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Owner-Driver  /  September 13, 2019

Surplus military trucks carried Australia through a period of prosperity after World War II. Tamara Whitsed travels to Adelong, NSW to see Kevin Purcell’s private collection

Kevin Purcell’s passion for military vehicles dates back to World War II. The former farmer and spraying and earthmoving contractor was born in 1941 and says he clearly remembers waving at convoys of army trucks during his early childhood. "The soldiers used to wave madly," he says.

In 1953 his father bought a WWII Blitz Chev for the family farm at Yaven Creek, which is 28km south-west of Adelong, New South Wales. The Blitz carted cattle to the Adelong saleyards and took logs to the Purcell’s sawmill. And in the summer Kevin’s father put a water tank on the back to help the local bushfire brigade during fires.

Kevin drove the Blitz around the farm long before he was old enough to have a licence. The steering was heavy. Comparing it to a horse, he says the Blitz was "hard in the mouth".

The military sold thousands of surplus vehicles after WWII, and they became a common sight on roads and farms throughout Australia. Most of Kevin’s farming neighbours also bought trucks from the military surplus sales. "In Yaven Creek there would have been only one farm without a Blitz."

In the 1960s Kevin bought an ex-army jeep. "I was always mad on jeeps. They’re good fun to drive." He used it on the farm. "Just a runabout. Odd jobs. Carting fencing material." And he enjoyed the mechanical challenge of keeping it in working order.

Five years ago – after over 70 years on the Yaven Creek farm – Kevin made the decision to move to Adelong. There was a big clearing sale. He said goodbye to tractors and other machinery he had used for farming and contracting, and he doesn’t miss them. But he kept that original Blitz. He’d added a few more military vehicles to his collection by then, and he kept them too.

Now that he’s living in Adelong, semi-retired, Kevin has more time to indulge his passion for his hobby, and his collection has grown.

Owner//Driver was impressed with the 1980 Mack 6x6 cargo truck with a Hiab crane, which Kevin drove on Sylvia’s Gap Convoy in June. And when we visited him at Adelong last month we ran out of fingers and toes counting all his military vehicles.

In addition to the Blitz and Mack there are a couple of jeeps now (a 1943 Willys and a 1942 Ford); five Dodge trucks (a 6x6 troop and cargo carrier; two weapons carriers and two command cars); two GMC 6x6s; four Studebakers; a Bren Gun Carrier; a FWD truck; four Land Rovers; two Kaiser trucks (one wrecker and one instrument repair van); and a couple of ex-Australian Army Internationals.

Kevin took us for a drive in his 1970 Ford Military Utility Tactical Truck (MUTT). His loyal dog Oscar, was also a passenger.

Part of the fun is stripping vehicles back to the chassis and rebuilding them. Kevin showed us the 1942 Diamond T ex-Australian Army wrecker, which he has been restoring for the past couple of years with help from a local mechanic. It’s still two or three years away from completion.

Kevin owns a 10-year-old Mitsubishi tilt-tray truck, which he uses to cart his vehicles. He took it to Newcastle to collect the Diamond T when he bought it. "I initially bought [the tilt-try truck] to cart my own stuff about, but I get people wanting jobs done here and there."

Many of the parts he needs for the restoration have come from a second Diamond T, which he purchased. He is confident anything else he needs can be sourced from Europe and America. "There’s not much Diamond T stuff in Australia because there wasn’t very many of them."

It’s not a cheap hobby. His 1943 3/4 tonne Dodge Command Car is a good example of how a restoration project can be a ‘bottomless pit’ of expenses. Of all the vehicles he has purchased, it was in the worst condition. "It had an aluminium cab on it and it was a pretty big wreck when I got it. I had to spend a lot of time and money getting it up to scratch."

But, as he points out, just because he spent about $100,000 on the Dodge doesn’t mean it’s worth $100,000. "When you restore a vehicle, you never get the money back."

After WWII this command car was used during construction of the Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Scheme. Later it worked on a dairy farm on the South Coast of NSW.

Kevin aims for authenticity with his restorations, including appropriate markings and the obligatory axe and shovel. Larger vehicles also have a mattock (pickaxe).

His collection includes trucks from WWII and the Vietnam War era, but he’s not sure whether any accompanied our military overseas. He also owns many peace-time vehicles, and he has a few left-hand-drive American trucks.

Kevin suggests anyone keen on becoming involved in the military vehicle hobby should start with a jeep. "Parts aren’t a problem nowadays. They manufacture nearly every bit of a jeep in the Philippines." He reckons you could find a ‘real good one’ for between $28,000 and $30,000. Buying a cheaper jeep as a restoration project is likely to end up costing more, he says.

One of the best things about his hobby is forming friendships with other collectors. Kevin is a founding member of the Australian Military Equipment Collectors, which now has about 30 members. He enjoys attending rallies, including the Corowa Swim-In and Military Vehicle Gathering. You’ll also find him and his vehicles at local agricultural shows and Australian Road Transport Heritage Centre (ARTHC) events. He even travels to Military Jeep Club of Queensland rallies.

Each ANZAC Day Kevin takes several of his vehicles to the Adelong march. "I had seven there this year." It wasn’t hard to find six friends to drive them.

We ask Kevin whether the WWII veterans appreciate seeing his vehicles at the march. "Well there’s not many left nowadays," Kevin replies. "It’s pretty sad, isn’t it?"

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