Skip to content

Seniors and their vintage cars: Jake and Janet Surline

My first memories of Jake Surline are from the halls of Kam High and from the streets in front of the school where Jake could regularly be seen tearing around in one of his Morris Minors.

My first memories of Jake Surline are from the halls of Kam High and from the streets in front of the school where Jake could regularly be seen tearing around in one of his Morris Minors. While most of us never even considered owning a car in high school, Jake was a car guy from very early on, one of the very few guys in grade 10 owning his own car.

Jake was born in New Westminister in 1945. His dad was Superintendant of Construction for General Construction, involved in building highways within British Columbia. Jake, his parents and younger sister moved around to Cache Creek, Cherry Creek, Falkland, Field, Vernon and Salmon Arm, living in a trailer (before they were known as “mobile homes,”) wherever a new highway was being built. By 1961, most of the major highway construction projects were completed, and Jake’s dad took a permanent position as Head of Construction in Kamloops for the Ministry of Highways. The Surlines sold their trailer, bought their first house on Pine Crescent and Jake enrolled in grade 10 at Kam High.

Jake’s first cars were three ‘52 and ’53 Morris Minors, a coupe and two convertibles, which were well-used and didn’t last long. His next vehicle was a 1952 Ford coach with a hot flathead engine, and Jake took an after-school job at a service station to help pay for the gas. Upon completion of high school, he got a job working on the drill rigs at the Lornex Mine at Logan Lake and an MGA was his mode of transportation then, but was soon traded up for an MGB. Somewhere in this mix of vehicles, Jake bought a $10 VW Beetle and this was the car used for his first date with Janet, his future wife. Janet discovered that the car didn’t have any brakes when Jake slid it sideways into a parking spot using only the emergency brake, and right then and there, Janet thought that this would be their first and last date! Not so, as it turned out.

Janet (McComb) was also born in New West where her father was the steam engineer at Essondale and when Janet was diagnosed with lung problems her dad transferred to the same position at the Tranquille Farm where the dry Kamloops air would be better for her health. She attended school up to grade four at Tranquille, then Brocklehurst Elementary, then Norkam. Janet met my future wife, Joy, at the old United Church on Tranquille Road where Jan’s mother taught Sunday school and they both joined Explorers together and have been best friends ever since. Tragically, Janet’s father drowned in Kamloops Lake in 1963 and the family moved back to Coquitlam. Upon graduation from high school Janet returned to Kamloops, taking a job with B.C. Tel. She learned to drive on a Nash Metropolitan and her first car was a $100 VW Beetle and then she bought a brand new Fiat 850 Spyder, demonstrating that she liked interesting cars too.

In 1969 Jake and a few of his buddies went to Australia to work and bought a Holden ute to travel around the country. Holden was the Australian branch of General Motors and an “ute” is Aussie-speak for pickup truck. Jake and his friends held a varied assortment of jobs while they were there, including acting as nightclub bouncers, construction workers and helping to build a golf course.

In 1970 another tragedy occurred when Jake’s dad was run over and killed by a piece of construction equipment while working at the LaFarge Cement Plant. Jake rushed home from Australia to look after things and then eventually a job with Highways, driving trucks and graders, which he continued to do for 40 years. Spotting a Corvair-powered Boomer dune buggy with a VW chassis on the Semlin Ranch, near Cache Creek, Jake purchased it and proceeded to rebuild the motor and eventually got it on the road. This buggy used to be a race car on the Westwood track in Coquitlam and Jake used it in gymkhana racing. As we speak, Jake is rebuilding this same vehicle, almost 50 years later, for the second time.

Jake and Janet resumed their relationship and were married in 1973 with their beautiful Corvair convertible as their going-away car. In 1980, they purchased a new house in the Mt. Dufferin area and Blair Curtis, a member of the Vintage Car Club (VCCC) at the time, was their neighbour. Blair’s business had taken a 1940 Chevrolet 4-door sedan in trade and Jake bought it from him and proceeded to rebuild the motor, have it painted and get it roadworthy. They then joined the Kamloops Chapter of the VCCC and immediately became involved with our first attempt at hosting the May Tour, the annual convention of the VCCC. Over the ensuing years the Surlines have had many interesting cars grace their driveway, including a 1974 VW Thing, Lotus Elan convertible, Fiat 124 convertible, GMC Ventura van, BMW 2002, several Corvairs, two 1941 Cadillacs, and numerous Volkswagens. Like most of us, Jake has thinned out his car collection somewhat lately but the venerable ’40 Chev (known as “Leaping Lena”), Boomer dune buggy, a Corvair coupe and a ’66 VW convertible, among others, are still on their property.

After 40 years with the Club and working on many vehicles, the Surlines continue to be active members with Jake taking his turn on the cook trailer and Janet co-chairing our last May Tour. Despite going through major cancer treatments last winter and spring, Jake is sharing his garage with me while he rebuilds his dune buggy on one side and I restore my 1958 VW on the other. Janet and Joy meet almost daily and not only are we best friends, but having a mutual interest in vintage cars makes it all the more special.