Bruce Nickel is a well-known identity in the Taranaki region, having been in business with his wife Pauline for almost 40 years. Bruce got into engineering as a ‘fix-it’ man, repairing farm and agricultural machinery at a site in Normanby, 45 minutes south of New Plymouth, establishing a reputation for good service and reliability.
The business developed with Bruce, Pauline, and two staff members, and after numerous requests from customers, Bruce started to design customer-specific machinery that was unavailable in the retail market. The increased workload that resulted meant staff numbers continued to grow.
By the mid 80s Nickel Engineering was thriving; however the stock market crash of the late eighties prompted some hard thinking in order to come up with ideas that would keep his quality workforce employed. It meant innovation and diversification.
Bruce and Pauline moved into the truck and trailer repair sector and as successful as it was, there was still a shortfall in business. The next step was to start manufacturing new truck bodies and trailers.
Over the next few months Bruce secured a contract for repair work on the Kiwi Dairy Company fleet (now Fonterra), and with the expansion of the new manufacturing business, Nickel Engineering was once again enjoying stability. In time the workload was split equally between agricultural machinery repair and truck body and trailer manufacture and maintenance.
Photo: Bruce Nickel is a stalwart of the International brand both in paddock and on road.
Although the Nickel family involvement in the engineering business dates back 40 years, their presence in the cropping industry dates back to the early 1900s. Bruce and Pauline own property next to the engineering workshop and on Taranaki’s west coast, where wheat, barley, and corn for the stockfeed industry is grown and processed. The crop farming business employs three farm managers as well as seasonal staff when required.
“We do the lot in and around the Normanby area,” Bruce said.
The family has a strong association with International Harvester farm machinery that dates back to Bruce’s grandfather, Albert Nickel, again in the early 1900s.
“The only reason there would be other brands of agricultural machinery in this yard would be if we were repairing it for customers,” Bruce said. “There is only one brand of machinery used by this family and that is International.”
It has been said that Bruce has the largest collection of International-branded machinery in New Zealand and possibly Australasia.
Photo: Both engines have had mods done on them. The S Line (left) has had intercooling fitted and the C1840’s V8 petrol was converted to LPG in 1999.
Bruce and Pauline visit the United States regularly and often come back with new or good quality secondhand pieces of International machinery for use in the cropping operation. “I am always on the look-out for good International gear.”
The interest in US kit extends to slightly more than just farm machinery too.
"We currently have a 1959 2-door pillarless Ford Galaxie, a 1966 Mustang convertible, a 1956 F100 Ford pickup, and a 2009 Ford F150 4-door Chip Foose modified 650hp ute. This vehicle was one of around 100 F150s supplied by Ford USA to the Foose Company for modification and customising, and subsequently sold through the Ford dealership chain as new vehicles.”
In 2010 Bruce heard of a 1980 S Line International available for purchase from Trevor Crowe in Otago. The truck had only travelled 400,000km and was in original condition. It was fitted with a DT466 International engine rated at 210hp, a 13-speed Roadranger gearbox, Rockwell diffs, and sat on Hendrickson leaf suspension.
“Now who could possibly resist buying that?” was Bruce’s train of thought. So he did. Since purchase Bruce has manufactured and fitted aluminium sides and a tailgate, inserted a steel floor in the deck frame, and fitted an intercooler which has increased the horsepower to around 230.
“It is still allergic to hills,” Bruce pointed out, “but that is why it has 13 speeds available through the gearbox. If you don’t use the gears you go nowhere.”
The S Line is 35 years old and still works every day on grain deliveries; as Bruce puts it, “Thirty five and cruising”. The other truck in the International fleet of two is a 1971 C1840 International 4x2, manufactured in Australia and imported to New Zealand by International Harvester Ltd.
On arrival the importer fitted an American 392 V8 petrol engine rated at 212hp. The V8 drove through a 5x2 gearbox to a high speed diff and the combination turned it into “a rocket” according to Bruce. “It goes like a cut cat but it has manual steering so at the end of a day at the wheel the driver ends up with Popeye arms.”
Originally it worked as a tractor for a house moving business in the South Island but ended up with Dean Harris at Sanson. Bruce purchased it 15 years ago and because of the high standard, put it into the shed and left it there. “I just liked the look of it and used it for the occasional parade or show, and I didn’t have to do anything to it. It was pretty near perfect,” he said.
In 2002 he put it to work but made some modifications first. The chassis was stretched by a metre, a 4-metre front-of-body tipping bin was fitted and a 2-axle bulk trailer went behind it. It then went on grain delivery assisting the S Line or was used to cart metal. The C1840 can deliver six metres of metal or eight tonnes of grain, and the trailer holds seven metres of metal.
The truck had been converted to run on LPG in 1999, prior to Bruce purchasing it, and is still a very economical unit to work. It has vacuum/hydraulic brakes but is now fitted with a compressor to service the trailer air brakes. This ageing Inter 4x2 that is yet to fail a CoF has covered only 91,000 miles (145,600km), and is still in regular work.
“Even if we require replacement parts, they are readily available from KMC in Bell Block in New Plymouth. They have to earn their keep and, to date, they do it very well,” Bruce said.
“We will be in the grain and engineering businesses for the foreseeable future and the only brand in our businesses will continue to be International.”