Retirement can wait

In November 2023, Mini Big Rigs5 MinutesBy Carl KirkbeckDecember 18, 2023

Faced with the prospect of a bit of spare time on his hands as retirement loomed about two years ago, Mike O’Connell of Gisborne decided that there was only one thing for it: head to his workshop and get busy.

For Mike it was never an option to sit idle when retirement came around. For a career car painter who was always on the go at work, he needed to find something to keep his mind busy and his hands productive. Being a dab hand at building and home renovations in his spare time, Mike was flicking through a woodworking book, and stumbled across a set of plans for building your own Peterbilt logging truck.

“Looking at the plans I thought, ‘I can build that’, so it was out with the tools and straight into it. The finished product was pretty good, and I enjoyed the project,” Mike says. “Next I thought, I can do better than that, and build something more Kiwi-like and closer to scale, so I popped around to Pacific Haulage here in Gisborne and met with general manager Campbell Gilmour. I explained to Campbell what I was up to, and he gave me the opportunity to photograph and measure up one of their T659 Kenworths. Armed with these details, I was straight back to the workshop and into it again.”

Mike’s initiative found him visiting Pacific Haulage to size up a T659 Kenworth for his second project.

The T659 was a big step forward for Mike with regard to detail and proportion, and truly represented a typical Kiwi log truck that we can all relate to. Mike returned to Pacific Haulage to show the team his handiwork. Upon seeing the creation, Campbell asked Mike how much he wanted for it, as it would look fantastic sitting in the company’s boardroom. A deal was struck, and Mike returned home without his model.

“It was good to see it sitting there, but now I was heading back to the workshop to build another. Funny thing was, a bit later Campbell contacted me again and asked me to build one for the Mt Maunganui boardroom as well,” says Mike with a laugh.

With each model Mike’s skills and abilities have grown, as well as the range of truck models he has replicated. In the fleet now you will find sitting alongside the T659 both T909 and K200 Kenworths as well as a Volvo FM 10×4 crane truck, based on the real truck that works locally within Gisborne Hiabs’ fleet.

“I always enjoyed woodwork classes back at school, was never much into engineering as those projects took too long, but working with wood is rewarding. Choosing the different coloured timbers for the different parts, like new pine for the cabs and recycled rimu floorboards for the wheels and diesel tanks, gives the model character, and then seeing those colours of the bare woodgrain pop when I apply the clear coats to it. This also protects the timbers from UV damage as well.”

The level of finishing detail Mike applies to his creations is just enough to give a sense of realism, without adding too much and sacrificing the art form that is the natural timber finish. “I have a good friend, Dave Gooch, who is a local signwriter, and he does a fantastic job of scaling down to size the actual stripes and signage of the life-size trucks for me, so that they fit the models correctly, even things like grilles and headlights. It is also funny the things you find around the house that can be used, like the grille mesh from out of kitchen rangehoods is perfect for exhaust stack grilles and air-cleaner intakes.”

The trucks that Mike creates are most definitely scale model replicas, but it is fair to say they are works of art in their own right. It just goes to show that the old chestnut that is Kiwi number 8 wire creativity is still alive and well in the backyard workshops of New Zealand.