Warren Caves and Torque it Up Photography relive the nostalgia of Australian trucking.
We’ve all done it. Gazed upon something from afar, a house, a car or even a truck and proclaimed, “I’m going to buy that one day”. For most of us that’s about as far as it goes, an object of desire engrained in our memory, a distant dream never to be realised.
For others, like Michael Schrembri of Parklea Sand & Soil, the courage of their beliefs run way too deep to let that desire remain unfulfilled.
To appreciate the story of how Michael came to be in possession of this fabulous 1981 W924 Kenworth, we need to wind back the hand of time to around 1988-89 when Michael was working for Allen Bros Asphalt carting hot-mix.
Every morning Michael would cross paths with Jimmy Vella in his Kenworth W Model. They would exchange greetings, signed off with Michael saying to Jimmy, “you need to sell me that truck one day”. Such was Michael’s admiration for Jimmy’s truck, this prompting of a sale went on for years whenever the two men would cross paths.
The W-Model Kenworth was bought new by Jimmy in 1981. It was given the name “The last One” by Jimmy in a vain attempt to pacify his wife by assuring her that this would be his last truck. Unbeknown to her at the time it would be his last truck, only he would still be driving that same truck some 38 years later.
Operating the truck as a semi-trailer tipper, Jimmy worked the truck on coal duties as well as carting sand to concrete yards from Bell in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney. The name of “The Last One” and Jimmy’s association with it has almost become folklore to those that are familiar with the pair.
Time marched on with Michael focusing on his sand and soil business when out of the blue Jimmy pulled up in the W-model out the front of the soil yard looking for an address. Michael questioned: “You still driving Jimmy?” Yes, was his obvious reply, after which Michael got in one more request. “Remember me when you decide to sell that truck, won’t you?”
A short 12 months later, Michael got word that the truck might be up for sale and he wasted no time in brokering a deal for the purchase. This was around 2008, an offer to continue to drive the truck for Michael’s business was rejected by Jimmy, as Jimmy proclaimed, “I am ready to retire”.
At the time of its purchase it was still a useable working truck, albeit a little tired from years of toil. The plan for Michael was to convert the prime mover to a rigid body tipper and dog combination for use in his business operation.
The restoration commenced with the truck receiving some upgrades to bring it to modern equipment standards. The truck was stripped down to the chassis rails for what eventually turned into a major project.
Out went the original Cummins 400 Big Cam engine in favour of an N14 “Redhead” rated at 525 horsepower, which was rebuilt by Parklea Sand and Soil’s resident mechanic, Manuel Attard. An 18-speed Road Ranger gearbox was then bolted to its bell housing.
The bone-jarring Hendrickson RTE 380 suspension was tossed aside for a more subtle Airglide system, accompanied by 10-stud rims all round. The chassis was lengthened to accept a tipper body.
The restoration was steered by Ray Schembri (Michael’s brother) with virtually everything being either rebuilt or replaced.
Everything was pretty much going to plan with the mechanicals being sorted out and the day-cab being painted back to its original colours by Habib Bros Truck and Car Smash Repairs in Austral. Michael says he briefly considered the idea of changing the truck’s colour scheme, but after his wife Helen said it would be better left in its original colours, Michael wisely heeded the advice.
It was sometime after this that work got busy in the sand and soil game and the project stalled for quite some time, with the last 18-months or so seeing the project gain enough momentum to see it through to completion in October 2019.
With a fondness for the project fostered by many hours of close contact with the truck and the associated funds thrown into the project, a shift in direction was forming in the latter stages of the restoration. A shift that questioned whether this truck should be put to work as a truck and dog, or had too much effort been invested to send it out to dirty quarries and dusty work sites?
A change was in the wind.
It was obvious that Michael had formed a soft spot (or softer spot than he already had) for the truck, and the idea of working it was not going to wash. This truck was special and deserved special treatment.
With his epiphany now acknowledged, Michael chose a slightly different tack for the project. The truck was to be retained as a prime mover and a bunk was going to be added to round out the project.
Michael’s brother Ray had a 36-inch bunk which was totally re-sheeted and modified to suit the W-Model. This work along with the colour matching to suit the cab was done by, Matt Stephenson of MLS Truck Repairs of Riverstone. The interior was trimmed by Bruce Gunter, well known for his work with the “Kenworth Klassic” and “Haulin’ the Hume”.
Putting the finishing touches on this long-term dream was Nev’ Greentree, who was entrusted with the line and scroll work including adorning the sleeper with Michael and Ray’s parents’ names.
Emblazoned on the rear of the sleeper are the words TAL-MIDLIEL. Michael and Helen explained that this was a kind of family nickname in line with their Maltese culture.
Jimmy’s “Last One” is well and truly in good hands these days. Michael plans to get the old girl out for truck shows and events and says he would love to give her a run in the “Haulin’ the Hume” convoy.
Michael has been in contact with Manuel Vella, (Jimmy’s son) and is in the process of arranging a visit to the Vella family to give Jimmy a look at his old workhorse in a condition that would surely go close to mirroring its condition on the day he first picked it up back in 1981.
I’m almost positive that the fact that Michael and Ray have kept the truck in its original colour scheme with the words “Last One” still written on the sides of the bonnet, will give an old truckie a grin from ear to ear.