Bill, Clive, and the story of our 1940 Dodge Airflow tanker
Our series of children’s books – celebrating some of the vehicles that call our collection home – are much-loved by little Southlanders.
We’re celebrating everything Tex (our 1940 Dodge Airflow tanker) this month at Bill Richardson Transport World. We had a chat with former Southland Times editor Clive Lind, for the inside scoop on what it was like to write The Story of Tex: The 1940 Dodge Airflow Tanker.
Some stories just have to be told. Among them? The journey of a dilapidated old Dodge Airflow tanker from the United States all the way to Invercargill, New Zealand.
Known lovingly as Tex, the 1940 Dodge Airflow Texaco tanker found here at Bill Richardson Transport World is – without a doubt – the star of the show.
Gleaming red and gorgeous, Tex sits pride of place in Bill’s Shed: when guests step into our Invercargill truck museum, Tex is one of the very first vehicles they will see – and he’s a beauty.
The tanker is one of just three of its type left in the world.
One thing led to another...
Written exclusively for Transport World by author and former editor of The Southland Times, Clive Lind, The Story of Tex: The 1940 Dodge Airflow Tanker brings the tale of how the truck made its way to our small southern town. The project really was a labour of love.
“It was one of those funny little things that just came about,” Clive says.
He was in the process of helping Bill Richardson write his autobiography Wheels and Deals, but at the same time the Invercargill transport magnate was putting together details about many of the trucks in his private collection (“it wasn’t a museum then, it was just Bill’s workshop as it were”). Clive offered to give Bill a hand with editing the book about his trucks, but some time went by and the project went quiet.
It was not until after Bill’s sudden death in 2005 that Craigs Printing reached out to Clive: they were planning on putting out the truck collection book, and they were keen for his help. Included in the book – now available as Trucks: A Vintage Collection – was the story of how Bill acquired his beautiful 1940 Dodge Airflow Texaco tanker. It was a yarn that piqued Clive’s interest.
“It was an amazing tale of how Bill was just sitting at home reading, I think it was called Trucking News or something from the United States, and he saw this truck. One of the things I really admired about him was he had a great memory and he kept records, and he knew immediately that truck that was being advertised was worth money, and he went and made the offer straight away. Then came the hilarious story of how to get it home again,” Clive says.
At the same time, a third book – The Extra Mile: The First Seventy Years of Southern Transport – was in progress. Bill’s daughter, Joc O’Donnell, reached out to Clive to see if he would lend a hand with this one too.
“I was down there [in Invercargill] and I just said to her one day, we were looking at Tex, I said to her, ‘you know, if you could turn that story about how Tex got here, humanise him, and turn it into a kid’s book, I said, it’s a great story’.”
“She kind of said, ‘well go for it’.”
So he did.
A labour of love: the project begins
The first port of call? An illustrator. After a false start or two, Clive and his wife bumped into a woman by the name of June Allen while on holiday in Tonga. They got chatting, and figured out their mutual Southland connections: June’s brother was Rob Allen, who had been business partners with racecar constructor George Begg, from Drummond.
June was in Tonga for work, selling educational books to schools. Clive asked June who she used as an illustrator, and after he returned home to New Zealand he spoke to Joc about Nelson-based illustrator Polly Rabbits.
“We sent her a whole pile of the pictures [and we told her what we were thinking of doing, and all the rest of it, and she was back within 24 hours. We both knew she’d nailed it,” Clive says.
“That was terrific – but I hadn’t really written the story yet!”
The duo got to work, collaborating on the direction the tale would take. Together, they created a story that would appeal to young readers: turning panelbeater John Bevin into a magician, for example.
“The process was just to sit down and think like kids. We were lucky we had grandchildren – I actually used them to bounce the story off,” Clive says.
Of his five grandchildren, two were particularly involved, and their feedback was crucial. “Let me tell you now: grandchildren don’t hold back.”
The Story of Tex was completely different to the previous books he had been involved in writing, which tended to be histories and autobiographies: stories that dealt heavily in facts. The chance to work on a children’s book allowed both Clive and Polly to unleash their imagination, and captivate that of their young readers.
“I looked at it as a real challenge. I thought, ‘this is great, this is really great, it’s something I’ve never done before, and why not – go for it’,” Clive says.
“I enjoyed all of the project, but the most challenging piece was, in fact, sitting down and trying to write from a perspective of ‘how would a child like to read this story?’ and like I said: I cheated, I talked to my grandchildren.”
Getting that all-important input helped to create a story that has become a firm favourite with little visitors to Bill Richardson Transport World.
“All I wanted them to do was enjoy the story. That was it. It had messages – Tex was down, he’d been a real gripping, handsome young man and all the rest of it, and then suddenly life goes on but then along came Bill... there’s always new things to look forward to.”
Clive went on to write two further books for Transport World – One Paddy, Two Baddies and Florence To The Rescue – but his time writing the tale of Tex left lasting memories.
“The great thing about that was, of all the things I’ve done, of every piece of writing I’ve done, I have never had more satisfaction than when your grandson comes up and says, ‘grandad, will you read me Tex again?’,” he says.
“You cannot beat that.”