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Antique trucks roll into a new home

Brian Busby and Denis Corrin are two of the volunteers readying the B.C. Transport Heritage Centre for its first visitors. - Jennifer Lang photo
Brian Busby and Denis Corrin are two of the volunteers readying the B.C. Transport Heritage Centre for its first visitors.
— image credit: Jennifer Lang photo

It’s been a smooth move into a new home for the Surrey Heritage Society’s collection of vintage vehicles that will act as the foundation of a new transportation heritage centre in Cloverdale.

The trucks and associated hardware were relocated one and two at a time from their former home at the Teamsters Freight Museum in Port Coquitlam.

It took a month, says Paul Orazietti, society treasurer and true believer in the collective power of shared passions to create magic.

The society had been working since last fall to acquire and relocate the collection.

This May, the City of Surrey agreed to let the society use the former Surrey Museum building on the Cloverdale Fairgrounds as a temporary location, a decision that’s sparked the imagination of volunteers and supporters alike.

The B.C. Transport Heritage Centre isn’t quite ready to greet its first visitors from the public, but – once the final touches on renovations are complete and occupancy permits are in place – that day isn’t far off.

“A building comes back to life,” Orazietti said. “And, it’s all been done by volunteers.”

So far, the newly-dubbed BC Transport Heritage Centre consists of 18 medium-sized freight vehicles. Fourteen are completely restored.

The trucks range from a 1912 Shell tanker and a 1931 Maple Leaf flatbed to a 1977 BC Tel service truck (still sporting an authentic Harvest Gold paint job).

They’re all squeezed into the former auditorium. It’s a snug fit.

Orazietti said the Lark Group undertook the necessary renovations, which included removing some interior walls and closing in a mezzanine that will be used for storage.

On a recent morning, two volunteers were fashioning a wooden frame for the mural that was saved from destruction as part of the renovations as well as  completing other finishing touches.

“I’ve been interested in old equipment all my life,” said Brian Busby, a retired truck driver and life-long Cloverdalian.

Many of the vehicles are from the Bob King collection, a colourful trucking company owner whose wife eventually donated them to B.C. premier W.A.C. Bennett.

Between 1987 and 1992, they were on view in Cloverdale as part of the former B.C. Transportation Museum. The return to Cloverdale of the King collection is a chance for retired school teacher Denis Corrin to reconnect with memories of an earlier time.

When he was 15, he worked in the office of one of King’s trucking companies.

“I rode a bike because I was too young to drive,” he recalled.

“Later, I drove for some people who bought some of these old trucks,” he said, explaining how he drove trucks for nine years, including while he attended university.

Over the years, he kept track of some of the old freight trucks – along with some driven by a friend.

His favourite is the Canadian-built 1935 Maple Leaf, a robust, brick red number with a wooden flat deck, saucer-shaped headlights and stylish ovoid grill.

Nostalgia, he admitted, plays a role, too.

“This was the era that was on the farm and older,” he said. “They have character. You can identify one from another. Vehicles today,” he sighed, “They all look the same.”

Busby and Corrin are just two of the volunteers who have stepped forward, eager to lend their time, expertise, and passion.

Orazietti said as word has spread about the return of the trucks, more people have offered to get involved.

“That’s where the magic comes from,” Orazietti said.

“All of this gives people a reason to come together, to take care of part of our history.”

The renovations have cost about $25,000, covered thanks to fundraising, work in kind, and private donations.

Cobra Electric paid for the roll up door. Unitow and Partel Towing helped move the vehicles, he said.

“There’s a real passion to take care of these vehicles and find a proper home for them.”

The City of Surrey agreed to allow the Surrey Heritage Society to use the building – on the understanding that the society will look for a permanent home down the road.

“Now we have a home for the heritage society, we can start to fundraise and do other projects,” Orazietti said. “It’s a base.”

The society has had to close the garage door on new acquisitions for now. But already there have been serious offers from private collectors who would consider donating if there was a permanent display space.

“That’s why this thing has enormous potential.”

The society, which is dedicated to the preservation and conservation of heritage assets in the City of Surrey, also envisions working as an umbrella organization with other heritage groups.

Surrey Heritage Society members – who include prominent local businessman Bruno Zappone – believe acquiring the collection will be a good fit for Cloverdale, and bolster the historic town centre as a heritage destination.

Some of the trucks will be on display during the 9th annual Cloverdale Blueberry Festival Aug. 4. Locations include 56A Avenue at 176 Street, Brick Yard Station, and possibly Clover Square Village.

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