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Book details epic journey

Benalla's Vernon Train took on a trip around Australia to test a motorcycle chain in the 1950s.

ANGELA TOWNSEND December 12, 2012 4:59am

Benalla's Vernon Train with the book on his trip around Australia on a motorcycle in the 1950s.


When two strangers set off to ride motorcycles around Australia in 1953 as part of operation ‘TransMatilda’ they never would have imagined the lifetime friendship they would form — or that they would become brothers-in-law.

It all started when engineer Vernon Train accepted the mission to test the ‘Transmar’ motorcycle chain manufactured by his employer, Benalla-based Renold Chains.

A second rider, Mike Lockyer, joined the ride to verify claims the company hoped to make about the strength and longevity of the chain.

Now these riders are the subject of a newly published book, Operation Transmatilda, which captures the pair’s exploits as they travelled around the country.

Vernon moved to Benalla from Adelaide in 1950 to start work at Renold Chains on Tatong Rd. It was there he met his future wife Rae (nee Banfield) whom he married in May 1952.

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Benalla's Vernon Train travelled around Australia by motorcycle in 1953 to test a chain for a Benalla manufacturer.

The following year the keen motorcyclist took on the challenge of testing the chain on the basic roads of 1950s Australia on a Triumph.

‘‘Being selected was one of the highlights of my life,’’ Vernon said.

‘‘It was a wonderful experience to see Australia in the early ’50s when there were virtually no roads — only tracks.

‘‘We saw very little traffic in 11000 miles.’’

The chain withstood the elements, although needed some TLC every 1000 miles when it was taken off and cleaned, ready for the next part of the adventure.

The epic 10-week journey started on September 1, 1953. Dubbed a ‘secret operation’, the motorcyclists were sworn to secrecy on their journey — perhaps because the company wanted to ensure the chain lasted the distance.

A big celebration was held at the factory on the day they arrived back in Benalla, with a special function held at the landmark Menzies Hotel in Melbourne (destroyed in 1969) the following week. Both men were presented with gold watches from Renold Chains and Vernon has worn his for the past 59 years.

The motorcycles were displayed on stands at the hotel and Vernon is sad to say he never saw his bike again.

‘‘It took me a long time to settle down at work again after that,’’ he said.

‘‘It was an incredible experience — every day was a different day.’’

Vernon remained a keen motorcyclist until the early 1970s. He headed back to his home city of Adelaide in 1956 but returned to Renold Chains in Benalla four years later, where he remained until 1970. He then worked at Hairs Engineering before setting up his own engineering business in the 1980s which mainly revolved around building towers for racing clubs. He did this from Townsville to Kyneton before retiring at the age of 74. Now 86, Vernon is postitive about life, despite Rae having passed away about three years ago.

‘‘I still enjoy life in Benalla,’’ he said.

Copies of his book, Operation Transmatilda, are available from Vernon for $25. Contact the Ensign for details.

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