Old truck centre stage in NZ children's book

TIM CRONSHAW
Last updated 12:10 12/07/2013
Sisters Jennifer Somervell (left) and Margery Fern have combined to produce the children's book based around a 1921 Model 10 Republic truck which used to be on their family farm.
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KEEP ON TRUCKING: Sisters Jennifer Somervell, left, and Margery Fern have combined to produce a children's book based on a 1921 Model 10 Republic truck that used to be on their family farm.

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An old farm truck that lay rusting in a shed and survived fire and floods, is capturing the imagination of children in a book by Canterbury author Jennifer Somervell.

Somervell, and her sister Margery Fern who is the illustrator of the book, Old Truck, grew up with the 1921 Model 10 Republic on a family farm near Takapau in central Hawke's Bay.

The story is based on their childhood memories of farm workers struggling with the old truck at the 50-hectare family farm.

"I remember it on the farm and my father being totally frustrated with this poor old dying vehicle," said Somervell. "At that stage it would have been 50 years old in the 1970s.

''When we were haymaking we were close to the Ruahine Range and it used to rain. I remember the guys swearing at not being able to start it and towing it out of a hole and crash-starting it all the time, because the crank handle was quite an act."

The old truck was bought by the sisters' grandfather, Gordon Somervell, in 1938 for £25 and was an indispensable workhorse.

After it was retired and placed in a shed their late father, Rea, turned down many offers because their brother John promised he would rebuild it one day and take it to a national vintage rally.

This was achieved only after the truck survived a garage fire from ashes placed next to a wood pile, being half towed and driven over the Taupo hills and floodwater covering the bonnet from a swollen Tongariro River at Turangi in 2004.

Despite these disasters their brother John persevered, with the help of family, for more than 30 years. He did much of the work himself, getting parts engineered and finding the original radiator in a cow paddock.

He became the hero in the book, with the old truck personalised to display feelings of sadness and loneliness when abandoned and happiness when restored.

Somervell said the truck had resonated with children and their parents and grandparents, who remembered the old farm vehicles once found on farms.

"The childrens' faces go sad when I read them the story and they really identify with the truck, which is quite cute. We had a bit more of a hunch [the book would work] as when we started telling the old stories at family reunions after my parents died, we found the kids loved them."

This is the second book the sisters have worked on together and they have plans for more children's stories depicting farm life in the 1960s and 70s.

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Somervell writes stories for a lifestyle block magazine at a herb garden in the rural Canterbury township of Oxford. The self-publishing efforts of the pair were rewarded when Old Truck won two honourable mentions at the Purple Dragonfly Book Awards.

The family have yet to hear of another truck of the same model, because 1921 was the last year of production for the Republic Truck Company in Alma, Michigan and not many were made.

Last year John took it to the national rally, as he had promised his father.

- Stuff

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