For George Barnes, cars were his life, from the day he began an apprenticeship as a panelbeater and spray painter in 1947 until now as he plans to start he believes what might be his final project: a refrigerated toy truck of considerable proportions.
He has spent a lifetime tinkering with cars. He was a panelbeater and spray painter for much of his working life and in his spare time he turned his love for tinkering with vehicles into making toy trucks from solid timber. The resulting masterpieces have gone right around the country, delighting many a child.
None of his creations is small. Some have even ended overseas and one of his sons has already claimed his latest work.
"I started making toy trucks for my grandsons, who are all grown up now. I give all my toy trucks away."
He wouldn't have room in his flat for all the trucks he made anyway, he said. This way he gets to share the pleasure of making a toy truck with children.
His latest creation is a Mainfreight reticulated truck, inspired by the sight of a range such trucks coming off the ferry in Picton one day, which left him with a lasting impression.
"It was a fabulous sight, but this it is probably my last," he said. Though he has plans for a final, final one, a model of a refrigerated truck. He's just not sure he'll be able to finish it as he is about to go into hospice.
Every truck's wheels come from toy cars and for his Mainfreight truck he said he had to buy three toy cars at $8 each. He always plans his work carefully, starting his designs in cardboard, from Weetbix boxes, meticulously working out all details to resemble the real things as closely as possible.
When the cardboard patterns are 'perfect' he makes the model in wood, though modifications keep coming.
"There are many alterations on the way to the final product."
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For Barnes every truck is a labour of love, designed to produce a smile on the face of a child.
"I'd hate to think how many hours I have spent on this one - weeks and weeks I should think."
As each one is intended to keep his mind focused, time isn't really a factor.
His creativity went into a hiatus when he moved into town a few years ago. Since then he discovered he has cancer.
"Some time ago I was very unwell, but the nurse at the doctor's surgery said she thought I ought to make toys once more. She really inspired me to start again."
Barnes shares his life with partner Sylvia, whose late husband used to drive for Capper's, so he made a few Capper's trucks too and when showing them around town, generated fond memories for former drivers of that company.
Barnes started his five-year apprenticeship as a panelbeater in 1947 and on qualifying immediately became a foreman directing eight staff.
"Five years after that they made me the boss."
Eventually he started his own business with a workshop in Totara Street, trading as GJ Barnes Ltd.
"I was Levin's No 1 panelbeater at the time." He also did custom work there on trucks and utes. Eventually he worked from a shed at home.
"I did lots of insurance work on vehicles from right around the country," he said. The word was if it can't be done take it to George Barnes, he'll fix it and he did too.
He lost his wife in 2000 and in the year following reconnected with Sylvia, "an old school girlfriend". They have shared life for the past 18 years and travelled a lot in that time. Life is much slower now for both of them.
"Now we are both on walking sticks."
Barnes said that when he moved into town he gave up on toy making, though a few years ago he made a Wendy House for Sylvia's great-granddaughters that attracted much attention.
The three little girls received a replica of their family's home as a playhouse.