Truck Restoration Projects
Batlow NSW orchardist Edgar Herring bought this featured Federal two-ton truck, brand-new in 1919, just after WW1. Federal Trucks of America models were used extensively by the US Army during the First World War and the Australian Commonwealth Government also purchased Federals, hued in Army green.
At the timber yard, picking up apple-box wood
The 1919 Federal was typical of many truck makers’ products back in the early days of motorised transport. Federal was an ‘assembler’, putting together bought-in mechanical components in its own chassis.
The engine is a petrol four-cylinder, made by US engine specialist Continental, best known these days for its aero engines. The Federal’s powerplant is a 17000 Series C4 model, with a 4 1/8-inch bore and, it is thought, a 5 1/4-inch stroke, for a displacement of around 300 cu in (4.9 litres). Continental documentation claimed 35bhp from this powerplant.
A brass plate confirms the truck’s payload capacity of 4000lb, on top of a body allowance of 1200lb. The data plate lists the Federal’s top speed at 13 miles per hour and quotes: “Overloading or overspeeding will void your warranty”.
Federal referred to its larger heavier models as ‘locomotive sized’ and at one stage used the catch cry: “Federals have won by costing less to run”.
Loaded with apple boxes to take to the railhead at Gilmore
Edgar Herring bought the Federal to carry fruit and produce 25km from his property Sheen in Batlow, to the railhead at Gilmore siding, between Batlow and Tumut. Its load would then be transhipped onto a railcar and sent to the Sydney Markets. It wasn’t until 1924/25 that the rail-line was extended to Batlow.
Edgar Herring purchased his truck from Federal dealer, H W Crouch, in Wentworth Avenue, Sydney. This well-known company became a multi-franchised truck dealer, moving its Sydney location a couple of times to stay close to its customer base during the intervening years.
The Crouch dealership was held in high esteem for more than 70 years, before selling to a competitor, Sydney truck dealer Ruslit Motors, during the bi-centenial year of 1988.
Edgar’s Federal was collected from Wentworth Avenue and it came with an instruction manual that stated its 100 grease points had to be greased every day! It also had one spanner, to be used on the centre wheel nut. That allowed the driver to R&R the wheels, along with the tapered roller wheel bearings!
It was then driven the 300-mile (485-km) journey to its new home in Batlow NSW, at a top speed of just 13mph (21km/h). No doubt the climb up Razorback Mountain and Bendooley Hill on the old Hume Highway would have taken some time. Then, of course, there was the descent on the southern sides – exciting, with only two rear-wheel mechanical brakes and with the four-speed transmission down a couple of lower gears.
John Snr with kids in the back and auntie at the wheel
The Federal slogged away for years on the property, as farm trucks do.
Edgar had two sons who went off to WWII: one was killed during the conflict and the other son, John, demobbed after the War, went to Batlow to help with running the farm. He noted the old Federal tethered under a tree and, it appeared, it had not run since the start of the War. A Chev ‘Blitz’ had been purchased to carry out farm duties.
John was quite mechanically oriented, having worked as apprentice mechanic at York Motors prior to the War and thought he would bring the old Federal back to life one day.
After some time passed, he started building a house and a large shed on one corner of the family property and still had that thought of rebirthing the Federal, which he had put on the back burner after moving it under-cover to a shed in nearby Gilmore. With the new house and storage shed completed, he moved the Federal back to the new shed.
The Herring brothers in 2022: Anthony, John and David, seated
John had three sons and one daughter – the first John Jr born in 1947, the second and third Anthony and David, and daughter Dianne born a few years later. Fast forward to the 1980s and the boys were obviously grown men. Their father, John Snr, had passed away in 1984.
By that time the Federal had been moved and stored in a shed at Rocky Creek in northern NSW. However, sometime later it was relocated to John Jr’s property at Bingara; a little further south in northern NSW, where he lives today.
Restoring the old Federal had been in the back of the Herring boys’ and their sister’s thoughts for some years. In 2015 they thought it was about time they got serious with the task of restoring the old truck in memory of their father, who had wanted to do it all those years before, but never got around to achieving it. The boys reckoned it hadn’t run for about 70 years.
It was November 2016 when eldest son John made a phone call that literally started putting the wheels into motion: to materialise their father’s restoration plan. The wheels had to roll first, in order to move the truck around!
He contacted a vintage car enthusiast’s club in Toowoomba and they, in turn, put him in contact with Big Tyre in Toowoomba; a company specialising in the removal of worn-out solid rubber tyres and fitment of new replacements. This contact then led him to wooden-spoke-wheel specialist, Keith Wilson, in Allora, near Toowoomba.
Another recommendation had him contact Sydney Vintage Cars Restorers (SVCR) at Crookwell in NSW. John then trailered the Federal to Crookwell and asked the principal, Gillard Skidmore: “How much would it cost to restore this old girl?”
On close inspection, Gill was surprised at the originality of this 100-year-old example of road transport history.
Gill said: “I thought it in too good a condition to completely restore, by repainting the body and chassis.”
“Therefore, because of its relatively unscathed appearance, I thought it would be a much better option to leave the cab and chassis in original condition, with surface rust discolouration and patina, and the old timber work on the tray,” said Gill.
“Thus, it would maintain its originality – its working clothes if you like – and preserve its provenance.”
The reawakening begins
Historic Vehicles spoke with wooden wheel master Keith Wilson at Allora, who had scored the job of refurbishing the wheels. Keith said he mainly needed to repair them and only had to make a couple of new spokes.
The spokes were made from Australian spotted gum. Some had broken tongues, which required drilling out and then doweling with American ash replacements.
The felloes (the term for wooden wheel rims that are bent with steam heat) are drilled internally for each spoke tongue to sit into. Then an outer steel band is pressed on with an interference fit to the outer side of the timber felloes and secured with bolts.
Rerubbered wider rear tyres have groves for better traction
Keith said: “John came up to help me at one stage, as the rear wheels in particular were so heavy, I couldn’t turn them over on my own.”
“When you look at, let’s say, Model T wheels they are insignificant in size, compared with these truck wheels.
“I could build four ’T’ wheels in the time it would take me to build just one of these heavy-duty, load-carrying wheels.”
Once the wooden sections of the wheels were repaired, the outer steel rims were sent to Big Tyre in Toowoomba, to have new, solid-rubber tyres fitted.
The operation starts with removal of any remnant of the old tyre from the rim, by setting it up on a mandrel in a lathe and turning off the old rubber with the lathe’s cutting tool.
Once the rim is clean it then has a bonding solution applied and strips of rubber the width of the steel rim are laid in succession, with the bonding solution applied between each layer, until the desired diameter the achieved.
It is then placed in an autoclave and heated, which vulcanises the layers together and to the steel rim, forming a solid, hard-rubber tyre. This is a similar process used these days when re-treading the worn tyre casings of passenger car or truck tyres.
Meanwhile south of the border
The team at SVCR in Crookwell was busy stripping the mechanicals for inspection. After a serious look at the four-cylinder Continental engine, it was decided the person to rebuild it would be David Moor in Nabiac, NSW, who could wave his mechanical engineer’s magic wand over it. David, as we found out when talking with him, is without doubt, an outstanding tradesman.
Not wanting to entrust a courier to transport the irreplaceable Continental engine, the very heart of the Federal, John Herring said: “I collected the engine and transported it myself from Crookwell to Nabiac.”
He said: “David’s service was impeccable; he would send us photos and short videos of the work-in-progress each time he reconditioned or replaced components in different sections of the engine.”
When we later mentioned this service to David, he said: “Doing this helps the customer understand the amount of work required and why it cost so much when they receive the bill.”
We asked him what was required in order to bring the Continental engine back to life. He said that he re-metalled the big-end and main bearings, line boring the mains.
He then sleeved the bores, but not in the normal way, because he didn’t want to stress the 100-year-old block by pressing-in liners.
“Another issue with these early ‘blind end’ cylinders is that you can’t bore too close to the combustion chamber or you can hit water!” David Moor said.
His solution was elegantly simple: ‘freeze-fitting’ standard-size liners, using liquid nitrogen to chill-shrink their diameters, so he could push them in place by hand – wearing appropriate gloves and protective gear, of course. (Liquid nitrogen boils off at a very cold and dangerous -196C!)
David has used this technique before, on Mack engines, so he knew he could instal the sleeves without putting the cylinder block under the press.
“I am lucky to be able to access liquid nitrogen in Nabiac,” said David.
“Because it’s used as part of the artificial insemination of cattle process – keeping the ‘straws’ of expensive pedigree sperm at the correct temperature.
David needed standard-sized liners, because he wanted to use the original iron pistons, in which he’d line-bored the gudgeon holes and hard-chromed the gudgeons themselves. There were no oil-control rings and he had new compression piston rings made in New Zealand.
“The flywheel was extremely heavy,” said David. “It weighed 48.7 kilograms and I use a special mandrel attachment on my lathe ,when balancing heavy flywheels.
“I then ordered some valve steel from Melbourne and made new valves.
“I had the magneto repaired locally and the water pump rebuilt by SVCR.
“I had to make a new sight-glass that sits on the side of the engine, enclosing a cork float for checking the oil level.
“The pull-type clutch was reconditioned, using new friction material, which is sandwiched between the steel plates and I also re-bushed the clutch and brake pedal mechanisms that sit on the bell housing.
“It has a clutch-brake to slow the flywheel down, to make gear-shifting quicker.
“I had a local guy in Nabiac recondition the updraft carburettor for me,” David said.
With everything bolted on, the big day came. David always runs an engine on his test bench.
“I primed the taps on top of the cylinder head with fuel, then swung on the crank-handle – it fired up straight away, she’d obviously been dying to run.
“I’ve been doing this sort of work for 30 years, but I still get a thrill when they first start up like that.
“It’s been very enjoyable, during the almost 12-months of rebuilding this over-100-year-old engine.
“It takes time, as you get held up sometimes waiting for parts that you’ve sourced from different places: you can’t just ring up your local Repco store and get a delivery the next day.”
We asked him how he knew what the tappet clearances were? He replied: “With an old side-valve engine it is pretty safe to set the inlets at eight-thou and the exhaust at 10-thou and, it always seems to work.”
When the engine was finished, John Herring again collected it for its return journey to Crookwell.
Back at SVCR
During David’s time spent on the engine, work was proceeding at Crookwell, so we spoke with Gill Skidwell to ask him what they had achieved during the time the engine was away.
He said the worm-drive diff had been dismantled and new correct-size bearings were sourced from a supplier in England.
“They were extraordinarily expensive (he mentioned a large four-figure number) and I could have bought cheaper ones of a different diameter and built-up and re-machined the seats in the diff housing, but to do the job correctly, the only way was to use the correct size bearings.
“We were able to tidy up the worm and bull gears satisfactorily.
“The gearbox was re-raced with some more costly bearings and we had to make a new rear housing, as the original had a substandard repair.
“Also, the steering box worm shaft was bent and had to be straightened, plus the worm itself remade.
“Another repair to the front end was to make new bushes for one of the kingpins and we also repaired the rear brakes and fitted new wheel bearings.
“The radiator top tank was leaking and beyond repair, but in order the keep its originality we made a new top tank and fitted it under the existing original tank.”
With the engine back from David Moor’s SVCR installed it, gave the fuel primers on top of the cylinder head a drink, adjusted the throttle position on the steering column and one of the boys grabbed hold of the crank handle.
He gave it a swing and, just like David Moor had said, it burst into life as it would have when new, in 1919, at the end of the assembly line in Detroit.
The next step
With SVCR’s work completed, the Federal was transported on a tilt-tray to youngest Herring brother David’s factory in Ulladulla, on the NSW South Coast. David is a skilful woodworker and furniture manufacturer, so he got the job of fettling the timber tray body and sides. The latter had longitudinal splits.
Instead of replacing the sides he was able to key them together internally, leaving the original split visually from the outside, but quite securely repaired, with his handiwork only seen on the inside. He also replaced the timber bearers between the tray and the chassis.
The truck then had to be moved from David’s factory up to John’s property in Bingara. David said: “It was loaded onto a tilt-tray and taken via the weighbridge at the local council trip. We needed to know its tare weight for the future, when we’ll be required to move it to various locations for displays and events.
“When it pulled up on the scales at the tip a rush of staff and others ventured over for a gander.
“I think some may have thought we’d brought it in to dump it and other curious onlookers asked if we’d be unloading it, and if so, could they have a ride in it?
“The attraction of the old girl was just magnetic and we thought that if it affects every-day people like this we’re on a winner when we take it to various displays and parades.”
After arriving in Bingara, the reupholstered seat, the canopy and windscreen were all fitted.
“So, what’s in the future for this old road transport time capsule?” we asked.
The Herrings would like to display the Federal in a place where people can see it. They’d like to show it at various functions and gatherings.
They thought about the National Road Transport Hall of Fame in Alice Springs, but felt that was too far from the mainstream. Batlow, the NSW apple capital, is where the truck first lived and worked, so that was an obvious place from where it could be involved in street parades in the area.
Other possibilities include the National Museum in Canberra that has a good display of vehicles from our country’s past, as does the National Motor Museum in Birdwood, South Australia. The recently opened Museum of Vehicle Evolution (MOVE) in Shepparton, Victoria, is one of the largest regional museums of collectibles in Australia.
Whatever the Herring Family decides, this automotive treasure most certainly needs to be seen and appreciated.