Credit: David Ford

From Jennifer's pen

What was it like growing up on a farm in the 70s?
You’ll find out when you read the stories! We felt lucky growing up on a farm. We would wake up in the morning not knowing what was going to happen. And then something momentous would occur, like blowing up a cowshed! Life was an adventure. Things were always happening on the farm.

We didn’t have TV until I was about 5 and then it was only black and white and didn’t start till 5pm. So we learnt to amuse ourselves outside. We would roam all over the farm and the countryside. Half the time I don’t think Mum and Dad knew where we were! As we grew older we took part in the farm work: haymaking, milking, rearing calves, sowing crops, fencing.  And there were the animals: pet calves, pet lambs, pet pigs, pet lizards, possums, guinea pigs you name it.

So why blow up a cowshed?
The first thing I am asked when people hear about the story is ‘Why blow up a cowshed?’ Well, for us it was nothing out of the ordinary. Dad needed the old cowshed out of the way to make way for a new rotary cowshed - the "cow merry go round" of the book - and that’s how they got rid of things back then. When Grandpa came back from Gallipoli he passed his ‘explosives skills’ onto Dad and my brother John. They kept a stash of gelignite in the implement shed to blow up tree stumps or fruit trees or anything in the way! Sometimes they forgot how much to use and the results could be pretty devastating! So it was just as well Dad had an expert come in to do the cowshed.

How did the book come about ?
The best thing about this story is that it actually happened. Dad loved telling the story at family get-togethers and it didn’t matter how many times he told it, everyone loved hearing it and convulsed with laughter when he came to the Big Bang part. One day I sneaked in a dictaphone and taped Dad telling the story. It was too good to stay on tape, so I turned it into a narrative poem, and we actually read it at Dad’s funeral as a tribute to him. That's when I thought it would make a great children’s story but I didn’t know an illustrator to bring it to life.

So I put it in a filing cabinet and prayed that when the right person came I would know. About three years later, Margery, my sister, told me that she had met an artist who had been on the family farm, and described it to her. Margery found she could see all these places in her head. That's when I realised that my own sister, Margery, was the illustrator I had been waiting for. And a book was born…..

What do you want children to get out of this story?
Our experience reading the story to children is that they are riveted by the drama of it like we were. There is something outrageous about it … it was just such fun! So I hope it gets some laughs – from kids and adults. And maybe children could be inspired to do more outdoors, realising that outdoors can be fun!

Then you started on New Old Truck. How were you inspired to write the story?
In January 2012 I visited my brother John (Right).
“Tell me about Old Truck!” I said.

The real story
John told me how, after a vintage rally, he told his dad that one day he and his brother Michael would restore the family’s 1921 Republic truck, ‘Old Truck’, and show him in a national vintage rally. John was just 12 years old. Later in the early 70s Old Truck, his engine dying, was finally retired to a shed. John was overseas, so Michael started work on the chassis. After Mike died in a topdressing accident in 1974, John returned home and found Old Truck ‘covered in rust and birdshit’ waiting for him.

Thirty-five years later, in January 2012 (this time frame is not apparent in the story), John realised his 54 year old dream when he proudly showed Old Truck at the vintage machinery rally in Whanganui.  

 “It became a passion, almost a crusade. It had so much sentimental value. I’m a bit of a sentimentalist . It gave a connection to the past - Grandpa, Dad, Michael, the farm. And it’s a beautiful old thing!” John said.

Left: Restoring the engine

In his research, John discovered Old Truck was a very rare truck. He couldn’t find any other restored 1921 Model 10 Republics anywhere in the world. As in the story, Old Truck appears to be 'one of his kind.'

The 2nd edition: Adding the Michigan Heritage
Old Truck was built by The Republic Motor Truck Company of Alma, Michigan in 1921 when only 1450 were made. Thinking this sounded interesting, we decided to research Old Truck’s American heritage. We emailed the writer of Flash and Fizzle:The Rise and Fall of the Republic Motor Truck Company in Michigan, bought the book, and became excited at the educational potential of this material.

I also had a dream where I saw the earth as a 3-D globe with a ship (carrying Old Truck) on a dotted line travelling across the Pacific Ocean. I worked with our graphic artist to reproduce this for a double picture spread of Old Truck’s American heritage.

Writing the story
As John told me the restoration story I visualised Old Truck sad and derelict in the shed, waiting for John to come home. I could feel him wondering if anyone would rescue him, and if his working life, which he loved, was all over. I could see John night after night, faithfully, keeping his promise and restoring Old Truck - reconnecting him back into the family and the wider world so everyone can appreciate him.

My memories
I was about 10-12 years old when Old Truck was trying to cart hay in the 70s with his engine dying (Right). He would stop and start, graunch gears, backfire (fart in the story), and have to be towed.  As children, we loved his unpredictability and character. Dad and the guys, trying to cart hay in a hurry, would just get mad.

I remember Dad’s excitement when John got the engine going again, and cousins, friends and family queuing up for rides (Left).

I put these images and feelings into the story.
I wrote the story around the facts, using these childhood experiences. I personified Old Truck with feelings of love, happiness, sorrow and grief. The part about going to buy a new truck was to show the difference between the farmer’s ‘efficiency view’ of the truck and the children’s ‘relational view’. It was based on sometimes-boring visits to machinery sales yards with Dad.

As I wrote the sad bits I was tearful and at the ending I felt satisfied and delighted. I thought this is a good story - it will touch people’s hearts. Afterwards, in the slog of getting a book together and to print, I remembered this and it gave me faith to continue.

Below - the siblings at the book launch for The New Old Truck.

Further interviews with Jenny: Click on images for readable versions

Community newspapers,
2015

Northern Outlook,
June 2015