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Vehicle mechanics in the Army are always in demand and many opportunities arise to support other units. I was constantly supporting 3 Training Group during Basic and Unrestricted Drivers Courses. I would always go up a couple of days early and complete a technical inspection of every vehicle before the course even started. The Sergeant in charge of transport 3TG was Bill Brown. I worked very closely with Bill and he was always trying to get me to transfer and promised that within 3 months he would have me promoted to Sergeant. I declined every time. I always picked my truck too, the first Unimog taken into Army Service. It was also the fastest and would do 100kph easily, because I took the time to repair the accelerator linkages.
The Senior Instructor for the Basic Drivers course arrived with his own little panel van which had a tyre blow out on the way up. He asked me if I could fix it and in front of all the other instructors, told him to wrap a couple of rolls of 100 mile an hour tape (nickname for vulcanising tape) around it and don't go over 90!! Sgt Brown loved my safety factor. The tyre had ripped a couple of fuel lines off the tank. I fixed them for him. Sorry Sir but it's a drivers task to change tyres, not a VM task.
Next was the 2IC of the same course, Sgt Christine Quilligan. She had put her car battery on charge and it still would not start. I went and had a look, being a tankie mech I always carry a small screwdriver and a shifter in my pocket. I used my screwdriver and removed the battery caps. Sgt Quilligan, it helps if the battery has acid and water in it!! Can I take your Qualifications please. She exclaimed that the stickers on it claimed that it was maintenance free. Did she get a hard time over that one. I actually had her teach the Battery lesson, after she had been instructed by yours truly.
As could be guessed, I of course had the trucks in tip top condition before the course started so unless they had a break down or actually broke something, the job was pretty quiet. Sgt Brown and I headed to his house one day and loaded his bike into a ute to take down to the bike shop in Seymour for repair. I couldn't believe it when I saw a 1974 Bultaco Sherpa T trials bike sitting out the frontlooking a bit messy. I asked the guy how much while I was there and he said $350.00. What doesn't it go. He started it up which as he said took a while but they usually did when they were cold. Usually by the time you kicked em enough to get them started you were too buggered to ride!! I ummed an ahhed about it and gave a mate who was right into them a call. I made my mind up and ducked into town and put on a deposit. I would pick it up the day before I was due to go home.
My hours during the days were easy unless the trucks were going out and for the first few days the students are in the class room learning about mechanical principles. I was able to pretty much go to and fro as I pleased as long as Sgt Brown knew where I was headed. I spent time at Charlie's and was invited to dinner with his family on occasion. He was the currator of the transport museum at Pucka and he was being transferred to QLD. I purchased an arc welder from him also. OK so now I've got an arc welder and a motor bike to get in the car before I go home. I'd worry about that bridge when I came to it.
I asked as to why I couldn't instruct in lessons on basic mechanical principles as it would be something more constructive for me to do during this lull in activity. I was informed that it had been tried and that RAEME Vehicle Mechs are too technically minded and go into too much depth, so driving instructors do it. Funny, the driving instructors would come to me and ask me questions about their lesson on shock absorbers that they had to do and hydraulics. Many of them had been instructing for a long time and did not understand hydraulics until I taught them the basic principles. A quick trip to see the Medics and get 2 syringes and a length of IV tube and they had a simple hydraulic system that was transparent and they could see. I became good at instructing instructors unofficially in the mess. I even did Duty driver stuff to pass the time, but when I was called upon I was really called upon.
The Basic drivers course travelled outside the Pucka training area through the mountains near Marysville and other parts of Victoria so RAEME support there was critical. Hence my truck which Sgt Quilligan and a student would travel with me, always the last vehicle. We were near the A1 mine settlement and rounded a corner. There were water jerrycans strewn all over the road. The LandRovers and trailers were loaded with full water jerrycans to simulate the full load. We continued slowly. The SI was in the Land Rover shaking, his student wasn't far behind him. They had rolled the trailer numerous times. The SI wanted to call Recovery Mechs from Pucka, I in my position immediately over rode his decision and took complete charge of the situation. I had all the personal gear that was in 2 Unimogs placed into one and then all the water Jerrycans , damaged and not, were collected and put in the now empty truck. A couple had Bailey bridging sections on so the drop sides were off the trays. The trailer had sustained quite a lot of damage, buckled wheel, bent axle and drawbar making it unsafe to tow. We were near an embankment that would do as a loading ramp so the trailer was man handled to the top of the embankment. I sent some students to block the road each end and backed the truck up to the embankment. I placed the trailer on it's side with the draw bar sticking out the right side so the driver could see it. It was secured and we carried on. Once back at 3TG, I found that the student had failed due to the trailer rolling. I stood up and argued with Sgt Brown that she should pass as she saved the 110 Land Rover from rolling as once the trailer goes it normally takes the 110 with it!! I said, she's got to be a good driver to save that. I also believe that had the instructor not been telling her to go faster it would not have happened but this is part of the test. I remember when I did my course these same instructors were telling me all the time, faster, faster, faster. I went to MY MAXIMUM SAFE SPEED. ie the speed that I knew the vehicle could handle and I could react. Yet my course report read, tends to speed, this will have to be curbed, an excellent T109 driver. HUH???
Another time, Private Wheelan asked me to check out his truck as on the Safe Driving Area it kept stalling and would not start. I walked straight to the vehicle with him and it started first go. I turned it on and off numerous times and decided that we should go for a test drive in the area. I used to grab these opportunities as when out with students, they always drove. We drove the vehicle around the area for about half an hour and I could not fault it. Then again I was driving. I stopped at an intersection and said to Wheelan, I've got a thought, maybe I should drive like a student. I stiffened up, gipped the steering wheel until my knuckles turned white and took off. I said to Wheelan, do I change gear now? The engine revving hard. I was scooched over the wheel. I glanced at Wheelan waiting for his reply and the tears were streaming down his face he was laughing so hard. Even driving like a student the truck showed no fault. It was typical that it played up but once in the hands of a VM it behaved impeccably. I parked the vehicle in my work place in the compound and would try the next morning. I did and it indicated that the batteries were flat so I didn't muck around and replaced them.
At the end of the course, with a few days to spare I went and paid for and collected my bike. It was longer than I thought and with the back seat down I was able to squeeze it in the back of my Jackaroo. Back at the Depot I took it out. I had a welder and personal gear to get in. A roll bar was fitted internally so I unbolted the back seat and removed it completely. I took out the centre console between the front seats. Then loaded in the bike with the front wheel sitting between the seats. The back seat slid down the right side of the bike and the welder sat in the back left corner. I drove home changing gears aroung the front wheel of the bike. It had to be positioned between 1-2 and 3-4 to allow clearance for the gear lever.
My thanks again to Alex.
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