Starting again – Update # 48

We recently experienced a sense of déjà vu as Steve began stripping out a Diamond T donor truck. The Doodlebug project has officially begun!

The Donor Truck

To replicate the Doodlebug frame, the two options were to either build a brand new chassis or modify an existing Diamond T. After much thought, we decided that even though an existing frame would need extensive modifications, we would end up with authentic rails and suspension components from the Diamond T plant in Chicago, Illinois. This option supported our commitment to incorporate as many original Diamond T parts into the build as possible. So the first task of the project, was to source a donor Diamond T truck.

Starry Malcolm spotted a Model 614 for sale in Northern California back in 2019. Initially, we had discussed parts that could be needed for the ’38 Texaco tanker restoration, so Starry was actively looking out for anything suitable. But the more we thought about purchasing the heavy duty 614 that Starry had found, the more we thought it would be a perfect donor chassis for the Doodlebug project. With Starry’s help, we went ahead and bought the truck.

The bones of the Doodlebug build – the Diamond T Model 614 in CA in 2019.

To organise the transportation of the truck back to LA, Steve contacted Duane Jones. Duane is always so obliging and helpful with any job Steve puts his way, and this request was no exception. The transportation was a little more interesting for Duane this time, as the 614 had been sold with a 509 cab and front end sitting on the back!

Duane’s exceptionally heavy load!

When the truck was back at Duane’s yard, he discovered rats had built nests inside the engine bays. As part of Duane’s excellent service, he removed them and cleaned up the cabs prior to delivering the truck to LA.

The unwanted debris in the engine bay.

Our thanks to Starry for his help with the Diamond T, and to Duane, Steve Curle and the team at Kiwi Shipping for transporting and shipping the truck and additional cab back to NZ.

The Preparation

Since arriving on our shores in 2019, the 614 has been stored in a shipping container on our property. Within a week of the ’38 Texaco tanker leaving for the Classics Museum, we had swept out the shed in readiness for the new project.

Steve towed the 614 out of the container and used a forklift to manoeuvre it into position. Just as he had done five years earlier with the ’38 tanker, Steve sprayed penetrant across the truck over a number of days in the hope that stripping it would be a little easier this time. Unfortunately, it was not.

The Model 614 in position for work to begin.

Day One

With the mammoth job ahead, Steve really appreciated an offer of help from two close friends to strip out the truck. A little over a month ago, Alan Hulse and John Della-Mura spent a day giving Steve a hand to begin dismantling the 614.

The first task of the day was to remove the front sheet metal. Alan and John set about unbolting the front guards / fenders. They quickly battled with the same issues that had challenged Steve when he stripped out the tanker…rusty, seized bolts everywhere that required grinding off in most cases. Next on the list was the removal of the running boards, followed by the radiator.

The rust free front guards and running boards waiting for someone else’s project!

Steve helped Alan and John cut through seized bolts where necessary, and worked at the rear of the truck undoing the driveshaft and u-bolts.

The guys directed their attention to the fixing points of the cab and by the end of that day, it was only being held on in a couple of places.

Progress shots after the first day of dismantling the donor truck.

It was a good start to the project – our thanks and appreciation to Alan and John for their help and support, and as always, their great company.

The Cab

Several days later, Steve had cut and removed the wiring to the front and rear, and had cut the remaining bolts. Using the forklift, he was able to lift the Diamond T cab off the chassis. The following photos will bring back memories of a much earlier post when the ’38 Diamond T cab was unbolted and removed in the same way.

Steve had a good look over the cab once it was removed and, unlike the ’38 tanker cab, found this one to be in a solid, restorable condition.

We are really happy that the 614 cab has now gone to a new home to live again in another truck. We will continue to either use or preserve as many parts as possible from this old Diamond T workhorse.

The Engine

Alan had enjoyed his dismantling experience so much on that first day, he came back the following weekend for more!

The focus this time was to disconnect and remove the engine. With the cab now off, the access to the running board brackets was better, so they would be unbolted as well.

The engine exterior is not a pretty sight. Steve is unsure at this stage whether or not the motor will be salvageable for the project.

Alan began by removing the brake booster and vacuum lines. He and Steve systematically disconnected everything associated with the engine, and were able to unbolt the mounts. Once again using the forklift, they lifted the motor out and placed it on a stand.

The Diamond T Super-Service engine.

Steve really appreciated Alan’s help with this next stage of the disassembly. The removal of the engine has cleared the way to work on the entire length of the bare chassis.

The Diamond T Donor Chassis

The rails on this heavy duty 614 truck are double plated, with fish plates riveted along the outside edge.

The double plated rail.

It is hard to believe just how destructive rust can be, and how much force there is from the corrosion of steel. The following photos of the fish plates show just how much structural damage can occur when corrosion is at play.

The ‘rippled’ state of the heavy gauge steel plates.

We have had a couple of ‘uh-oh’ moments with the uncertainty of the rail condition behind the mangled plates. Steve dug out some of the rust this morning, and was relieved to find that the rails themselves were in pretty good condition. It will be a huge job to cut off all the rivets along the fish plates – particularly since the surface is no longer flat and the areas around some of the rivets have blown out so badly.

A bird’s eye view of the rail and the extraordinary damage to the fish plate.

Steve and Tom Andrews have recently gone over the modifications to the rails that will be required, and have come up with a plan for the shortening of the wheel base. The excitement is building…..

The Ellerslie Car Show

When the Ellerslie Car Show was postponed due to Cyclone Gabrielle, we made a commitment to the show committee to bring the tanker back up to Auckland for the rescheduled date of April 23rd, 2023.

A few days prior to the show, Steve drove the transporter down to Hamilton. Tom Andrews, and the team at the Classics Museum, had already cleared the surrounding vehicles and removed the Diamond T from the display area. They helped Steve to load the tanker and he then made the trip back to Auckland.

Around 5.30am on the Sunday morning, Steve drove to the Ellerslie Racecourse to meet John Della-Mura. In total darkness, they had the advantage of being one of the first vehicles there. The perfect spot to unload the tanker was a corner of the car park where there were large security spotlights lighting up the area.

Steve drove the tanker around to the Newmarket Room in the Ellerslie Stand, where John Pavlovich from Mothers NZ was waiting to clean and polish the truck. John had organised some Swisstrax flooring to be laid in our display area and it looked absolutely fabulous. As soon as Steve parked the tanker in position, John and Tonicha Hunt began a full polish of the entire truck. The Mothers NZ products had the tanker looking truly stunning, and the Texaco red paint supplied by Car Colors North Shore just shone under the venue’s lighting.

The Swisstrax flooring, suitably framed in red and kindly organised by Mothers NZ.

Steve chatted with Stephen McIvor and Greg Murphy during their coverage of the Ellerslie show for Sky Speed.

We sat some pull up banners next to the truck showing the restoration information and photos. These banners that Mitch printed for us proved to be of real interest to members of the public and show entrants who took the time to read through and understand the journey we had all been on with this beautiful art deco truck.

It was a busy and enjoyable day spent with family and friends. We caught up with people we hadn’t seen in years, and got to chat with like-minded people who appreciated the level of detail that Steve had gone to with the restoration.

The time to pack up arrived, and we were so fortunate to have a group of friends wait around to help with the loading.  I recently touched on the challenges of the transporter but, having seen the loading of the tanker in person, I now totally understand and fully appreciate the complexities and challenges of loading this truck.

Steve attaching the winch.

The most honest way to describe the loading is that it is extremely stressful for all involved. The lining up of the tanker prior to touching the ramps is critical for a straight loading. Just a few degrees out is enough for the truck to skew off course and start to enter the transporter at an angle.

Despite markings on the ramps, the guiding of the truck on its approach is a bit of a nightmare for whoever is inside! Not to mention that as the tanker is winched up the ramps, Steve is losing sight of everything outside the cab. It took three attempts to load the Diamond T, and then quite some time to secure the truck and have Steve check each strop. The whole process took just under two hours to complete.

The following week, Steve returned the ’38 Diamond T tanker to the Classics Museum in Hamilton, where it is now back on display again.

We are very grateful to Peter Woodbury, John Della-Mura, Robbie Hulse, Alan Hulse and Mark Barton for their help and patience to safely load up the precious cargo.

Our thanks and appreciation also to Swisstrax, John Pavlovich, Tonicha Hunt and Mothers NZ for everything they did at Ellerslie to display and showcase the truck at its very best.


Re-writing the Doodlebug history – Update # 47


The elusive wheels and tyres – Update # 49


  1. John L Constenius

    Always enjoy the next installment. The Doodle Bug will be an awesome achievement when done! I was looking at the fish plates. It may be that the truck was overloaded at some time? The frame would then belly down. That would cause the bottom of the fish plate to stretch tight against the frame and the top to compress or shorten. This could cause the fish plate to pooch out and then collect dirt in the gap over time.

    I checked my marker lights and they were around 9 inches in length. I’ll keep an eye out for you.

    Best JOHN

    • Sue Keys

      Thanks very much John. And we appreciate you checking the marker lights.

  2. Ken Smith

    I really enjoy your postings and look forward to many more! Great job.

  3. Steve Medley

    The first tanker looks great and I’m really happy to see that the new project is underway. I think what you’re doing to preserve (and recreate) these historic trucks is amazing. Thanks again for including us in your projects. I get so excited when I see a new email from you in my inbox.

    • Sue Keys

      It’s great to have you following these projects Steve! Many thanks.

  4. Steve W Curle

    looking forward to following the next build
    really enjoy your project updates
    keep the great work going

    • Sue Keys

      Thanks for shipping the truck across, and for your ongoing support Steve.

  5. Kevin caudill

    One beautiful truck

  6. Grant

    It’s wonderful to see more pictures of the Diamond T tanker. It is such a beauty! One day the Doodlebug will be as nice I’m sure. Following the new project will be fun as progress continues.

    • Sue Keys

      Thanks very much Grant. Carrying out the project will be fun as well!

  7. John King

    Sue, Thanks for the wonderful update! It is a pleasure to follow the progress from Minnesota!

  8. Craig and Rhonda Houston

    You guys are devils for punishment for sure. I”m sure that this “T” will turn out just as amazing as the first knowing the talent of Steve. Well done and I look forward to your updates as well….

  9. Guys, is the tank on the Doodle Bug a Heil or another manufacturer?

  10. Pam Gore

    Sue your reports are so well written , and really appreciated. The rest of us can try to put ourselves in your shoes and through your photos, can enjoy you and Steve’s latest project. Thanks so much.

  11. Vinod

    Hi Sue, I have been rather swamped ( excuse the metaphor ) over the last couple of months by an emergency housing project for the east coast, so I saved the read of this post as a reward now that the bulk of the work has been done.
    And what a treat it was – you and Steve have a way of escalating what others would consider impossible. The imagery is brutal and graphic and how you get past the structural deficiencies in the chassis will be very interesting.
    Best wishes for the immense task ahead.

    • Sue Keys

      Thank you so much Vinod. We hope the housing project plans have gone well.

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