The idea of breaking the record for the trip down the Murray was conceived in late 1992 – although in a fairly roundabout way.
For some time I had been contemplating exploring the upper reaches of the Blackwod River. Over the weekend of 7 – 8 November 1992 I organised a mini expedition that, while it had its fair share of troubles and difficulties, was, overall, a success.
As a result I floated the idea of another Murray River Expedition. It was decided to use four fibreglass dinghies to break the existing Hume Weir-Goolwa record of 81 hours 24 minutes. The planned time was March 1993.
In early December I purchased a 1978 International D1630 ex school (40 seat) powered by a Perkins 6 cylinder 354 cubic inch diesel engine, coupled to a standard four speed manual gearbox. It was licensed as ‘The Bus’. Tony Overstone, Stewart Maxwell and I worked on The Bus in early January and, apart from the front brake linings which needed replacing, found very little wrong with it.
I arranged for Greg Johnson and Tony to underwrite the expedition. The cost of participation was set at $1400.
A number of second hand boats were located at the target price of $1500.
Three prospective participants withdrew from the expedition. Tony, Greg and I decided to reschedule the expedition to June, dependent on the approval of other who were committed to participate. It was very clear that the recession was holding back many potential participants. The cost was fair but many who wanted to be a part of the adventure could not afford it. The target date of June met with the approval of all those committed to the expedition.
It was decided to hold work sessions every Thursday night at Kenwick.
Greg, Stuart, Tony and Kevin tested three boats on the Swan River in late February and determined that two were suitable.
Tony and I worked on The Bus in between regular Thursday night meetings (mainly because not enough people were turning up).
In early March Tony and I went to the Logue Brook Race to drum up support for the expedition. There was an encouraging response – four ‘maybes’ on participation and two possible boats.
Work on The Bus’s rear locker proved to be more difficult, take longer and cost more than expected.
I decided to swap the existing 8.25 x 20 tyres for 9.00 x 20 tyres. This would give improved tyre life, less wear, higher speed, greater economy, cooler running temperature, greater availability (especially in more remote locations), and a cheaper price. I purchased two new new tyres for the front and four recaps for the rear. Mark Hall at Kenwick Motors supplied the four casings. Craig Douglas at Toms Tyres, Mandurah was interested in purchasing the existing six tyres on The Bus. This meant that the swap could be made for only an additional $285.
Tony went to Bali for two weeks so I shifted the direction of the work on The Bus to Killara Auto Electrics. Gary Evans offered to sponsor the expedition with work on the dashboard, interior lights, charging system and other auto electrical matters.
Kevin Williams joined the expedition team – a valued member.
Stewart Maxwell and I replaced the water trap with a larger and more efficient unit, fitted a fuel pump to link the two tanks, and raised and re-routed the exhaust pipe.
When checking around on tyre prices in mid-March I came across a problem. 9.00 x 20 tyres do not fit on 8.25 x 20 rims and wider rims suitable for 9.00 x 20 tyres are available only in a six stud pattern whereas The Bus had a five stud pattern! The problem was solved by having Summerfield Engineering weld the centre of 8.25 five stud rims into 9.00 ‘spider’ rims donated by Mark Hall at Kenwick Motors.
Morrie McGregor, a friend of Greg’s, offered to paint The Bus with the assistance of his brother in law, Ken. True to his word this happened on the Thursday before Easter. Ken did an excellent job considering the relatively poor preparation.
I sourced a new grille from Kenwick Motors. I fitted replacement brake and indicator covers. The bullbar was fitted. Driving lights were attached and the front of The Bus took on a whole new appearance.
Stuart spent most of the Saturday after Easter servicing The Bus, fitting shock absorbers, bleeding the brakes, fitting wing mirrors, modifying the exhaust, and generally checking its mechanical condition.
By working Wednesday and Thursday evening after Easter Tony and I were progressing with the lockers. To ensure that the doors had a dust proof seal and were neat in appearance was a difficult task. Mesh for the floor of the roof rack was prepared. A big job. Tony and I worked on the lockers and other items the following night and repeated the exercise two nights later. On Thursday I drove The Bus to Killara Auto Electrics for more electrical work. All day.
On return to Europa Saddlery in Kenwick in preparation for a night’s work on The Bus, I met with Frank Berloth and, as a result of heated discussions, Frank ceased to member of the expedition. Unfortunately, along with that gain came a loss. Another punter was needed to be a part of the trip and someone was needed to prepare the boats. Except for perhaps understanding the meaning of life, no problem is insurmountable.
Adrian and Rin worked on the under-seat boxes and welding of the mesh in the roof rack. A long night – 11.00 p.m. finish.
I took The Bus to Killara the next morning at 7.00 a.m. for more electrical work. Bulloch Batteries sponsored a 200 amp hour deep cycle battery.
Kevin Williams advised that RGC Mineral Sands had agreed to sponsor the expedition’s first aid requirements to the value of $500. Gloves and safety spectacles were also provided.
Peter Kinnersley and Greg Massam joined the expedition. They soon caught up on lost time and started work on the boats with gusto. The Nav Boat was stripped of fittings, rubbed back and repaired. The other two boats needed only minor work.
Greg made his Triton 4WD ute available for the expedition. Tony provided a canopy that fitted the tray perfectly. Stuart started work on servicing The Bus. I fitted a second battery.
The roof rack was mounted in position – but not without some dramas. First, the rope being used to haul it up towards the roof, so the The Bus could drive under it, broke. The roof rack crashed to the floor but sustained little damage.
Once on the roof of The Bus it first appeared as if the ‘feet’ of the rack would not align with the across-Bus support struts. After much shifting, swearing, banging and persuading it was securely attached.
Mark Hall from Kenwick Motors generously agreed to supply four second hand tyres suitable for the rear of The Bus. A great help to the budget!
The rear spare wheel carrier presented a problem. Various designs were tried and eventually, after a long time and expenditure of much effort, we found a workable solution.
Tony finished off the locker doors – a difficult task that took a long time.
Approaches to Caltex, facilitated by Avon Descent Race Director, Gerry Post, resulted in sponsorship of $500. Bernie Worthington arranged a contribution of $200 from Ross Hughes Real Estate.
In May, Tony and I spent all of a Saturday fabricating a simple to use, easy to handle awning frame. Progress was slow and it was not until nearly dark that the final design was achieved.
The boats were finished and they were ready for painting . A friend of Michael’s painted the boats and also did the locker doors
Work on the boats, the Triton, and The Bus continued. Sponsor stickers were affixed, WASDA licences obtained, bean bags made, trials conducted, an ‘A’ frame was made and, finally, all was ready