Tom Prior with his old favourite workhorse, a 1946 V8 Super Deluxe coupe ute.
Tom Prior with his old favourite workhorse, a 1946 V8 Super Deluxe coupe ute. Nancy Bates

Chillagoe has much to offer but true gem is Old Tom

OLD Tom reckons you could hold a dance in the back of his 1940s brown Ford Pilot sedan with rope passenger straps.

It sits opposite a gleaming red and white 1965 Shelby Mustang in the open garage behind his two BP bowsers down a side street in Chillagoe.

Gleaming around is a Ford fanciers' paradise of about 30 pristine cars and trucks, from a Model A to a bubble-wrapped red-trimmed white 1970 XW Ford Falcon GT 351c, built in Australia.

Old Tom is one of the gems of Chillagoe, a cute town with a famous rodeo, a music festival, three cave tours, a balancing rock and a marble industry that has its ups and downs.

It sits at the end of the Wheelbarrow Way.

In May every year people race wheelbarrows along the 140km between Chillagoe and Mareeba, most of which is sealed. This year more than $460,000 was raised for charity.

Thirty-tonne blocks of marble are scattered around the landscape.

A comprehensive information centre at The Hub portrays the town's colourful history but the town's priceless asset is Old Tom Prior.

Tom, 75, was the general carrier for Chillagoe from 1957 until five or six years ago.

His old favourite workhorse, a 1946 V8 Super Deluxe coupe ute, has pride of place in his collection of preserved Fords.

Signs of Tom's life-long love affair with Fords are everywhere. He swears Fords were the only vehicle worth having out west.

If it wasn't for bitumen, no other brand would be made these days.

He pats a 1958 green 18cwt Freighter.

"You'd drive around Australia in this in top gear," Tom said.

"In the next couple of years I'm going to drive it around Australia."

We'll see you on the track, Tom.

Retired Chronicle editor Nancy Bates, who is travelling with husband Tony in Isabel the Global Warrior, is reporting from the trail of the grey nomads.