Meet Peter, 95, Australia's oldest truckie
Big Rigs journalist James Graham sat down with Peter Ward, a 95-year-old truckie from Victoria and talked about his life, his past as a successful business owner and the secrets of staying young while growing old.
PETER Ward had an unintended lie-in on the morning Big Rigs arrives to meet Australia's oldest truckie.
For some inexplicable reason, the 95-year-old's alarm didn't go off and for the first time in more than 20 years driving his trusty Isuzu rigid, he missed his 5.30am drop-off slot at the nearby Woolworths distribution centre in Mulgrave.
No harm done, laughs Pete. He runs the place down there, he jokes, and the DC quickly reshuffled the busy schedule to accommodate his daily pre-dawn vege run from K. & S. Savage and Sons in Heatherton.
"We had a laugh about it; they're going to miss me at Woolworths when I leave," said Pete, flashing one of those dazzling grins that charms everyone he meets.
"I've met a lot of people at Woolworths over the years. They think a lot of me, and I think a lot of them; they're great people.
"The forklift drivers and other drivers will often stop to give me a hand to draw the curtain - they really look after me well."
Pete said the part-time job he's had driving the truck for all these years has been a godsend.
Before the Savages took him on he'd actually retired after selling the general freight carrying business he'd operated on his own for 39 years.
"It was the best thing I ever did," said Pete of his decision to accept the out-of-the-blue offer from the late Ken Savage to get back behind the wheel.
"I was wasting my time, but this gives me a bit of money and keeps my mind active. I might not be here today if I didn't have anything to keep my mind occupied.
"My father always used to say, 'you sit in that chair and you're gone' - no truer words were ever spoken."
Pete tells me to eat well too, and don't over-do it with your drinking. That's the key.
Maybe that's why he's been so resilient to the inevitable bumps in the road.
About eight years ago he had a stroke, but was still making his daily deliveries from the market gardens, oblivious to his body's failings.
Luckily, he had an unrelated appointment with an eye specialist who spotted the warning signs during a routine examination and promptly packed Pete off to the hospital in an ambulance.
About a month later Pete had another scare when he was caught short of breath.
"I thought I was gone," he admits.
He even rang the Savages to resign the day he went into hospital to have a pacemaker fitted, but promptly rang back 15 minutes after the anaesthesia wore off to ask for his job back.
"I felt 20 years younger!"
He's got rid of the glasses too since recent cataract surgery and flies through his annual licence and bi-annual health check-ups.
Pete's just as proud of his blemish free record behind the wheel. Not a single on-road skirmish or speeding ticket in 80-odd years.
Of course, he admits, there was no such thing as road rage in his day, and there was still more horsepower of the four-legged variety than under the hood.
"At 25 to 30mph, you couldn't get in much trouble."
Pete got his start as a truckie after World War 2 - he worked those years making sparkplugs for planes - and still fondly remembers the 1936 Bedford that helped launch his own business.
"There used to be a carriers' rank with four or five of us sitting there all the time.
"When someone would call the depot for a carrier an old fella would put the red flag out and you'd drive up to the front and they'd tell you where to go to get the job.
"I was lucky enough to get this place John Webster and Co. in Flinders St and I had them virtually all my life.
" They used to make neck ties and socks, a very good company, and I'd cart the silk in off the wharf and deliver it to their factories."
There were no traffic lights around Melbourne in those days, recalled Pete, nor parking meters.
"There were parking inspectors we called grey ghosts because they were always in a grey suit. But they all liked a beer, so they'd allow us to double-park if we bought them a drink. You'd end up having two or three pots of beer every day with them."
Before the arrival of Melbourne traffic lights, the 'silent cops' kept vigil on the city's busiest intersections.
"Silent cops were the big domes they put in the middle of the intersection and when you came to it you had to give way to the man on your right. Later on, they put five police on the busiest ones. On the biggest one on Spencer Street, they had a cop there for years and every Christmas time, his silent cop would have presents around it."
"You never had the trouble you have now."
Sadly, there is no one left from those early days driving for the widowed father-of-three to reminisce with now.
He's the last man standing. But you know it's not in his infectiously cheery nature to feel melancholy. The long-time greyhound trainer still loves a punt, catching up with mates for a Friday beer, and he always looks forward to his annual holiday to Port Douglas to visit his two daughters.
When he does park the Isuzu in the Savage's shed for the last time, Pete still plans to make the short drive to the gardens in his trusty Holden Barina to help out, maybe even to just wash the new truck.
"Someone will say to me, 'how you going Pete?', he tells great niece Corinne Maunder in the short film she made about him three years ago.
"Well, I woke up this morning and that's a bonus. If I get 365 more bonuses, that'll do me. It's been a good rollercoaster as far as I'm concerned."