Road trip: picking up vintage trucks in Canterbury (part 2)

By: Lyndsay Whittle

The mission was to go to Albury, a small town about an hour and a half south of Ashburton and collect a couple of 1960s FG Austin/Morris trucks then bring them back to Auckland.

As told in part one of the story, in last month's issue, I'd acquired the trucks through the internet, and had set off last August to recover these two masterpieces [masterpieces?! – Ed], of British engineering from the deep south.

Colin Dunn of Rainbow Haulage fame had kindly loaned me his eight-wheel transporter and had provided me with enough fuel to see me through the 2700-kilometre round trip, and I was to follow the schedule below.

Recap from day 2

I had originally intended to drive through the outskirts of Christchurch to somewhere near Ashburton and stay the night there. I'd figured this would set me up nicely for an early arrival in Albury on day three, giving me ample time to load the trucks before setting off up the South Island towards Picton.

However, I acted on what turned out to be duff advice from my so-called friend Ian Hambly who told me it would be far quicker to take SH72 through Darfield and stay the night at Methven. It turned out to be more suitable for Hambly's motorcycle than a truck, not to mention having to drive the majority of the run in the worst storm I think I've ever encountered. There was also a feeling that the clutch was either slipping, or losing traction on the icy roads.

I did eventually catch up with my old friends Gary and Linda Baker, who own Methven Motels and found a fantastically comfortable bed to sleep in.

Day 3

Arising early the next morning (Tuesday), I found that the truck had leaked some diesel onto the motel courtyard. The road I'd travelled during the storm was littered with debris, something of which must have holed the tank.

After apologising for messing up the courtyard, I set off in the direction of Albury, hoping I'd find somewhere to get a patch put on the fuel tank.

I didn't, however, come across a workshop along the way. The good news was that I couldn't find any evidence of a slipping clutch and concluded that my mind must have been playing tricks on me the previous night.

The weather had improved immensely and I had quite a pleasant two-hour and ten-minute drive to Albury, parking my truck up alongside my recent purchases at 11.45am.

Roadtrip 2_2

The crack in the tank was only visible by a small amount of diesel oozing from it, so I got a cut-down 20-litre jerry to collect any spilt fuel while I was loading the old trucks.

I'd allowed myself two hours for loading and securing the load, but the whole effort including a meal break took closer to four hours.

I always knew both trucks were never going to fit on one directly behind the other, but I had hoped that by staggering them on the deck by placing the front-on and backing the second truck up to it, I could overlap the chassis rails and fit them on that way.

However, I hadn't accounted for the fact that one of the trucks had a welded-on spare tyre carrier, making staggering the load impossible.

I searched to find a way to blame my advisor Hambly for the oversight but eventually came to the conclusion that the blame for this particular cock-up rested well and truly on my own shoulders.

The first truck, the bigger of the two went on literally in about ten minutes, even though the transporter wasn't fitted with a winch and neither truck was drivable.

However, it was the smaller FGK 30 that proved to be a problem as it had to piggyback on the front truck, so a bit of deft handling of a forklift with a side shift saw the job eventually completed.

Looking back, the longest part of the loading process was securing a whole heap of loose panels and chaining the load, which wasn't made any easier because of tyres on the old trucks hadn't been within a bull's roar of a tyre pump since Adam was a cowboy.

Checking the container under the fuel tank revealed that only a litre of fuel had escaped in nearly four hours, so I figured a bit of soap in the hole which was still only visible from the oozing diesel should do the trick – for the meantime anyway.

After taking some shots on the now loaded transporter I was on my way on the second half of the road trip back home to Auckland.

This time, however, I elected to take the SH1 route through Ashburton and get myself as far north as I could by nightfall.

Roadtrip 2_1

I arrived at Amberley about 50km north of Christchurch at 7.45pm, just in time for a tasty dinner at a Thai restaurant that had opened that very day. Afterwards I promptly booked myself in to the newest room the Delhaven Motel had to offer and fell asleep the moment I climbed into bed.

Day 4

I was up early the next morning (Wednesday) and was ready to face day four of the adventure, still concerned about the leaking fuel tank, under which I'd placed the cut-down container, you see I wasn't sure how well my soap patch was working.

The action had a twofold purpose as it would collect any spilt fuel, thus protecting the environment while at the same time giving me an indication of how much fuel was being lost.

What had damaged the fuel tank during the previous night's storm, I guess I'll never know but the hit must have been a beauty as it had also rendered the fuel gauge unserviceable, adding to the excitement of the journey.

While carrying out my 360-degree morning check I was pleased to see that both the vintage trucks were travelling well and no extra tension was needed on the chain. I was a little confused, however, when it came to checking the contents of the container under the fuel tank – it was empty!

Had the soap patch worked that well (surely not) or was there some other less palatable reason for the clean container?

Further checking revealed that in the darkness of the previous night I hadn't placed the container directly under the leak and any fuel that had leaked out overnight had soaked into the grass underneath.

With the fuel gauge now not operating I had absolutely no idea of how much fuel I had left in the tank. Normally this wouldn't have been a problem, as I could have topped up with fuel along the way until I could find a workshop capable of making a better patch.

I knew I'd never get on the Bluebridge ferry with even the slightest leak and had resigned myself to having the tank repaired upon arriving in Blenheim later that day.

I had booked a place on the 8am sailing for Thursday 14 August as I needed to drive from Wellington to Palmerston North in the evening, in order to make an early appointment the following morning to cover a different story before heading back up to Auckland.

As one might imagine, my schedule was going to be tight and by now I was becoming a little tense about how things were going to pan out.

I found a stick on the ground and dipped the tank – the action revealed that I still had a third of a tank of fuel left, so I carried on with my morning check and headed off in the direction of Kaikoura.

Roadtrip 2_4

Not wanting to overload the tank with diesel I elected to make a series of stops along the way to dip the tank with my new-found stick fuel gauge, bearing in mind that I had all those tunnels along the Kaikoura coast to negotiate.

Pretty soon my hyperactive imagination was in overdrive and I found myself imagining myself in a truck that had just run out of fuel, stuck halfway in a tunnel and blocking the only route north and south for several hours.

Of course that never did happen, as I made a couple of stops along the way to top up with as little diesel as I thought I could get away with.

On one of my stops to bung the hole up with some more soap revealed that the leak was getting worse but I was aware that I needed to get some photos of the old trucks travelling through some of that beautiful South Island scenery.

So as I arrived in Kaikoura I found a side street that would provide a scenic vista. it took a bit of tight manoeuvring getting out of the street and onto the main road again but at least I got several suitable shots.
I arrived at the Riverlands Roadhouse truck stop just south of Blenheim at 2.30pm to have my break and to check up on how the fuel tank was holding out.

The Ed had asked me to cover a story on Riverlands Roadhouse as part of the road trip, so thinking that I had a bit of time up my sleeve I thought I'd catch up with Chris Wagner, the owner.

In the course of talking to Chris about his roadhouse operation I mentioned my fuel leakage problem and he said he'd take a look at it, as he'd spent some considerable time in the past in the marine industry repairing leaks under water.

He didn't think it should be too much problem to fix, given my description of the size of the leak, so we immediately set off in the direction of where the truck was parked, only to be greeted with a huge puddle of diesel.

In the half hour I'd spent talking to Chris, the diesel had filled the cut-down 20-litre container and was starting to flow over the top.

Any hopes I'd had of making it onto the Cook Strait ferry in the morning were vanishing before my very eyes.

To be continued...

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