The Gary Junction Road - More bush welding (or what you do when the axle breaks!) - 2012 adventures.

Monday, Jul 09, 2012 at 00:00


Monday 9th July, 2012
150 km east of Kiwirrkurra...5 km east of Mt Tietkens

An early start with a snappy breakfast in our Gary Junction Camp. I was amazed at just how still the morning air was. There was not even the the slightest hint of a breeze which is very unusual up here at this time of the year. It was a cackleberry jaffle for brekky and we were on the road by 7:30 a.m. heading down the 200 metres or so to the junction where we signed the visitors book. I managed to locate both my entry and that of Scott and Gaby in the visitors book, those being the scribbles we had left back in 2008. We also spied the familiar tyre tracks of the big Michelins nearby knowing all too well who had passed this way a few days prior to us.

All too soon we were on the road east, the dust seeming to hang forever in the still morning air. Now this was OK for me out front but not so good for Jaydub and Suze who were down the back of our two vehicle convoy. Regardless of how far they hung back from the lead, the cliuds of fine particles played merry havoc with forward visibilty. The road was in pretty good condition and the 300km soon melted away. There was a dearth of animals along the track but a few bustards here and there relived the wildlife drought. The countryside consisted largely of flat laterite plains bordered in the distance by acacia belts or a mighty dune. About 120 km east of the junction, the road rises to about 450 metres and as you pass between several low, rocky knolls you are presented with a brilliant view across a large basin. As you descend into the basin, the drop is only around 100 metres or so over some 5 km but the resulting views are spectacular. On the other side you rise again to 450 metres and at a the highest point, I climbed a small rocky outcrop to be presented with great view east across the dunes to the Terry Range and Contention Heights, a range of hills only 6 kilometres or so west of Jupiter well. In the final stretches to Jupiter well, the road and country side are simply amazing! One minute you are simply driving through a barron landscape of recently burnt dunes and then round a corner to be confronted by spectacular glades of mighty desert oak. There were an incredible number of juvenile trees amongst the larger, mature trees, their characteristic foliage looking like a crowd of beehive hair-dos at a 1967 picnic race meeting. The gravel surface on this section of road is in excellent condition.

At Jupiter we met Gary and his family who were also heading east in a Delica van and towing a trailer. They’d been journeying through the centre and over to the west coast and were now heading back to home base in Melbourne. Along the way, Gary had lost the 20mm nut from his tow ball and fortuitously, the tow ball bolt hadn’t pulled through. Not having a spare nut of that size (Now there's something I'll add to the spares list believe me), we decided to drill a hole through the actual bolt and put a pin through it. I carry plenty of spare pins of varying sizes knowing how quickly they can be snagged and pulled out in the rough stuff. Jaydub got out the grinder and drill and I provided a high tensile ‘R’ pin. With Gary holding the bolt, Jaydub handling the tools and me providing advice from the side, the whole job was sorted in 10 minutes. We had a quick bite of morning tea before bidding Gary and family farewell and heading on. (I later heard from Gary that he made it all the way home with the "Get-me-going" fix still in place as he had been unable to source a nut in Alice Spings. As his hitch was a polycore type, it wasn't a simple thing to replace).

The road deteriorated as we progressed further east degenerating into a rocky, corrugated hell. It hadn’t seen a grader in some time and it was a mixed bag of conditions, all bad. Its immediate effect was to knock a lot of speed off our forward motion.We reached Kiwirrkurra at 12 noon WA time to find everything shut and preparations under way for the big sports carnival that was to kick off tomorrow. There were four carloads of police in town and they were expecting over 800 competitors and families from all over the west and Territory. We were through this way in '08 when the carnival was on and met the coppers heading north on the Sandy blight to Kintore where it was being held that year.

Kiwirrkurra is a typical confusing outback village that didn’t gel with my recollection of the town layout from my 2009 visit. I asked a local kid for directions to the fuel bowser and he indicated a nearby innocuous orange box. “Can I have your motor bike?” was the immediate follow up. No deal young man. We roused up the local manager to find they operate on NT time and thankfully we only had 15 minutes to wait for the store to open. Sure enough the local store manger arrived (ex 3RAR like John) to fill us with motion lotion at $2.80 per litre. We both put in 120 litres, enough to get us to Alice. Then it was down to the store and a “dogs eye” with sauce for lunch, eaten in the meagre shade by Lennie’s old ration truck. Naturally a few photos were had before we headed out onto the shocking conditions once again.

The poor road conditions persisted with extreme corrugations and in some stretches, huge washaways on either side of the road. We passed two convoys of tourists heading in the opposite direction.Mount Webb (a mini Ayers Rock when viewed from the west) came and went and then on to Mt Tietkens and the border. We stopped to photo Mt Tietkens and John noted a strange look to the trailer tyres. Sure enough, the axle had snapped in half and was only being held by a thin wedge of weld on the top and the downward pull on the inner mandrel where the axle had been cut and joined. bleep . Actually, I must confess I took one look at it and wasn’t overly worried. Yes the tyres were rubbing on the guards and the wheels look like a sick Volksie from behind but in the scheme of bush engineering, it wasn’t an overly big job.The springs, shocks and U-bolts were all present and holding just fine. All it took was a slow peddle a few kilometres down the track to find a nice camp spot in the mulga off to the right, a nice flat area with views back to Tietkens and Jaydub and I were into it!

The auxiliary Batteries came out of each vehicle for the welding and Jaydub pulled out the grinder and hooked it in to the big inverter in his vehicle. The first thing on the agenda was to grind out a ‘V’ notch around break in the axle. Paint was also stripped off the axle as well Once this was done, the axle was pushed back up to a level position using two bottle jacks. Jaydub then welded the split over filling the groove with weld. For added support, areas of the weld were ground back and a brace in the form of a length of angle iron fitted and welded along the axle either side of the weld for 45 cm or so. The whole job was done in a little over an hour and there was enough light left in the day to have a shower and one or two scotches. We received a satphone call from Larry updating us on his whereabouts (well and truly back home). A hearty meal of soup and then steak and left over cabbage for dinner. We also caught a late but brief glimpse of the ISS as it cruised overhead.

''We knew from the experience of well-known travelers that the
trip would doubtless be attended with much hardship.''
Richard Maurice - 1903
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