Four Wheeling Around The World
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Four Wheeling

around-the-world

 

by Brian L. Pinn

 

Safari! Pictures of charging rhino and khaki-clad hunters spring to mind, but popular usage has altered the word.  In it’s old Arabic form it meant ‘voyage’ or ‘journey’ and it is in this context that it was used in the meaning of our expedition.

            The Anglo African Trans-World Safari aims to do a ‘first’ by crossing all six continents of the world from end to end, using four wheels all the way.  It was decided from the start that we would not bypass any rugged stretches, and roads or no roads, we would not make any deviations by river or rail.

            On the face of it this is a pretty tall order but Derek Linton, whose brain-child this is, spent two years planning the route and selecting the crew and equipment.  The result is one of the most comprehensive expeditions ever to take the road.

            The first consideration was the choice of vehicles and after scanning the world market, Derek returned to his first love, the Willys FC-170, as the best all-round basic vehicle.  Two modified cab-and-chassis units were shipped to Cape Town from the United States and work on the special bodies began in June 1960.

            A trip which encounters every conceivable physical hazard, from jungle mud to desert sand and Artic ice, called for a design which combined great rigidity and strength with an essential lightness.  This problem was overcome by the addition of a steel and aluminum sub-chassis, onto which a simple box body was built.  To provide insulation a form of construction similar to that of a refrigerator was used.  A recently developed section from British Aluminum was utilized in a double-skin body and a sandwich layer of polyesterene foam was inserted between the skins.  Apart from fulfilling all other requirements, this section proved to be bullet-proof!  One of the crew, who had no previous experience of firearms, accidentally loosed off a .38 Colt and but for the wall’s resistance, Derek would be parting his hair down the middle.

            The modifications on the cab-and-chassis units ex-factory are standard options, available to any buyer.  They include Powr-lok rear differentials, Warn hubs on the front wheels and a Ramsey winch.  This last was a natural.  The power and gear variation, with three speeds on pull and a reverse, has already proved invaluable in working conditions.  Including these modifications and the bodies, the total all-up weight of each truck before final fittings and equipment was 4980 pounds.

            To accommodate two spare wheels, the rear sub-assembly was welded to the extension.  Besides the two complete wheels with their Goodyear road-lug tires, this assembly carries a reverse flood light, all other lights and a pintle hook capable of bearing a 10,000 pound load.

            The standard gas tank was not large enough to carry sufficient fuel for long trips away from the beaten track and so it was replaced with an armour-plated model with 50 US gallons capacity.  A roof rack with six jerry cans added a further 30 US gallons and the vehicles can now travel 500 miles over the roughest country without calling in for stamps.

            The interior of the cab was the scene of the more drastic modifications.  The entire electrical system was rewired, using three times more wire than the original.  The instrument panel was replaced and a wonderful range of gizmos was installed, giving the new dash the look of an aircraft control panel.  Extra fuel gauges were fitted together with tachometers to record the details of each day’s driving, amp meters, oil and water temperature readings, a car radio, heaters and enough dials and switches to delight a fanatic.

            Other refinements include air-conditioned seats, compass, two-way radios, first-aid and snakebite kits, map racks, power take-off for external camera lighting and fan systems in the living space.

            Above the passenger seat in the cab roof was fitted with a hinged turret and in the front of the opening a tripod was mounted for mobile filming.  Alongside the tripod a place was found among the aerials for twin air-horns.  These proved a useful conversation opener with elephants in Africa.

            The living space in the rear has been likened to the berths of a cabin cruiser and this is very apt description.  One of the first comments of most visitors to the trucks is “How on earth do three men manage to live comfortably in such cramped conditions?”  It is only after a closer inspection that they realize that not an inch has been wasted.

            The overall dimensions of the interior are 10 feet by six feet, three inches width, by five feet, three inches height.  Two seven foot, six inch bunks are arranged, one on each side, and leaving sufficient foot room a third bunk crosses the rear above the other two.  The space formed in the center aisle between the side bunks and below the top one has been fitted with a 12-volt film storage refrigerator in one trunk and in the second vehicle it is used to store the cooking gear.  The side bunks hinge up to give access to lockers which hold personal effects and equipment, including power saws and cordage for bridge building.  Each bed has an individual light and rifle rack and small fans are fitted at the head of the living space.

            Directly inside the door, a small closet holds the team’s walking out clothes, which consist of blazer and flannels, with the Safari emblem on the jacket pocket.  Opposite the entrance each truck has a pair of filing cabinets topped with a desk, used on one vehicle as a film editing bench and in the other as a typing desk.  Beneath the desks there is sufficient room to pack three folding canvas chairs, still cameras, ammunitions, flashlights and thermos flasks.  Add to the scene a book shelf, machetes, two 16mm movie cameras and tripods, mosquito nets, battery chargers, radio station and sundry other effects, and one realizes the importance of the old cliché- “a place for everything and everything in its place.”

            Before life in the trucks settled into a routine, the insides had the look of a pawnbroker’s shop after a bumper week, but after a short time it became a matter of pride for each truck to outdo the other in keeping the interiors immaculate.

            The more bulky equipment such as spares, tools, tents, sandtracks and crowbars, were strapped into the roof rack while the heavy front fender unit was used to carry spare springs and a large vise.

            After the vehicles reached the stage of near-completion, Derek was faced with a second, perhaps more difficult task in selection of crew.

            Each man had to fulfill a specific assignment and be fit, adaptable and, above all, a ‘right guy.’  After many disappointments, he finally gathered the crew of six.  The key post of movie cameraman was filled by 28-year-old Canadian Ken (Bwana) Peebles from Toronto.  Ken is no stranger to travel for he spent several years working in Australian television.  During his wanderings down under and in the Far East, Ken collected a weird and wonderful array of recipes and he adds the job of cook to his professional skill.

            Working in close with Ken is Australian Tony McMullun, another ex-TV man, who handles the sound camera work.  At 21 Tony is the baby of the group, but not in inches.  Six feet, four, he towers above Ken and they have earned the title of “The long and short of it.”

            The task of nursemaid to the vehicles falls to Englishman Alan Pittman.  Alan is an articled engineer and he served with the Royal Engineers after finishing a five-year apprenticeship with a large string of garages.  His background makes him ideally suited to this kind of venture, having given him a through knowledge of vehicular maintenance and repair “in the fields.”

            Aiding and abetting Alan, is another Aussie, Geoff Lackner.  Geoff’s main function is to ensure that all supplies are ordered and collected on time, but his duties as quartermaster cannot keep him away from the trucks whenever there is an opportunity for him to help.

            The rewarding job of committing the lives and laughs of the party to paper is mine, and such jobs as armorer, still photographer, radio-man and press officer are shared among separate members of the crew.  The driving is worked on a shift basis and we take turns with the laundry.

            So there you have it: six 20th century nomads, making adventure pay.  So far we have completed a crossing of Africa and Europe and soon we shall be tackling the toughest stretch of jungle in the world – the Darian Gap in Central America.  This 200 mile expanse has only once been crossed on wheels and should provide some interesting stories.  From there, we head down the Western seaboard to Tierra del Fuego and then up to Rio.

            If this stage of the journey affords us the thrills that we found in the Ngorongoro crater of the Nubian Dessert of Death, then we shall count ourselves well satisfied!