Mildura Weekly : Friday May 22 2015 Vol 9 No 28
14 NEWS MILDURA WEEKLY FRIDAY, MAY 22, 2015 By GRANT MAYNARD THERE are hopes it will be one of the more unusual inclusions in the upcoming Dareton Coomealla 90th Celebrations street parade. While historic machinery and vehicles will abound, there will be nothing quite like the ‘Bailey Heri- tage Drain Digger.’ Built on the chassis of a World War 2 Ford Blitz truck, little remains of that faithful Allied workhorse. The chassis is still there, and so is the fa- mous Ford flathead V8 engine now very popular with nostalgia hot rod- ders, but very little else! “The Bailey boys liked their V8s,” Wally’s daughter-in-law Sandra Bai- ley, from Gol Gol, said, but the re- mainder of the truck was obviously deemed surplus to needs. Sandra has been researching the digger for some time, and was only recently told that the original machine had been built by a man named Wally Ray. “From what I can find out he lived in Mildura, or one of the fruit growing areas that surround it,” she said. After purchasing the machine in the early 1950s, Sandra’s father-in- law Wally and his two sons – Sandra’s husband Vic (dec) and his brother, Bill (also dec) – set about modifying the digger to their design. The catalyst to build the machine, Sandra says with a straight face, was a Bailey aversion to digging drains by hand. As well as using the original Blitz chassis base, the digger uses what is believed to be the track from a Bren Gun Carrier, another World War 2 Allied workhorse. The rest of the ma- chine was built from scrounged scrap metal and some ingenious ‘blockie’ engineering. The driver/operator sat on a swiv- elling tractor seat that allowed him to face forward to drive the digger as it was being moved from place to place, and sidewards or in reverse when op- erating the digging arm. The digger utilises a series of five gearboxes to transfer power from a gloriously melodic V8 engine to the front and rear diffs that drive the truck, and also to power the digging arm that carries the Bren Carrier track modified for digging duties with a series of flat blades and finger-like rippers. The arm is fixed at one end on a shaft, supported by a couple of hefty bearings, allowing it to pivot up and down. The same shaft acts as the drive shaft for the large cog that drives the digging track. The height of the arm, and therefore the depth of the drainage trench it digs, is con- trolled by a brawny threaded adjus- tor that has never looked like bend- ing or breaking. The soil removed by the ‘digging track’ is transported towards the front of the machine, where it is falls onto a tray and down a chute on either side of the digger chassis. It is then transported towards the rear again by chain driven flat conveyors over the back wheels to another set of chutes that direct the soil to fall neatly either side of the trench. There would have been a lot go- ing on when the digger was oper- ational...a lot of turning cogs and whirring chains. Ands, there is also a manual crank handle on the left side of the vehicle, mounted to yet another gear- box, that allows the operator to lift the digging arm and lock it into the transport position – high, tight and horizontal. Getting the digger working sat- isfactorily took some research and development time, Sandra recalls, but Wally Bailey and his boys were determined. Once the Bailey men were hap- py with it, they put the machine to work, and it worked on grape and citrus growing properties throughout the Coomealla Irrigation Area up un- til the late 1970s. “Once Wally and the boys got it working on their Cudgee Road block, neighbours were soon asking for drains to be dug, and word spread,” she said. As an aside, Sandra revealed the terracotta drainage pipes the Bailey’s contract laid throughout Coomealla came from Buffon’s Brickworks at Wentworth. Andrew Buffon continues the family tradition started by his father Alf (dec), and is still in the brick- making business. The modern Buf- fon’s Brickworks is based in Mildura, off Etiwanda Avenue, not far from its intersection with 7th Street. After its working life ended, the Bailey Heritage Drain Digger passed through several pairs of family hands before being consigned to the mar- gins of a block on the outskirts of Dareton. The once bright orange machine sat forlorn as the natural elements took their toll, the rust multiplied, and the saltbush started to grow vig- orously through the chassis rails. That was how it was found by keen machinery restorer and Dare- ton Men in a Shed member, John Waters. He was working on a sugges- tion from Sandra, who reckoned the upcoming 90th Celebrations on the June long weekend would be a prefect outing for the digger. • Continued Page 20 Digging deep to bring back a hard-working Dareton survivor • John Waters and Sandra Bailey with the faded orange digger in the background. • GOOD ON ‘YER DIGGER: The digger on a Waters Excavations low- loader after being ‘rescued’ from its resting place, RIGHT, on a Dareton vineyard, where it sat abandoned for 35 years.
Friday May 15 2015 Vol 9 No 27
Friday May 29 2015 Vol 9 No 29