Know Your Truck

Trucking Heritage: Life Through A Lens

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Passionate truck photographer Alan Jenkins, now in his twilight years, spent decades roaming the outback documenting Australia’s unique road trains in pictures. Matt Wood chats with the Hall of Fame inductee

OWNER DRIVER

JANUARY 2018

Outside the kitchen window a budding garden is starting to take root, early spring flowers are unfurling in the South Australian sunlight.

 

Alan Jenkins gazes out the window, his thoughts clearly in another place and time. Now aged in his 70s there’s little about Alan that hints at this man’s extraordinary life roaming the Australian outback.

 

Alan’s partner, Heather places a photo album on the table in front of him and his eyes light up. Hands turn the pages revealing images of iconic trucks in the outback. The images are labelled in a tight scrawl, documenting dates and places. It’s all a record of one man’s trucking obsession and a love of Australia’s wide-open spaces.

 

His recollections are becoming hazy now, though Heather is able to fill in the blanks as we talk. Alan started out as an apprentice fitter and turner with Perry Engineering in Mile End SA, and he stayed with the company for over 35 years in a number of roles.

 

It was here that large machines were designed and manufactured before being shipped to factories and paper mills.

 

Trucks seem like an unlikely obsession for a man who has never driven one, let alone a car. In fact Alan has never even held a car licence. I had to ask the question; why trucks?

 

"It was the loads and where they were going at first," he says. "I’d see the trucks being loaded with machines at Perry’s and I’d wonder where they were going." The sight of towering machines chained to low loaders became a fascination for him.

 

From there the obsession grew to see the lesser-populated parts of the country and photograph road trains.

 

Alan started hitching rides with drivers in his spare time. Soon enough he started photographing big rigs and road trains on his travels. On weekends and holidays and even long service leave he would find a ride into the wilds of the Northern Territory, Western Australia and even sometimes Queensland. At times he would walk or ride his bicycle for miles and sleep in his tent.

 

Like a camera wielding swagman Alan roamed, capturing man, machine and landscape.

 

His first venture into Australia’s desolate heart was back in the 1960s. "I took the goods train to Alice Springs once from Port Augusta, and it started from there really."

 

Heather chimes in to fill in some background, "When he was working at Perry’s he used to photograph the big loads leaving. He’d ride his bike ahead and stop and take pictures as they passed."

 

Alan became a regular passenger as drivers got to know him. He’d even hitch rides with cattle trucks out to the stations to load. "I liked the livestock loads," he recalls.

 

 

 

HITCHING RIDES

 

Illness may have robbed Alan of some recollections, however through Helen stories emerge of him playing cricket with the local kids in Wauchope, trips to far flung stations and an enduring friendship with a long haul car transporter named Wolfie.

 

Now it’s the decades old photos and slides that tell Alan’s story. The images paint a picture of a very different time in trucking. Hands wave in windscreens as road trains rumble through clouds of red dust. Company names now consigned to history – Bellway, Brambles, NTFS and Ansett – are captured, emblazoned on the sides of K Series Kenworths, R model Macks and N series Volvos.

 

The Three Ways Roadhouse on the Stuart Highway features an old mural of a Mack hauling Shell fuel tankers on the wall. That image is based on one of Alan’s photos.

 

On the other side of the lens you get the sense of Alan as the patient observer. Prepared to stride or pedal through the heat and dust to record and document a way of life that is now for all intents and purposes changed forever.

 

The pictures feature few people, they are all about the trucks and the locations as Alan followed his fascination for what they were hauling and where they were headed.

 

He became a familiar sight for drivers with or without his pushbike along the Stuart Highway. He could even be sometimes found perched on top of a rock north of Alice Springs waiting to get that perfect shot of a road train hauling up the grade on its way out of town.

 

Some older hands can still recall his tall lanky figure out on the side of a highway. Many gave him a ride and got to know him personally. "I always made sure that I got permission from their manager though," he adds.

 

With a laugh Heather relates a few stories of her own. "We would sometimes holiday at Stansbury on the Yorke Peninsula and there was this ruined house at the Edithburgh turn off. Alan used to go stand on one of the walls taking photos of trucks as they turned the corner.

 

"People used to come up and tell me about this strange curly haired man they’d seen just standing on a wall!"

 

Alan even once came to the attention of the police while taking pictures from the Salisbury Highway overpass. A mischievous grin emerges on his face as he relates it. "They thought I was going to jump off it!"

 

The garage at the unit is full to the brim with boxes of slides, negatives and photographic prints. Albums contain truck photos from the 1970s through the 1980s.

 

 

 

PHOTOGRAPHIC DISPLAY

 

His last trip photographic expedition to the Territory was back in 2003 however he did return to Alice Springs in 2017 to be inducted into the Road Transport Hall of Fame. Some of his work is now on display at the museum.

 

Large prints hang on the wall of the study as Alan recalls where they were taken but there’s no mistaking the animation that emerges when he sees those pictures of yesteryear.

 

Time marches on however and the living memory that captured those images is fading fast. I can’t help but think that if I’d met Alan a few years earlier we’d have chatted for hours, but I can see the strain of our chat is taking its toll.

 

As I take my leave I can see that the spark of enthusiasm that lit Alan’s face over the first photo album has started to fade. I thank Heather for lunch and say goodbye.

 

As I drove back towards Adelaide I mused over our chat. I’d been privy to a brief glimpse of Alan’s unorthodox adventures and a remarkable time capsule of outback trucking from times past.

 

I couldn’t help but feel it was a privilege to view the results of one man’s efforts to document Australian trucking history through a sympathetic lens.

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Truck Assist | The team from Truck Assist are experts in trucks - whether they're used in the transport industry, or as a part of your business.

The team from Truck Assist are experts in trucks - whether they're used in the transport industry, or as a part of your business. The Club is a place where you can chat about things that matter to you. It’s your place to share your thoughts, get some peace of mind, have a little fun and feel confident talking to people doing what you do. Remember - we're here to help!

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