Classic car collector Harold Wellenbrink, 79, has created a replica Shell service station in the quiet back yard of his Cloverdale home, just a few blocks from Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary.
On Sept. 27, he and his wife Myrna hosted the Surrey Heritage Society’s monthly meeting. It was a chance for members to feast their eyes on a genuine Cloverdale hidden gem – and get down to business. The society acquired a fleet of vintage vehicles and freight trucks from the Teamsters Truck Museum earlier this year, and is working to open the B.C. Transportation Heritage Centre to the public.
Wellenbrink is a Greater Vancouver Motorsport Pioneers Society Hall of Famer who’s spent the last 60 years collecting and restoring cars and related memorabilia and collectibles.
He’s big fan of the 1950s and ‘60s custom car era.
“I’ve done it all my life.”
These days, he’s down to just two classic cars – a 1952 Hudson Wasp and the 1952 Meteor Custom cruiser, “Cool Blue” – and they’re beauts.
He’s been car crazy since he was in his teens, and purchased his first vehicle. He grew up on a dairy farm near Campbell River and worked for Telus (formerly B.C. Tel) until his retirement.
The gas station only took a year to build. He says he had two choices – go with Shell or B.A. (British America, which used a lot of red, white and blue in its branding). A coin toss settled it. Shell it was.
“I’ve got quite a Shell collection here,” he said, pausing to show off the contents of an impressive collection of Shell memorabilia, safeguarded inside a converted gas pump that was lit up like a Christmas tree, adding to the warm glow of the station’s interior.
“I’ve added to it,” he said, referring to his collection. “It’s got a real history.”
Wellenbrink is a customizer, someone who can work magic on old machines, including upholstery.
“I’ve done gas pumps all over the place – and pop machines, and other things.”
And if he can’t do the work himself, chances are he knows someone who can.
“Guys come here that want me to build something for ‘em. They bring me a picture and I build it, really,” he says. “I’m lucky. I’m one of these guys who does all this stuff.”
His tidy gas station has everything a proper pit stop should, from vintage road maps from the era of the family road trip, to a pinball machine, working jukebox, and a ‘50s-style A & W diner, complete a counter and with a brown and orange-uniformed mannequin ready to take your order. You half expect a plate of fries to appear out of nowhere. (The only thing missing is the Root Bear.)
The evening was also a fundraiser for the Surrey Heritage Society. Society treasurer Paul Orazietti says the next step is to open the collection to the public, once the society’s office and exhibition space are set up at the former Surrey Museum space at 176 Street and 60 Avenue on the Cloverdale Fairgrounds.
[Boaz Joseph photo]
The society, dedicated to the preservation and conservation of heritage assets in the city, will also work to raise its profile by hosting its monthly meetings at different locales of heritage importance in Cloverdale and the rest of Surrey.
“Ultimately this [society] needs to advocate, and raise money for conservation and preservation,” Orazietti said.
“This, here, is one of a number of tours that will happen that have to do with heritage. So all of this now will take place in different parts of the city, with a different heritage theme.”
The society has talked about holding a ‘Great Gatsby’-themed fundraiser in April, and possibly hosting a car show at the Cloverdale Fairgrounds.
“The whole idea behind it is to promote the area and the history of Surrey,” Orazietti said. “We are coming out of it from Cloverdale because the greatest number of assets are here, but the goal is to make it broader.”