For whatever reason, unbeknownst to museum volunteers and those who are familiar with the vehicle, the gas pedal is in the middle.
The clutch is on the left, brake on the right, it’s got a right-hand drive and it’s difficult to manoeuvre without power steering.
And it never had turn signals.
The 1944 Chevrolet 3 Ton Canadian Military Pattern (CMP) stake truck is one of the small collection of vehicles belonging to the Comox Air Force Museum.
The collection is currently on display in front of the museum at 19 Wing Comox for the public to see.
Museum staff and volunteers not only want people to see the vehicles, but hope it turns into an interactive display, with the opportunity to touch the vehicles and take photos inside.
“We’ve had vehicles for years, but they weren’t generally available to the public. They were on the base in a restricted area, so you might see them come out once for a special event or an air show,” explains Kevin Kinsella, team lead at the Comox Air Force Museum.
The vehicles have recently been relocated into the former Spitfire hangar next to the airpark on Military Row, and Kinsella along with museum volunteers hope to display the vehicles regularly out front of the hangar or the museum throughout the summer.
“I can just park them outside. Frequently, people don’t think to come in the building and you have to call them over and say if you want to have a look, we have vehicles. That usually goes over very well. Little kids love the yellow truck. They can sit in the vehicles, it’s not that we don’t want to them to play with everything, but we want them to sit in it, and to see what it was like. So it’s a really hands-on, enjoyable experience for them.”
He credits the volunteers who work on both the vehicles and aircrafts in the museum’s collection for getting all the vehicles in road-ready condition.
“We’re all aircraft background except one gentleman who is of army background, so aircraft is near and dear to their heart. Having said that, when we need work done on the vehicles, they’re very comfortable to swap over and get what needs to be done.”
Three of the vehicles on display have a west coast military connection, but the CMP truck specifically was used at 19 Wing Comox during the Second World War.
While challenging at first to drive, Kinsella says part of its design was to prepare Canadian soldiers for their time overseas.
“It was actually a British design, produced in North America, so that the people here would learn how to use that vehicle, arrive in England, and day one, know how to drive.”
He says the truck, which was actually manufactured on the Chevrolet production line of the General Motors of Canada plant in Oshawa, was a general utility truck with 4×4 capability.
“It was great in the war, when you were 20 years old and you were in great shape. A lot of our volunteers are in their 50s, 60s and 70s, and it’s a little bit trickier. It’s very, very difficult to steer because there’s no power steering back then. The brakes, even for drum brakes, they weren’t the greatest back then so it takes a lot of body strength to drive it, but if you’re up for it, it’s a hoot.
“You need a sense of humour; it’s a lot of fun.”
Kinsella notes it takes a few minutes to get used to the pedals (which are correct to design as the museum has the maintenance manuals), and is a bit easier to drive since volunteers added turn signals.
It was kind of like riding your bike – you had to put your hand out for the right turn, left turn and brake.
“It worked good if you know what the signals are,” he adds with a laugh.
After service with the Canadian Forces, the truck was used at a mine site in northern B.C. from 1952, and then donated to the museum in 2007. Restoration took five years by museum volunteers.
One of the most popular vehicles in the collection for catching the eyes of children (and ears with a working horn) is their Robin-egg blue 1952 Dodge M43 CDN Ambulance, produced by the Chrysler Corporation, says Kinsella.
Its role was solely to evacuate casualties from the battle area or airfield. Four hundred and nine ambulances were built and delivered to the Canadian Army and the RCAF for service at home, as well as in Germany and on UN deployments.
The museum’s ambulance was acquired from the Transportation Museum of B.C. in Cloverdale in 1990. Restoration work began in 1995 as a teaching project for students at Georges P. Vanier Secondary and was completed in March 1997.
Another vehicle on display is the Willys MB ‘jeep’ – a general purpose personnel or cargo carrier, designed for reconnaissance or command. It was used by the Royal Canadian Air Force for transporting aircrew, as an emergency tug to move aircraft, or had a trailer attached to transport ammunition or supplies to the aircraft.
The museum’s jeep was donated in 1998, and sports a utility trailer, a canvas top cover and is finished in the markings of the RCAF in Comox.
Kinsella calls it “very light, very agile, but the downside of that is the suspension literally is the thickness of the foam of the seat.”
It is this vehicle that really reminds Kinsella the reason behind displaying the collection on behalf of the museum.
“People love (them). The one thing that really stuck with me was at the air show last year. I was talking with someone at the ambulance and there was an older couple trying to get in, so I thought I’d help them in and take their picture for them. And it turned out the older man … he saw the jeep, and for him, when he was a kid in Holland, as the Germans were retreating, the first allied vehicles he saw was a jeep driven by Canadians liberating his little village.
“So we talked for about 50 minutes, and that was a huge human connection to make with him. That’s the kind of thing you see on TV or in the movies, but it was very emotional for him and his wife. When you look at him, you get a little chocked up too, because that’s what it’s all about.”
The Comox Air Force Museum is open to the public and located at the entrance to 19 Wing Comox on Military Row, Tuesday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, call 250-339-8162 or visit comoxairforcemuseum.ca.