February 1990



By - Cliff Robinson


As noted last month, a little operation has been going on. Drover VH-FDS suffered a landing accident on Trefoil Island off Northern Tasmania, wiping off the undercarriage. Subsequently written off, it was moved to a park at Smithton on the north coast where, after years of neglect, it was acquired by Mr Robbie Kirkhope, out of a love of things mechanical, and transported to his property. This action saved the airframe so that it could be "discovered" by Mark Clayton (Curator of the Port Arthur Historic Site) when researching its fate. Acquired by Mark, he offered to donate it to QAM as he decided we were the most likely group to do something satisfactory with it. As the aircraft was dismantled, it posed only a small problem to move (!)

I was able to arrange by phone from Brisbane to have a 40 foot open top container transported to site and return for onforwarding by ship and train to Brisbane, while Robbie Kirkhope arranged local crane hire. With the helpful provision by Ansett of free travel (plus 50 kgs of excess baggage - a 5 foot spreader bar makes the airport staff take notice!) I set off on the morning of Saturday 17 February to arrive Launceston in the rain at about 4.30 p.m. to be met by Mark Clayton (after about 3 hours in Melbourne). I soon found accommodation in an ancient hotel and arranged inspection of the site for next morning.

The site was some 40km south-west of Launceston beyond Deddington. This metropolis boasts 2 signs about 1km apart reading "Town Reserve of Deddington", one occupied house, one former store/post office used as a wood-turning workshop by the occupant of the house, one occasionally occupied dilapidated house, and a chapel "used 18 months ago for a wedding". A quick visit to the site revealed that Robbie had made preparations for the move. All small loose parts had been put inside the fuselage, one wing moved and a trench dug to back the semi into for loading. Rush back to Launceston so Mark can make an appointment in Hobart at 3.00 p.m. What do I do in Launceston on a Sunday afternoon in the rain? Walk of course! And you thought Brisbane died! Visited Maritime Museum - only thing open. Also rang various car hire firms. Found a rent-a-ute but no answer anywhere else. Wonder why?

Monday - up early - have to get a move on. Pick up ute, visit tyre place to pick up 20 old tyres for packing, also some extra rope. Off to Deddington and on to property. Whoops! Took a wrong turn there, another 10 km I didn't need. This old ute doesn't like dirt roads. Right place this time. Unload the tyres and slings. Bit of shoving of slings and one wing rigged is ready for lifting. Fence down for semi entry. Now the arrangements are. Truck with container to be at Deddington by 12.00 p.m. to be led to property. Likewise the Tasmanian Division of QAM to be there at the same time. Remember those two who helped us in Sentosa when we needed it? Well, Dave Nelan and Phil Pyke rose to the challenge again - they must be mad! Crane due at 1.30 p.m. So back to Deddington to be shepherd for the truck. 12.00 p.m. boys from Hobart arrive. 12.30 p.m. No truck - panic - can't have crane standing about - phone to stop crane in Evandale - 20km away. Off I go leaving boys looking at each other. Evandale - phone Devonport three times (phone will only accept 30 cents at a time). Truck will be 3 hours late. Forklift got bogged trying to pick up container! Too late to stop crane - he's almost there. I'll go and rescue driver, maybe he can make better use of his time back here. Back to Deddington. Boys go off to get some lunch. Crane driver decides he might as well go on to site. Back to property, establish crane in position, trial lift wing, correct sling position, get borrowed slings under fuselage. Snakes! Do you have them here? To think I had my arm under that thing while it was sitting on the ground! Ugh! Back to Deddington. Whoopee - a truck and the boys! Back to site. Truck in position. Frenetic activity. One wing into container. No it won't sit on drum - too high - poking out top of container. Down onto tyre. Fuselage in. Next wing in - bit of a squeeze. Lash down. Emu parade for odd bits. All done in one hour flat. Farewell boys, crane and arrange with truck driver to park trailer outside port area at Bell Bay so I can go tomorrow to try to remove fairings on wings that are over-height for container - can't afford the extra freight. Good-bye to Robbie - be glad to sleep tonight. De-hire the ute.

Tuesday a.m. Can't hire a car for love nor money. Apparently they sold off the bulk of the fleets during the pilots dispute. Oh well - back to the ute again. Fifty km to Bell Bay - north this time. Mountain climb into container on back of truck. Now to reach that fairing poking out the top. Climb up on tyre and we can just reach, not see. Sockets won't fit bolts. Get them off with a shifter with a screwdriver through the handle. Can't shift the rusted screws even with an impact driver - nothing to hit against. Saw through six inches of fishplate with a pad saw horizontally above head.. That still leaves two inches of the last rib standing proud. Nothing for it - saw the webs - fold the piece down - we can repair that. Last check of packing - add another strap - all done. On ship on Thursday - due Brisbane Monday by rail, truckies permitting.So a few days off to visit the boys in Hobart and Mark in Port Arthur and back home on Saturday evening where it is not just raining - it is pouring!

Sure enough - on Monday the container has arrived so we arrange for delivery to Caloundra on Wednesday. To finish the job properly, this time the truck is on time but the crane is 45 minutes late. Never mind. With the Caloundra troops, all is unloaded quickly and despite the preceding downpours, the Drover is inside the compound. So what have we got? Not a complete airframe, not a finished product, but more than we had before, the basis for the rebuild of both aircraft and in fact we now possess 10% of the total production of this significant Australian aircraft. Our thanks to all who made this possible.