Grunter Hunter: Wild's Livestock twin-steer Kenworth

By: Warren Aitken, Photography by: Warren Aitken


The Wild family has decades and generations of experience in livestock transport, still going strong like their trusty Kenworth nicknamed ‘Grunter Hunter’. We spoke with Ian and Fiona Wild about the Wild family’s history and how it’s not quite time for a full restoration.

 

The current Grunter Hunter came into being in 1994 and has been working hard since

I must admit that when I first spotted the Wild’s Livestock twin steer Kenworth, it blew me away! It went straight to the top of my ‘I’ve got to know the story behind that’ list. I thought it was going to be such a cool restoration story.

I was so wrong; you want to know why? In order to be a restoration story, the truck has to have been restored! It turns out that the Wild’s Livestock truck has never stopped; it has not had time for a restoration, it is just a hard-working iconic truck.

The truck did get a little down time when the motor was first replaced with a couple of million kilometres on it. Since then, the big girl has racked up another million-plus kilometres. All up, there is over three and a half million kilometres on a truck nearing its 30th birthday.

I may not have been able to get a restoration story out of owner and driver Ian Wild, but I was certain I would still get some interesting tales. In fact, I got some very ‘wild’ stories. My apologies, I will try hard to avoid any more puns.

DRIVING AND DROVING

Wild’s Livestock’s history can be traced all the way back to 1928 when Ian’s dad, at a mere 13-years-old, left school and became a drover. His first droving job saw him assisting in the relocation of 350 Hereford bulls from Jandowae down to Ipswich. It’s a hell of a job for a young kid to get into; I’m sure those bulls would have been pretty intimidating for a young Laurie.

As he grew, so did his reputation. Laurie became well-known around the area as an expert drover, legendary horseman and renowned horse breaker. When he was not away droving, Laurie would be hard at work with his father and brothers on the family farms in Donnybrook and Peachester.

Laurie spent nearly 20 years in the saddle before marrying and ‘settling down’. In 1946, Laurie and his wife Margaret bought a working dairy at Bald Knob on the southern end of the Blackall Range, Sunshine Coast. It was this family farm that would see Laurie changing from droving to transport.

Over the next few decades, Laurie and Margaret purchased several neighbouring farms and were heavily into supplying milk for the local area. With a growing farm, and changes in the farming landscape, Laurie was a very busy man. Add in the fact that he ended up with a litter of six as well and I doubt he slowed down for much. It was a wildly busy time. Damn there I go with the puns again, sorry.

Wear and tear is visible, but with it still going strong there’s no restoration planned as yet

Last of the six Wild children was Ian and he is the one I had the privilege of sitting down with. Well, Ian and his lovely wife Fiona. Under the shadow of the unmissable Kenworth that brought me up here, and with a plate of the most amazing homemade cupcakes in front of me, I learnt all about the Wild’s Livestock story. Before we move onto that though I will take this opportunity to reflect on those cupcakes: OMG, they were heavenly! Moving on.

Wild’s Livestock began way back with Laurie and his first truck, a Chev Blitz. The Chev hit the road for Laurie during the 1950s and was the first dedicated livestock vehicle for the family. That little truck did the job for a few years, but eventually there was more work than it could handle. Not only moving stock for the family farm, but also doing work for other farmers as well. So, goodbye Chevy and hello to a classic six-ton J2 Bedford.

The Bedford’s arrival came around the same time that Ian was returning from a two-year stint at the Emerald Pastural College. Having left school, he headed off to the college to gain both his truck license and a more in-depth agricultural knowledge. Though he jokingly admits that "I really only learnt how to play up".

With a truck license in tow, he returned from two years of ‘study’ to the family farm and worked there for a while. Unfortunately, the early seventies saw dramatic falls in cattle prices and the farm was going through a very lean patch. There was enough work to keep Laurie busy but Ian chose to head off up to central Queensland and refine his truck driving skills working for some other companies. Gaining valuable experience in tankers, flattops and general freight. He learned all aspects of the transport industry.

FAMILY AFFAIR

1976 saw Wilds Livestock really kick off when Ian’s brother Rod decided to return to work the family farm and help reinvigorate the transport side. Rod had spent several years with AML&F as a stock and station agent, so he was no stranger to the farming world. When he came back to the farm, he purchased a single-drive 1976 Bedford with a 6V53GM motor as well as a single deck bogie axle trailer. Fitted with straight pipes it was often joked ‘that’s the truck where the cattle wear earmuffs’. The big 216hp (161kW) engine was worked very hard as Rod kept it busy moving stock all over the area.

In 1979, Ian returned home and purchased his own Bedford, this time with a tri-axle trailer and a 3x2 convertible stock crate on the back. Ian testifies he could get 430 lambs on the old girl, but I would hate to guess how hard that was pushing the old 190hp (142kW) engine.

Even with the two semis and the old family body truck the workload was increasing and in 1980, Wild’s Livestock purchased its first Kenworth, an ex-Shell S2 that Ian hooked up under his 3x2 tri axle – off he went carting lambs with a bit more power to enjoy.

"It knocked a couple of hours off the job with that S2," Ian admits.

Things changed again for Wild’s Livestock in 1984 when Syd Laverty (an old mate that Rod and Ian worked with) passed away. Rod and Ian were approached by Laverty’s wife, Dawn, to see if they were interested in taking over the local livestock transport part of the business. This acquisition brought with it a change in setup as well as a change in customer base. Laverty’s work had predominantly been based around calves and pigs. Lots and lots of delicious pigs actually. So much so that it led to Ian’s infamous nickname (now seen on the top of the Kenworth) ‘Grunter Hunter’. With the new workload came a Mercedes 2232 bogey drive body truck as well as a two-axle dog trailer, both having 3-by-2 livestock crates.  

Wild’s Livestock has deep roots in the livestock transport trade, with Ian’s dad Laurie droving cattle straight out of school

Ian speaks very highly of Laverty, crediting his out-of-the-box thinking, even back then.

"Syd was a very innovative bloke. Long before parcel express came up with belly boxes, Syd had one of his own on the dog trailer, which would fit about 20 bacon pigs or thirty lambs." Ian does admit though that there was a hell of a challenge getting them out.

With the purchase of Laverty’s work and the advent of four-deck sheep trailers, the Wilds left the interstate lamb job to the blokes with the four-deckers so that they could concentrate on their growing southern Queensland customer base.

Side note here, the extra room in the Mercedes cab was a bonus for Ian’s growing family. Ian had married Fiona in 1982 and, by the time the Merc was purchased, the couple had welcomed their youngest child, Jessica, into the world. Ian handed the keys of the Kenworth to his brother, Rod, and took advantage of the spacious Mercedes cab to bring his family along with him. Young Jessica spent the majority of her early years in the bunk of the Mercedes as she travelled around with mum and dad. I could not get a quote from Jessica but I’m sure all that time in an old Merc would have been, as parents put it ‘character building’.

CUSTOM KENWORTH

Back on task. The mighty Mercedes served Wild’s Livestock well for several years and through some major changes, mainly Rod and Ian deciding to split. Rod took the Kenworth and concentrated on the local work, with Ian and the Mercedes servicing those customers further away. Ian continued with the Mercedes for a couple of years before its limitations led to the inevitable replacement.

"It was a good truck, but we couldn’t get the two levels on the front of the truck," Ian explains.

"It wasn’t a full height two-deck stock crate."

The decision was made to approach Kenworth about building Wild’s a rather unique setup. Ian knew of quite a few eight and 10-wheeler trucks running around the central Queensland at the time, so he had a rough idea of what would work. Having taken into account the variety of work that Wild’s Livestock were picking up and the locations they had to enter, it made sense to stick with a truck and dog combination. They just needed a custom truck that could get a full load on and remain versatile.

The first issue was the length limits. In 1988, they were operating under the 17 and a half metre rule and the intent was to use the two-axle dog the Mercedes was towing, behind the new Kenworth. That meant the crate behind the Kenworth would need to match the trailer, at 22 feet (6.7m).

Bring on the Kenworth engineers. They drew up some designs and sent them to Ian. Other ideas were floated and, as is often the case, they were quickly redrawn.

"The first plans they sent me, you’d have to weld the nut of the ring feeder on the rear diff to get it to fit," Ian jokes.

Fiona and Ian Wild with the hard-working Kenworth

"It was hard, they had no idea where to put the drive to carry the weight."

In the end, to help work it out, Ian and Brain Russ, an engineering mate, drew out a life-size plan on the floor of the shed.

"We could physically see what it looked like and could work out where the drive needed to be."

When it came to speccing up the Kenworth’s running gear, Ian worked with his good mate from Detroit, Bob Nolan. The only stipulation Ian had was: "I wanted an 892 in it!", as much as Bob tried to convince him otherwise.

"The whole time Bob kept trying to insist, ‘forget about the 892, get a series 60’," Ian recalls. "No, no, no, don’t trust them, those f#$kin electronic motors. I’m sticking with the 892."

For six years the Kenworth flew along, quite literally actually.

"It was good for 140, with a full two decks on," Ian admits with a guilty grin. It seems that the 892 was living up to its reputation. Let us not forget to add that it wasn’t always Ian either; Fiona had her fair share of time behind the wheel of the Kenworth. I have faith that she kept it closer to the speed limit.

So, with a lot of help from the right people, the first ‘Grunter Hunter’ hit the road in 1988 with the original two axle trailer in tow. In 1991, Ian and Fiona chose to upgrade the fairly well worn two-axle dog trailer. Ian wanted the same length but a three-axle version. He approached Mark Johnston at Haulmark Trailers. Johnston, who knew the diversity of Ian’s work, jokingly remarked: "I’ll build the trailer and you build the crate." So that’s exactly what Ian did: designed his own custom crate.

ENTER LEFT

Now we are up to 1994, where the current Grunter Hunter come into creation. The need for it was purely based on the poor old 892 having a couple of minor issues and the gearbox having some major issues. After just having the head off it and repairing a leaking water jacket, Ian was getting the truck towed after a clip broke, resulting in one of the cogs in the gearbox running up and down the shaft. The truck was getting towed to Brisbane Diff & Gearbox, so on its way Ian decided to pop into Kenworth and just order another one.

With the original plans still available, it was a lot easier ordering a replacement. There were a couple of minor changes: the 8V92 was replaced with a series 60, the 15-speed replaced with an 18 and a party hat fitted rather than the original wind deflector. After these the new truck was on its way. Hardly anyone was able to pick the difference. Aside from the fact that Ian was no longer whooshing past at warp speed.

That is how the second ‘Grunter Hunter’ came to fruition. That was 27 years ago. Since then it just has not stopped. It did slow down a little, around the 2.5 million kilometre mark. It slowed down enough for the old 430hp (321kW) Series 60 to get replaced with a 500hp (373kW) version. The clutch, gearbox and radiator were given some love at the same time. Aside from that, the big beast has just kept going. Even the original Meritor 46/160 diffs are still in action. With the exception of a couple of pinion seal replacements, they are still as good as new.

It is now in excess of 3.5 million kilometres and still going strong. "Not like its owner and driver who is definitely slowing down," says a smiling Fiona.

Cosmetically, the Grunter Hunter definitely shows its age. Even with the outstanding Wilds Livestock colour scheme, you can still see the old Kenworth has worked extremely hard for its money. I am sure it has more than paid for itself.

Twin steer keeps this workhorse out of trouble

So the question had to be asked, don’t you think it could have been upgraded by now, mate? Did I also mention it is looking at its third set of crates already as it’s worn out the stock crates? So why not the truck? I did ask and Ian jokingly recalls getting asked the same thing by Rob Brown at Brown & Hurley.

"He asked me when are you going to buy a new truck and I said, Why? This ones still going." He added in a complimentary dig as well, telling him: "You built too good a truck."

Ian added in a very poignant compliment to end our interview.

"Haulmark Trailers and Kenworth Trucks have achieved my personal philosophy of ‘be lazy, do the right job the first time round’."

It is fairly evident that the job has been done right and with the truck approaching four million kilometres, it looks like I’ll be waiting a long time to get the restoration story out of Ian Wild. I will have to be happy with a ‘still hard at work’ story instead.

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