IRRICANA, Alta. – Ron Carey has built himself an impressive antique collection based on the old adage; one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
Within the first few steps upon entering Carey’s business in south Calgary, the evidence of somebody who regales antiques is prominent. There’s a slew of old oilcans, a few antique gas pumps, antique cabinets with detailed etchings and a host of statues.
Every room entered and every turn taken throughout the shop, the beauty of the past restored is prominent. From old-time movie posters, to vintage neon business signs and road signs, antique toy trucks, antique boxes, it’s a virtual tour of times past in living colour.
The breadth of the collection is as impressive as the quality and detail put into restoring each piece, which more than likely was rescued from a landfill site somewhere.
“You find it wherever you find it. I used to find this stuff years ago, when it was out there,” Carey explained. “Buildings were coming down and towns were cleaning up all the old stuff, so most of it gets pillaged and cleaned out.”
Perhaps the most impressive section of Carey’s antique collection is his fleet of antique trucks. The regional vice-president of the American Truck Historical Society (ATHS) Alberta and Saskatchewan Chapters has spent the past couple of decades restoring old vehicles and has in the ballpark of 75 restored trucks in his collection.
“I’ve been collecting and restoring for about 20 years,” Carey told Truck West. “I’ve worked in the oilfield my whole life, so trucks are just a normal thing.”
Raised on a farm in rural Alberta, Carey developed an affinity for trucks at an early age and later spent time behind the wheel of a gravel truck before finding work in the oilfield.
Eventually, Carey established his own business supplying drill bits to the oilfield industry; and his company created a drill bit rental program where drillers could return the bits to be reconditioned and made available to other customers.
Across the street from the drill bit shop is Carey’s restoration shop. A team of mechanics works away in the shop breathing life into an assortment of rusted chassis. At the time, Carey was restoring one of the first Mack Trucks, built back in 1912. Carey is already the owner of a restored Mack army truck built in 1917 and a 1923 Kelly Springfield.
“A lot of people ask me for a favourite, but there’s lots of favourites in there,” noted Carey. “There are a lot of neat trucks in that fleet.”
With a substantially sized antique truck fleet and the space needed in his restoration shop to work on current projects, Carey had to find a space to house his personal collection.
Pioneer Acres began as a farm machinery and thresher museum, situated in a rural location 45 minutes east of Calgary on the outskirts of the barely 1,000 person town of Irricana, Alta.
In the summer of 1999, Carey established a building on the Irricana site as a home for his collection and an opportunity for others to enjoy his labour.
With one building filled with Carey’s vehicles and gas station memorabilia, members of the Alberta chapter of the ATHS decided to erect a second building for its antique trucks and add to the truck portion of Pioneer Acres.
“We’d been talking about it for a number of years, but we didn’t get started on it until 2004,” explained Paul Rubak, a member of the ATHS and an established trucking industry veteran. “Headed by a committee of three with Harry Reding, past-president of our chapter as chairman, committee members Murray Wise, president of Pioneer Acres and Alex Lewoniuk, Alberta chapter member, the building was erected and officially opened Aug. 7, 2004.”
The second truck building at the Pioneer Acres site is lined with trucks owned by other members of the ATHS Alberta Chapter. All the trucks on display are in running order and restored to like-new condition, even though some needed little work to be brought back to life.
“It’s a group of people who are involved with the Truck Historical Society who have decided to do this and donate it to Pioneer Acres,” noted Rubak. “It does give the members a place to store vehicles if they so desire, if they wish to have a stall.”
The Pioneer Acres site is host to about 70 trucks now and during the second weekend in August the society puts on a performance for a Heritage Day celebration, which saw more than 100 trucks in attendance last year. The seasonal museum is open to the public from May until the end of September.
Looking the world over
Although the museum display is only open during the summer season, collecting and restoring antique vehicles is a year-round hobby; and has taken Carey around the world to locate rare trucks.
“I have one that came over from New Zealand, that yellow 1913 Benz. It’s one of the rarest and toughest restorations we ever did,” explained Carey. “We start by tearing it all apart and building what you need for it. It took about 10 years to build that truck.”
When Carey purchased his first antique truck and set about restoring it, he had no idea his collection would grow to be as large as it is today.
“Every year we say we’re going to quit, but then we start a few more. There’s only a couple more out there that aren’t here to be fixed,” he added. “It’s interesting to take an old rusted vehicle and make something out of it. It’s looks really nice when it’s all done, but it’s the challenge of building it. I like doing things people say can’t be done.”