Truck resto project is a trip down memory lane

Retired truckie Col ‘Snow’ Lovett, 74, fell into trucking almost by accident. Originally from NSW’s north coast, he headed to Camden in 1969 for a holiday and worked bailing hay on Camden Park Estate before getting a job in 1970 as a truck driver at TRN Haulage (now TRN Group) – and so he stayed there until he retired 37 years later in 2007.

He moved back to Kyogle to enjoy a slower paced, semi-retired lifestyle – though he continued to work on the road, this time driving a school bus, and occasional runs delivering trucks around the country. 

A few years into his job at TRN, Col was handed the keys to ‘Snow’s White’, a 1978 model White Road Commander. 

His son Andrew Lovett recalls countless trips travelling in the truck as a kid, while sitting in the passenger seat, particularly during school holidays. He was six years old when Col started driving the Road Commander. 

Three Generations: Kaden, Andrew and Col Lovett.

“That was a big truck for the day. It was put to work subbing for Mitchell Brothers, running between NSW, Victoria, South Australia and Queensland, as well as the coal mines around the Burragorang Valley and NSW south coast,” explained Andrew; adding that his father was also one of the drivers of the successful Shell Volvo race truck back in the day.

Col was in the Road Commander until it was upgraded to a V8 Mack Superliner, but that truck always held a special place in his heart – possibly because it was a step up from sleeping across the seats or over the steering wheel. 

The original truck parked outside the family home in Camden, NSW (circa 1978).

White manufactured the Road Commander between 1972 and 1983. The one Col drove was powered by a 290 Cummins engine – and so a few years ago, Col and Andrew set about finding a truck based on the same specs that they could complete together as a restoration project. As luck would have it, they located one in Naracoorte, SA, in 2015. “After a few phone calls, the deal was done,” said Andrew. “We had to get it trucked over. The truck was still running, but not in good enough condition to drive it that far. The guy who owned it actually had it working up until a few years before he sold it. We don’t know the VIN of the original but this one is the exact same spec.”

The father and son team soon got to work making the truck look as good as the original Road Commander driven by Col – and TRN was happy to help. 

Though Col retired from the company nearly a decade ago, Andrew is employed at TRN Group as its chief financial officer. “I fell into driving coal trucks for TRN back when I was 19 as a way of paying the bills while I was at uni doing a Bachelor of Commerce,” he said.

This is how the truck looked at purchase in 2015, prior to the restoration.

Following that he spent time working as an accountant for an engineering company and driving coal trucks on weekends. “It’s an odd combination I know, but it’s one that worked,” added Andrew. 

“After a stint working in finance for Guinness in London, he came home and, sick of wearing a suit, jumped back into driving for TRN for about six months before moving into the office.”

Though he continued to drive on weekends or nights when he was needed, he stepped away from full-time driving in 1997. But 26 years later, he’s still at the company which now employs 360 people, albeit in a very different role. 

“The owners of TRN were on board with the restoration which was a good thing,” said Andrew, admitting that while he can drive a truck and is a whizz with numbers, his experience at fixing and restoring a truck is very limited. 

“This gave us a place to store the truck during the process as well as the use of some great mechanics during their down time. Fortunately, the truck was mechanically sound. It was a credit to the previous owner who had spent a bit on it. Until a few years before it was purchased it had still been doing Nhill changeovers. After giving it a thorough check, Ben Rose started the process of stripping the cab down for restoration.

A new paint job had the truck looking back to its best.

“It took about a year to get it back on the road. Because we were going back to the old TRN set-up, it was great to have TRN carrying out most of the work.”

Andrew explained the restoration process from beginning to end. To start, he said the chassis was sandblasted. “Then the truck went to the Adco Trailers workshop where some space was offered for a spray painter to work out of.  Jason Gibson stepped up to the challenge of repairing the cab and bringing it up to the look we were after. The doors were rusted out and needed to be re-skinned. The biggest repair was to the passenger side of the sleeper where it needed to be re-sheeted.”

Denis from Signs Lines ‘n Scrolls adorned the truck with traditional signwriting.

He continued, “Over the next few months as time permitted, repairs were done, rivets and huck bolts replaced and the cab was ready for paint. Denis from Signs Lines ‘n Scrolls then worked his magic with some old school signwriting. Alex and the boys from Adco Trailers did some fabrication work, including the checker plate and everything was starting to take shape.

“A few finishing touches like new mudflaps from Dutchy’s Mudflaps and new mud guards, and a little over a year from when it was purchased, the restored White rolled out the door in 2016.”

That was the same year that TRN celebrated its 50th anniversary. The old White, adorned in TRN’s traditional colours, served as a centrepiece during a special celebration, sitting alongside one of the company’s late model Kenworth cab-overs. 

TRN Haulage celebrated 50 years in 2016. The restored White together with one of the company’s recent model Kenworths served as a backdrop during a special celebration.

Though it sat pretty for that event, Andrew added that his Road Commander “isn’t just a show pony”. 

“It travels up and down the east coast to shows, attending events from Queensland to Victoria,” he said.

With the truck looking as good as the day it rolled off the production line, the next step was finding a suitable trailer. And this is where the metamorphosis from truck to mobile home took shape.

The trailer is well equipped and even has room for the car.

“We needed to put a trailer on it because it was too rough on the road. We had a flat top for it, and then a cheap furniture van came up, so we fitted it out,” Andrew explained. 

While Col travels the show circuit, the trailer serves as a home away from home. 

“My nephew Harrison is a chippy so he helped out with the conversion. The finished product provides some comfortable beds, a toilet, shower, kitchen and room to put the car in the back. It can be hooked up to mains or run off a generator or the batteries that are kept topped up with solar panels.”

It’s the perfect set-up for Col and his wife Heather to travel around the truck show circuit and enjoy their retirement. 

Col and his wife Heather travel around the truck show circuit with the restored truck.

Though the initial plan was for the truck to spend half the year with Col in Kyogle and half at Andrew’s in Camden, it spends much more time up north.

(l-r): Andrew with his children Addison, Kaden and Georgia, and wife Dannielle Lovett.

“With Dad being retired now, he uses it much more than me, so the majority of the time, it’s up there in Kyogle. He loves it and uses it at least every couple of months. He just spent two weeks away in it doing a few shows. I usually bring it down here for a few months each year,” said Andrew.

So far this year the truck has been to truck shows in Gundagai, Lockhart, Clunes, Kyabram, Rocklea, Gundagai, Wauchope and the Casino Truck Show, which took place on Saturday August 5.

Whilst it missed this year’s Haulin’ the Hume due to other commitments, it is a regular at the event, as well as Crawlin’ the Hume.

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