Restoration of
Kamloops City Ambulance Part 2

Story by Jack Woolard
Photos by Dave Dickinson


Part 2

1952 Austin A125 Sheerline Ambulance

     Since writing part 1of this story I have received the following additional historical information.

     Mrs. Vernice Stephenson writes that 'The Austin ambulance was a special order from England which her late husband (at that time) Bryce Drake, a salesman at Wilson Motors, Kamloops had been successful in convincing the Kamloops City to purchase for their use. The ambulance arrived in Vancouver in early October 1952 and Bryce Drake drove it to Kamloops . When he got to the dealership he sounded the bell but as Canadian ambulances needed sirens, the ambulance was set aside until it could be fitted with a siren.
     This took six to seven weeks apparently. It was not until Saturday November 29th that the new ambulance was ready to be put into service. Bryce Drake was instrumental in having the new adjustments made and in the turn-over to the City of Kamloops. That evening, November 29th, Bryce Drake and Constable Abe Willms were returning from Chase on Highway 1 near the Campbell Creek sub-station when their car left the road, turning over in the ditch. Bryce Drake was fatally injured. Constable Willms was rendered unconscious for quite some time, but roused himself and made his way across the highway, knocked on the door of the Dispatch Station and when it opened, he promptly fainted. The station attendant suspected there had been an accident and called police in Kamloops. By this time it was after 3 a.m. Sunday morning and the ambulance was dispatched to the scene. With the help of a car following them, they were able to locate the wreckage and take both men to Royal Inland Hospital, Kamloops. Bryce Drake was pronounced DOA. Constable Willms had a broken wrist and head and body injuries but no recollection of what had happened. The irony is that Mr. Drake was the first person to ride in the Austin ambulance when he delivered it to Kamloops and then its first fatality when it was brought into service. He left a wife and a 5 week old baby daughter.'

     Project co-ordinator Dick Parkes received the following information from Ken Mather, Curator at O'Keefe Ranch in Vernon after an enquiry was made to the Ranch on any historical information about the ambulance.

     "I was Manager at the O'Keefe Ranch when the 1952 Austin Sheerline was obtained by Mr. Watson from the Ranch. Actually, it was not sold but turned over by the O'Keefe Ranch because Mr. Watson told us that it would belong to the Kamloops Fire Department. The ambulance had been stored at the O'Keefe Ranch for a few years by that time. It had been collected by a group that had registered a non-profit Society called the 'Emergency Services Museum Society' to exhibit fire, police and ambulance artifacts. The Society started with a great deal of enthusiasm with the intention of constructing a building at the O'Keefe Ranch to house the collection. At one time, the Society had in its possession a number of vehicles, some of which were just on loan. In a letter to me in 1986, Mark Wakefield, Vernon Fire Chief and secretary of the Society wrote 'It would appear that there is only one vehicle presently owned by this group.' I'm not sure which vehicle it was as over time, the group lost enthusiasm and the O'Keefe Ranch was left with all the vehicles and other equipment to store. As the Ranch never actually owned the ambulance, we were happy to see it go to a good home. I may be able to find more details about the transfer of the vehicle if you like.     Ken Mather, Curator"

     We still don't know where the ambulance was between the time it was stolen from West Vancouver and when it appeared in Vernon. If anyone can add to the mystery we would appreciate hearing from you.

                      When parked at O'Keefe Ranch

From Jack Woolard's back yard to the arrival at Andy Cordonier's shop

     Back to the restoration part of the story: - With the vehicle broken down into three parts each team was assessing their next step in the restoration. 

     One group were assembling a list of missing or damaged parts that they would search for in New Zealand. A few chapter members were heading to the big Vintage Car Club of New Zealand 2006 Automobile Rally on the South Island in January and we had been told that there were a lot of 'Old English' parts available 'Down Under'. The trip turned out to be very successful with almost everything on the list being acquired at reasonable or no cost from the very helpful auto enthusiasts in New Zealand. Luggage and boxes on the return trip were stuffed with car parts. Air New Zealand was not too happy flying back with this collection of what we considered as 'treasures'. A shop manual was one very exciting item to acquire as it would prove to be very helpful in figuring what goes where as we went along. A new set of pistons were obtained from Australia as a result of the contacts made by our chapter members. Other items have been obtained since that visit but I don't recall what they were as the list is quite long and the memory fades.


     My woodworking team assessed our part of the project and what we need to replace. 

     The bench and stretcher rack components were removed

The 3 'Woodchucks'

Jason Tasko, myself & Jerry Wallin

We first had to break out the concrete flooring in the passenger compartment and remove the wheel well covers.

We also stripped the interior panelling. The wheel well covers were passed to a chapter crew member to cut out the rust and repair them. We began taking off one piece or section of wood at a time and Jason, Jerry and I each took our projects home to make replacement parts. Jason did a superb job in rebuilding the intricate wheel well components to which both the aluminum skin and the fender skirts attached. Jerry built new patient compartment front corner posts (part of the door frame). Jason also made new rear door corner posts using the partial remains of what was left. I built a new section of the rear floor and a new roof framework. It was a slow process as we would bring what we had made to the Thursday night workshop and see if they fit and then most often took them home to adjust the parts. The fittings took a great deal of time.

     The team working on the chassis disassembled as much as possible and scraped and wire brushed but then Andy arranged with the sandblaster from across the street to clean everything that needed it. This was a much nicer way to work on front and rear brake and steering parts including disassembly and repair. Painting of the chassis and parts was completed and all reassembled.

     We removed the three curved laminated wood dash panels from the firewall section so Ken Finnegan's crew could remove the instruments and wiring harness. The odometer reads 30104 so the ambulance has not had a lot of use. The walnut plywood dash panels had delaminated and were in very poor condition.

     There were rust areas that needed to be repaired. New floor panels were fabricated by Rick Wourms and fitted to the floor. The front doors had been attached to bend wood sections which were inserted from the top and formed part of the window frame/roof component. The remains of these pieces of wood were removed and a decision was made to create steel 'posts' to hang the doors on. This was accomplished by cutting off one side of two sections of square steel tubing and grinding them to fit and then welded onto the firewall on each side. Appropriate holes were cut into the tubing to accommodate the hinge mounts. Once all the welding was completed the firewall/floor pan assembly was primed was fitted and attached to the frame and then came a long process of getting the large wood framed doors to fit correctly, install the wiring, etc.

Rick Wourms removing the rusted floor panels and replacing with new ones that he fabricated

     The engine was stripped down and the block and head were sent to Valley Speed Shop for cleaning and checking. Cleaning and checking all components was done with some items requiring outside help. I donít recall if there were a lot of new engine components brought back from New Zealand I just know that Craig Beddie was very meticulous in ensuring things were in good condition.

     We cannot forget the fact that Ken Finnigan provided one of the most important sets of tools to enable the mechanical work to be done. Whitworth wrenches are essential to do any work on these older British vehicles as neither Metric nor Standard wrenches fit anything. 

     Trust the Brits to be different! The addition of a 'spanner' was also essential in the tool box.

      Once the chassis had been finished and all parts were mechanically sound including new brake lines being installed, the patient compartment was re-attached to the frame and the woodwork repair continued.
    Fitting doors to the rear of the ambulance was a long labour of love for Jason and Jerry including the fitting of the rear steps and the panels for the licence plate. Many wood pieces were made oversize so they could be sanded down to get a snug fit of the metal covering them. The attaching of the aluminum skin made the project look so much better.

     The engine was installed when it had been fully restored by Craig and his crew. There was still a lot of fiddling with wiring to sort out and Ken Finnigan was very patient and methodical in solving the electrical system woes with a lot of different helpers. Craig is away right at the time of this writing so cannot get more information on any problems encountered in getting the engine running but I know it does run and has received a new exhaust system so the finish line draws nearer.

     With only one short night a week for about half a year it has taken a lot of time and dedication to keep at it but the end is near. Shown right is some of the Thursday Night crew

{l to r back row} Andy Cordonier, Craig Beddie, Rick Wourms, Dick Parkes, Julian Slotylak, Keith Galbraith

{front row} John Duerksen, Dave Dickinson, Mike Collins, Jerry Wallin, Don Pots, & myself Jack Woolard

      As of December 19th 2011, Dave Dickinson advises me that 49 different chapter members have been involved at one time or another in the restoration shop work which numbers 217 work sessions involving 4,356 man hours of work on site.
There is in addition many hours off site at member's homes and shops working on parts restoration.
     We will all be proud and delighted to see this ambulance project come to a happy conclusion.

The next episode should see the ambulance painted and back on the road in all its glory.
To be continued