Our restoration journey has been rocked by the sad news that Rich Harner has passed away unexpectedly in Missouri, USA. It is only fitting that we dedicate this post to a special friend who has been such a significant part of the restoration behind the scenes.
I began writing this piece in late November but found our personal feelings of sadness kept coming through. A recent email from Rich’s wife, Joyce, reminded me that Rich wouldn’t want us dwelling on the sadness of his passing. Instead, he would want to be remembered for his love of life and his true and absolute passion for this project. So here is our tribute to Rich.
The Beginnings Of A Friendship
When we started publishing posts on this online platform in 2018, we began receiving emails and messages of support from across the globe. One such communication came from Rich Harner who lived in Liberty, MO.
Rich contacted us and explained that he loved Diamond T trucks as well as the deco styled streamlined tankers from the thirties. He personally felt that the ’38 Diamond T Texaco tanker was the crème de la crème of the surviving tankers and was so excited about the restoration.
Numerous emails followed in which Rich openly shared information, photos and material from his personal collection. Before long we were talking to Rich on the phone every few weeks and we formed a very special friendship with this extraordinary man who lived almost 8000 miles away.
To pay tribute to Rich, I can only write about the impact he had on our lives. He was, of course, so much more to so many people. A much loved husband, father, grandfather, uncle, brother and friend to many.
To Steve and I, Rich was an exceptionally humourous, kind and generous man. He had the most amazing sense of humour, was quick-witted and loved to laugh and tease people. Rich was always at the ready with a joke or one liner and his humour could be very dry at times. He brought so much laughter into our lives and would always see the funny side of a bad situation. He truly was a ray of sunshine.
Rich would often tell us stories that involved his network of family and friends. These people were the centre of Rich’s universe and his life beyond them was the icing on the cake.
He exuded an enthusiasm towards life that was totally infectious. We enjoyed every single phone call with Rich – there was never any negativity about anything and no matter what the subject was, he would make us laugh. His friendly and cheerful demeanour was always balanced and complemented by his sincerity and genuine interest in others.
Among Rich’s attributes was his ability to laugh at himself. He often joked about his lack of hair and kindly offered himself for our son’s wedding, “If Mitch needs a dance ball at the wedding, I’ll spin in circles and save an extra expense”.
Rich had loads of fun with our different time zones. We were always a day ahead so a Saturday morning here in New Zealand would be a Friday afternoon in Missouri. He quickly began to refer to this phenomenon as ‘back to the future’. During our phone calls he would often say “How did today go so I’m ready for it tomorrow?”.
We are going to miss Rich’s vibrant personality so much but we are very grateful to have had him in our lives as such a special friend.
For those in the car scene in New Zealand, the name Noddy Watts will be very familiar. Noddy runs the annual Beach Hop festival in Whangamata as well as fundraising for charities and supporting his local community.
So I was intrigued to receive an email from Rich back in 2019 headed up ‘Mr Watts’. The body of the email simply read:
“Hi Steve and Sue,
I was just walking along Michigan Avenue in Chicago and met Mr. Watts. He said to say hello. Yours, Rich”
Attached was a photo of Noddy wearing a shirt with the logo ‘Kiwis On Tour USA’ and ‘New Zealand’ was sign written across the hood of a car in the background.
I have never asked Noddy how the meeting went down but I imagine Rich walked up to Noddy and said something like “I see you’re from New Zealand. Do you know Steve Keys?”
The irony of seeing a group of New Zealanders in the middle of Chicago and one of them actually knowing Steve was not lost on Rich. He got such a kick out of it and described the experience as a real hoot!
Rich And The Tanker Project
Rich’s contribution to the tanker restoration is immeasurable on so many levels. To help with the history of the truck, he had spent many, many days at the American Truck Historical Society library scouring through books and magazines on our behalf. As we tried to find information on the Heil rail pedestals, Rich again spent many hours doing research to help find the details that we needed.
He introduced us several years ago to his close friend, Steve Rutledge. Steve has an encyclopaedic knowledge and love of Diamond T’s and has also become a very special friend to us. Both Rich and Steve have been extremely generous and helpful with information, details and Diamond T parts for the truck.
After I laughed with Rich about people not always understanding me on the phone with my New Zealand accent, he kindly made calls for me across the US when we were trying to find out specific information.
Rich sourced everything he could about Diamond T, Heil and Texaco, and of course it was Rich that found and shared the original Heil promotional photo of the Diamond T Texaco tanker.
1938 Diamond T Texaco streamlined tanker – Rich Harner Collection
Rich has been at the core of this project since the early days and will always be remembered as part of the lifeblood of the restoration.
We know Rich will be with us for the remainder of this journey and his memory will live on through this truck and future planned projects.
The Texaco Doodlebug
Although Rich loved all the streamlined tankers from the deco era, his true passion was the Texaco Doodlebug. He had spent a decade researching the history and construction of the 1933 – 34 Diamond T tanker and was an expert on these futuristic and innovative trucks. He was, to the best of our knowledge, the top historian on this subject.
The collaboration between Texaco, Diamond T and Heil to build the Doodlebug was of course repeated again when the three companies created our ’38 streamlined tanker. This was a subject of pure delight for Rich. Needless to say, we spent many, many hours chatting to him about the history and style of the unique and futuristic Texaco Doodlebug and the ’38 Diamond T Texaco tanker.
The Priceless Gift
In mid 2019, a package arrived from Rich out of the blue. The contents of the package took our breath away and still to this day, is the most priceless material gift we have ever received.
Rich had sent us his entire collection of literature and research notes on the Texaco Doodlebug. We already knew that he had spent ten years of his life collating this file so we were absolutely stunned to receive it.
But the package contained an even more overwhelming gift.
Rich had recently discovered and purchased some original images that had belonged to Howard W Kizer. Kizer was the Superintendent of Automotive Equipment for The Texas Co and was instrumental in the design and construction of the Doodlebug model. These images were carefully protected and packed in the parcel with the research notes and literature.
Steve and I are so humbled that Rich had entrusted us with this priceless piece of Texaco history and had made us caretakers of the material. Rich and I had spoken a lot over the past couple of years about his ideas for preserving and sharing these images. Rich was so excited to get started on our plan and intended to be fully involved. I am devastated that Rich and I will never get to work on this together but he had shared his thoughts in such great detail that I am fully au fait with his vision for the planned project.
The Diamond T Connection
Rich’s love of Diamond T trucks led to him purchasing a 1941 DT 201 and a 1940 DT 306 Standard Oil fuel tanker truck some years ago. Both trucks were restoration projects that Rich had worked on over that time.
The Joliet Manufacturing Company ( a Chicago suburb) in Illinois had manufactured the Standard Oil of Indiana fuel tank. Rich commented once that he was grateful that a great deal of Standard Oil of Indiana literature and equipment had survived and he had been able to collect a few oil cans and bottles to go with the truck.
The original Joliet Manufacturing Company tank
Rich may have loved everything Diamond T but the one thing that surpassed the trucks for him was the special friendships he had made with other Diamond T enthusiasts. He referred to this group of friends as his Diamond T family.
The names that would often come up in conversation were his very close friend, Steve Rutledge in Texas, Dave Kellerman in New York, Ken Ochenkowski in Connecticut, Tom & Tom Jr. Warren in Texas, Lee Snyder in Iowa, Bill Wielinski in Minnesota and the late LeRoy Gurganus in Alabama.
Rich spoke so highly of them all and often mentioned the joy and friendship these men brought to his life. We therefore felt very privileged that Rich called us his “Diamond T cousins in New Zealand”.
The Best Seat In Town
In 2020, Rich kindly gifted us a Diamond T bonnet / hood emblem for the project. Steve had it chromed and Rich thankfully got to see it positioned on the truck.
This emblem will always honour Rich’s memory and it is fitting that he will ride at the front of the truck and have the best view of all!
The Christmas period has been a difficult time for Joyce and the family, and Rich’s many friends. We hope these words convey to them all how much Rich meant to us, and how his friendship, generosity, humour and kindness travelled across the miles to a little place called New Zealand.
To everyone else who gets to see the finished truck either in person or in photos, we hope the hood emblem prompts you to remember a significant contributor to the project, and our good friend, Rich Harner.
Richard ‘Rich’ Harner
1951 – 2021
“Thank you for sharing the joy of your truck journey and the kindness of your friendship. Yours, Rich”