FIFTY years ago, as a 22-year-old sales cadet for Chamberlain Industries, Ron Bywaters set out on a

12 Apr, 2007 07:00 PM
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The tractor, known as Tail End Charlie, had previously been involved in 1955 and 1956 Redex car rallies from Darwin to Perth.

This year, Ron and his friend and Poll Merino stud breeder Dick Garnett, Gnowangerup, will re-enact the 1957 rally to celebrate its 50th anniversary and to raise funds for the Breast Cancer Foundation of WA and the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia.

Ron and Dick plan to start in Melbourne on August 19, dri-ving a replica Tail End Charlie, complete with the special final drive gearing, which is owned by Melbournite and co-driver Darren Visser.

This tractor has been meticulously restored to accurately reflect the appearance of the original tractor, which is housed in the Tractor Museum of WA at Whiteman Park. It is still in working order but is not available for outside use.

Several safety features have been added to the replica such as a rollover bar, to comply with current road rule usage.

In 1957, Ron and his co-drivers completed the 17,935km (11,140 miles) trip in 19 days.

This time when they set off in August, the pair will target a finish date, in Melbourne, 38 days later travelling at a more leisurely pace to average 500km a day.

The adventure will be daylight driving only with nightly stopovers in designated towns which will give the general public the opportunity to view the tractor and also at the stopover points along the route.

The tractor will have the necessary support vehicles covering the various functions of communications, safety and maintenance.

³The Chamberlain Champion model tractor, designed by the founder Bob Chamberlain, was revolutionary in its design and capabilities,² Ron said.

³The first model rolled off the production line at the Chamberlain factory in Welshpool in 1955.

³This particular tractor had special final drive gearing which would enable a speed of around 60 mph (96km/h) and the intention of Bob Chamberlain was to enter the tractor as a competitor in the 1955 Redex Trial.

³This attempt was unsuccessful but the tractor did participate in the event as a sweep vehicle in the Darwin to Perth section, and again in the 1956 Redex Trial over the same section.

³In 1957, the tractor was accepted as the official sweep vehicle for the Mobilgas event and I was lucky enough to be one of four drivers.

³We took turns in pairs with two in the tractor and two in the support car but I think we only got three nights sleep over the whole event.

³I guess it was just the adrenalin pumping because there was always something to do to help competitors and it didn¹t matter whether it was day or night.²

Amazingly, while competition vehicles crashed, broke down or became bogged, Tail End Charlie completed the trip without a mechanical failure.

p More information: www.tailendcharliethetractor.org

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