Every driver has a story, and so does every truck. The big show truck may have a more colorful story than the wreck sitting in a bone yard (or not), but they all have a story. Here is a story about an old 1986 Peterbilt 359 from Union Gap, WA, and a trucker from Bellingham, WA, and how they both ended up together in Tasmania – a small island on the southern tip of Australia.
While in Florida a few weeks ago, I met up with my longtime friend Cathy Sherman, and she told me about a post she saw on Facebook (West Coast Retro Truck Pictures). She thought it would make a great story for me to tell and, after seeing the photos and reading the comments, I agreed! When I contacted Mike Auckland and told him I’d read the post and was interested in sharing the story about him and his dream truck, and how they both came to live at the same unique address, he was as surprised to hear from me as I was to hear that he was familiar with 10-4 Magazine.
Mike was happy to share his story with me about his driving days back in Washington, and how he ended up living in Tasmania for the last 24 years and, at 53, finally fulfilled the dream of owning his own rig. He admitted he has always been “big truck mad” and dreamed of owning his own truck when he was young, but he chickened out. He didn’t want the commitment or responsibility, so instead chose to drive for others, and let them have all the worries.
Growing up, Mike’s dad had a few cows, so he bought an old ‘56 GMC to haul hay and firewood. Mike was happy to drive this old truck, and sometimes even drove it to school. Between 1985 and 1993, Mike drove for a variety of companies, but of those jobs, he liked heavy-haul the best. Apparently, sitting at docks and waiting to load and unload was just not his cup of tea.
When some friends of his were vacationing in New Zealand, they met a woman from Tasmania, and told her to come see them in Washington if she was ever in the States. Well, she did just that. After touring the east coast, she flew to Seattle. The friend who knew her called Mike and asked if he would like to join them for a get-together and meet Angela. He wasn’t sure about going, at first, but went anyway. They hit it off and started talking, and the very next day Mike took her on a tour of Washington before she flew back home. I think they would say here, “…and the rest is history.”
Since he wasn’t working at the time, Mike sold his pickup and went to Australia for three months on a Work Visa. After he flew back home, he worked in Washington until August of 1993. After proposing to Angela over the phone (she said yes, of course), she became Mike’s immigration sponsor. After moving to Tasmania, they had six months to get married, and six months after he got there, they were married. Today, they have two daughters – Olivia and Chelsie – and a family dog, Jasper.
Tasmania is a small island state of Australia. It is located 150 miles south of the Australian mainland, separated by the Bass Strait. The beautiful and scenic state encompasses the main island of Tasmania, the 26th largest island in the world, and the surrounding 334 islands. The state has a population of around 500,000 people, and about 40% of them reside in and around the city of Hobart, which is also the capital. Tasmania is roughly the size of the state of Maine, covering about 30,000 square miles.
Driving a truck down there is just the opposite of here in the States – they sit on the right side of the truck (or car) and drive on the left side of the road. Mike drove trucks there for a while, and when he was hauling produce, he said it took about three hours to go from one end of the island to the other. He also pulled doubles for a while, and even sold trucks, for a bit. Today, he sells heavy equipment for Hitachi Construction.
Around October 2017, after a trip to the States that included a tour of the Peterbilt assembly plant in Texas, Mike started surfing some websites and found a neat Peterbilt 359 up for sale locally, on the island. It was the sort of truck that he had always wanted, and curiosity got the better of him – he had to go have a look. The truck had been sitting unloved for 10 years, and it looked a little rough on the surface. But Mike could see past that, and saw the real beauty beneath all that dust. Looking closer, under the dust, was a name – Gary Bradley Trucking, Union Gap, WA. The long and short of it, Mike bought the truck.
After a short trip to the shop to clean off the years of dust and change the fluids, the three-hour drive home was uneventful, which surprised Mike, considering how long it had sat there. Now, Mike was finally the proud owner of his own truck – and it was an amazing classic 359 from his home state!
Wanting to find more information about his new pride-and-joy, Mike made a post on Facebook, on the West Coast Retro Truck Pictures page, asking if anyone knew anything about the truck or the company painted on the door, and much to his surprise, he got an answer from Jenny Bradley, the daughter of Gary Bradley himself. And, she not only answered Mike’s questions, but she posted pictures of the truck when it had been part of her dad’s fleet, too. A few others on the page remembered the truck and commented, too. Jenny was really surprised and thrilled to see where #11 was, and shocked to see that her dad’s name was still on the door.
I had the pleasure of talking with Jenny, and she not only runs the company her dad started, but she is a driver, as well. She was raised in a truck, and she went everywhere with her dad. Starting out, she sat on her dad’s lap in their cabover and shifted gears. When she got too big for his lap, he put her in the driver’s seat. She can still remember the smile on her dad’s face the day he brought her brand new yellow Peterbilt home. She still has the cabover and the yellow Pete, and they don’t go anywhere unless she is driving them. Today, there are eight trucks in the Gary Bradley Trucking fleet, and Dennis McKelheer is her right-hand man. Jenny’s son Kevin is now driving for her, and she says he will continue the tradition and keep the name alive.
Gary bought the ‘86 Pete 359 from Dale West of Northwest Truck Repair & Salvage in Union Gap, WA. The truck had been wrecked, so Dale fixed it and painted it maroon, then sold it to Gary, where it became truck #11 in his fleet. Mike Housh, who at the time was Gary’s right-hand man, drove #11 for years. Later, Dennis McKelheer drove her until Gary sold the rig to Jason Harris in Centralia, WA, who used it to haul mail. He must have just covered up the name on the door, because after all these years, Gary’s name still remains. Had that lettering been removed, I wonder if this story might not have ever been told.
Harvey Homes from Beauty Point, Tasmania, found the old 359 for sale in the Truck Paper in 2008. After sending the money, six weeks later the truck was in Australia. Harvey originally bought it to pull his 5th wheel camper around the island, but after he got the truck, the power and speed scared him, so he parked it. And, there she sat, unloved, until November 2017, when Mike picked her up and fulfilled his lifelong dream of owning his own truck.
From working hard in Washington, to retirement in Tasmania, this old girl “won’t ever be used to make a dollar, but will cost me plenty of them,” said Mike. Today, she has a Big Cam 400 Cummins and a 13-speed transmission (originally it had a 15-speed). Mike intends to keep her old school, like how it was when he drove back in Washington, and he also plans to keep her left-hand drive (the conversion can be very expensive).
Oftentimes, social media gets a bad rap, as negativity and complaining often reign there, but in this case, it worked awesome! My thanks to Mike and Jenny for allowing me to share their stories – I am glad that Mike and this truck both found a good home, together, in a unique corner of the world.