Monday, 15 April 2013

David Beak's Story

I remember when I first met David Beak I was sweeping the floor in my father’s workshop in Orroroo. It was after school and this sharply dressed young man driving a Mk Three Zephyr was extolling the virtues of carrying at least one new tractor in stock. Not being privy to the negotiations, I do remember tractors arriving and going to farms but not in the same numbers as the Chamberlains from my uncle’s business down the street.
David was polite and did his best to enthuse my somewhat cautious father to make more sales. For him it was a tough gig but he persevered with us and Fordsons waved a blue flag among the sea of orange spreading through the district.
 Our paths would cross many times in the future. David has taught many machinery reps the value of perseverance and hard work during tough times. An ally of small and large dealers while remaining a loyal company man is a difficult task but one he managed admirably.

Here is David's story:


Born 1940 in Birkdale, 21 Kms from Brisbane, I grew up in the Brisbane “Salad Bowl” small crop farming area, working on farms for pocket money.  Life was one great fun time. I wanted to be a RAAF fighter pilot, but this was scuttled after being told I was hopeless at maths.

By default, I then attended Gatton Agricultural College 1956-58 doing an Ag.Diploma.  It was during 1958 my future was locked and loaded, travel being the objective. 

A Ford Motor Company demo team of five guys, two semis, two tractors and implements and, a pink, blue and white Customline sedan visited the college.  This was the Australia wide travel job for me!  The demo team- Harvey Coombe, Les Glover, Les Graham, Peter Neuman and boss Frank Carr – painted a glowing account of the Australia-wide, all expenses paid job.   Sadly, the demo team did not operate the following year, however, in 1961 Ford were again hiring demonstrators.  At that time I worked for the Bureau of Sugar Experiment Station in Mackay where I started on a salary of nine hundred and sixty nine pounds per annum and paid ten pounds per week board.  I quickly utilized the inside running, viz. Ford tractor boss, Norm Logie, grew up opposite my grandparents in Greenslopes, so meetings were quickly arranged and I won one of the five positions being offered.  After six months with trainer, Lindsay Lamb, at a farm near Geelong, we five demonstrators could make Fordson Dexta and Major tractors virtually talk.  After that my travel involved all Queensland, central and southern New South Wales and western Victoria.

I then did an administrative stint at Broadmeadows plant, then Shell House in Melbourne, under Luke Lazarides, until mid 1962.  At that point each demonstrator was issued with an F250 truck, low loader trailer, Dexta tractor and several implements, to allow mobile on-farm demos.  My post was to South Australia to conduct demos over the following twelve months.

Then I was appointed Admin Assistant to John Blyth at the old Largs Bay plant and subsequently King William Street office in Adelaide.  Living in Area Manager Robyn Sexton’s half built house, nick named “Afghan Flat,” was an experience and a half.

In 1964 I was promoted to S.A. Product Trainer and launched (red-faced) the Ford 6000 (or Greyhound as it was called because it had no guts!).  Talk about being flogged by Chamberlain Countryman!!!  Other introductions were the Ford USA hay range and Horwood Bagshaw sourced “Blue Line” broad acre implements.  I was instructed to tell Gordon Abbott of Streaky Bay to choose – John Shearer or the Ford/Blue Line franchise.  Gordon’s instant reply was “Shearer” needless to say we capitulated.

1967 saw me transferred to north Queensland, replacing the Area Manager who was terminated for holding numerous champagne parties and bouncing cheques on a regular basis.  Lionel List was a tough but good boss and rode me mercilessly to sell Ford 2000 offset tractors (at twice a competitive price).  When the price was cut in almost half, Mareeba salesman, Neil Harry, and I sold fourteen of them to Italian tobacco farmers in two weeks.  We were almost drunk daily due to “drinking to the trac” with the new owners.

North Queensland was great but short lived with a transfer to Brisbane in 1968.  It was then that I earned the dubious title “the Red Line Rep” due to having to catch tourist buses on territory as a result of a one month licence loss for a traffic infringement.

 In late 1971, shortly after the loss of my father, I was promoted to Head Office in Melbourne as second in charge to Bruce “Jowls” Taylor in the market rep area that involved dealer placement and upgrading activities Australia wide.

1974 saw me back with John Blyth on advertising, and I enjoyed busting the myth that those who appeared in product brochures left Ford.  I appeared in every 7A Range tractor catalogue and on a worldwide Ford Tractor calendar.

In 1976, I was promoted to Market Rep and Business Management Manager.  I recall having one assigned and one leased vehicle and eating in the inner sanctum dining room with the Ford Australia elite as a career high point.  One function of this job was Director Secretary of the only Ford Tractor Dealer Development Dealer at Dandenong.  This involved an annual financial audit as per Ford Australia requirements.  In 1978 Ford, on my recommendation, sold Dandenong to operator Geoff Thacker at an agreed discounted price to enable the dealership to compete better financially.  The dealership prospered.

In 1980 there was a promotion to Southern District Sales Manager, and I stayed in this role until 1984 when the higher grade marketing manager position became available.   I applied for this job but missed out and decided that was the end of promotion opportunities so I accepted a job as Sales Manager with the Geoff Fowler/Russell Skerman Brisbane-based Ford tractor dealership, Agquip Metro.  For the 1985-year we won the top dealer sales for Australia.

I was then promoted to Agquip Metro General Manager in 1986 but that did not work out, so I went on the labour market that year.  I then spent 8 months managing the Dwyer Group Mackay Branch and in the tough year of 1986/87 brought the branch from a loss into profit before returning to Brisbane.

Then I wrote to over 20 agricultural companies applying for a job.  Only 3 replied and Massey Ferguson Australia offered me a job as Branch Manager starting in July 1987.   Unfortunately, due to industry problems (drought etc), and AGCO operating policies, the job was gradually down graded to what would become area manager, so I took redundancy in November 2002 and have lived the good life of retirement and overseas travel with my wife Pam since then.  That included 7 years part-time with Rob Wruck at North Pine Motors in Petrie doing the advertising.

In all the 41 years in the business I consider the Fendt Vario range of tractors, acquired by ACGO in 2001, to be an amazing advance in technology, providing huge forward steps in efficiency and quality engineering.  Pat Baird and I launched the 960 Vario model throughout north Queensland doing 50 kph demos throughout from Cairns to Mackay.  I’ll never forget the look on the faces of the farmers we took as passengers, when I told them I was going to change into reverse direction at 50kph with a flick of the joystick. North Queensland dry cleaners must have made a fortune during the programme.

The Australian travel afforded by both Ford and M.F. was worth hundreds of thousands of dollars and provided an untold variety of farm and business contacts.

Every one of the companies I have worked for involved good times, great staff and some amazing characters and their activities.  I consider I could not have run a more satisfying race.  If there was a downside to the travel it was time away from home, so the support of a great family made it all possible.

There will always be an Ag Machinery industry, but I feel the types and numbers of opportunities will sadly diminish in Australia as time goes by.  However, top men will hold top jobs as usual.

Finally, an interesting statistic, in almost 24 years as a Ford Australia employee, I had 53 assigned vehicles and 11 leased vehicles – total 64.  The models and number plates of all 64 vehicles are recorded for posterity


  1. Hi,i worked at Dandenong Ford Tractors ,bennet st,in the late 80s early 90s.Geoff Thacker was my boss and a very nice guy to boot.Unfortunately Geoff was too nice and trusting and at tax time in 1990 Geoff found out that his book-keeper\secretary had neglected to pay any taxes due for the last couple of years.Dandenong Ford Tractors was placed into recievership(u r right the business was prospering)but unfortunately the tax and fines associated were over a million dollars(huge for a small business back then) and we all lost our jobs.Poor Geoff who should have been retired ended up having to go back into the workforce in his 70,s.Very sad story as he really was a gentleman.It was good to see his lifes work mentioned in your post it brought back some really good memories,cheers Mark Savage

  2. Hi, I started work at Dandenong Ford Tractors in 1980 as a 15 year old office junior, I was there for 5 years, worked with some great guys, found Mr Thacker very intimidating and the bookkeeper who came in once a week or fortnight to do pays was a disgusting person, she would sit opposite me chain smoking all day. I was one of the first people that I know of to work on computers there in the early 80's, I learnt a lot in that job and always wondered what happened to it, not surprised about the bookkeeper, she didn't seem to bright then and I was only 15. Fond memories of Keith Waterhouse, spare parts manager