Farewell to truck show icon Ian Lee and 'Princess Diana'
ANYONE who has been to a truck show in Victoria - and probably beyond - would at some stage have stopped and admired the classic that is 'Princess Diana'.
This magical reincarnation of a Diamond T 950 belonged to Ian Lee, who sadly passed away suddenly on August 13, aged 84.
As Ian said of himself: "My life has been extremes of ups and downs, often inventing solutions and improvising, fixing, operating and taking on challenges beyond my own capabilities".
He was, in fact, more than capable of any undertaking.
Ian's lack of a formal education possibly worked in his favour as no one ever taught him about limitations of man or the mind.
Born on January 10, 1935 in Castlemaine, Ian spent the first six years of his life on a farm. In 1941 the family moved from the farm to Campbells Creek, near Castlemaine, and later into Castlemaine itself into a "modern" house that had electricity and an inside bathroom. This was deluxe living to a young Ian.
As a youngster he spent his days roaming, exploring and learning to fend for himself, which stood him in good stead throughout his long and varied life.
Ian's first ride in a truck was Tom Taylor's red Diamond T and that was the start of Ian's love with trucks - especially that marque.
"One day," he told himself, "I'm having one of those".
He started at Castlemaine Tech in 1947 but left two years later at the age of 14. His struggle with school was something he was embarrassed about for many years.
His English and writing skills were quite poor. He couldn't spell his middle name, Joseph, at the time and used to tell people he didn't have a middle name to hide this fact.
This is amazing for a man who was so successful and erudite in his writings in later life.
He did not let this hold him back though. Persistence and hard work made him a very successful man in so many ways.
He started driving his father's Bedford truck in the bush and down the back roads at the age of 15.
When he got his licence the local policeman, who happened to live opposite the family, looked at him in shock.
"You've been driving for years." Ian obviously looked older to that copper.
Starting work full-time at the age of 14, Ian did many jobs. Plastering for three years was followed by another three in plumbing.
At 20 he went looking for more adventure, so he got a job driving trucks and dozers in construction.
Over the next six years he worked on many projects in Victoria, NSW and Queens- land and drove all types of earthmoving equipment, becoming extremely skilled in this area.
In 1959 he started driving trucks interstate, which was paying £10 less than the earthmoving jobs but it was a new adventure. His first gig was driving a Diamond T 531 to Sydney.
Deciding to go out on his own, he purchased his own tip truck, an Inter R180. This truck was a lemon and he swore it would be his last.
Over the next two years he replaced almost every part, as well as the cabin, tipper body and the petrol motor (with a Perkins 6.354 diesel).
In 1968 he bought a backhoe - the first in Castlemaine - and started a small excavation business.
Two years later he began a completely new adventure - Ready Mix Concrete at Tilden near Kyneton.
The project, as with many of Ian's undertakings, was done on a shoestring budget.
Over the years he expanded the business to four concrete plants in the local district, which were all very successful, proving that hard work paid off.
In 1988 he sold the plants to Boral and Pioneer to allowfor the expansion of his new business, Tilden Equipment.
This was an engineering business manufacturing concrete plants, mixers and silos. It grew and became very successful.
In 2002 he sold the business to two of his senior staff members. Ian had other plans.
At the age of 67, when most men retire, Ian went into the truck restoration business.
It started out as a hobby when in 2000 Ian heard about the Alice Springs Truck Show. He decided to restore a Mack B 61 to drive there. The quality of the restoration was outstanding and the business Tilden Heritage was born.
Over the next 18 years Tilden Heritage restored more than 20 trucks to an incredibly high standard and Ian's business gained a reputation as one of the best in the country.
He also started collecting items of historic interest, especially oil and garage memorabilia, small military items, Furphy water trucks and items relating to Mack and Diamond T trucks.
He loved attending truck shows, rallies around the country and would often drive long distances to attend them, usually in 'Princess Diana', his startling Diamond T950 with its custom-designed (by Ian, of course) expandable sleeper cab on the back.
He would spend many nights on the side of the road happy as a sandpiper.
Ian's last big project was Mack Jr (in red, of course), a ute replica of a B-model, based on Toyota LandCruiser running gear.
This "toy" has to be seen to be believed, such is the outstanding quality of the workmanship.
Ian's superb Mack LTL was another frequent attendee at truck shows.
He was well known for his quips, including "if it's not red, leave it in the shed", "do it once, do it well, build a better Australia", "all roads lead to Kyneton" and, of course, "God save the Queen".
"If you do something youlove, you never work a day in your life," Ian often said.
Ian Lee continued working full-time until his last day.
He was a character whose legend with those who knew him will live on forever.
Rest in peace.