Steeped in history: Bill Simpson and Cleary Bros
Joining the company 66 years ago, Bill Simpson recalls his time at Cleary Bros. Steve Brooks reports
Bill Simpson went to work for Jack Cleary in 1950 when the company had just five employees and the truck fleet consisted of a couple of Internationals and an NR Mack.
"I came and went a couple of times but in total I worked for Cleary’s for about 22 years," says the bright-eyed 88 year-old, still armed with a sharp memory and wicked sense of humour.
Even after all these years, Bill easily recalls driving the NR.
"It had a 6-71 GM and a five by two gearbox," he says.
"It wasn’t a bad truck and did a lot of heavy work."
It was, however, a later Mack that truly won his admiration and on this occasion brought Bill to Bombo for a trip down memory lane with Denis Cleary and a revered old dog destined for a complete makeover.
In a workshop housing several ‘works in progress’, there stood a tired old B61 in Cleary Bros’ original red livery, though the paint’s faded to just a dull smear and rust has found its way into a few corners.
Finishing its days as a water truck, the old Mack stopped work about 25 years ago and time and weather have taken a heavy toll.
Yet as Denis insists, time and the skill of Cleary Bros tradesmen will also see the truck brought back to new over the next year or so.
For now though, Bill Simpson and Denis Cleary are just happy to recall the early life of an iconic truck which was the only Mack B61 ever bought by Cleary Bros.
"It’s a genuine one-owner," Denis says with a broad grin, "and we bought it for heavy float work like moving ‘dozers to different jobs."
"It did a lot of work in a lot of places and back then it was the only decent truck to buy for that sort of heavy work."
Tandem-drive from the start and powered by a naturally aspirated 210 hp engine feeding into a five-by-four quad-box, Bill reflects proudly on the trip in 1964 to Caringbah in Sydney’s south to bring Cleary’s brand new Mack home for first time.
"It was my truck," he says firmly, "and I drove it for the first six years until they moved me into the office."
As for the art of driving the legendary twin-stick quad-box, Bill says casually, "After driving the NR, it wasn’t hard to pick it up.
"In fact, I don’t reckon I ever missed a gear in it. Not that I can remember, anyway," he adds with a shrewd grin.
"I’ll tell ya what though, driving it was a great way to give up smoking if you rolled your own cigarettes."
Could you still drive it?
"Yeah, easy. Once you know how, it’s second nature."
"And unlike a lot of trucks these days, the air-conditioner always worked. Just wind the windows down.
"Seriously though, it was always a good truck. Really good.
"Top speed was 53 miles an hour, flat out."
"The brakes weren’t great though and going down Cunningham’s (Gap) with a decent load on, you’d always have the door open a bit. Just in case!
"It was better when they put an exhaust brake on it but that came a fair bit later."
After Cleary Bros, Bill went to work for himself and he’s been retired since 2007, finally climbing off a ‘dozer at 80 years of age.
"A man’s gotta do something to keep himself occupied," he chuckles.
Would you like to drive the B-model again?
"Yeah, once they’ve done it up and if it was alright with Denis, I’d drive it again."
"Anytime. Anytime at all," Denis nods.
"I might even have a steer, too."
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