There was no way my backside could have survived a 4,000km trip to Townsville and back in a Jeep so I started looking around for something a little more comfortable. Ken Hughes in Kingaroy had an ex-army 1942 Chevrolet half ton utility he wanted to sell and I had a Marmon-Herrington 6X6 of no possible use to man or beast, so a neat swap was arranged.
3 weeks to go
Vehicle still as it came off the farm – stuck clutch, no electrics, no brakes, rotten rear body etc.
2 weeks to go
Panel beaten, painted, new rear body, new brakes, new clutch etc.
Start engine- giant crack in block.
1 Week to go
Fit replacement engine I had bought for some unknown reason at the Toowoomba swap two years earlier. Refit front end of body and start engine. Goes first kick but runs very rough. Investigation finds it has one cylinder rusted through from sitting with water prior to my purchase.
Sunday 6 days to go
Investigate poor water flow evident from above run finding radiator internally rotten – pick up new radiator from Bill Diehm’s collection. Commence search for 3rd engine and after many calls get a lead for a new engine “just over the border”.
Monday 5 days to go
Spend whole day driving around “just over the border” finally tracking down owner of a brand new Chevrolet short motor still in the box packed in wartime grease. Owner wants a fortune and will not take a cheque. Race back from Kyogle to Brisbane to just miss the bank.
Tuesday 4 days to go
Collect money from bank drive 250km back to Kyogle. The colour of money puts me in a better bargaining position and, with a new short motor and complete second-hand spare thrown in, sprint back to Brisbane. On the way call at Merv Cattel’s for another old engine for better accessories.
Wednesday 3 days to go
Start to build up engine, finding Chevrolet changed specifications every 3 days and it takes the new short motor and bits off every one of the 4 old ones to come up with a complete unit. Refit engine and rebuild front of vehicle for the third time in a week. Drive Chev unregistered in the dark to upholsterer to have seats and canopy done.
Thursday 2 days to go
Upholsterer still not finished.
Friday 1 day to go
Upholsterer not finished until mid-day. Race across town to Ray Harvey for Roadworthy Certificate. Speed back to Motor Registry, arriving 10 minutes before closing time. Bureaucracy strikes! Sharen Cattel (MJCQ Secretary) must promise on pain of death over the phone to send a letter confirming I am a person of sober habits suitable to own a military vehicle.
At last – the weekend before the departure so I have two whole days to finish the wiring, build a bed in the back, get a wheel alignment and tune the engine before leaving for Townsville.
First day of Convoy
0600 on the day of departure we arrive at Burpengary ready to leave but with the engine suspiciously warm. By the time we reach the Caloundra turnoff, it is too hot to continue. RACQ rescue team tow me to radiator shop, then flee into the distance. We discover old head I fitted to the new block has dumped so much rust and scale into the radiator it ceased to play ball. Much flushing and cleaning sees us on our way about 3 hours behind the convoy.
After smoothly running for 20 kilometres – horrible expensive noises! We have dropped a valve. Call for tow truck, dump the Chev in the yard of an inquisitive bystander in Nambour and Bev and I have our first train ride in 25 years back to Brisbane.
Second day of Convoy
Arising at 0400, Bev drives me to Caboolture where I pull the head off one of the old engines and we proceed to Nambour. Leaving Bev’s car in the yard of this complete stranger I have the new/old head on and we are on our way by lunchtime. Ignoring the shorted out windscreen wipers and dead panel lights we cruised through the rain and dark to arrive at the Rockhampton convoy camp site at 2130. The vehicle went well – only using 12 litres of oil on the 9 hour run! The culprit was the old fuel pump fitted to the new engine, which was pumping more oil than fuel. The underside of this Chev will never rust!
Third day of Convoy
Merv Cattel loaned me his spare Blitz fuel pump which showed great improvement only leaking one litre of oil an hour over the road. On reaching Mackay I bought a new Holden pump at REPCO.
Fourth day of Convoy
Vehicle began stopping every hour with fuel starvation. RACQ to the rescue with high pressure air on the fuel line to blow out an accumulation of 50 years dirt, dead mice and possibly several sheep, back into the tank. The differential now started making a lot of noise. However, when it is going, the Chev is beautifully quiet, comfortable and very fast.
Fifth day of Convoy
All the vehicles were lining up for the grand entrance into Townsville as the Chev stops with yet another fuel blockage. RACQ to the rescue. It will not start as the starter motor off an old engine has collapsed! Tow start to rejoin the parade.
In between numerous functions and parades, I managed to pull out the fuel tank, remove the radiator for more flushing, replace the starter motor and half the electric wiring etc etc. It looks like the vehicle will be ready to go to Townsville by the time we get back to Brisbane.
Bev, who remains completely calm during all minor setbacks, must be at work early so we depart Townsville alone a couple of days before the convoy. One hour down the road – horrible expensive noises. We have dropped another valve! Leaving Bev at the side of the road with her book, I commenced a 10 kilometre stroll into Brandon – I do not know how hitch hikers get around Australia as several hundred cars passed without stopping. Maybe if I had a short skirt and large chest it would have helped? A friendly couple took me the last two kilometres. After a 3-hour wait for a tow truck at Brandon we pulled up just the first vehicle in 5 hours was stopping to ask Bev if she needed assistance.
This good Samaritan gave us the name of the local fixit man who turned out to be an absolute marvel. Starting after lunch on Saturday, he worked solidly to remove and rebuild the head but on completion, testing showed numerous cracks and 4 different length valve stems which was the problem all along.
A second Good Samaritan ran me around the sugar-cane farms and 3 hours of sweating and grunting saw us return with two 1940’ Chev engines to cannibalise.
It looked like all day Sunday would be taken up with rebuilding a head to “as new” specs (I considered there had been enough head changing practice to take short cuts). As Bev had to be back at work on Tuesday, she hopped on a late afternoon bus.
Things went much quicker than expected and about two hours after the bus departed, I was on my way, paying a bill of $300 for 20 hours labour and numerous parts on a weekend! The Chev ran beautifully on the way home (and so it should have after having every moving part replaced) and sat comfortably on 100kph. I arrived a couple of hours after Bev! I even found the crook differential was actually a worn universal, which was a financially joyous discovery. In conclusion, it was only through detailed and timely planning with meticulous preparation we were able to enjoy such a trouble-free holiday in North Queensland.