Location: North-west New South Wales (Tamworth/Walcha), and back in Taree.
Date: April 2011

April 23, 2011. Anyone could be forgiven for thinking I'm a car freak, which I'm not. But I do think vintage and classic cars make good photographic subjects. So this morning I drove from Taree west to Wingham, about 15 minutes away. And yes, Bluey ran brilliantly. Wingham Town Hall was the venue for the local Mayoral welcome to participants of the 'Bush Rally', a century of motoring history. The main display is tomorrow at Great Lakes (Forster-Tuncurry), but I chose Wingham because it's closer. However, while most of the cars were there, not all of them turned up. The 1909 Stanley Steamer was there but not the 1922 model that once belonged to Howard Hughes. The 1911 Cadillac was also missing, but the 1911 Ford Model T was there. In any case, there were enough cars to keep me busy with the camera, and enough lookers to drive me crazy as I tried to take photographs without big heads getting in the way. Talk about frustrating!

You'll see by the shadows that a lot of the pics were taken into the sun, which was very bright, but the Fuji performed quite well and most of the pics turned out okay - at least the subject material did (too bad about the backgrounds). I also had a lens hood on the camera.

After about 90 minutes in the hot sun, I'd had enough. I wasn't wearing my bush hat. Silly me. I can't handle too much sun these days.

The pics are generally self explanatory. Most were taken while cars were parked, but a few were panned as I spotted cars arriving. There was a lot happening all at once and I just pointed the camera wherever and whenever I saw something. One ring-in is #065, a Chrysler Valiant Regal the same as the one I owned back in the early '80s, except mine had blue velour upholstery. Otherwise it was the same. Lovely car. The two blokes standing to the left of pic #064 (the Whippet) are the owner and a journalist from the local paper (with notepad and pen) doing a story.

Pics #20 through #26 is a tiny Austin 7 which was my dad's first car long before I was born. What a funny little thing. The Austin 7 did for Britain what the Model T Ford did for America - it put motoring within reach of ordinary people.

Naturally, the 1909 Stanley Steamer attracted a lot of attention. It had more polished brass than West Point. A stunning thing, and amazing to think that it's only a century old. It looks like something from another world - certainly another time. If you're curious about the technical specs of Stanley Motor Carriages, click here.

One of the more unusual exhibits was a 1924 Stoewer, a German car - pics #66 through #73. All the people standing around me had never heard of the mark before, and neither had I. You can read about them here.

Anyway, an interesting day and lots to see. Check out the photo album here.

April 9, 2011. Following the Journal entry below, which in part describes my disappointment with the Toyota campervan, I took some photos of the little "surprises" I got after seeing the van in the flesh. The first images are those posted by the seller on eBay (which I think are misleading), and the second lot are those I took this morning.

Here's a paste of what I wrote on the Waffle page today: You can check out the little surprises I got when I took a more detailed look at the Toyota after getting it home. I know what you're gonna say: ...Gary, it's not THAT bad! Maybe not, but I'm still pissed off. I realize you can't get much for $3500, and I accept the fact that my expectations were unrealistic BUT I'M STILL PISSED OFF!

However, due to Oregon Richie's gentle but persistent nudging, I am considering the alternative to selling it. Apparently, it's possible to get after-market power steering, which is probably my major concern. I could keep Bluey as my regular transport, allow the Bus's registration to lapse (which it will in 2 weeks), and spend a few bob here and there over the next 6-8 months tarting it up before it's ready to re-register and hit the road again. I'll never get my money back, of course, but I could end up with a V Hickle that does the job. Anyway, it's something to think about... an option. And as Richie says, I won't be driving 5 or 6 hours at a stretch like I did on the trip to Tamworth and back... but rather just an hour or two here and there before I camp for the day. Click here for the photo album.

April 6, 2011. Last week, I spotted a 1984 Toyota campervan on eBay @ $3500. It looked pretty good judging by the photos, so I bought it. It took a bit of fiscal juggling to buy it without selling Bluey, but I managed - just.

The camper was based in Tamworth, which I figured was about 3.5 hours drive from Taree. Wrong! I rented a car from Hertz. When I arrived at the Hertz Taree office at 9:15am Monday morning, I was upgraded to a Toyota Rav 4, and the rental fee was less than the quote on the phone. So I was a happy chappy. The Rav had a million switches and buttons, none of which I understood let alone tried. All I wanted to do was get to Tamworth. Bugger the A/C, bugger the radio, bugger the cruise control and bugger everything else.

I drove home, loaded my backpack, laptop, maps, mobile phone and camera bag, and away I went. I'd studied the map previously and knew that I had to turn left (west) off the Pacific Hwy near Port Macquarie. So where did I turn left? At Kew, south of Port Macquarie. No surprises there. I have poor sense of direction. As I said to someone recently, "I can't get lost in Oz. It's an island. When I see the ocean, I do a U-turn." Anyway, the road from Kew led inland to Kendall and Comboyne, which included a stretch of dirt road and Comboyne Mountain. But at least the road eventually joined up with the Oxley Hwy which leads all the way to Tamworth.

I didn't take many pics on the trip there because I had an appointment with the seller of the campervan, and no pics on the trip back because it was misty and raining most of the time, so I've searched the web for appropriate pics and linked them to the text of this journal entry.

Meanwhile, by taking the back way through Comboyne, I was treated to some spectacular scenery. Once on the Oxley Hwy, I passed through a few small villages and some gorgeous farming flatlands until I got to The Great Dividing Range, and Mt Seaview. Hello? I'd forgotten about the GDR and hadn't counted on 50 kms of twisting mountain road where most of the corners were marked at 25 and 35kmh. I also managed to get stuck behind 2 cattle trucks. AND, get held up at several roadworks. Here's a shot of typical countryside around the Mt Seaview area.

Oh yes, all the bells and whistles on the Rav. At one time on a narrow, winding dirt road near Comboyne, an alarm went off. What the fuck is that? I had no idea. And there was nowhere to pull over to check. So I drove on regardless and the damn alarm kept beeping. In fact, it got worse with every mile. Finally, I found a spot to pull over, and it was the passenger seat. Passenger? I don't have any passengers! Then it dawned on me. My backpack (which was quite heavy) was on the passenger seat. No seat belt. Sheesh.

On the other side of the Great Dividing Range it was all highway driving through seemingly endless miles of flat farmland that stretched so far into the distance it seemed like you weren't making any progress even at a constant 110kph. This is the Yarrowitch Valley

I stopped at Walcha to phone the seller on my mobile but there was no signal. Drat! (Pics of Walcha are also included in the photo album). I was already running late, so I kept going. At the Bendemeer turnoff, my mobile rang, but it was in my backpack and, once again, I had nowhere to pull off the road. By the time I did, the seller called again. He was waiting at the Tamworth Hertz depot. He said it would take a good 45 minutes to get to Tamworth from Bendemeer and that he had to return to work. "I'll leave the camper at Hertz with the keys and you can phone me when you arrive." 

I discovered much to my chagrin that driving through an unfamilar town trying to find the Hertz depot was easier said than done. After lots of guessing, and asking directions from a shopkeeper, I finally made it. I saw the camper in the large Hertz parking area but didn't have time to inspect it. Then Hertz asked me to fill the Rav's tank because it would much cheaper than getting them to do it. So off I went again to find a service station. They're everywhere, right? Not when you're looking for one. I made it back to Hertz, handed in the Rav keys and paperwork at the office, picked up the keys to the campervan and walked over to it. My heart sank instantly. The photos on eBay had misled me. But I'd already paid for it, and now I was stuck with it. I'd expected something much better than what I saw in the flesh, which was a pretty shabby old bus. The seller phoned to ask if everything had gone to plan but I didn't tell him about my bitter disappointment. Instead, I asked him a few things about the van such as where certain controls were, etc, and then departed with the intention of staying at a motel overnight. It was late afternoon and there was no way I wanted to drive all the way back to Taree at night. I wasn't even sure the old bus would make it back to Taree.

My first shock was the poor cosmetic condition of the bus. My second was the heavy steering. My third was the gearing... like a truck. My fourth was all the noise from the furniture at the back, rattling and banging about with every bump on the road. I was devestated. I was also lost, and it took me ages wandering the back streets of Tamworth before I found the way out of town.

The thing you notice about heading out of town is that all the motels are on the way in. I was looking for something on my left, but everything was on my right. Before I knew it, I was beyond the town limits and headed for Walcha. So I figured I'd find some overnight accommodation there.

On the trip from Tamworth to Walcha, I had to climb Moonbi Mountain which is in two stages, 1 and 2. I remembered having seen trucks having difficulty with the climb on my way into Tamworth and wondered how the campervan's 2 liter engine would cope. Well, I was surprised. The Hiace did the climb without much trouble at all. It has surprising torque in top gear.

When I arrived in Walcha it was approaching 6pm, so I parked outside the New England Hotel/Motel (pics included in the album). An old bloke named Eric stopped to checkout the camper. "I shoulda bought one like this," he lamented, and went on to tell me about his wind-up mini-camper that he tows behind his new Holden. He said it's all a bit of a bother and that he should have bought something self-contained like the Toyota.

The front bar of the New England Hotel was packed with locals all enjoying an after-work beer. A pretty motley bunch of characters they were. "I want to book a room in the motel," I said to the bartender. "The motel or the hotel?" he asked, and then explained that a room in the hotel was cheaper - $30 for the night. Then I ordered a beer. I hadn't eaten or drunk anything since leaving Taree about 9 hours earlier. One of the customers suggested I grab a bite at the local cafe called Thunderbolt's Way. Thunderbolt was a notorious Aussie bushranger back in the 19th century. In any case, the cafe was the only one open in town. Not a lotta choice, mate.

Meanwhile, as I sipped my beer and listened to the local chatter, four bikers walked into the bar, stood behind me and ordered two rooms for the night - 3 and 4. They looked a bit rough and ready, and were clad in leathers and big leather boots. As I left the bar for the cafe, I said to them, "I'm in room 2, so no snoring." One of them grinned, "Good luck."

The Thunderbolt's Way Cafe should have been named the Chew and Spew. I ordered a burger and chips which was massive and then sat at one of the tables. I struggled though some of the meal by placing the split bread bun to one side, and settling for the meat patty, a bit of salad and a few chips. I left most of it untouched as I watched various customers buying take-away guaranteed to cause obesity and heart failure.

Back at the hotel, the bikers were gathered outside in the street, drinking and smoking and getting drunker. Pubs don't allow smoking indoors these days. I ordered a small bottle of beer at the bar to take back to my room. It was there in the ancient green wash basin that I emptied the Thunderbolt contents of my stomach. It clogged the S bend in the plumbing and for the life of me I couldn't get it cleared. Only at sometime during the middle of the night did I hear a weird gurgling noise that told me the water in the basin had finally made its way through the spew-choked pipe. 

To be fair to the Thunderbolt's Way cafe, I think it was the stress of the day that caused me to be ill.

Meanwhile, throughout the night, I was continually woken by banging doors, grumbling voices, and the clump of heavy leather boots up and down the hall, going to and from the bathroom at the far end. In the morning I would wake to the realization that this whole experience was a nightmare and that none of it had actually occurred. Right? Wrong. What I did discover is that a biker's aim when he pees into the bowl is atrocious. No place for bare feet or socks only.

The Thunderbolt is just above the Rav 4 in album pic 018, and the hotel is the big building further down the road on the same side. The cafe on the right of the pic was closed when I arrived. Pics 019-024 show the room and its curious furnishings, the view from the window, and the exterior where the window second from the right was mine. Jeez, what an experience.

I filled the campervan tank at the Walcha service station across the road from the hotel just after 7am and then drove all the way back to Taree without stopping, arriving here at 11:30am. Much of the trip, especially over the mountains, was in mist and drizzle, and sometimes heavy rain, so I didn't stop to take photos. And yes, I managed to get stuck behind a couple of cattle trucks over the twisting mountain roads again.

I must say the old Toyota surprised me. It got me home without incident, and it climbed the hills pretty well. Cruising speed is limited to 90 to 100kph and it manages that without too much fuss except for high revs and a fair bit of noise. I don't like the column 4-speed at all, and the lack of a fifth gear. It sucks.

Yesterday, I spent time investigating all the van's features... pop top, fold-down bed, table mechanism, all the cupboards and drawers and fittings, etc. It's not too bad except for a bit of wear and tear - well designed. It would suit a handyman type willing to do the necessary chores to bring it up to scratch, and spend a bit on the body work. Hopefully, I'll find such a person who wants to buy it - someone into fishing trips and weekend getaways rather than a round-Australia trip.

I'll put it out on the street in front of my house with a 4 SALE sign. It's a busy main road with quite a lot of traffic. It's best that a potential buyer sees the thing in the flesh before he makes an offer. I'm fairly confident of selling it. Campervans are in demand, and there should be a fair bit of interest in a cheapie.

FL Josh, who warned me against buying the camper in the first place, wrote: I just want you to know how sorry I am the new campervan wasn't all you hoped it was.  But, it does open the door to new adventures and keep your life interesting and oftentimes the greatest pleasure we get in life is overcoming challenges.

Thanks Josh for not telling me "I told you so!" I'm mindful of two old adages: 1) Fools rush in, and 2) He who hesitates is lost. Pick one.

Stan the Lawn Man was just here with his big stick. "Don't gimme a hard time," I said, knowing full well what he would say. "I bought a dud. I know it, and I'm pissed off already." But he was actually less critical of the Toyota than he was of Bluey when she first arrived. He stuck his head under the front end, and then under the side, and declared it okay. Hehe. Click here for the photo album.


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