Industry News

Operator overcomes tough start to win place on Wall of Fame

“I was actually a better version of myself by the time I finished”, Peter Royter says of his time in the road transport industry. 

“I started off in 1969 as a young guy with shoulder length hair and ratty old clothes and, by 2017, I finished up as a very spit-polished businessman.” 

In 1962, Peter had no connection to the transport industry beyond brief conversations with the operators who parked their trucks near his school in Sydney. 

When the 14-year-old, hitchhiking to escape a violent home, found himself at a Shell near Taree, it was a truck driver who offered to take Peter to Brisbane. 

Sitting in that 1958 AEC, Peter decided that he too was going to be a truckie one day. Not yet old enough to hold a licence of his own, Peter accompanied that driver, by then a friend and mentor to the teen, on many trips over the next three years, learning the ropes of the industry.

Ready to get behind the wheel himself, an impatient Peter was not willing to wait until he turned 21 to get a heavy vehicle licence in NSW. 

Having heard that Victorians were having their car licence endorsed to drive heavy vehicles at 17, he hitchhiked to Melbourne and promptly started work with a transport company there. 

Peter, unbeknownst to the company, diverted their new Mack to the Shepparton police station so he could get his licence. “Just around the block, young fella,” the police sergeant told him, “I don’t want to see any fancy gear changes.”

With a heavy vehicle licence and four years’ worth of depot experience, a 21-year-old Peter returned to Sydney and, soon after, got a start driving interstate. 

Peter, warning his soon-to-be wife, Sandy, that transport was an addiction he couldn’t give away, spent the next 47 years on the highway. 

Peter subbying for East Coast Transport in a yellow B Model. Image: Peter Royter

Driving for the likes of W.J. George and Jones Brothers, Peter spent a decade as an express driver. 

“By 1979, I was very tired. I was starting to feel the weight and I knew if I wanted to stay in the industry, I would have the change tact.” 

Peter’s purchase of an old AEC was the start of his career as an owner/driver. The truck and a flat-top trailer cost $10,000 to get on the road insured, which Peter recalls allowed him some latitude to make mistakes. “And mistakes I made! I couldn’t run a chook raffle back then!”. 

It was smooth sailing for the first six months as Peter carted Johnson and Johnson products from Sydney to Brisbane, and backloaded empty plastic bottles.

However, Peter’s first challenge as an owner/driver arose when he was asked to drop his rates to cart the plastic bottles. Peter refused, questioning why the business no longer felt he was worth what they had previously offered. 

When they couldn’t give him an answer, Peter ended the contract. “The minute you go down, that means your next guy can’t go up,” Peter cautions.

“I’d like to say I helped someone after me get decent rates on their work.” 

Peter, now on the lookout for a new opportunity, began buying plants in Queensland to sell. Thrown a lifeline by the nursery industry, Peter spent more than three decades in plant transport.

Peter credits the growth of his business to the kindness shown by the legendary Peter Gunn at the helm of Cubico. 

If any of his employees fell on hard times, Gunn was the first to bail them out, whether that be time off or money to fix their engines. 

Peter says it was this camaraderie, at all levels of the industry, “that kept us all going back then”. 

This is no clearer than in 1986, when Peter, having stepped out of his truck at a rest stop to make a phone call, was struck by a car with no lights on. 

He suffered 14 broken bones, including his legs, spine and collarbone, and spent a long, but not lonely, four months in the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. 

Peter remembers the overwhelming support he received from the transport industry, with countless drivers donating money, food, beer and their time nightly to assist Peter’s recovery.

One night, there were 34 fellow drivers in Peter’s room after-hours. When confronted by the sister on duty, they informed her that they were there on an important operation – clearing out Peter’s fridge of drinks as it was far too full.

Peter with his 1982 Scania. Image: Peter Royter

Peter, declared invalid at age 37, was told he would never work another day in his life. Not satisfied with this reality, Peter spent the next six years dedicated to his recovery so he could get back behind the wheel. 

“I had kids and a mortgage. There wasn’t the option of failure.” 

The year 1992 marked not only Peter’s return to the industry but also his purchase of the truck with which he would share 4.3 million kilometres. 

The 1989 Scania 113M belonged to an old friend of Peter’s who had suffered a heart attack and was no longer able to drive it. In an effort to help out a mate, Peter invested $5000 to keep the Scania roadworthy until it could be traded in. 

When the Scania dealership in Sydney refused to take the truck as a trade-in, advising it best belonged in a wrecking yard, Peter started to understand the monstrous job that lay ahead of him. 

With 1.2 million kilometres already on the clock, Peter was doing a leg a night in the Scania to fund its restoration. 

“You’re actually destroying it with one hand and trying to rebuild it with the other.” 

With 20 years’ worth of blood, sweat and tears invested into this Scania, Peter says he could never have sold it.

In 2015, Peter donated the Scania to the National Road Transport Museum in Alice Springs, where it remains proudly on display. 

With the Scania enjoying a well-deserved rest, Peter figured it was time he did the same. Despite many tempting offers to return to the road, Peter and Sandy maintained “we owe ourselves a road transport-free marriage!” 

Although his time in transport was “not all beer and skittles”, he looks back on it with fondness. 

“I loved my time out there with the boys. Some of them were very rough fellas but we were all rowing the same boat out there.”  

However, this is not to say that Peter has slowed down at all. Today, he and Sandy continue to run their plant wholesale business, still working six days a week to supply customers and markets. 

A trait inherited from his time in transport, Peter jokes: “I wouldn’t know how to stop if I tried!” 

“We’re both in good health. Our family is wonderful. We’re not loaded but we have enough. 

“Thanks to transport, it’s worked out pretty well.”


The post Operator overcomes tough start to win place on Wall of Fame appeared first on Big Rigs.

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