MINI BIG RIGS - A LIFETIME OF MODEL BUILDING

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Self-confessed ‘truck nut’ Gordon O’Riley has a dedicated model workshop at his home in Waitarere Beach where he recreates classic trucks from New Zealand’s past. “I drive trucks, I build model trucks, I take photos of trucks, I’ve got every single New Zealand Trucking magazine. I’m just a truck nut,” he says.

Gordon first joined a model truck club when he was 15, and for the past 12 years or so has been president of the New Zealand Model Truck Association. “I started building models when I was seven and at first I just built them out of the box and painted them up in all sorts of different colours. Then, when I was about 10, I wanted to make New Zealand trucks. “When New Zealand Trucking magazine first came out I used to look at the trucks in there because there were quite a few New Zealand spec trucks and I was like, ‘this is the bomb, this is what I want to get into’. And so I tried to convert them to New Zealand trucks – with a whole lot of disasters over the years!” Gordon obviously moved on from those days as the truck models he builds today are anything but disasters.

“When you join a club, you get to meet guys who are into the same thing and you’d bounce ideas off each other and learn different ways of doing things. Ever since I became a member of the club, my models have just improved so much. There are some outstanding model builders in the club.” One of Gordon’s favourite builds is of a Groundworks Mercedes-Benz tractor unit with a motor scraper on a trailer. Although he doesn’t build his models with the aim of winning at shows, he is proud of the fact he’s won Best New Zealand Rig for this combination.


Photo: Gordon with his 1977 Kenworth W924. Thankfully, the ‘accountant’ said yes!

“That truck was an old Wellington truck that I used to remember as a kid, and the model is probably my favourite because that motor scraper was totally scratchbuilt. I made the truck and trailer about 15 years ago, and the motor scraper took me four years to build. It’s one of Vic Draper’s TS-18 Terex motor scrapers that he called Lulu. The thing that I liked is that Terexes are usually green, but his was yellow. I didn’t want to paint it green because with the green trailer and that it would have been just too much.” Gordon developed his love of trucks from his father, Bernard, who was a truck driver and machine operator. “Ever since I could walk basically, every chance I got I went to work with Dad and just loved trucks.

When I started going with him he was working for Heretaunga Transport in Lower Hutt. They had a big fleet of old Nissans. And then he got into logging for Peter O’Flaherty where he ended up driving about three different Leyland Crusaders. He also did a few years at Dry Creek Quarry in Lower Hutt, and that is how I learnt to operate machines and drive trucks as a youngster.” At one point Gordon owned a Crusader and says he sometimes regrets selling it. At present he’s building a model of a Crusader based on one that Stan Williamson owned.


Photo: Gordon’s wife, Michelle, is into painting and helps him create the colours he needs for his models.


Photo: “You’ve just got to do your homework, figure out what sort of motor it’s got, what sort of suspension it’s got, and all that sort of stuff,” says Gordon.

“This is based on fleet number 21. That would have been a ‘KM’ registration, so it would have been the same as the one I had, and it was one of the last Crusaders that Stan bought in the early 80s. “Stan Williamson’s is a fleet that I’ve admired for years. He is just an absolute legend in the logging game, and had the largest fleet of Scammell Crusaders in the Southern Hemisphere. He was saying that he had more Crusaders than the British Army, which is pretty impressive. The hardest thing was to try to pick which one of his to do because he had so many that I liked. This is going to be one of three, because I want to do Stan’s, Forest Freighters, and Oregon Hauling, to get the three fleets together.” To make the model Gordon began with the cab from a Crusader KFS kit from the UK. “They came over as the military spec cab which is like a sleeper cab version.

I had to cut the cab and make it into a day cab. I’ve also scratch-built the A-train jinker dolly for it.” Like most modellers, Gordon prefers to make the models he wants to make rather than taking on commissions. “I have done about four commissions, but you don’t make any money. A lot of people don’t understand that all of these are probably 50 to 80% scratch-built. It’s not a matter of just building it out of the box – scratchbuilding takes a lot of time and you have to do a lot of investigating. You have to scratch-build a lot of stuff because you can’t buy the parts, especially if you’re making New Zealand trucks.” Gordon has about 40 or 50 trucks that he still wants to build, all around the 70s/80s era when trucking was at its height in New Zealand. He says he will never run out of models he wants to make, just time to make them.

While a basic tractor unit could be made in his spare time over six or seven weeks, if it’s a scratch-built log truck or something with a trailer, that could take up to 100 hours. “Basically, if you’ve got an idea of what you want to build, you’ve just got to do your homework, figure out what sort of motor it’s got, what sort of suspension it’s got, and all that sort of stuff. And then look around your spare parts and make it up the best you can. I’ve got about 70,000 truck photos upstairs and as I go through photos, all of a sudden something will just pop out and I’ll think ‘that looks cool’.”


Photo: The Groundworks Mercedes-Benz tractor unit with a motor scraper on a trailer is one of Gordon’s favourites. He’s won Best New Zealand Rig for this combination.


Photo: Some scratch-built models could take up to 100 hours to create… 100, 200, 300, 400…

Gordon says building model trucks is more than just a hobby. “The way I see it is it’s another way of keeping classic trucking alive. That’s why I’ve gone to all-New Zealand. I’ve done a couple of Aussie trucks, but 95% of them are old New Zealand trucks. “The biggest enjoyment I get is watching people come around and have a look and then they go, ‘hey, that’s my dad’s old truck’ or ‘my granddad used to drive that’ or the owners come around. That’s cool.” Gordon wants to encourage the younger generation to have a go at building truck models. “There are a lot of closet model builders out there but they often think their models aren’t good enough. It’s not about whether it’s good enough; if you’re happy with what you’re doing, that’s all that matters. “It’s like everything, when you first start building models your first three or four are going to be pretty disastrous. A lot of people don’t get the result that they want the first time and think it’s a waste of time, but you slowly get better and better.” Gordon says one barrier is the price of the model kits today. “When I was a kid, I was doing five lawns a week and I could just about buy one. They were only about $30 back then, which was a little bit of money, but that’s what I wanted.

So I mowed lawns, saved my pocket money, boom – another model, got some paint, away you go. But now, they’re up around the $100 mark. And then by the time you buy the paint…” Gordon says he’s lucky because wife Michelle is into painting, so she’s able to help him create the colours he needs for his models. “Plus, since I’ve been president of the club, she’s been an absolutely amazing support, and the work that she’s done for the club, helping organise shows and that, was just unbelievable.” As well as models of classic New Zealand trucks, Gordon also has a full-size classic rig of his own, a 1977 Kenworth W924. “Russell Walker owned it from new and when I was seven years old it used to cart out of River Sand and Shingle in Melling, Lower Hutt, where the old man was working, and I used to go for rides in that as a kid. It’s a truck that I’ve just really kept an eye on, to see where it’s gone over the years.” Gordon began working for Ray and Fiona Reid about two and a half years ago and at the time the Reids owned the truck. “One day they offered it to me, because they could see that I had that passion about it. So I came home, talked to the ‘accountant’, and she said yes, so we bought it.”


Photo: Gordon working on his latest creation, an early 80s Scammell Crusader based on Stan Williamson’s fleet number 21.