Boss Hog

By: Warren Aitken


It was a rebuild that took three years, on a truck that had been working for 30 years, and it was finished a little over a year after the passing of the man that started it all

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Everybody has heard the old motivational quote, ‘it’s not the destination; it’s the journey’. It’s one of those sayings rolled out to get you to stop and smell the roses along this hectic trail of life.

Well, I’m all for motivational quotes and photos of cute cats with cheesy slogans but today’s story is the opposite of that. Today ‘it’s definitely the destination, not the journey’. 

Let me illustrate my point. The journey involved a 45-minute drive to the airport, a one-and-a-half-hour wait for a delayed departure, a five-hour ride in the big tin taxi, a 30-minute wait for my luggage and then another 40-minute drive to the tiny West Australian town of Cardup. 

The destination: Colli Timber and Hardware’s old sawmill. It was here I got to see one of the classiest White Road Boss’s ever. You’ve seen the photos by now. Tell me you don’t agree. It’s definitely the destination not the journey.

THE WHITE STORY

Before we take a look at the story of how this amazing rig came to be, let’s take a quick educational trip through history and learn how such a cool truck grew from the ashes of a company famous for its roller skates and sewing machines.

White Motor Company has been around since the late 1890s and is an offshoot of the White Sewing Machine Co. White Motor Corp became famous off the back of its patented steam generator. The White family spent the early 20th century producing all manner of equipment: cars, trucks, tractors, you name it. Even a couple of the US presidents had White steam cars. 

By 1911 it was all about the gasoline-powered cars though and then, by the end of World War I, White Motor Company stopped making cars and focused solely on trucks.

White Motor Company produced a wide variety of small and large trucks up until the end of World War II, when it was decided to stick solely to the large truck market. Over the next 20 years the company also swallowed up a few other truck manufacturers: Sterling, Autocar, Reo and Diamond T. Needless to say, there was a lot going on for White Motor Company in America.

It wasn’t all good though, and by the late 1970s White Motor Company was in a fair bit of strife and in 1980 it filed for bankruptcy. In 1981, AB Volvo took over all the White truck production plants and by 1985, White Motor Corp ceased to exist. Volvo kept the White name going for a while before finally retiring it in the 1990s. So there is your brief history lesson.

Back on point now, yes the stunningly cool truck you have been looking at is a Volvo. Well in corporate name anyway. It is in actual fact a 1981 White Road Boss, so let’s learn a little more about the company that this beast of a rig has spent its entire life working for: Colli & Sons. 

Maiden journey for the Big Boss in August 1982. Hauling a slightly over the limit load from Colli’s Dale River Mill to its Kelmscott yard

FAMILY FORTUNES

This iconic White Road Boss was the first prime mover that went to work for Colli & Sons, hauling logs for its sawmilling operation. It wasn’t the first truck by any means. That honour belongs to a Leyland Super Hippo that has long since disappeared.

Pietro Colli started the business not long after he migrated from Italy in the 1950s. He settled in Western Australia and got into the sawmilling business. Sadly, Pietro passed away in 2019, leaving the business in the more than capable hands of his sons, Oriano and Cesare.

When the company first began it was doing a lot of railway sleeper work. The logs were cut to the required 2.1 metres on site and the old Leyland was able to get right in and pick them up; no need for dragging the logs to drop sites or anything like that. As business boomed the Leyland was joined by an International Acco and in 1976 a brand-new Volvo N10.

These little 6x4s were perfect for the work they were doing, however with the purchase of another company in 1981 the business grew. The company it bought had a few trucks already, but Colli & Sons were moving much more product and the decision was made to buy the big Road Boss.

The choice and responsibility of getting the company’s first semi fell on the shoulders of a very young Cesare, who had already been driving the N10 since the day he left school.

While I’m sure there was plenty of other commercial reasons for purchasing a White Road Boss as your first new semi, Cesare confesses: "…back then they were just a better-looking truck." So stuff the benefits, they just looked cool. Sound business decision making there.  

A little peak at one of the other Colli Road Bosses from 1986. The second-hand rig was left in the colours of its original owner, but the sleeper box was removed when the truck headed out bush

BOSS HOG

Though it is a 1981 model, by the time the trailer was made for it is was actually 1982 when the truck finally hit the road for Colli & Sons. The big White was one of three on the display room floor and the only one sporting the big 400 Cummins. The Cummins was another reason for Cesare’s decision to choose the White over another Volvo. 

"We didn’t look at them [Volvo], cause you couldn’t get 400hp [298kW] in a Volvo," Cesare recalls.

A new Volvo wasn’t the ideal semi at the time but eventually the guys turned the N10 into a semi and it held its own. Right up until it decided to burn to the ground. Though it was near the big White, it luckily went out in a ‘blaze of glory’ all by itself.

Between that loss and the Road Boss’s performance, there was enough there to encourage Colli & Sons to purchase another two Road Bosses: a second-hand 1982 model, with the long bonnet and high roof; followed by a 1980 model.

Those three Road Bosses became the backbone of the company, steering it through two decades of hard work. I mean real hard work, on and off road. With the advent of B-doubles in the mid-1990s the Road Bosses began hauling bigger and longer loads.

The original White stayed pretty much original as well up until Western Australia introduced the pocket road-train. The big Boss had a motor overhaul and the 13-speed box was replaced with an 18-speed to make the towing of a pocket road train just a little bit easier on the old girl.  

Colli & Sons has relied on John Sabetta from Ripper Engineering to look after its mechanical needs for a long time and as such the truck had a full work over from him as well. It even had the whole engine resprayed and new polished pipes added where possible

A NEW LIFE

Sadly, in 2004, a range of new government regulations changed the logging and sawmilling operation throughout Western Australia and consequently saw a change in Colli & Sons’ business model. Gone was the reliance on sawmilling and a focus was put on hardware supplies and pre-made building trusses.

The other consequence was the downsizing in the company truck fleet, with two of the Road Bosses sold off and a change of pace for the original founding Road Boss. The big girl had a Hiab crane fitted to it and began a new life delivering product to building sites.

The surviving Road Boss had already gone through a couple of outfit changes as the company rebranded, but it had never had such a change in job description. Like the work horse it had already proven to be, it suited up and kept at it. The Colli family worked the truck for almost another decade before finally putting it out to pasture.

I’m not sure if it was Dad’s choice or the boys’ choice, but the truck got parked in the shed, rather than sold. All the intentions were there to rejuvenate her, give her a new lease on life and show her off again, but like all good ‘man jobs’ you need to simmer on the idea for a bit. In this case the old White simmered for two years before renovations began.

After 30-plus years of less-than-forgiving workloads, and very few tarseal kilometres logged, it’s fair to say the old girl had been fairly well rung out. So for a makeover it was stripped right back to bare bones. The cosmetic creativity was handled by Carlo Rossi at City Panel Beaters, often having to create and craft new pieces from scratch.

While the idea was to keep it fairly original, there was some creative licence given. Rather than use old conveyor belts for guards as they had in the past, there were nice shiny stainless guards fitted. The old bashed and bruised five-poster bulbar had been retired for a shined up new one. Chrome air intakes and twin exhausts would not have lasted long in the bush but in the Road Boss’s resurrection they fitted perfectly.

Cesare (left) and Oriano (right) Colli

Obviously, finding original parts did prove to be quite an issue and the truck now has touches of Mack, Kenworth, White and Western Star on her.

All new wiring and airlines were added, allowing the addition of a few lights on the sleeper as well as some on the back wall. The cab and sleeper lights hold the classic look but are running LEDs to keep an old-school cool look as much as possible.

It’s not all cosmetic though. Colli & Sons has relied on John Sabetta from Ripper Engineering to look after its mechanical needs for a long time and as such the truck had a full work over from him as well. It even had the whole engine resprayed and new polished pipes added where possible.

As usual with trucks that have had a hell of a working life, the hardest part was restoring the interior. A lot of time and effort was spent bringing life back to the original parts and replacing what they could. Emphasis was on keeping it as original as possible while also cleaning up the overall look.

Last but not least in the revival of this beauty was the addition of the sleeper’s artwork. While the whole project was a testament to the truck, it did have the modern blinged-up touches and the decision was made to honour the truck, and the company’s origins with a picture of the old girl in its original set-up. The artwork was done by Wayne Harrison and took the best part of two days to finish.

It was a rebuild that took three years, on a truck that had been working for 30 years and it was finished a little over a year after the passing of the man that started it all. Yes, it shines a lot more than it did in the days when Pietro bought it, and it definitely doesn’t work as hard as he had it working. However, I have no doubt he would be super proud of how this rebuild has turned out.

Before finishing I guess I should redress my opening paragraph. Visually the destination is worth it, we can all agree. However, after hearing the White Road Boss’s story, the journey has been pretty damn good as well. 

While the whole project was a testament to the truck, it did have the modern blinged-up touches and the decision was made to honour the truck, and the company’s origins with a picture of the old girl in its original set-up

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