Talented, dedicated and ambitious, Arrigo (Danny) D’Angelo reflects on more than 60 years of improvising, engineering and surviving in Australia.
When Danny D’Angelo arrived in Australia – via ship from Italy – in 1955 he was desperately searching for work. Most of the factories at the time were closed over the Christmas period but that didn’t deter him from visiting automotive and truck workshops all over Victoria to secure a paid job.
The routine to seek employment was tedious, according to Danny, and would be a recurring fact of life for the following two years as he meandered from Geelong to Melbourne. His trade Italy involved working with brakes, cutting metal and welding.
Instead of being offered technical workshop work upfront, Danny was tasked with more menial roles such as cleaning of office facilities with a bucket, rag and mop. He did this for about four months before moving onto more relevant work such as painting maritime vessels and working with an industrial chemical firm in Geelong.
While these positions paid well, the roles were often short-lived, according to Danny. The chemical job, for instance, was good for a solid six months but then he was again looking for more work again. This led him to building silo tanks to store wheat – his first foray into the Australian bush.
Through word-of-mouth Danny soon found a new opportunity in freight, hearing stories from farmhands and drivers about making a little coin at the markets. By the 1960s Danny started a family and pooled enough resources to purchase his own truck.
Within a month of operating the vehicle, a drunk driver ‘turned his truck into a pizza’. Danny sold what was left for scrap as back in those days insurance would not cover the damages and committed to restoring the written-off ride.
Despite Danny’s eventually looked for more factory work which evolved into ongoing semi-trailer manufacturing and repairs.
The workload for one man, eventually, became too physically demanding. Even when he expanded his operations to hire additional labourers to tackle the work, other challenges cropped up from quality assurance to tools going missing. Rather than continue to accept ambitious projects that would see him toil for days on end, Danny focused his technical skill on component innovation.
A Victorian trailer manufacturer, McGrath’s, consulted with Danny on a trailer design. Danny’s custom couplings and bushes demonstrated the advantages of using lighter-weight componentry instead of relying on heavier imported options. Closing the deal, one thousand units later, Danny concentrated his efforts on a variety of other components including fifth wheels, ballrace assemblies, Ringfeder cross members, landing legs, slewing bearings, skid plates and truck and trailer accessories.
On the back of these engineering breakthroughs, Danny opened his family business, D’Angelo Engineering, in 1968. As of May 2003, the business found a new home in Laverton North, Melbourne.
Over the years, Danny has been instrumental in fifth wheel developments including a Patented 12” greasy plate assembly as well as other designs that are rated for B-double and road train applications. Danny was also instrumental when asked to design and build components for York, Holland, JOST and others around the world as he is known for being an inventor of fifth wheel assemblies, and components.
“At the end of the day, making a product is good,” Danny says. “But if you do your work properly then your customer will never run away.
In the 1980s, Danny helped a dear friend, Bob Cousins, when he introduced York to Australia. Bob helped Danny as much as Danny helped Bob. They are still today best friends.
Made possible by Smedley’s Engineers. Industry Icon is a series dedicated to honouring the unsung heroes of the commercial road transport industry.