Location: North-west New South Wales (Tamworth/Walcha), and back
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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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