Run-down truck inspired success story

Jennifer Somervell, left, and Margery Fern at Raglan Word Cafe Readers & Writers Festival. Photo: EZRA ANDRE

An old truck on their family farm inspired sisters Margery Fern and Jennifer Somervell to produce a book that has received rave reviews from clients of Invercargill’s Wee Nippers Early Childhood Centre and a mention in the Purple Dragonfly Book Awards.

Margery is deputy principal at Waitetuna Primary School, while Jennifer writes for New Zealand Lifestyle Block magazine.

Old Truck is based on the true story of a 92-year-old truck their grandfather Gordon Somervell bought in 1938 for £38 – “a fortune back then”, according to their brother, John.

“I remember Old Truck when he was about 50 years old – we were trying to cart hay on him. The engine was near the end of its life – there was heaps of backfiring, failing to start and plenty of swearing, ” Jennifer says.

“In the book, Old Truck is a character on the farm and the children’s friend . . . But to their farming father, he is tired and old, keeps backfiring [farting], has to be towed and won’t start. So he is retired to a shed and the children are gutted, ” she says.

That is, until brother John comes home and becomes the hero who rescues the truck, restoring it to its former glory.

John Somervell learned to drive in the old truck on the farm when he was just eight years old but it was four years later, when his father took him to a national vintage rally, when he finally realised just how old the truck really was.

He told his father that one day he and his brother Mike would enter it in a national vintage rally.

Fast-forward 30 years and the truck has been through three restorations after a run of bad luck that included a fire and later being drowned when the Tongariro River burst its banks in 2004 and flooded John’s home and garage – but it has been a labour of love.

“It’s a very rare truck”, John says. “I’ve searched antique websites and I have not been able to find another restored 1921 Model 10 Republic anywhere in the world.”

The book includes background about the truck, photos of it, both on the farm and fully restored.

Old Truck received two honorable mention awards in the Purple Dragonfly Book Awards this year.

The Purple Dragonfly Book Awards recognise excellence in children’s literature and attract entries from all over the world.

Old Truck was the first New Zealand entry in the competition.

It is the second book in the series following the real-life adventures on a New Zealand farm during the 1960s and 70s. The first book – The Day Dad Blew Up the Cowshed – was first published in May last year and is now in its second edition.

Before receiving the Purple Dragonfly Awards, the authors sought feedback from their target market, trialling Old Truck at Wee Nippers Early Childhood Centre in Invercargill.

Teacher Fiona Woodfield was full of praise for Old Truck.

“I love it, the kids love it, the teachers love it. Children wanted it read again and again, ” she says.

Both books are available from selected bookstores, the Bill Richardson Truck Museum library and via the website (, where you can get a signed copy.

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