The Diamond T seat – Update # 40

Kelly O’Donnell has begun work on the Diamond T seat and Rowan Glass has applied PPG Epotec two pack epoxy primer to the remaining panels. A very special article has emerged from 1931…..

The Upholsterer

Kelly O’Donnell has been in the upholstery industry since 1980. He established Stitches Upholstery in 1990 in the Manukau area and began upholstering vehicles for Steve in 1991.

The first of our cars that Kelly worked on was a 1932 Ford 3 window coupe. He upholstered the interior, which originally included a pair of Recaro seats. Shortly after completion, we discovered there was a baby on the way so Steve asked Kelly to make a replacement bench seat. Kelly came to the rescue and had the seat finished for our 1500 mile round trip with Mitch at the age of four months. Now that was an experience!

Roll the clock forward to today and Kelly now trades as Kellys Upholstery in Kawakawa Bay.

The Diamond T Seat

The seat base in the Diamond T was a two-piece bench seat. This split configuration was designed to allow access to the gas tank positioned underneath the passenger seat.

The seat was practical and very plain with the only feature being the piping around the seat perimeter. Style was definitely not a consideration when the seats were upholstered in these trucks, and nor should it have been. These were, after all, service vehicles.

The sprung seats were padded with latex-bonded horse hair and other filling material.  The springs acted as shock absorbers for the driver and passenger when travelling, and were designed to provide ‘support and comfort’. I did a quick search for the horse hair padding and it can still be sourced today for those restoring older vehicles.

Steve is unsure at this stage about replicating the original style of the seat upholstery. His concern is not only from an aesthetic perspective, but also how each section of upholstery will fare without the inclusion of some reinforced seams. So the jury is out on whether Kelly should change the original design to improve the durability of the upholstery. My purist tendencies throughout this project have me leaning towards keeping the seats original…….to be continued.

The Springs and Frame Repairs

Kelly was given the two base pieces and the backrest, along with a spare base to use for springs, parts, etc. The image above shows the poor condition these seats were in.

The first task was to remove the upholstery and padding. Kelly rolled each piece of upholstery up and put them to one side. He will use these as a pattern and the original horse hair will be reused with some extra padding in the seat cushions.

I am driving Steve mad by wanting to keep as many original pieces of the truck as possible. I admit the pieces are generally rusty pieces of steel, so at least the original upholstery covers will be more pliable for storing!

A close-up shot of the seat frame.

Many of the springs were broken. The padding, I suspect, contained more than just latex-bonded horse hair! I think a number of creatures have called these seats home over the years!

With the padding removed, the full scale of damage to the springs, etc is evident in these shots. Kelly set about repairing the springs and then sent everything off to be sandblasted and powder coated.

The Repaired Springs and Frames

The powder coated frames and springs are a far cry from the original pieces given to Kelly.

Kelly has now reattached the springs to the frames on the two base pieces and the backrest.

Our thanks to Kelly for the fabulous work so far on the seats. We very much appreciate him sharing these photos with us of each stage of the repairs.

Kellys Upholstery

14 Kawakawa Bay Coast Rd, Kawakawa Bay


Phone:   027 7771367

The AC Spark Plug Company

The ’38 Diamond T tanker had amber reflectors mounted in the front fenders / guards as an additional safety measure.

Once Steve had unbolted and removed the reflectors, we found markings in the casings that identified them as AC Reflex signal reflectors, made by the AC Spark Plug Company. Both glass lenses were broken and the bezels were dented in several areas.

While attempting to find NOS replacements, I came across an AC Spark Plug Company advertisement from 1933 and was surprised at the diverse range of products that the company manufactured.

Motor Boating Magazine, Issue : January 1933,  International Magazine Co Inc.

The small print at the bottom of the ad listed the numerous range of products – the initials ‘AC’ preceded all but one of the brand names.

I researched the ‘AC’ brand and discovered the initials stood for Albert Champion. And for those wondering about the Champion name, yes, it was connected to the well known Champion Spark Plug Co.

Born in France in 1878, Albert Champion established the Albert Champion Company in Boston, Massachusetts in 1905 to manufacture spark plugs. An arrangement for some investors to go into partnership with him was, unfortunately, about to lose him the Champion trading name.

Problems emerged with his partners and, before long, Albert Champion was no longer with the company. He set up another company called the Champion Ignition Co with the backing of the Buick Motor Co. His ex-partners, however, informed him that they had trademarked the Champion name. Basically, he was unable to use his own surname!

So the Champion Ignition Co was changed to the AC Spark Plug Co to reflect Champion’s initials, while his former company, which was now his competitor, changed its name to the Champion Spark Plug Co. And so began an industry rivalry that still exists today between Champion (now owned by DRiV Incorporated) and ACDelco (now owned by General Motors).

The Reflectors

My search to find original replacement reflectors over the past several years has come up empty. There was a single one advertised on eBay that Steve Rutledge spotted but it sold before we managed to buy it. The odd one has come up on its own since but none have had the correct coloured lens.

So recently, Steve approached Mark Whiter at Marlin Tooling Ltd in East Tamaki to recreate the AC Reflex signal reflectors . Mark has manufactured a number of components throughout the project, so the reflectors are another of his creations to add to the list.

Using one of the original AC Reflex reflectors as a pattern, Mark machined a base and bezel. The replacement 3 1/2″ diameter glass amber lenses were found listed as tall Model T cowl / tail light housing lenses. Our thanks to Graeme McNeill from Macs Speed Shop for bringing the honeycomb lenses in from the States for us.

To mount the reflectors, Steve retained and painted the base brackets from the original pieces.

Our thanks and appreciation once again to Mark Whiter who has created all the parts that we couldn’t source, including the beautiful Heil pedestals.

The Panels

Steve recently caught up with Rowan Glass and took these photos of the remaining panels. Rowan’s self-imposed standard of absolute perfection is clearly on display.

The sleek deco curves of the fenders / guards are highlighted and emphasised when placed side by side.

Steve and Rowan test fitted one of the reflectors and gave it a tick of approval!

A frontal shot of the fabulous Diamond T guards coated with PPG Epotec two pack epoxy primer.

Rowan’s commitment to this project has never waned and his workmanship is constantly at the highest standard. We can’t wait to see these guards in the beautiful PPG Delfleet Texaco red paint!

Revisiting Newberry County, SC

Three years ago, I published a post on the history of the Texaco tanker that we had uncovered at that time. The area that the Diamond T was known to be in service was Newberry County in South Carolina.

Back in 2019, one of the photos published in the post showed a corner lot that was identified as being the site of a Texaco gas station. At the back of the lot, bulk storage tanks were built in the 1920s near the railroad tracks.

The empty lot was all that was left of the Texaco station, so the building style back in the 1930s was left to our imagination. Thanks to Starry Malcolm’s help, another piece of the puzzle has been found.

In late October last year, I was chatting to Starry about the Diamond T tanker and Newberry County came up in conversation. Starry offered to contact Chevron and make further enquiries about the truck using ‘Newberry’ and ‘Diamond T’ as search terms. His communications with Chevron uncovered an article from 1931 that made me feel like Christmas had come early!

The Dominick Service Station

In 2019, I  engaged the services of Sanders Abstracting to research the history of the land parcel, ID 404-1, in Newberry County.

The result of that search was a copy of a deed that detailed the sale and purchase of the parcel of land in question from The Dominick Oil Company to The Texas Company on 2nd December 1930.

An article in the Observer dated 11th June 1929 announced the formation of the Dominick Oil Company.

The Observer, Newberry, S.C. Tuesday June 11, 1929 – Vol 47 – No 47

In mid 2019, Rich Harner reached out to the Newberry, South Carolina Historical Society and was given the name of Jim Clamp. Rich kindly phoned Jim and they chatted about the Texaco dealership in Newberry County. Jim then emailed us with the news that his good friend and fellow historian, Ernest Shealy, had searched the County records for us. He discovered Harry Dominick owned the Texaco dealership for a number of years following the purchase of his land by the Texas Company in 1930. This was something I hadn’t considered.

I searched further through newspaper records and found an obituary for Harry Dominick in 1968.  The obituary stated that in 1926 ‘he became the first agent of the Texas Company at Newberry’ and he didn’t retire from that position until 1959. Harry Dominick’s involvement with the Texaco dealership spanned over three decades, so his career also forms a big part of the gas station’s history.

The Article

After reaching out to a few contacts at Chevron, Starry was put in touch with one of the archivists at the Chevron Corporate Archives. Interestingly, a very thorough search found no reference to Diamond T in the thousands upon thousands of Texaco records. This supports our theory that the Diamond T / Texaco tanker combinations were a rarity.

The Newberry County search, however, yielded one result and it was the result we were hoping for……..the gas station that was situated on the corner of C R Koon Highway and Boyd Crossing Road. We couldn’t have hoped for more with before and after photos of the gas station itself. Pure gold!

The Texaco Mission, Pg 14, April 1931 issue, courtesy of The Chevron Heritage Center

The above article was the very last thing I ever emailed to Rich. I didn’t get to follow up with a phone call but I know he would have been smiling ear to ear and very excited about the find!

Our sincerest thanks to Maura Matthews from Chevron for searching the archives for us. And a huge thank you to Starry for contacting Chevron and for his ongoing help and support with the project.



The loss of a special friend


Wiring, paint and upholstery – Update # 41


  1. Harris Family

    With each posting we read there is huge significance to many special folk in this total rebuild. Unfortunately some who you have lost. We are both enjoying the journey and thank you for sharing.

  2. I’m with you on this one Sue, Seat needs to stay authentic

  3. Steve Medley

    I get so excited when a new update shows up. I wish I lived in NZ so I could see this in person someday. I’ve always wanted to go NZ so maybe somday.

  4. Fred Hammerle

    More great history! Keep it coming. Fred

  5. Yup, authentic seat. Besides, it’s not a daily work vehicle, anymore.
    I am looking forward to the book being published.

  6. Steve Medley

    It’s hard to believe somebody saw those pictures on ebay and thought “I can fix that”.
    Thank you for saving this.

    • Sue Keys

      Thanks Steve. It sounds like the truck could easily have been scrapped that day. We are so glad it wasn’t!

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