Restoration of
Kamloops City Ambulance
 
Story by Jack Woolard
Photos by Dave Dickinson


A HERITAGE RESTORATION

Part 1

1952 Austin A125 Sheerline Ambulance
     As it was found parked at O'Keefe RanchThis story began in England at the Thomas Startin Junior LTD. factory in Birmingham where custom bodied ambulances were built for domestic and export use. Sheerline limousine chassis were shipped to this factory where the wood and aluminum bodies were constructed.  The limousine chassis had a longer wheelbase than the regular Sheerline chassis and were more suitable for the ambulance and hearses built at this factory.
     In 1951, Fred Deeley Motors presented an Automobile Exhibition from
Austin of England at the Seaforth  Armories, Burrard Street,  Vancouver.  
Photos from that exhibition have been obtained by the Old English Car Club of B.C. and can be viewed on their website at www.oecc.ca  
    One of the vehicles shown in the main picture was a large Austin Sheerline ambulance. There are reported to have been only three of these ambulances exported to Canada. One of these imports was purchased by the City of Kamloops in 1952 and the chapter has a copy of the newspaper picture and story of the presentation of the keys for the ambulance (shown in the background) to Kamloops Mayor, Jack Fitzwater by local Austin automobile dealer, Stuart Wilson, with then-fire chief Charlie Miller and then-alderman Wilf Jordan looking on.
    This was the first ”purpose built ambulance” owned by the City of Kamloops and it served the community faithfully for more than a decade until some time in the mid-1960’s when it was replaced with more modern equipment and its status deteriorated rapidly. It was purchased from the Kamloops Fire Department by Ian Newby who had heard through the B.C. Antique Fire Apparatus Association that a good home was needed to keep it from being sold and camperized. Mr. Newby travelled by bus to Kamloops and completed the purchase and with a full tank of gas from the firemen, was given an official fire engine escort out of town.
     He advised that “he drove back via the Hope- Princeton Highway and well after dark was midway between Keremeos and Princeton when an older large North American sedan  passed him. About five miles further down the road he rounded a curve to find a genuine cowboy, Stetson and all, standing beside the road waving a chrome bumper to attract his attention. He stopped, and was told that there had been a bad accident, and thank goodness he had arrived so quickly! It turned out that the car that had passed him had been driven by a women riding with her dog in her lap. She had passed the cowboy, hung her left wheel in the gravel, over-corrected and rolled the vehicle several times down the middle of the highway. In the days before seatbelts, she had been thrown from the car, and was lying in the road severely injured, but all she was asking about was her dog. He didn’t have the heart to tell her that her dog had also been thrown from the car and killed. Using his Army first aid training, with the help of the cowboy, Mr. Newby made the woman as comfortable as possible and turned on the emergency flashers on the ambulance to alert any approaching traffic that the road was blocked. After about ten minutes, an RCMP patrol car from the Princeton Detachment appeared, and although there was no stretcher in the ambulance, Mr. Newby was asked to transport the injured woman to the hospital in Princeton. One constable rode in the back, while he followed the police car as fast as the ambulance could go heading for  Princeton with the siren and red lights operating. When they arrived, the hospital staff rushed the woman into emergency, the RCMP thanked him for his help, and he continued home to Vancouver.

     The ambulance was stored in a building at Boundary Bay Airport until the RCAF station was closed. It was then stored in a reserve fire hall in Coquitlam. While in Coquitlam it was used several times at the Westwood Race track as the emergency ambulance while the regular ambulance was in for service or repair.

    Mr. Newby purchased a Shell garage in Fisherman’s Cove in 1974. In 1976 or 1977 the ambulance was driven to the garage for servicing. There was no room to store it inside overnight so it was locked up under the cover of the gas pump roof. In the morning – it was gone. Someone had stolen the ambulance. The West Vancouver police couldn’t believe that someone had the nerve to steal something as spectacularly obvious as a large white ambulance with “City of Kamloops” in gold letters on a red background down both sides.

     It was never found nor heard of until years later when Mr. Newby received a phone call from a Mr. Clark who had a B.C. transfer paper with Mr. Newby’s name badly forged on it. The connection came through someone in the Vintage Car Club. Mr. Newby never followed up on this due being out of the country off and on for a few years.
    The next sighting of the ambulance was the few years it spent rusting away at the O’Keefe Ranch outside Vernon. A Kamloops fireman, Jim Watson, rescued the ambulance hulk from a barn at the O’Keefe Ranch about 15 years ago with hopes that the Kamloops firemen would restore it to its original glory. When he passed away, it was obtained by Unfortunately, Mr. Houghton passed away from Cancer and had left the fate of the ambulance to his wife. She spoke with Stuart Houghton. Jim Harker, another fireman and current President, at the time, of the Kamloops Chapter, VCCC, asking if the chapter would like to take on the project as she would be happy to donate the vehicle to us. It was agreed by the club members to take it on as a future project. A commemorative   plaque will be placed on the dashboard in memory of Stu Houghton when the restoration is finished.
    In the field at O’Keefe Ranch (Vernon)
     The “project”  was stored at Mal Dixon’s  property in Pritchard for a couple of years until he sold his property at which time it came to rest in the writer’s storage field for a few years, along with some other people’s future projects. In 2005, member Andy Cordonier, purchased a large shop for his business and offered a corner of his shop as a space where the ambulance could be worked on and restored.  The offer was quickly taken up as we “restless restorers” needed another project and a place for weekly bull sessions. My wife was happy to see the old Austin going to get restored. The storage field at our property was then reduced to my parts car and Dick Parkes projects.
     Moving day saw Jerry Wallin arrive with his heavy duty trailer that sunny afternoon in 2005 and with the help of Andy Cordonier, Dave Dickinson, Dick Parkes, John Bone and Julian Slotylak and myself  we loaded the ambulance onto the trailer and it began its next journey to Andy's shop. The fun was about to begin.

    Push harder Dick & Andy      I am sure it will go!

Moving crew Jerry Wallin, Jack Woolard {writer}, Andy Cordonier, Dick Parkes,
                                       John Bones, Julian Slotylak, Dave Dickinson 
{photographer}         
     The restoration begins; – It was decided that we would assemble a crew of willing volunteers to disassemble the ambulance and would have work nights on Thursdays through the fall, winter and early spring.
         
          Dick Parkes would be in charge of the overall process;
          Craig Beddie would look after the mechanical aspects;
          Ken Finnegan would look after the electrical
          Jack Woolard {writer} would be in charge of the woodwork/patient compartment.
          Dave Dickinson would be photographer/record keeper of who was there, what was being done and where were the parts?


     Little did we know how much work would be involved in completing the task. With only a short weekly work bee time dragged on as you will see as this restoration story continues. Thank you Andy for your patience, guidance and help throughout the project.
     The first night, as I recall, was having a thorough look at the project and deciding how we would proceed. I had always wondered how there came to be an old door service station sticker on the drivers door indicating that it had been serviced in Horseshoe Bay at some time. The story from Mr. Newby connected the dots. Many pictures were taken and a list began of missing items. I don’t think we got too much accomplished the first week but the second week we started to take the ambulance apart. 




     The plan was to separate the project into three pieces - the frame, the engine/transmission and the patient compartment. The wooden skeleton would be removed from the frame and placed on a large “dolly” made from part of an old truck frame, the front fenders, grill ,etc. would be removed and the firewall/floor pan of the cab would be mounted on another dolly made from another part of the old truck frame, the engine/transmission would be removed from the frame. The separated frame could then be refurbished with all its components. 

     My crew of Jason Tasko, Jerry Wallin and Virgil Lysgaard began the slow process of removing the rear doors, the windows, various mouldings and the aluminum skin from the roof and then the side panels. We had to remove these items so they would not be damaged when the body was lifted off the frame. We had to pull each tiny nail holding the aluminum to the wood without damaging the metal. I recall this took a few weeks to complete the process. When it was done I took the nine foot long flat aluminum side panels, the mouldings and the windshield frame and glass home and stored them in the loft of my barn to prevent damage. The wood skeleton was very unstable when we had all the skin removed as the roof cross members were mostly broken. The wood skeleton of the roof extended over the driver’s compartment and down into the rear portion of the front fenders where the doors were attached to the wood so it was necessary to cut the two side members of the roof rails near the dash in order to separate the firewall/floor pan from the rear compartment. Two sets of cross braces were installed in the passenger compartment to hold the skeleton together while it was being lifted. That was a scary moment as there was no secure way of doing it so the body was jacked up and blocked as best we could in order to roll the chassis out from under it. At one point it looked like the whole thing was going to collapse, destroying the skeleton. It twisted a bit but held together. Thank goodness we put in solid cross-bracing or we would be really starting from scratch on rebuilding the skeleton. When installed on the rolling dolly we were able to square things up and move it around to work without getting in anyone else’s way.


To be continued: