Living the local life

By: Greg Bush


Neil Steinhardt has no interest in driving interstate, he much prefers local runs hauling woodchip, sawdust and grain, not to mention swapping yarns with local farmers.

 

It was a hot and smoky day along the south-east Queensland stretch of the Bruce Highway as Owner//Driver made its way up to the headquarters of trucking company Corbet’s Group at Gympie.

Bushfires in the Lockyer Valley west of Brisbane, up in the Sunshine Coast hinterland and near Widgee and Kilkivan west of Gympie had left an eerie haze over the sky.

However, the reason for the trip was to catch up with driver Neil ‘Steiny’ Steinhardt, an easy-going character who’d had a mixed 2019. Neil celebrated his 60th birthday in November, just a few months after being diagnosed and then undergoing serious but successful prostate cancer surgery.

We sat down in the Corbet’s Group lunchroom for a chat as Neil recalls the day he received his diagnosis.

"I found out in June and I was going to wait ’till Christmas because that’s our quiet time when all the mills shut down," Neil explains in his typical easy-going manner.

However, Neil’s wife Julie was more concerned, urging her husband to "get it done straight away".

Neil works around six days a week. It’s long hours but he says he’d never be comfortable in an office job

"There’s family history there," Neil continues. "I’ve got a brother who’s nine years younger than me and he’s had the same problem. And I had an uncle who died from it."

He received the results from the June tests which signalled a ‘Gleason 9’ reading.

"It was very aggressive; Gleason 10 and you’re probably nearly dead."

Due to his age and with Corbet’s running fatigue management, Neil is required to have a medical every 12 months.

"I had no symptoms but they picked it up through blood tests."

Now back on his regular local runs driving a four-year-old Mack Super-Liner hauling aluminium stag tippers for Corbet’s, Neil is having blood tests every three months for the next year. "Just to keep an eye on it, in case something comes back," he says.

Eager to get back to his regular driving job following the operation, Neil was concerned when told he had to have six weeks off. "I thought I’d go crazy," he say. "I pride myself on my work ethic; I’ve never been lazy.

"I don’t want to pat myself on the shoulder but I like doing work. I like the job, and doing what I like.

"If I wasn’t driving trucks I’d be operating machinery of some sort. I’d never be an office worker – no."

Neil calls Gympie home, but for the most part his runs take him out to his old home town of Wondai, around an hour and a half west of Gympie, two or three times a day, hauling woodchip back. His parents, both in their mid-80s, still operate a farm in the Wondai area.

"Funny thing about it, I left there to come here and I end up going back there for loads," he smiles.

"I look after a hardwood sawmill in Wondai, I’ve been doing it for years.

"He hasn’t got the capacity so I’ve got to be there at certain times of the day so it doesn’t overflow."

The petrol-powered ACCO – the first truck Neil drove professionally

Feedlots and fertiliser

Neil is currently in the process of hauling the woodchip to the Bundaberg sugar mill for boiler fuel. The Nestles factory in Gympie is another woodchip customer, as well as a lot of landscapers in the area.

Neil also hauls sawdust to piggeries and cattle feedlots.

"After the cows have been on it for a certain amount of time, they push all that up ’cause it’s got manure mixed in it, and the feedlots sell it all for fertiliser," he says.

"We got a heap of it from down at Rangers Valley Cattle Station at Glen Innes a couple of years ago for Bundaberg macadamia nut trees and that.

"We used to take woodchip down and then unload and reload at the same place and bring it back."

Northern New South Wales is about as far as Neil is prepared to drive nowadays. He much prefers to do local runs, especially to and from farms.

"Newcastle’s the furthest I’ve been south; I’ve never been to Melbourne. I just like doing my local stuff here.

"Because of the work I do, I interact with the farmers because I came off the land. That’s why I was never interested in doing interstate." He adds that the farmers are doing it tough due to severe drought conditions.

Another reason for not venturing too far south is the attitude of police and road authorities.

"You hear all the stories and you read all the stories in your magazine about how they get hounded down there."

At age 19, Neil drove his first semi-trailer, a Kenworth SAR

However, despite doing local, there are plenty of times when Neil needs to bed down in the Super-Liner’s cab, pointing out that it’s "not an overly huge bunk".

"I’ve only had one night out this week, last week it was four or five. It all depends where I’m going with my chip and grain."

Neil says he’s the third longest standing driver at Corbet’s, although he had left the company twice since starting there around 15 years ago. His latest stint is coming up to nine years.

"When I first started here there were only two trucks. I drove an N Series Volvo; we called it a skip bin, big semi-trailer with big bins on it.

"We’d drop it at mills and they’d put their offcuts and shavings in it. They still do a bit of that."

After a time he left Corbet’s, and began working for Sauers IAMA which was eventually sold to Wesfarmers.

"Because we did the local pine mill out in the Mary Valley here, Richers Transport were all tied up there so they ended up buying the transport division out. So I stayed with them for a couple of years."

Neil stresses that he always left Corbet’s on good terms. He returned to the company before handing in his notice again, leaving to drive a Western Star back in his home town.

"I went back driving for a bloke out at Wondai. It was a good job, but my home was here [Gympie] and I was living in the truck all week.

"In 12 months I only came home to Gympie four times in 12 months. I was just doing grain around the Downs and into Brisbane.

"And because I worked for a Wondai company, that’s where the truck was based," he recalls.

"I’d sleep in the truck all week and on the weekend, I’d stay with the rellies and my wife would come over."

However, Neil’s driving career stretches far back further than his time with Corbet’s Group, starting with farm trucks on his family’s property. At age 18 his first professional driving job was in a V8 petrol-powered ACCO with a 5x3 transmission at Proston, a small country town west of Gympie, for Carsburg & Johanson Grain Transport. "She’d be long gone, in a graveyard somewhere," Neil says, looking at an old photo of the ACCO.

Around the age of 19 he moved upward into a Kenworth SAR, a truck he looks back at fondly. "The bloke that drove that left and that’s how I got it. Incidentally, the SAR’s previous driver’s son now works at Corbet’s."

Neil went on to drive a 300hp White Road Boss pulling a powder tanker for Fredericksen Transport at Pomona, moving his family there for 20 years he was with the company. He later did truck and dog work for Noosa Council for 10 years, which he says was a good job. With his son Jason and daughter Kelly at a young age at that time, being close to home worked out well for the Steinhardt family.

Neil’s father’s Maple Leaf truck on the left, which is still on the family farm at Wondai

European convert

Now safely ensconced back at Corbet’s, Neil has driven a variety of trucks for the company. In fact, in the yard there were more Macks, Kenworths, a Western Star and an old Volvo which was in the process of being done up.

One of Neil’s previous favourites was a 13-litre 540hp Volvo.

"I probably wouldn’t say I was ever a fan of European trucks but it took me a week to get used to it," he recalls. "I loved the old Volvo. I think it had 900 or something thousand on it when we sold it.

"It never gave any trouble, never had a rattle, never had a squeak. It was comfortable and beautiful.

"This Mack here, I hate it. The bonnet rattles," he says with a wry smile.

He does admit, however, that the Mack is a solid unit. But then again he doesn’t push them as yard as he did in his younger days.

"When I first started out I used to put a bit of puddin’ on them," he smiles. "But I’ve never broken a truck."

He has had a couple of close calls though. Like the time he ran into low hanging powerlines on the road to Wondai. Or when driving home from Kilkivan in an SAR during flood times.

"The road was flooded and then there was a car coming through so I reversed out to let it get through and I fell through the road," Neil explains.

Neil Steinhardt will be inducted into the Transport Hall of Fame at Alice Springs in August

"There was a culvert and it couldn’t take it, and the water went between the culvert and the bitumen. The bitumen was still there and she fell through it.

"We had a big crane but the next morning we couldn’t get out of town. There was no accommodation available in Kilkivan because everybody was flood bound and we ended up sleeping on the veranda in the Kilkivan pub.

"I didn’t do a great deal of damage. A couple of fuel tank brackets and bent legs on the trailer."

The year 2020 is looking to be an interesting one for Neil, although he has no plans to retire any time soon. One exciting venture will be his first ever trip to Alice Springs in August following his daughter Kelly successfully nominating him for induction into the Transport Hall of Fame.

"I should have been retired 10 years ago because you work more than the average office worker," he laughs.

"People work eight or 10 hours a day and retire at 60, well I’ve done my hours."

"But I wouldn’t fully retire. To go from full on to nothing is too big of a gap."

Neil Steinhardt drives this Mack Super-Liner for Corbet’s Group in Gympie. The Mack’s MP10 engine puts out 600hp and is the 100th truck bought by Corbet’s

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