Brian Umpherston was born in Mount Gambier, South Australia, and left school at the age of 13 to work on the family farm at Yahl just out of town.
In addition to milking cows and general farm work, Brian worked for other farmers making and carting hay, fencing and harvesting potatoes.
After completing an apprenticeship as a fitter and turner at Motor Traders’ engine reconditioning workshop in Mount Gambier, he gained a second trade as a motor mechanic at Haig Motors, the local Ford car, truck and tractor agent.
In 1963, Brian accepted a three-month work opportunity with General Motors-Holden (GMH) car and truck dealer O.G. Roberts (OGR) in Mount Gambier.
The three-month stint ended up lasting 15 years, with Brian taking on the Service Manager’s role after about two years.
In the mid-1960s Brian completed an international correspondence course on high-speed diesel engines.
In the late ‘60s GMH introduced a ‘Big Truck’ cab-over Bedford range which quickly proved unsuitable for Australian operating conditions.
To resolve the issues Brian and the team at OGR arranged the retrofitting of Detroit Diesel 6V53 engines and 75-gallon fuel tanks. After seeing the successful outcome, GMH made these modifications to all its stock trucks and badged them Bedford KMR XT5. The distinctive twin headlight and twin bumper front set it apart from the standard TK Bedford.
On top of his workload during the week, Brian built stock crates and trays for OGR starting Friday night and finishing Sunday night. He worked on anything and everything including engines in cray fishing boats at Port McDonnell.
He was appointed General Manager of OGR in the mid-‘70s when White truck sales were increasing but became disillusioned with the management structure and some of the decisions being made and resigned from the company in 1978. Later that year Brian and former OGR Sales Manager Dennis Dobie jointly founded Wakefield Trucks as a non-franchise heavy truck repair business. Located on Port Wakefield Road in the northern Adelaide suburb of Burton, the company soon became an agent for International Harvester (IH) trucks and farm machinery and also assumed unofficial support for White trucks.
Wakefield Trucks became a Western Star dealer in 1992, adding MAN in 2000 and later Dennis Eagle.
Brian has always been a quiet achiever, setting the standard with his hard-working hands and iron-clad work ethic.
He never accepted that something couldn’t be done; instead, he would design, engineer and build things that a lot of others thought were simply too hard.
From a handful of people starting in a small tin shed to what it is today, Brian’s Wakefield Trucks, just like the man himself, has earnt a solid reputation for setting a high standard across all areas of
Made possible by Smedley’s Engineers. Industry Icon is a series dedicated to honouring the unsung heroes of the commercial road transport industry.