by Dick Parkes, Vintage Car Club of Canada, Kamloops Chapter
The Kamloops Chapter of the Vintage Car Club of Canada (VCCC) was formed in 1972 and two years later we were displaying some vintage cars in the Canadian Tire parking lot. John and Laverne Duerksen were in town from their home in Valemount and just happened to drop by. Showing an interest in the cars by taking some photos, they were handed an application form and then signed up with our group shortly thereafter. Since Valemount is over 200 miles from Kamloops, it was several years until we got to know them a little bit and when they moved to the Rayleigh area in 1992 they started to become active members and we learned what nice people they are.
Trying to condense a couple’s life history into a few hundred words can be challenging, especially given the amount of information I have been provided on the Duerksens, and the following will only scratch the surface. John was born February 9, 1932 in Grande Prairie, Alberta and spent his first few years at a little place called Harper Creek in the Peace River area. As he didn’t turn six until February, he could not begin grade one until the following September and then enrolled in Harper Creek school. Times were hard in the 30s and the next spring his parents split up and John had to leave school and was sent to an orphanage in Edmonton. In September, he started in grade one again but before he finished he was sent to live with a family in Bentley, Alberta, and, guess what? He had to start grade one again there. In those days you had to finish grade one before being allowed to move on and by the time he got through he was the smartest kid in the class and the next year he just skipped grade two and passed straight into grade three!
When John was fifteen he left school and went to work for some farmers. Upon turning 18, he obtained his chauffeur’s licence and began driving trucks, working for a White Rose gas station, delivering gas and oil products with a 1950 REO 3-ton truck. This was a good arrangement until two years later the gas station burned down with the truck in it! John then shifted gears and began driving gravel trucks for the Trans Canada Highway expansion between Bassano and Brooks, Alberta until that job finished and then it was on to working for a house mover. Tiring of crawling around in the dirt, he moved on to Royal Sand and Gravel, driving their truck for two years until he eventually bought his own.
John and Laverne were married in Bassano in 1955 and over the years their family has expanded to two children, six grandchildren and ten great-grandchildren. In 1969, John sold his dump truck and moved to Valemount, B.C. where he worked for the Ministry of Highways, driving low-bed trucks and plowing snow in the winter for eighteen years, until his retirement in 1988. John has lots of interesting stories about his adventures hauling equipment around B.C. for the Highways Dept., but those will have to wait for another story another day. Laverne’s work career has varied from telephone operator in Bassano, tree planting in Valemount to school aide and finally as a professional grandmother.
John’s interest in vintage cars was piqued when he was about 17 years of age and living in Bassano. A friend had a Model A Ford in which they used to cruise around in on weekends and John had a special feeling about the car and put it on his wish list, hoping that one day he would own one. The first vehicles he owned were a 1937 Ford half-ton pickup and then a ‘41 Ford sedan. While driving his gravel truck in 1961, John spotted a Model A sedan in the town of Foremost, and he fulfilled his dream by buying it for $150. The car actually turned out to be two cars patched together as one with a 1930 body on 1929 running gear, 1929 fenders, 1930 accessories but no windows or seats and an apple box as the driver’s seat. Getting the car back home almost proved to be its undoing. Not having a proper trailer hitch on his family car, a 1957 Mercury Turnpike Cruiser—a very collectible car these days.John tied the Model A tightly to its bumper and roped the Ford’s steering wheel to the door frame and slowly, off they went.
Most of the route home was gravel roads and all was going well until a front wheel on the Ford caught on a ridge of gravel which jerked the steering wheel hard enough to snap the rope holding it and then both cars began weaving back and forth across the road, almost ending up in the ditch. John managed to get them back under control with the car eventually arriving safely at their current home in Bow Island where the restoration process began.
The restoration of the Model A was definitely a long-term affair with John only working on it when time and money (always short) were available. In replacing the missing parts he obtained bits and pieces from seven other Model A Fords that he found during his travels and, looking back, he said that he probably could have hauled each one of these parts cars home at the time if there had been space in his yard. Being an old-school jack-of-all-trades type of guy, John did all of the work on the car himself, with the exception of the upholstery and paint. With the car partly done, it made the move to Valemount with the family and the restoration work continued. When word got out that John was a Model A fan, he learned about a 1929 Ford AA 1 half-ton truck in the area and ended up buying it for $50. With some of the excess 1929 parts from the car going onto the truck, it began to come together faster than the car and only fifteen years later, the truck was finished!
During their time in Valemount, he also found a derelict 1925 Chevrolet which he did some work on before selling it as a partially completed project.
In 1992, the Duerksens saw the light and moved to the Rayleigh area of Kamloops where John built a one-bay garage/workshop in the back yard and work continued anew on the Model A Tudor sedan. He also became active in our local Club, helping others with their projects, assisting with our swap meets and working diligently on the Club’s 1952 Austin ambulance restoration project for most of the eight years it took to get that major project completed.
John was now spending most of his hours in his own shop toiling on the bodywork of the Model A, trying to get it ready for the final paint job. Finally, the car was sent to Kelowna for the upholstery job and then to a bodyshop in Kamloops for the final paint. When it emerged, John just stood there gawking, amazed that after 40 years and about 5,000 hours of work, he had his own masterpiece. The car has been a local fixture ever since, appearing in car shows, Easter Parades and cruise nights, always getting favourable reviews. Although John wasn’t about to tackle any more ground-up restoration projects he did all of the prep work on their 1966 Chrysler New Yorker prior to sending it out for a paint job and that turned out to be another head-turner as well.
The Duerksens are now well into their 80s, still healthy and enjoying life in their cozy Rayleigh home with the Model A tucked away in the back garage. The Model AA truck and the Chrysler have been sold but when family arrives, the little Model A comes out and cruises around the neighbourhood with a bunch of smiling grandchildren in the back seat, and it doesn’t get much better than that.