Sunrise in the Valley

Reproduced with the permission of the Author, Paul Tol

From its first European settlement in the late 1830s, the Coromandel Valley on Adelaide’s south eastern outskirts grew into a fertile market gardening area, however, the geography of the valley, in that it was steep and narrow in places, placed additional hardship on getting the produce to market.

As the 20th Century opened, use of motorised transport grew to be utilised for a variety of industries and applications, but the horse would be used much longer for this task in this area than anywhere else in South Australia.

There were, however, two industries that developed in the valley, biscuits and jam making, that could be said to have maybe been the catalyst in improvements and further development of the roads. Riding on the back of these industries, market gardening and orchards grew in productivity, and many prominent families established themselves in the valley including the Archibald and Turner families who established their mixed farms c.1848, and for whom the crops would vary over the generations including grapes for wine making, potatoes, many varieties of fruit, citrus, strawberries, and cropping, along with grazing.

But as production grew, so did the need to get it to market! According to Angus Archibald, horses were used to get their family farm produce to market up until 1923 when the decision was made to purchase their first truck, though horses would continue to be used on the farm up until 1958. What was their first truck? Thankfully, his  great uncle, Joseph Turner, had the foresight to take some photographs at the time.

The first truck purchased from the Maughan-Thiem Motor Company, was a 1923 30cwt Albion A20, powered by a 20hp EN20 petrol engine. As a side note, Maughan-Thiem are still an Adelaide motor dealer. The Albion would carry farm supplies, produce, and anything else that was required to be picked up or delivered. It would transport the orchard’s fruit to the Blackwood Cold Stores or to the Adelaide market, while the grapes would be taken to Glenloth’s Winery at Flagstaff Hill to be pressed and made into table wines.

Of interest is that fruit that was picked in the orchards was packed into wooden crates that had contained an original delivery of 5-gallon petrol or kerosene tins. Service stations, as we know them, were still in their infancy, so farmers would obtain their petrol supplies, along with kerosene and any other flammable liquids, in such tins. Yes, recycling and re-using was already very much a part of life for these resourceful people!

At some point early in its life, the 1923 Albion was fitted with pneumatic tyres and tubes, but to the front axle only! Fitting pneumatic tyres to the front, raised the governed top speed of the Albion from 17mph (27km/h) to 20mph (32km/h). The Albion would be used constantly, and at times, carried far greater loads than it was made for, but it did the job faithfully until October 1936.

In June 1936 an approach was again made to the Maughan-Thiem Motor Company for the purchase of a replacement for the Albion. What truck was under consideration this time?

Yes, another Albion – the choice obviously took into account the great service that the original Albion had given. The quoted model was an Albion Model LC43 though a model BL118 was the one that was supplied.

Maughan-Thiem’s quote on June 12th, 1936, for an LC43 Albion, advised that the new Albion was £579/0/0, with a trade-in for the 1923 Albion of £129/0/0, leaving a balance of £450/0/0.

The new truck would be equipped with seven 32x6 tyres and tubes (which were Albion’s optional ‘high pressure’ tyres), a mechanical tyre pump, and  electric starting and lighting. The final price was £475/0/0, which included £25/0/0 tax.

When the new Albion BL118 was delivered on October 28th, 1936, Joseph Turner paid a total of £467/2/5.

The Albion BL118 was a 30/40cwt rated truck with a nominal load capacity of 2 ó ton. As was the case with trucks coming into Australia at the time, they arrived in ‘chassis/cowl’ form, with the cabin and rear bodies being made locally. As there has never been a body builder’s plate found, it is not known who made the cabin.

Albion BL118 Specifications

Engine:              Model EN216
Type:                4 cylinder, side valve, water cooled.
Bore:                3 1/2” (89mm)
Stroke:             5 3/8”(136.5mm)
Capacity:          206.9cid (3,390cc)
RAC:                 19.6hp, registration purposes only
Output:             25bhp at 1,000rpm / 68bhp at 2,700rpm
Fuel:                 Petrol
Transmission:    4-speed “crash” type and reverse
Brakes:              Mechanical on rear axle only

Engine fitted with replaceable dry cylinder liners and exhaust valve seats. A true truck engine in its day!

Unfortunately, no photographs of the 1936 Albion could be found, but we do know it worked hard, just like its 1923 sibling. Then in 1958, most of the cabin was removed, and ‘Ben’ the horse that pulled the wagon between the rows of fruit trees while the fruit pickers moved along and picked the fruit, was to be retired with the Albion to take over Ben’s role.

A bushel case was a wooden case, 19” x 12” x 10” in size, that held 40lbs of apples, and was now used to pack the fruit into. As a general rule, 180 cases were generally loaded onto the truck, weighing approximately 3 ton.

Once the Albion went into semi-retirement in 1954, it would come out during the fruit picking season, and occasionally do ‘light duties’ around the farm only. Around 1985, it was put into full retirement and ‘shedded’ in one of the farm’s outbuildings. Here, it would ‘rest’, with rodents taking up residence under the bonnet.

Why choose Albions? The answer to this is simple - in the early days of motor trucks, both here and on the British market, Albions had a hard won reputation for reliability and ruggedness amongst other British trucks, so-much-so it was said, that they rivalled Foden, a heavy-duty British truck, but far more expensive! This reputation would stay with Albions into the 1960s, which extended to Australia where they were held in high regard. The two companies to hold Australia’s biggest fleets of Albions were Arnotts Biscuits and Rosella.

After the 1936 Albion’s semi-retirement, the Archibald family began searching the market for a modern truck with a more powerful engine. They purchased an Austin K2 Loadstar, the first of two that would be placed into service to take over the Albion’s duties - two trucks were now needed as the volume of the farm’s produce had increased. The Austin’s 4.0 litre, 6 cylinder petrol engine with 90bhp@3,000rpm could do the Albion’s work faster, and its vacuum boosted brakes by Clayton Dewandre and Lockheed, offered better safety.

Albion’s trademark logo signified the rising sun with the quote, “Sure as Sunrise”, which I think says it all!

My appreciation to Angus Archibald and my friend, Bevan McFarlane, who acted as an assistant in removing the detritus of time from the 1936 Albion so we could find its details and photograph it.

© 2018 Paul Tol
Article originally published in Vintage Truck & Commercial magazine

Footnote: The subject Albion was sold to a buyer in Oakbank who has cleaned it up, built a 'C' type cabin and got it back on the road.