Special feature: Steptoe Kenworth

By: Vivienne Haldane

Deals on Wheels caught up with Ian Storey, who's the proud owner of a well-known truck called Steptoe

And just like Steptoe, a 1965 Kenworth L-924, former truck driver Ian has retired. Well almost, but not quite. The Kenworth still gets out and about on small runs and is much admired when he takes it to rallies. And as for Ian, he’s enjoying a mellower existence, too.

"I really wonder how I found time to drive trucks," he says over the phone from his farm in Motu, near Gisborne.

Ian bought Steptoe in 2002, having admired the truck from afar for many years. He first sighted it as a 17-year-old in 1966, shortly after it was imported into New Zealand for work as an off-highway logger.

The late Winston Howard, first owner of Steptoe, along with former driver Joe Young and Ian Storey
The late Winston Howard, first owner of Steptoe, along with former driver Joe Young and Ian Storey

"The Kenworth caught my attention; it was an unusual looking thing. Then years later,
I saw it working in a quarry. I realised it was the same truck I’d seen in 1966, so yeah, things progressed. I had the opportunity to buy Steptoe in 2002 and it’s been a valued member of the family ever since."

Steeped in history

Part of Steptoe’s attraction, Ian says, is its history.

"Steptoe has a terrific history in Hawke’s Bay and the Gisborne area. Meeting the chaps who drove it and were associated with it has made it a great interest for me."
Imported from Canada, this Kenworth was one of the earliest trucks of its kind in New Zealand. "It was one of seven brought into the country in 1965 and the first privately-owned KW in New Zealand, as far as we know," says Ian.

It was put to good use in the logging industry as extra muscle, carrying up to 50-tonne payloads from the Maungataniwha Forest in northern Hawke’s Bay. It was first owned by Howard Brothers Transport.

"They used it off-highway because the bridge over the Mohaka River had a 12-tonne limit and council said they weren’t going to replace it in the near future. To get around this, they used to cartloads of native logs from the bush to the old mill site on the other side of the river. There they cut logs up into smaller lengths for the smaller trucks to transport them to Kotemaori to the rail station and then onto Napier.

"Howard Brothers then sold Steptoe to D&R McKinnie’s logging division. Because the new bridge was built 10 years before predicted, the Kenworth was now able to transport logs directly to the railway station. McKinnie sold the truck to Pettigrew Transport, which became Freightways. They used it as a logger and then it went to various contractors in Hawke’s Bay before it found its way to Gisborne."

Steptoe has also been used as a tractor unit on house removals for Riverland Contractors; in Gisborne, it was put to work in a quarry.
It’s done a massive amount of heavy work in the past and is still going strong, Ian says.

"It’s a tribute to everyone, the drivers and the previous owners, who’ve looked after it and kept it going. Many trucks go to the scrap yard when they get old."

Built for the job

The trucks of choice for logging work in this country were mostly brands such as Bedford and International. The arrival of Kenworths, with their increased capability and strength, was a game-changer for the trucking industry.

"The decision to use the Kenworth brand began when Ken King from machinery distributor Dalhoff & King visited Canada and saw these superior trucks. On his return, he began targeting our government to bring them in. In the ’60s, a Kenworth representative came from Canada and spec’d the truck for the job. He saw where it had to go, and the type of work required of it. Dalhoff & King then became the franchisees for Kenworth in New Zealand.

The Kenworth still had weaknesses, says Ian.

"I’ve seen the historical claim form and there are some fairly substantial ones, such as the gearbox and the diff, which both had bearing failures; the rivets came loose on the crown wheel. However, Dalhoff & King stood by these and did a lot under warranty to keep it going. It was sort of a prototype, I suppose."

Steptoe and a modern Kenworth toe-to-toe
Steptoe and a modern Kenworth toe-to-toe

A feature of this model is it has no front brakes as per the manufacturer’s specifications. The reason being it was easier to steer in snow and ice conditions in Canada. Later models had front brakes that you could turn on and off, according to Ian.

"It’s challenging, but once you get used to driving it, it’s good. I always drive it with a load on the back to weigh it down. You have to pick your time when you are going to stop, though."

The truck also has gone through various modifications over the years.

"It had a Cummins NH250 engine originally, then was re-powered with a Cummins Super 252 engine earlier in its life. It had Timken differentials when I got her; the top speed was 70kph, so I put in higher speed 3.9 ratio diffs to allow it to go faster. It had a 10-speed Roadranger gearbox, and it still has its original four-speed auxiliary box, so it has 40 forward gears. With the current speed limit, I have two gears left—I drive it in direct-direct.

Every now and again, when I get a challenge, it does slip into overdrive. I’ve had it to the top of the speedo and it still had plenty left, so we decided not to go further. It does two kilometres to the litre when empty."

The logging trailer used was a two-axle pole jinker that was changed to a spaced axle trailer when McKinnies owned it.

Expensive hobby

In spite of it being a massive restoration, Ian has enjoyed the process. Fortunately, he has two mechanically-minded sons to lend a hand: Gerry, who owns Eastland Machinery Movers and G&R Storey in Gisborne, and Derrick who’s a mechanic.

He admits owning a vintage truck is an expensive hobby.

"I should have won Lotto before I started down this road. I couldn’t have done it without the help from my sons. We did the restoration in our friend Barry Caulfield’s workshop in Gisborne, which I am grateful for."

Interestingly, Barry owned Steptoe prior to Ian.

"We gave the interior a bit of a modern makeover; we put covers on the door panels because they were bare tin. The original hood lining would have been fairly basic hardboard but now it has later model Kenworth stuff in it."

It’s painted in ‘royal colours’—red chassis and mainly blue cab with white stripes and trim.

"It took a fair bit of rubbing down to cover the previous layers of paint; the original was green with a maroon stripe," says Ian.

A life in trucking

Ian has spent all his working life as a truck driver having gained his HT licence as soon as he could after leaving school. He continued driving until he was 70.

"I began driving tractors for Glenn Morrison in Gisborne, then went onto trucks with FD McIntosh, followed by a stint in a quarry for six years. I drove logging trucks for TA Satherley, then went to Robb Brothers and stayed there as a general driver for 32 years. I also worked for my son Gerry from G&R Storey for two-and-a-half years."

Was Gerry a good boss I asked?

Pioneers: three of the first Kenworth truck load into NZ in 1965
Pioneers: three of the first Kenworth truck load into NZ in 1965

"He knew that the family inheritance was at stake," he laughs, adding, "he was understanding of my limitations when I was older. Truck driving was a good way of life; we used to drive until the job was done. If you had a breakdown, you kept going, and I was lucky to drive in that era when the comradeship of other drivers was good. We thought of ourselves as being all in it together. It’s a bit different nowadays."

Now that Ian and Steptoe are happily out to pasture (but not quite), Ian is enjoying some well-earned downtime and a chance to enjoy tinkering around with Steptoe. He and Gerry, who has a 1965 International 190, attend rallies together, and Ian recently drove it to Motu ‘to keep the oil levels up’; before Christmas, he used it to load hay bales in the shed.

"It gives me a bit of a thrill to drive the old soul, but it gives me a bigger thrill to come home, though. Reliability is the biggest thing. It would be heavy to push home.

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