Peterbilts are a common sight in the USA, but once you travel outside this country, their presence is much less dominant. Such is the case for Australia, where trucks like Kenworths and Macks rule the highways. Coming from five generations of truckers and haulers dating all the way back to the 1850s, Dean Kefford of Melbourne, Australia is no stranger to trucking. Looking to find a unique and special rig to haul around the antiques that represent his family’s rich trucking heritage, Dean found a Peterbilt 379 in the United States, shipped it home, and rebuilt it to the pristine truck you see here. One might wonder what will turn more heads – the neat old Kefford trucks of yesteryear or the “SILVERSONIC” Peterbilt hauling them!
Dean’s love affair with trucks started when he was eight years old – he has vivid memories of going to work with his father to his Grandpa’s truck yards around Melbourne. Back then, the transport operation (Alfred Kefford Carriers) was still going strong. Alfred Kefford, Dean’s great-grandfather, was responsible for most of the containerized freight being moved around Melbourne and the surrounding areas.
The amazing history of Dean’s family goes back to the early 1850’s when Richard Papworth Kefford (Dean’s great-great-grandfather) arrived from England and started a transport company in Collingwood with horse-drawn wagons. Over the course of the next 70 years, the horse-drawn rigs were used heavily around Melbourne, moving freight to the ports, rail yards and suburbs. As the 1920’s approached, the Kefford’s business saw the introduction of motorized vehicles. At this time, the truck fleet began to grow with the importation of Vulcan trucks from England. The company used these Vulcan trucks with solid rubber tires through the 1920’s, 30’s and 40’s before finally buying “local” brands of trucks, like Internationals, Macks, Fords and Bedfords, to service their needs in the 1950’s and 60’s.
By early 1970, the transport business also became actively involved in solid waste disposal, while the containerization side of the operation was booming, as well. As time progressed, the company became the largest shipper of “roll on – roll off” containers between Australia, New Zealand and the United States, accountable for 85% of the traffic within this market. In 1975, the truck operation began to scale down and was eventually sold off.
In 1976 a new era began when Dean’s father, Douglas, bought a small bus operation. Over the next three decades, this bus company would grow to include 16 different outfits, with 380 vehicles, running in Melbourne, Ballarat and Geelong from six depots. Around 1986, Dean completed his apprenticeship as a mechanic and then went to work in the family business. In 1990, Dean assumed the role of the company’s Maintenance Manager and became responsible for 65 people who ensured that the large fleet of buses and coaches got out on the road safely every day. Although the bus operations were entirely sold off in 2009, Dean’s time there rekindled his childhood passion for trucks.
With his reignited fire for big trucks, Dean decided to purchase a single drive Kenworth K125 for the family farm. Over the next six months, he transformed that truck into a working piece of art and then used it to pull their 40-foot gooseneck horse trailer across Australia on the Quarter Horse Show Circuit with cutting horses. The process of building that KW really opened Dean’s eyes and he became very passionate about restoring older trucks – especially the ones from the days of Alf Kefford Trucking, such as Ford F500s, International R-190’s, Vulcans, and early 1900’s horse-drawn wagons. All of these trucks and more have now been purchased and meticulously-restored for the Kefford family’s private truck collection and museum.
In 2010, Dean went on the hunt for a prime mover. He wanted something that would stand out from the crowd – something that he could use to transport the older vehicles to the truck shows that would be cool but not over-shadow the family’s long trucking history. After all, it’s not every day that you come across a transport operation that operated continually for nearly 160 years. Dean acquired a rare, low production Kenworth K100E which was perfect for what he was trying to achieve. Over the next 12 months, the Kenworth was given a full overhaul. But, during this process, Dean stumbled on another unique truck while surfing the internet.
Looking at the Truck Paper’s website, Dean discovered a 1996 Peterbilt 379 extended hood with a Caterpillar 3408 V-8 engine. He knew that the 379’s were never built with a Cat 3408 from the factory, so he immediately sent an inquiry to the dealership in Indiana, and within 48 hours he had bought the truck and was arranging the shipping to get it back to Australia. Trucks with a Cat 3408 engine are a rare sight anywhere, and although there are a few “down under” in Australia, this one was destined to be different.
The truck had served its previous owner well for many years hauling livestock, and boy did it show. So, in late 2010, the truck was taken to Vulcan Motors where renowned builder Frank Christie was chosen to take on the restoration and customization project. Silver was the chosen color, because Dean has always thought it was classy. Over the next three years, the truck underwent a full rebirth, complete with all new wiring, electronics, hoses, etc. It also received a new Peterbilt Low-Air rear suspension, a new high-roof cab fitted with late model doors and mirrors, the 63-inch sleeper was replaced with a 70-inch bunk, and then the rig was converted to right-hand drive. The truck’s Cat 3408 engine was in sound running condition, so they just cleaned and painted everything and replaced the fuel injectors, along with the pump and all of the other under-hood accessories.
Once the main work was completed, it was time for all the shiny details. The truck was fitted with custom aluminum light bars in front of and behind the drive tires, a smooth stainless deck plate, and 8-inch Dynaflex pipes. It also got a new 14-inch Texas-style bumper, WTI fiberglass fenders (front and rear), a stainless drop visor, cab and sleeper extensions, plenty of LED lights, and Peterbilt 389 headlights. Up on the roof, the truck got five bullet cab lights, as well as four large horns, to give it that “classic” look. Dean’s goal was to build a subtle, factory-style truck with an old school flair, and we think he nailed it!
After the bus operation was sold in 2010, Dean started a heavy haul company. Building it up to 18 trucks, he had to close the doors in 2013 due to the poor economy. Once this outfit closed, the 160-year run of the family business effectively stopped right then and there. At that time, Kefford Transport was the oldest transport company in Australia, and the second oldest registered company in the country (second only to the Australian Gas Light Company).
Nowadays, Dean spends most of his time buying and selling trucks, trailers and equipment. He has many ongoing truck projects, including a full rebuild about to start on his 1985 Kenworth K125 with a factory-fitted Cat 3408. This unique truck was the very last Kenworth K-series to be produced by Paccar Australia with a factory 3408 Cat. Dean also has the very last Kenworth K100E Aerodyne produced by Paccar Australia.
As you can see, Dean Kefford’s slick new “SILVERSONIC” Peterbilt 379 fits nicely into his collection of rare and unique trucks. This classy rig will surely turn a lot of heads as he uses it to transport their cool collection of family antiques to events across Australia, helping to keep the memory of his family and their trucking heritage alive and well for generations to come.
EDITOR’S NOTE: We would like to thank our Australian friend Robbie Rose for providing us with the great pictures for this article and for steering Dean our way. We would also like to thank Dean Kefford for his help in putting this article together – we are proud to include you, your family and your truck in our magazine!