ATHENS, Ont. – Hands down, George Tackaberry has the largest number of antique trucks in Canada. And no one in the world can match his collection of historic Internationals.
Dozens of vintage trucks are lined up in rows waiting to be restored outside G. Tackaberry and Sons Construction Company’s main terminal near Athens, Ont. Most are 1940s or 1950s Cornbinders (Internationals). A few are B series Macks, and George also collects Goats – two 1960s era Dodge tractors are in the lineup as well.
George is 63-years-old and a big man. He wears a checked shirt with rolled up sleeves and suspenders. He flashes a warm smile as he tours me around the shop floor, pausing in front of the 1967 REO he’s just bought in Connecticut. It’s a hulking monster sitting on 12×24 inch tires. “I’ve never seen one that big, have you?” George asks. Already the fenders are off and are being Mig-welded with new steel in the next shop.
Millions of dollars worth of antique trucks are stored within walking distance, and more trucks are crammed into six buildings at his lakefront estate – over 40 roadworthy originals altogether. This is the Taj Mahal of private truck museums and a tour takes almost a full day.
As well, George has set up trucks and antique steam shovels on floats in various working scenarios around his lakefront property: a 1961 Autocar is hauling an ancient Euclid truck circa 1950; a couple of senior citizen Macks are perched overlooking the lake; there is even a replica of a covered bridge complete with babbling brook and a few more Internationals inside.
The buildings are packed with trucks and memorabilia: Supertest signs and scale models, a surfeit of Internationals, and about 50 farm tractors and two restored bulldozers.
The oldest truck is a 1913 Highwheeler International with the original hard rubber tires. This was the descendent of the buckboard farm wagon. These trucks were dual-purpose vehicles, designed so that a farmer could take the produce to market during the week and take his family to church on Sunday.
George stops in front of a big International tractor. “This is a 1949 KB14. They only built five of them with Cummins diesels.” Then it’s over to another International. “This here is a 1953 RD 310. They only made 24 of these.” He looks at me with his head tilted, “Isn’t this a crazy place we have here?”
Point of fact, the museum is full of rarities. George and his two sons, Charlie and Kevin, have been restoring trucks since the mid 80s when they reconditioned a couple of 1946 KB7s. Somehow the obsession became an addiction. “It was 1990 when we got into it seriously,” says Charlie, a younger image of his father.
George Tackaberry has come a long way from his first GMC dump truck. It was a 1949 model and he bought it in 1957 for $325. The next year he splurged and purchased a new GMC for $4,300 (you guessed it, he’s got a restored version of the same model). Today G. Tackaberry and Sons Construction Co. Ltd. is a sprawling empire of 51 pits and quarries spread over three counties. His firm employs 200 people. When they’re not hauling gravel or paving roads, the drivers are plowing a long section of the 401 during the winter.
George is every bit a self-made man. “I was born a mile and a half down the road. I hold my board meetings when I’m shaving in the morning, looking in the mirror,” he jokes. “I can’t afford to screw up. We don’t have any big cities around here and a lot of people are depending on us. We have to rely on repeat business and deliver the best possible product.”
Forty-year-old Charlie estimates that it takes about two years to restore a truck from the ground up. First, the cab is patched up and the truck is worked on until the engine is in good running order.”We get all the bugs out of it, and drive it about 20 miles,” says Charlie. “Then we take it in the shop and completely strip it down. It’ll look better than new when it’s finished.”
The Tackaberrys raised some eyebrows when they acquired a 1941 International paddy wagon that was once the property of the New York State Police. They saw it advertised in a trade paper in 1995. “The state police had been in to look at it but hadn’t put in a bid,” says Charlie. “We went down on a Saturday and bought it right away. It probably bothers some people that Canadians own it, but we send it down, every year, to Syracuse for the State Fair to be part of the police exhibit.”