Peterbilt an Americana classic

By: Warren Aitken, Photography by: Warren Aitken

TRUCK OF THE MONTH: Garry Leeson’s 2006 Peterbilt had done the hard yards and been put in the retirement shed. But, now, after a load of TLC, it is back doing what it does best – hauling logs in eastern Victoria.


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The purchasing of a new truck can be a torturous ordeal. There can be 101 different reasons to choose a particular truck and 102 reasons to choose a different truck. It can come down to so many little things. However, sometimes you just buy a truck because, well, quite frankly, you just want it. I completely get that. I’m exactly the same when I hit the KFC drivethrough. I don’t really need it, it’s not doing anything for me, there are other smarter options but god damn if the Tower Burger isn’t exactly what I want.

So, when Garry Leeson from Leeson’s Logging & Cartage piped up and informed his team "I want a Peterbilt", I could fully empathise. In Garry’s case though, the Pete has been a lot better for him than the Tower Burger was for me.

Before we touch on this fantastic-looking Pete, let’s take a little journey into the history books and learn a bit about Leeson’s, a family-run business that’s been a stalwart of the timber scene in Victoria for several decades now.

The company’s origins go all the way back to the early ’60s when Garry’s stepdad Lindsay Crawford was hauling plantation timber into the Maryvale Pulp Mill. Garry was heavily involved from a young age. When Lindsay passed away, the business was passed down to Garry and his brothers. In the early ’80s, Garry and his wife Vicki bought the brothers out and Leeson’s Logging & Cartage officially began.

One of the major factors that has contributed to the success of the company has been its family-focused approach. All of Garry and Vicki’s kids have, at some stage, been involved in the company, with their youngest daughter currently employed as its occupational health and safety officer and their son Rick now having worked his way up to managing director after doing his time in everything from the little company fuel truck to the loggers and loaders.

The big Pete makes fairly light work of Powers Hill as it hauls up out of Gormandale

The company has been based in the small town of Rosedale in Gippsland, Victoria, for the majority of its existence and has established itself as an expert in the cartage and harvesting of plantation timber. From its humble beginnings, the company now employs around 55 staff and runs a fleet of over 20 trucks, as well as several custom-made loaders. There is also a constant circulation of around 15 machines and several crews out in the bush at any one time, helping fell and organise the logs. Then, the company trucks swing by and haul them off to any number of local, or state-wide sawmills.

Leeson’s has planted itself in every aspect of the logging industry, making it very much a one-stop shop for plantation logging. 

Stars to Kenworths

The ‘Big Pete’ that I’ve come down to see is the lone wolf of the fleet. Well, the lone Peterbilt wolf I should say, as there is a fair bit of variety in the fleet these days. When I asked Rick about the early days and what trucks they used to run, his honest answer was "old ones". After a laugh, he elaborated: "We’ve been a bit everywhere, we ran a lot of Western Stars."

The old photos on the walls testify to that too; there’s plenty of photos of some big-bonneted ’Stars in the early company colours.

"We moved to the Volvos, the FH16s and those type of things," Rick continues.

"Slowly we’ve moved to the Kenworth brand."

That decision was influenced by the arrival of a Kenworth dealer to their local area.

The company’s first Kenworth, which hit the road in 1994, was a T950, ironically named ‘Western Invader’, a subtle dig at the change in bonnet badges for Leeson’s. From that one the fleet progressed to almost entirely red-badged Kenworths for several years. During its time, the company has had several K200s as well as almost the entire range of Paccar’s bonneted options, including T610s, T909s and the always cool T659.

"The 950 was the ideal truck for what we do really," Rick testifies.

So it’s no surprise that, when the 950 Legend Series came out, there was an order placed for one. It’s still working its butt off.

Moving forward again, the current fleet is made up of a real mixture. Still heavily dominated by the sturdy Kenworth badge, you can also find a few Western Stars as well as a couple of Scanias and the recent addition of a big Merc as well. So where did the Pete come into it?

"That’s dad’s area," says Rick, laying the blame solely on his father for the out-of-the-blue purchase in 2006.

"Dad always wanted a Peterbilt. Back then we had a truck maintenance manager who was keen on one at the same time."

With Garry having been over to the US a couple of times and gone through the Peterbilt factory, it really was just a big kid’s dream to have a bonneted Pete.

"It really came down to timing," Rick informs me.

"There was an opportunity, and it was a bit more ‘why not?’ as much as anything."

The truck came through Kent Collision and Custom in Sydney, which did all the conversion for Leeson’s, changing the big girl over to right-hand drive as well as a few other changes to set the American classic up for Australian conditions.

As if a US Pete wasn’t special enough on its own, this truck also came fitted with one of the first Cummins exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) motors. Back in 2006, this was still very new technology and wasn’t compulsory until 2008. So, Garry and his Pete were breaking new ground with its arrival. In fact, if you have a better memory than me you may recall the truck featuring in Owner//Driver in early 2007, highlighting the new engine technology.

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When the truck initially arrived it was decided the keys would be given to a young fella by the name of Stuart Moloney. Stuart had been with the company for several years and Rick politely describes him as "truck crazy". With a new truck, new technology and – let’s be honest – a cab fit for a smaller bloke, it needed a suitable driver.

"Whatever he drove, he looked after it really well," Rick tells me. So the decision was made to give Stuart the keys.

Stuart kept the wheels turning, the logs moving and the truck gleaming for around seven or eight years before he took an opportunity elsewhere and the truck was in need of a new pilot. At that time it was getting hard to find a suitable replacement.

"There were a couple of blokes who drove it and looked after it, and a couple that didn’t," Rick admits. "It was hard to find someone that wanted to drive it and maintain it."

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Mix in the fact that that first generation EGR motor was starting to have a few issues, namely the EGR being on the same side as the turbo, leading to heat issues, and it was decided to retire Garry’s toy from the working fleet.

Peterbilt passion

Enter Dan Glover, or ‘Deppo’ as he’s more commonly known. Deppo is intrinsically tied to the Pete in a weird cosmological way that I don’t believe in, but it ties my story together, so I’m going with it anyway. Deppo started work with Leeson’s … wait, hold on, I’m guessing there are a few of you thinking, "Is he going to explain the Deppo nickname or is it far too controversial or depraved to mention?" Alright, I’ll let you in on the secret. The truth is, Dan’s nickname is almost a Chinese whisper’s version of where it started.

The origins trace back to one of Leeson’s boilermakers who started calling him Deputy Dan. Remember him, the bumbling Wild West sheriff? So, through name association, that’s what Dan got called. Soon it went from Deputy Dan to just Deputy. Somewhere along the lines it morphed into Deppo. There you go folks, no torrid tales of Dan’s misdemeanours within depot-sized buildings, but purely a harmless nickname. Or so he’s led me to believe.

Dan ‘Deppo’ Glover is a young man who’s worked hard and reaps the rewards with the stunning Pete as his workhorse

Back to the Peterbilt story and where Deppo fits in. In 2006, the big Pete rocked up to Leeson’s Rosedale yard. It is also the year a young truck enthusiast named Dan, who would become Deppo, started his apprenticeship with Leeson’s. Having left school at 15, Deppo’s passion for trucks meant he was never destined to be far from them. He grew up with his father doing a fair bit of driving and he was immersed in the industry.

He put in two years of his apprenticeship with Leeson’s, keeping a close eye on the alluring Pete. When he got his MR licence at 18 he put his apprenticeship on hold and took a job driving a small livestock truck for a friend. When that finished up he was able to fall back on the tools and finished up working at another local family company, Dyers Transport.

"They are a great company to work for," Deppo attests.

"I finished my apprenticeship there and then went driving for them."

Having already gotten his HC license on his own, Dyers helped Deppo get his MC and, then, with the keys to a new T409, they sent him off doing some local and intrastate work.

Never a man to sit still, in 2014, Deppo had a go out on his own, purchasing an old T401 and subbying for a couple of local farms. For a 24-year-old he made a damn good go of it, though being able to do his own maintenance would have been a bonus.

He spent a couple of years as an owner-driver before the tough competitive financial conditions forced him back into the paid driver scene. Deppo spent another couple of years gaining valuable on-road experience until an opportunity came up to re-join the Leeson’s team.

Now here is the cosmic, stars-aligning, crystal predication situation. Deppo started at Leeson’s when the Pete turned up. Nine-and-a-half years later he returns to the fold as the Pete is being put out to pasture. Freaky, hey? He recalls his immediate reaction was one of disappointment: "Oh shit, that’s a bugger, I wanted to drive it. I’ve loved it since it was brand new," he recalls telling the boss at the time.

It doesn’t take long for the loader at AKD Timber Mill in Yarram to empty the Peterbilt and send it off for another load

Deppo watched the boys repurpose the old trailers and the Pete’s cab guard, utilising them elsewhere in the fleet and leaving the old Pete to get parked up in Garry’s shed. When the opportunity came for Deppo to talk to the boss about cleaning it up for him, he took it. He remembers Garry saying, "OK, well go ahead, take it home and polish it up."

With no idea of what the future held for the Pete, Deppo parked it in his shed for a year and spent every available moment trying to bring some shine back to the old girl.

Second coming

As we rolled into the end of 2018, Rick recalls having a conversation with his dad in regard to what to do with the fleet and, in particular, the old Pete.

"You can’t just have a truck sitting around for the sake of liking it," Rick says. A valid point when you consider the cost of registration alone.

As Rick also points out with the smirk only a child can pull off when talking about family: "It is mum and dad’s company, so he gets what he wants."

Garry had seen the effort Deppo was putting into the Pete and decided he wanted to put it back to work. Like Stuart the original driver, they’d found a guy that was giving love and care for it like it was his own.

In order to get it back to working it was decided they really needed to give it an overhaul. Starting with the old worn-out engine, the local Kenworth agents sourced a brand-new Cummins EGR motor and chucked out the old one. The whole truck got attention: it was stripped almost bare and restarted. New wiring, new wiring harness, rebushed suspension and a laundry list of other parts, including seals and filters, were replaced. Even a new aircon unit was fitted as the original one really wasn’t suited to the Aussie climate. Ironic considering the cab’s small enough that opening your lunch box cools it down.

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While the repairs were getting done, the truck was sent to Royan Truck & Trailer Repairs in Melbourne for a complete respray. When Garry originally put the Pete on the road in 2006, he wanted a special look to it, a one-off scheme for a one-off truck. Garry chose to keep the company stripes but replace the base colour, changing white to silver. So the respray was once again silver and green.

Just to dob Rick in a little here, when Leeson’s ordered its Legend 950, Rick decided to follow his old man’s one-off scheme for a one-off truck idea as well.

"When we bought the Legend 950 I wanted it special, so we got it painted completely green. I still don’t think dad’s forgiven me," he laughingly informs me. It does stand out, though.

While all this was going on, Deppo, who was now driving rather than on the tools, jumped out of his T658 and went back into the workshop for a couple of months. He was heavily involved in getting refurbished trailers ready, as well as the Pete itself.

"I fitted and dressed a lot of it myself," Deppo says. He fitted extra lights to the cab guard, a light bar on the mudflaps, guards and extra stainless. Then, the same effort was put into the trailers. Mudguards, lights … anything he could add to the freshly painted trailers.

Deppo and Hayden Turner, one of Leeson’s loader-drivers, sort the paperwork for Deppo’s next load

June 2020 was a big moment for Deppo. He finally got to do his first load of logs in a truck he’d been admiring for over 14 years. He’s the first to admit that the reality matched the expectation. He loves it – the low tare weight of the Peterbilt means it can pack a good payload as well.

I asked how that low tare weight affected the bush-bashing roads that loggers traditionally encounter, with both Rick and Deppo assuring me the Pete has held up just fine. Rick also added that, seeing as Leeson’s deals solely in plantation logging, the gravel roads they deal with are normally fairly harmless.

It’s a testament to not just Deppo, but Rick, Garry and the team at Leeson’s Logging & Cartage that after more than 1.7 million kilometres under its belt, the big-bonneted American classic is still performing and looking a million bucks.

Deppo was very disappointed in the weather that arrived just before the photoshoot.

"It was polished first thing this morning," he claims, swearing that there is shine under the layer of dust. Personally I wasn’t perturbed, photographing this truck in its natural habitat was a pleasure and I must admit it does it for me. I completely get what sparked Garry’s decision back in 2006. Now, "I want a Peterbilt".

See more of Leeson's Peterbilt in the April 2021 edition of Owner//Driver.

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