The Tin Hut

By: Vivienne Haldane

The Tin Hut The Tin Hut
The Tin Hut The Tin Hut
The Tin Hut The Tin Hut
The Tin Hut The Tin Hut
The Tin Hut The Tin Hut
The Tin Hut The Tin Hut
The Tin Hut The Tin Hut

Paul Gleeson restored a truck to celebrate a milestone in the family trucking business, but it didn’t stop there… introducing “The Tin Hut”.

That was in 1981, and it was a Chevrolet truck just the same as Gleeson’s father—the first truck Eric bought when he began Eric Gleeson General Carrier in Pahiatua in 1932.
He has done up a few trucks and lost count of the number. There are three big corrugated iron sheds full of them, hence the name the Tin Shed or should it be, sheds.

All the gear is in working order and gets taken out for a run at least once a year.

The Tin Shed is situated along State High 2 at Mangatainoka, best known for the Tui Brewery established in 1889 but now redeveloped as a boutique brewery.

Paul refers to his love of restoring vintage machinery—trucks, buses, fire engines, bulldozers, and tractors—‘the disease.’ He enjoyed doing up that first truck so much he bought another, then another, and it is still going strong. He has lost the sight in one eye so he sticks to vehicles he knows the mechanical side of well—"I know the Bedford’s from A–Z"—and employs a spray painter to do the finishing work.

Paul originally trained as a mechanic and along with his brother Maurice, who is also a mechanic, he started his trucking business in 1969.

It wasn’t a popular decision, though. "It was my job to tell the old man we’d bought our own trucking business. Dad said, ‘So you are going to run me out of town, are you, boys? Well, you’ve got a few things to learn.’"

As general carriers in the Manawatu and Wairarapa districts, the Gleeson Brothers did ‘a bit of everything’ and at first owned mainly Bedford trucks. "I trained as a Bedford mechanic and my brother trained as a Ford mechanic, so we locked heads a bit over what to buy. Along with the Bedford’s, we had D Series Fords, which were better than the Bedford TK. But in my opinion, we never made any money until we bought our first Mercedes in 1973. It cost a third more to buy than the Fords but proved to be more profitable. I reckon it was a superior truck and at 8–10 years, the Fords were poked but the Mercedes was still going strong.

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"We started it off with a stock truck plus a 24 foot, two deck stock trailer. The drivers preferred the Mercedes; it was easy to get in and out of and had a good steering lock. It was the perfect truck for a freight run, and in fact, up until recently it still did a daily freight run to Palmerston North."

Gleeson’s had 14 Mercedes at one time, and Paul still owns the original Mercedes.
It has a certificate of fitness and goes like a charm.

Paul retired from the business in 2015 and Maurice still runs it.

Rough and ready, Paul doesn’t hold back his opinions. He’s a likeable character with more than a few funny stories to tell. He is equally as entertaining as the machinery on display and these have stories attached too. Most of his trucks have names: Lady Lara and Erica after his twin daughters, Judilles, after his ex-wife, and Ruby after his mother.

One of his most colourful stories is how, aged 15, he inadvertently kick-started his mechanic’s apprenticeship after retaliating when canned for ‘something I didn’t do’ while at boarding school in Masterton.

Paul took to his scrapers. "I thought, I’m shagged now. That’s my school career over. So I ran from one end of Masterton to the other, following the railway line as I went, and an old guy working there took me on a jigger as far as Eketahuna. On the way home, I stopped at Ryan’s Garage where I’d already done a half-pie interview to get work as a mechanic. I told Mr Ryan, ‘I need a job real fast, I’m heading home to mum, and she’ll be so angry when she finds out what’s happened.’"

Luckily, he got the job and the rest is history.

In the 1970s, Mercedes were the premier road transports trucks of New Zealand; nothing could surpass them in terms of performance and reliability, according to Paul. "Ours had a Sutton crate on it. The back opens right up. You could drive a tractor in there or fill it full of hay or wool, so you could back or forward load with them. We used to bring back tractors from Wellington. In those days, it was illegal to do that because you were carting more than 40 miles against the railway, but we could make more money returning with tractors inside the crate than we could carting stock. We used to drive them into the steel grating and throw a chaff sack between the rubber wheel and the tyre and pull the handbrake on and that was that.

"One of our drivers got stopped once by a cop who said ‘we believe you are carting tractors in a stock crate’. The stock was exempt but not tractors. Our driver said ‘how would you get tractors in a stock crate? Don’t be so bloody silly’ and managed to persuade him to let him go.

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"The cop must have seen what was inside from the overhead bridge. After that, we were a bit more cautious and told our drivers to go to the pub, have a beer, and come home in the dark."

His father Eric had built up a good reputation he says and that helped the brothers when it came to establishing their own business. "Dad never owed a penny. He was of the old school of thought where you only paid cash and never got into debt.

"This area has also been a good one to run the sort of business we had. There was never any shortage of work."

Paul says that if he is honest, he found driving on its own a bit boring. He preferred to drive ground spreaders, which he did for years in the hill country.

He has always restored tractors in the evenings too. "I’m lucky I only need about five hours sleep, so work into the small hours on my hobby," he says.

A few mates have been taken to their resting place in the old trucks and fire engines. It seems a fitting way to go. Paul says his last ride will be on the old original Chev truck, "the same one that our father Eric went to his resting place on".

He is currently working on a Bedford S truck, the same model he drove in 1966. The next project Paul has lined up is to restore the old Harvard Airplane that once greeted visitors to Pahiatua at the entrance to town. Paul thinks it will make a great weather vane and is currently thinking of a way to mount it on a pole.

At the Tin Hut, there is always a project on the go and another interesting story to be told.

For more information: The Tin Hut, Mangatainoka. Phone 06 3766866.

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