When you’re caravanning in central Queensland, there are three main road hazards to watch for: road trains, road kill and wide loads. You won’t see the latter as often as kangaroos (dead or alive), wandering cattle or European tourists on bicycles. But when you do, there’s always plenty of warning. A pilot vehicle travelling well in front is the first clue. Or, if the load is wider than 5.5m, you will find police cars leading the convoy.
We encountered an 8-metre wide load when setting off from Clermont to Emerald on the Gregory highway.
The police pilot car stopped us and told us to move off the road.“It’s an 8-metre bucket and he’s not far behind me,” he warned.
Did I mention that in these parts the black soil plains turn to quicksand after rain? It was good that conditions were dry as we steered the car and van onto the grassy edges of the road.
Minutes later, the wide load roared past, followed by another escort vehicle and police car.
My view as a responsible road user is not unreasonable – we are entitled to our half of the road. The rules change when you are on outback roads traversed by road train, which often comprise a prime mover and two or even three trailers behind. When we are at truck stops, taking a breather, we usually check out the road trains that have stopped and sometimes ask the drivers where they are going. Last Sunday, we let a mine truck and its three trailers leave the rest stop first. The last thing caravanners averaging 85-90 kph want is one of those things on their hammer.
To that end, many grey nomads as they are known, employ UHF radio transmitters which they can use to tune into truckie transmissions.
It’s not exactly like the CW McCall country song “10-4 we got ourselves a convoy”, but is is useful for a van in front of a road train to be able to broadcast a message like: “We’ll pull over at the next truck stop, mate”.
I’m not sure about other grey nomads, but if you take the time to say G’day to truckies, it breaks down the “us and them” mindset.
I guess you’ve seen the movie, Duel?
At one rest stop I gave a young truck driver a hand to relocate a tyre which was in danger of falling out of his front trailer. He was towing two trailers full of car tyres. He hopped up on the drawbar and I held the tyre up until he could hoist it into the second trailer.
We had a chat about being on the road in a caravan and the etiquette of giving way to road trains. He assured me he would probably not catch up with us as his rig is limited to 90khm.
The wide load incident had me musing about the logistics involved in relocating the Peak Downs Homestead from its home of 118 years to Capella Pioneer Village. Pastoralist George Fairbairn had the homestead built for him in 1869. The builders used spotted gum timber and a system of mortise and tenon construction as nails were scarce and expensive to make in the mid-1800s.
We visited the village last Sunday and were impressed with the grand old homestead, considered to be one of the largest restored buildings of its type in Australia.
In 1987 the Capella Pioneer Village Committee negotiated for the purchase and removal of the homestead, which by that time had 40% white ant damage. Restoration work began 1989, again using local spotted gum timber and the system of mortise and tenon joints. Work was done in stages as funds were raised. The restoration, costing $125,000, included a new roof. The replacement value of the homestead today is more than $1 million. The committee member who welcomed visitors told me the homestead was moved from Peak Downs station in one piece in 1988.
This is not your typical pioneer cottage. The rooms are large with high ceilings, big fireplaces and all rooms open to a 25 metre long veranda. Try to imagine it traversing the plains on the back of a low loader (or two).
When you are towing a caravan or trailer, it is your responsibility to give way to road trains and wide loads. Bear in mind that vehicles of this type will be travelling at 80kmh with no way of braking or evading if you happen to be not paying attention.
Wide loads are one thing, but then there are the occasions when mining companies move a dragline from one mine to another. A dragline featured in that famous John Prine song, Paradise. “So the coal company came with the world’s biggest shovel, and they tortured the timber and stripped all the land”.
A dragline is a massive crane-like machine the size of an office building which operates on open cut coal mines. The sole task is to remove overburden with its 50 cubic metre capacity bucket to reveal the coal seams beneath.
In August 2017, BHP moved Dragline 27 from the Goonyella Riverside Mine to the South Walker Creek Mine. The Mackay Mercury reported that the 280km across country journey followed a route previously used to move another dragline in 2000. Highlights of the exercise included the 3,000 tonne, 45m tall Marion dragline crossing the Peak Downs Highway at Coppabella.
Draglines have 530 wheels and can ‘walk” across country at the rate of three or four kilometres per day. This exercise took 18 months to plan and four months to complete. Teams of contractors built a 35m wide corridor. Temporary road, rail and powerline crossings were built as late as possible and removed after the dragline had moved on.
While you’d have to be lucky to witness a dragline crossing, it is important motorists are aware of oversized load etiquette.
Graeme Ransley from the Road Accident Action Group told the Minerals and Energy Bulletin wide loads are getting wider, up to 10.5m. Police escorts are required when the load is wider than 5.5m. The RAAG began a campaign to educate motorists about wide loads after requests from pilot drivers and police
“Some of the concerns raised included a lack of motorist knowledge, and patience, with drivers not heeding lawful directions by escort pilots to slow down or stopping in a safe place,” he said.
“By 2013, there were up to 650 escorted wide loads per month in the Mackay region alone”.
Bearing those scary stats in mind, I spent a while this week looking at dash cam videos. This resulted in unpleasant dreams and a resolve to lift my driving attention levels. If you are planning a long trip with a caravan or camper trailer, ‘What truckies put up with every day” is a stark reminder to pay attention and drive to the conditions. Warning: not for the faint-hearted.
You will be happy to know I posted this after we’d arrived safely home, after covering 6,178 kms in five weeks. Next week’s list: washing, wheel alignment, car wash, dentist, Covid vaccination, get SWTPOTCW to write a guest blog; find another footie team to follow.