdsville in about 3 working days (plus a weekend). We ordered it on that basis and then re visited our earlier options.
Option 4. Our friends volunteered to make the drive to Birdsville and back to us with the new axle and we could fit it right where we were. No dragging vehicles through the desert, no stress and we could wait right where we were. We were here to enjoy the desert, an extra week would be no imposition and we would get to continue our planned trip to Brisbane.
So that is what we did. We all waited 5 days until it was confirmed that the axle had indeed arrived in Birdsville, our friends made a three-day round trip to bring it to us, we fitted it in a few minutes and continued our trip as planned.
The decision making process had taken about 2 hours and a couple of rounds of coffee. We spent an extra 8 days on the French Line enjoying the desert, seeking out the wild life, chatting to the passers-by and rating the dune climbers attempts out of 10.
Our camp site for 8 days on the French Line.
All in all, an experience to be savoured for its great memories rather than as a disaster as it might have been seen by some.
And thanks to an unknown semi driver on the Stuart Highway many years ago.
© Peter Wright. 2017.