Mechanic turns damaged truck into grandson's playground

Neil Hall watches his grandson, Jack Stiles, having fun in the playground he built using a 1946 Austin truck.
John Hawkins/Stuff

Neil Hall watches his grandson, Jack Stiles, having fun in the playground he built using a 1946 Austin truck.

A vintage truck saved from the scrap heap has been transformed into a playground for 5-year-old Jack Stiles.

"It's cool," says Jack, a pupil at Takitimu Primary School in Nightcaps.

His grandfather Neil Hall, of Invercargill, built the playground. He made a fine job of it, but that's not surprising because Hall is a SouthRoads workshop manager and worked 44 years as a heavy diesel mechanic.

The cab of the truck in Jack Stiles' playground is great for hide-and-seek, the youngster says.
John Hawkins/Stuff

The cab of the truck in Jack Stiles' playground is great for hide-and-seek, the youngster says.

The deck of the 1946 Austin truck was removed and a swing, slide and basketball hoop were built on the left side of the chassis. An equipment box on the right side was turned into seating made of tyres for two people.

The truck's engine remains intact but doesn't work. A new Mack exhaust and muffler were fitted, along with a seatbelt, non-working radio telephone and heavy haulage light on the roof.

Hall reckons it took him 140 hours, mostly at weekends, and $500 of materials to build the playground.

He was given the truck a year ago after it had been abandoned in a Tisbury shed. It was rusty in parts and had a damaged cab.

The same day Stadium Southland's roof collapsed because of a heavy snow fall in 2010, the roof of the shed fell in and landed on the cab of the truck.

"It was going to be scrapped ... I thought it was too good for that," says Hall, who knows little about the truck's early history but understands it might have operated in the North Island.

Knowing Jack loved trucks and machinery, Hall thought up the idea of a playground incorporating the truck. He's still got the design on a sheet of cardboard.

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The truck was transported to Hall's home where he has a workshop.

One of the first things to be fixed was the truck's pushed in cab.

"I put the forklift fork through the window with a block on it and lifted the roof up," Hall says.

The truck was painted and Jack's name put on the doors - Jack Haulage.

Hall remembers it snowing when the playground was put together on the lawn of Jack's home in Nightcaps.

"The ground was completely white."

Jack is often in the cab of the truck, hands on the steering wheel, with the family's Border Collie Tui by his side. The cab is popular in hide-and-seek with his friends.

The playground occupies a lot of Jack's spare time, his stepfather Jamie Shepherd says.

"In the weekends, he really hammers it. I'm sure in the summer, he'll hammer it even more.

"If my grandfather had made this for me, I'd be stoked"

The playground is not the first present Hall has built for Jack. Two years ago he made a go-cart, which still works.

Restoring old vehicles, tractors and graders is a hobby of Hall's. He has serviced and repaired Caterpillar machinery for about 50 years, handling the brand for the first time as a 15-year-old.

"They're reliable and easy to work on," Hall says.

Earlier in his working career, Hall has worked on machinery in many towns, including Twizel (hydro scheme), Manapouri (tunnels), Mossburn (wind farm), Ohai-Nightcaps (coal mines), Palmerston (gold mine) and Bluff (fishing boats).

Hall was in teams that made a hubcap Christmas tree and wreath for the Invercargill-based Richardson Group. The four-metre high tree is part of Christmas decorations at Bill Richardson Transport World, while the two-metre wreath is displayed at Classic Motorcycle Mecca. 

"There's more than 200 hubcaps in the tree," Hall says.

He has done work on two tractors and a grader on display at Transport World.  

Hall owns a 1964 Ford Fairlane which will be used for the third wedding in the family in February. It will be driven to Taupo for the wedding of Hall's son, Marshall, who is New Zealand's champion discus thrower. 

The Fairlane was the wedding car for Jack's parents, Jamie and Jenna, and his uncle and aunt, Ryan and Katie Keil, of Invercargill.

Hall bought the Fairlane in Gore in 1999 after it had been in a shed for 17 years. 

Jamie, is a livestock agent, volunteer fireman and player for the Ohai-Nightcaps senior rugby team. His wife, Jenna, is president and coach of the Takitimu United Netball Club.   

  • This story has been amended from an earlier version in which Jack's surname was incorrect. 

 - Stuff

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