BC VintageTruck Museum Open for Business

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It’s official. The BC Vintage Truck Museum is open for business as of next weekend. Today was the “soft opening” for the volunteers and sponsors, appreciation for the thousands of hours and two years work they’ve invested in the exhibition.

I was glad to see Norm Lynch was invited along with a few other retirees from the IBT. Norm, a bit of a legendary heavy hauler himself, was curator of the collection while the Teamsters stewarded the collection for twelve years, when it was known as the Teamsters Freight Transportation Museum and Archives. I’m pleased that Norm wasn’t overlooked because he really did a great job, he and his legion of volunteers, to keep that collection in top shape, added several more pieces, and in many cases these are working vintage trucks–they earned their keep by being hired out to movies and parades and such.

“Museums don’t make money” says Paul Orazietti, the president of the BC Vintage Truck Museum. So it’s not surprising that the collection’s previous incarnation as the Teamsters Freight Museum and Archives struggled, especially in the last few years, to make ends meet. It may be a great historical collection, but the landlord of the industrial unit in Port Coquitlam still wanted his rent.

It’s worth noting that the Teamsters predate trucking in BC, that there were union locals active in the Fraser Valley in the 1890s. The B trains those days were double or triple wagons hooked up to teams of horses or oxen. Of course, independents and owner operators were part of the picture in those days just as they are today.

Recently I heard that Norm his partner Mado have had their share of health problems, but he stuck out his paw and gave me an iron grip Saturday at the “volunteers” opening and confided, “I like what they’ve done here. This is a good thing they’re doing.”

Most people would agree that museums are important as a historical record of sorts, but how many of them will ever go visit one? Probably only a handful of times in a lifetime. It’s just not on the radar for people looking for recreation. But without them we would have a limited idea about who we are and where we come from.

The oldest truck in the collection is a 1914 FWD built in Clintonville, Ohio. The FWD stands for Four Wheel Drive and the vehicle saw service overseas in England during WWI. It more closely resembles a wagon than a truck.

The most valuable truck in the collection is probably the 1935 Dodge AirFlow, there were only 249 ever built and this is the only survivor in Canada. It was operated by Standard Oil and a rectangular tank was fitted on the back. BC Vintage Truck Museum president Paul Orazietti is keen to find an original tank for the truck, This was the time when truck manufacturers were flirting with aerodynamic designs, and reuniting this unit with its original one-skin tank would make it a show stopper.

A series of Maple Leaf Chevrolet trucks illustrate the evolution of three-ton design over a decade. The 1935 Maple Leaf was literally cut out of the bush in Waldo, B.C. and restored by the fleet of museum volunteers. It has no windshield wipers and the windshield opens towards the driver. The truck also features the semaphore signal system. The driver operates and extendable arm by means of a lever. The arm sticks out from behind the cab: up means turning right, straight out means turning left, and down means the truck is stopping.
Next in line, the 1943 Maple Leaf was built during wartime to austere minimalist standards. It has canvas seats, a maple wood steering wheel and a driver’s side windshield wiper. It also sprouts a small, round driver’s side mirror.

Lastly, the 1946 Chev Maple Leaf has a synthetic steering wheel (made out of Melmac, a new plastic for the time) and two electric-driven windshield wipers. This vehicle is in mint condition and never had to be restored. It has only 77 miles on the odometer.

The 1946 Maple Leaf , like many others in the museum, originate from the collection of Aubrey (Bob) King. A Vancouver shipping magnate and avid collector of trucks, King had many of these units stored in his West Pender Warehouse over the years.

I met Denis Corrin, one of the volunteers at the BC Vintage Truck Museum, at the “soft” opening, and he was nice enough to send me an email detailing his association with the King collection.

“My history with the King trucks reaches back to when I was 15 and my first full time job with a trucking company, (Ryans Carriers), in Vancouver, that Bob King had just taken over. I was too young to have a driver’s license so I worked in the office part time and rode my bicycle around the city as a bill collector. Quite a culture shock for a naive kid just our from Sask. 3 years prior!

“During my teen years, in the ’50s, I saw some of King’s trucks in warehouses and company yards; he was quite the “hoarder”. Some of the vehicles we now have were stored on the second floor of a warehouse on Hamilton St. in Yaletown in Vancouver. THAT was a LARGE Elevator that took them to the 2nd floor!!

“When King closed the doors of most of his trucking companies in 1957, when the Teamsters were putting considerable pressure on him, 4 of his former employees formed a new company and I bought a 1949 Fargo pickup and went to work for them. The following year, 2 of the fellows formed another new cartage company and I bought a new 1956 Chev 3/4 ton and worked for them. Later, in ’59 they bought 3 brand new 1949 Internationals with 24 miles from Bob King. Eventually, I drove each of these “old brutes.” I drove commercially for 9 years and 4 university summers.

“I tried to keep track of King’s trucks over the years, occasionally losing track of them, but as a member of the Van. Vintage Car Club, I saw them occasionally on tours to their museum/site. When they were part of the B. C. Heritage Transportation Museum in Cloverdale, Surrey, I had just applied to be a volunteer when the Museum was dissolved. In March of 2012 I followed up on a newspaper ad that the Surrey Heritage Soc. was delving into bringing these trucks to Surrey, as the Teamsters who had been housing them, were looking to divest themselves of these vehicles. By now there were other truck involved as well as King’s.

“Since last spring I have been very much involved in remodelling and cleaning up the approx. 60 year old Sry. building that now houses these vintage trucks. On occasion I have driven some of them, short distances. As a retired teacher I look forward to putting together an education program to help convey the valuable history that originates from these vehicles and the men (usually) who drove them in the very early days of freight transportation in B. C. As one of our volunteers stated recently, ” If you got a product, a truck brought it.” Some days I look around our collection and realize that I saw some of these old tucks about 60 years ago!!”

Ironically, it was a feud between King and the Teamsters that caused many of these trucks to be preserved in such good condition. Reportedly, King shut down his trucking company and warehouse in a fit of pique in 1957, after refusing a union demand for a two cent per hour increase. The trucks were sealed in the warehouse until 1974 when they were donated to the province. By a curiously circuitous route, the trucks are back in Cloverdale where their lives as museum artifacts began.

So we owe a sustained round of applause to Norm, his volunteers and the IBT joint council for keeping this idea going all this time. And we owe a huge round of applause to the Surrey Historical Society, who undertook to provide a home and a focus for these beautiful machines.

Politics is never far from the surface in British Columbia. As I write this there is last minute electioneering going on in this province, with the classic polarity between left and right. The Liberals are in power, but fighting for their lives on Tuesday (although some would point out that they are liberals in nomenclature only, more the descendants of the Social Credit that ruled this province for so long under WAC (Wacky) Bennet, and later his son Bill), and the NDP who is mounting a formidable challenge, and who’ve always served as the dipole out here. Politics in BC is unique but highly polarized. It looks like it’s time for a lefty government but who knows.

So the BC Transportation Museum housed most of these these trucks and had its run under a SoCred gov’t from 1987-92, but it was shut because of austerity measures. The NDP supplanted the Socreds and gave the collection to the Teamsters. Teamsters in turn ran into financial trouble and shopped the exhibit around and finally found a willing buyer (the price was one dollar, but several conditions had to be met).

Another irony is that Bill Reid, former Social Credit tourism minister and community activist spearheaded the drive to bring these trucks back to Cloverdale where they can again reside as a whole (not quite true, since only 18 trucks are presently housed in the Cloverdale Fairgounds, the rest are billeted out to other exhibits or in storage at present). Paul Orazietti would have liked to have nothing better than to have Reid attend the opening and see the fruit that his hard work has harvested. But it was not to be. Reid is very ill in hospital but his friends keep him appraised of the developments at the museum.

What better locale, really, for this museum to reside in than Surrey? Surrey is a trucking hub just up the road from one of the busiest border crossings in North America. The community is also full of people interested in historical vehicles. The BC Vintage Truck Museums currently has about 35 volunteers and 85 members. But what a group this is. “I like trucks,” one after another told me when I asked them what drew them to volunteer.

The spirit of volunteerism was everywhere. I found Brian Busby, a retired driver, behind the wheel of a 1929 White tanker painted up in Shell colours. The engine purrs along as Busby rolls it into the driveway. “It runs OK, but I need a swamper to help me steer it,” he joked.

Tex Bussey, another retiree and a former commercial truck salesman, was doing a final patch on the floor boards on a 1941 Chevrolet Maple Leaf, manufactured in Oshawa, Ont., during the second world war. Another retired driver Lloyd Lemky showed up to help with the preparations, and it was then I realized this museum is about more than just the vehicles—it’s also about the stories and the passion that the volunteers bring to the artifacts.

Lemky, for instance, was among the first drivers to haul A train gasoline tankers for Trimac. “They thought we could do the job with 270 horse engines, when really we needed about 350,” he told me. “That is until we started to bill them by the hour instead of the trip. It would take me almost six hours to go from Hope to Princeton, and most of that was in second and third gear.”

Indeed, the story of these trucks and their people is as varied as the history of trucking in British Columbia.

Although the BC Vintage Truck Museum has found a home, it’s only for three years. Then the museum will have to find a new building. Orazietti thinks that space can be found near the present municipal museum and the restored train station. The Fraser Valley Historical Rail Society already has a rail barn adjacent to the museum where a group of equally dedicated volunteers is restoring century-old electric trains.

“I want to draw on some of the remarkable synergies in this area,” he said. “We have a lot of people interested in heritage transportation, from cars to buses, to trucks and trains, and eventually see a heritage transportation park as a way forward.”
Norm Lynch and Lloyd Lemky at opening of BC Vintage Truck Museum 012

Veteran Truckers and Vintage Truck Enthusiasts Norm Lynch and Lloyd Lemky shmoozing at the opening of the BC Vintage Truck Museum

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Harry Rudolfs has worked as a dishwasher, apprentice mechanic, editor, trucker, foreign correspondent and taxi driver. He's written hundreds of articles for North American and European journals and newspapers, including features for the Ottawa Citizen, Toronto Life and CBC radio.

With over 30 years experience in the trucking industry he's hauled cars, steel, lumber, chemicals, auto parts and general freight as well as B-trains. He holds an honours BA in creative writing and humanities, summa cum laude.

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