Truck Restoration Projects
Ol’ Number Nine – a restored, much-loved White
This White 9000 is the first new truck that Jim and Ida Hitchcock bought in 1974 for their then small transport fleet for the princely sum of $35,000. Fleet Number Nine served them well, clocking up over four million miles before they retired it and embarked on a total restoration.
Jim Hitchcock’s first foray into the road transport industry came about the time he and Ida got married and he was working as a motor mechanic during the day and driving log trucks after hours and on weekends.
“Previously, I’d worked as a mechanic opposite the brickworks in South Nowra for a guy who had some old KB5 and KB7 Internationals, “ Jim Hitchcock said.
“When the mechanical work was quiet he’d send the mechanics over to the brickworks to hand-load 3000 bricks and deliver them.
“As none of us had a truck licence and we’d been doing this for a while, Peter who owned the business, said to us one day: ‘I think you blokes should go up to the cop shop and get your truck licence, so we did’.
“The police sergeant had us drive down to the corner, make a three-point turn and come back – then gave us our truck licences, saying: ‘It’s about time you blokes did this, because I knew that none of you had a licence’.”
During 1971, when working as a motor mechanic, Jim was approached by Mobil to run a service station. He did this and also set up a mechanical repair business, working on cars and trucks.
“I liked working on trucks, but said that I would never own one,” Jim remembered.
“But they say you should never say ‘never’, because Mobil then approached us12 months later, to take on the agency for them.
“This meant we had to buy a truck, so a second-hand ,petrol-powered AB182 Inter was our first truck.”
That was supplemented by a used 4×2 G88 Volvo, coupled to 28,000-litre tanker. The trucks were parked on a vacant block opposite their house and the packaged products were stored in the garage at their home, or at a dairy eight kilometres away.
Another year on, Mobil asked them to take on the fuel contract out of the coastal bulk plant in Eden delivering to Moruya, Merimbula, Cooma and Yass.
“To do this we needed to buy new equipment and we bought our first new truck in 1974, from Ross Tranter at H W Crouch in Sydney,” said Jim.
“It was an 8V71-Detroit-powered White 9000 (Fleet No.9) with a 15-speed overdrive Roadranger transmission and 44,000lb (20-tonne) Rockwell tandem riding on a Hendrickson RTE380 suspension.
“We also purchased a new 32,000-litre Fruehauf tanker.”
Jim and Ida said this was the catalyst for the expansion of their burgeoning transport business. They were pulling one or two loads a day out of Mobil’s Pulpit Point (Hunters Hill) depot in Sydney, with flat-top trailers to BHP and the mines, and they also started carting bricks and built a brick display near the depot.
When the Pulpit Point facility closed they had to cart packaged products from Yarraville in Victoria.
By this time the fleet size had increased considerably and they were also carrying products from the nearby Bomaderry Paper Mill to Melbourne and back, loading out of Mobil.
“We added White Road Bosses and quite a few Ford Louisvilles, before progressing to Western Stars, which was the brand that became the standard in our fleet.
“These days our kids, Jayne and Colin, run the trucks. At the time they purchased the local cartage segment of the business there were 32 trucks included in the 106 pieces of equipment in the fleet and the interstate segment of the business covered Victoria, Queensland and South Australia. “
However, Jim and Ida haven’t retired, but are kept busy running a truck spare parts and mechanical repair operation, South Star Trucks, adjacent to the transport depot.
Rejuvenating number nine
Jim and Ida had made a pact to keep that first new White, although it caused them financial stress at the time, but it had given their company an exceptional four million miles (6.5 million kilometres) of flawless service.
When they bought the truck and tanker back in 1974 they’d recently bought a house and had a fair amount of debt, so in order to make their repayments ‘Ole Number Nine’ had to keep rolling 24/6 – and that’s just what happened.
“We ran the wheels off that truck and it didn’t give much trouble.
“It would be back home on a Sunday for a service and then either straight down to Eden empty to reload or we’d load it out of Port Kembla to Eden,” said Jim Hitchcock.
The original driver, Brian Kellett – nicknamed ‘Cow Cocky’ – was a good operator, Jim reckoned.
“He worked both himself and the truck hard, but at the same time knew his and the truck’s capabilities, cracking the whip on every one of the 318 horses under that short 9000 bonnet, but at the same time not over stressing the engine.”
Jim said it’s hard to find people these days with that sort of work ethic and he said the same goes for people like Ross Tranter and Jeff Curry, at the bank, who were not just suppliers, but really cared and went out of their way to help you.
“The truck had been relegated to yard truck duties, loading trailers for the on-road prime movers and no-one was looking after it,” Jim said.
“So, as it was still registered in my name, I just drove it into the shed one day and took the original number plates off and put them on hold with the RMS.
“It sat there for some years before I gave Ida a dollar figure as to what I thought the restoration would cost and we then decided it was time to get stuck into it.”
Ida said that figure was conservative and blew out considerably, with the amount of work they had to do to bring it back to life. She reckoned it now looks better than when they first bought it. (She was right: the fit and finish is better than factory quality back then.)
There’s a story behind the unusual fleet colour and Jim recounted that when they had the service station they had a Morris Minor van they wanted to repaint. A woman drove onto the forecourt one day in a 1973 VW, painted in that distinctive blue and Jim got the paint code off the ID plate – Gemini blue.
They painted the Morrie Gemini blue and all of their vehicles have been that colour ever since. These days it has been renamed Hitchcock Blue by some paint companies.
This is no ‘surface’ restoration: every nut, bolt and rivet has been removed and even the inner and outer chassis rails were separated. It was an epic three-year journey with highs and lows peppered along the way.
Jim decided even before they started, they would photograph and mark every component as it was removed and disassembled.
“The photographic record was invaluable in the reassembly process and, of course, as an ongoing record of the project,” Jim said.
The cab was rusted beyond economical repair, so they went shopping for a cab, but alas to no avail. They then called the USA and spoke to Rolland Smith, who had been president of the White Motor Corporation. He suggested calling a Harry Shipp in South Australia.
“I did, and sure enough he had a Road Boss cab he’d bought from Scotts Transport in Mt Gambier,” said Jim.
“It took some persuading to get him to sell it to me, but he finally capitulated and I drove my ute across and brought the cab shell back in a box trailer.”
The Road Boss shell was very similar to the 9000 cab, but the firewall had to be modified, the roof lowered and the back window reduced in size, as well as fitting the press-button 9000 doors.
“With Ida as my apprentice, we worked after hours during the week and on weekends, because we had the bit between our teeth to get the job done.”
With the build up of rust between the inner and outer chassis rails it took two days to separate them.
“At this point I nearly walked away from the project,” Jim Hitchcock recalled.
“The engine was in pieces and the cab well on the road to recovery and I thought: ‘should I just sell it as parts, or continue?’
“I chose the latter of course.”
The inner rails were beyond saving, so Jim had a local engineering firm roll two new inserts, which he had to re-drill. The rails were undercoated and top coated prior to assembly, as were the new Hendrickson RTE380 individual spring leaves.
One of Ida’s treasured possessions is a jar full of just some of the rust they scraped out of the White!
The springs were repainted on assembly as spring packs, as well as when they were re-fitted to the chassis. He said he also had Hendrickson use the original part numbers on the spring clips.
The air tanks are original, but sand blasted and the air hoses are brand new. Werrington in Melbourne made new fuel tanks to the original specification.
Jim and Ida didn’t spare any expense in refurbishing or replacing every single component in this exceptionally thorough restoration.
Back on the road again
Jim opened the shed door in order to reveal ‘new’ Ol’ Number Nine and the icing on the cake was when he fired up the two-stroke, eight-cylinder Detroit Diesel hiding under the snub-nosed bonnet. The crescendo from the gleaming chrome stack was music to the ears of any red-blooded truck enthusiast!
The first-class paint finish on the chassis alone is of Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance equal. The hexagon bolt heads that stretch along the chassis rails are all aligned, with the top and bottom flats on every hexagon exactly horizontal. The aluminium fuel tanks and ancillaries have a mirror finish, highlighted by some exceptional chrome-worked steps.
Jim had to obtain permission to use the White logo on embossed mud-flaps that he had specially made, with a minimum order of 26 – ahough he only wanted half a dozen!
He pointed to the heater under the left-hand side of the dash saying: “The original was buggered and I knew that it was the same as fitted to a Holden car of the same vintage, so I searched the internet seeking Holden parts and sure enough there it was.
“I ordered one and there it is, exactly the same as the original.
“What I didn’t realise was that the company was in the UK and the name of the business was Holden Parts, but had nothing to do with Holden cars.
“These heaters were apparently quite common to many vehicles of that era.”
Jim Hitchcock said he had a couple of additional restoration projects – one big; one small – waiting in the wings. Hopefully, we can look forward to seeing some more of Jim’s and Ida’s dedication to the revival of the trucks that have made a vital contribution to our road transport heritage.
Jim Hitchcock has since been inducted into the National Road Transport Hall of Fame.