Not everyone is anxious to take on the restoration or re-creation of a commercial vehicle, whether as a hobby or for business purposes.
Lifelong Langford resident Dave Lequesne, who has deep roots in the community, has found in recent years that he really enjoys undertaking such projects. But there’s an underlying reason why he continues to take them on: they all have allowed him to reach back into his family and community’s past.
Lequesne got bitten by the bug when he acquired and then restored a 1981 GMC bush fire truck formerly in the fleet of the City’s fire department. His father, Al Lequesne, was fire chief when the truck was purchased and he drove the versatile pumper from Florida back to Langford, where it served for many years until being sold off.
“I dove into that truck (project) and people told me I’d never get the money out of it – we had it on the road within a year,” Dave says, noting that after spending roughly $60,000 on the restoration it was recently appraised at $100,000. It is now a fully functioning fire truck that could complement a department’s bush fire attack, he says, but so far it hasn’t been pressed back into service.
He’s taken the pumper to various shows, including an exhibition in Sequim, Wash. marking the 100th anniversary of fire protection in that area, where it won the People’s Choice award.
A similar award came at a Duncan show.
“The place we used to fight fires, now you can drive up and have a hydrant,” Al says, noting the pumper was often used in then-undeveloped areas such as Skirt Mountain and Finlayson Arm Road. “It served us well.”
While the fire truck project inspired Dave, the idea of restoring vehicles wasn’t actually new for him. Around the same time as he acquired the pumper, he helped his father locate a 1923 Model T Ford pickup. They considered it suitable to create a replica of the original Cadillac tow truck used by Al’s father, Ernie, when he operated the old Langford Garage.
It seemed appropriate to build a vintage wrecker, not only for the family history but for the fact Dave owns and operates Westshore Towing.
The Ford, a former museum piece in Manitoba, was in good shape when they bought it in Sooke and needed only new paint, original lettering and the installation of the towing mechanism.
“I think the garage and towing side of things is what I cherish a fair amount, because of my father and my two brothers (who worked there), says Al, now 80.
The antique replica wrecker was in show condition when vandals torched it last month, burning the wooden bed and singeing the paint job. Rather than stew about it or abandon the project, the two got back to work on restoring it with the help of an insurance claim. Dave insists the finished truck will more closely match the old Langford Garage truck when it’s rehabilitated.
In the time since those first two projects began taking shape, two more have materialized, both very much joint undertakings by father and son.
Lequesne says he had been driving past a 1951 Ford F3 pick-up truck in the area for some time, when he finally decided to “pull the trigger” and negotiate a deal with the owner. To convert it into a tow truck, they bought an abandoned 1974 Holmes wrecker that had a good towing structure, but was otherwise rusted out.
“The (Ford) cab and chassis were in fairly good shape, but the wrecker body had to be completely disassembled,” he recalls. Lequesne proudly says Langford firms, including Old School Metalwork, Island Powder Coating and Fix Auto were hired to do body work, powder coating and the final coats of Westshore Towing paint colours and vintage lettering on the truck’s doors.
Once in show condition, the converted tow truck attracted the attention of the people at Automotive Retailer magazine, which is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Holmes wrecker. It was in 1916 in Tennessee that Ernest Holmes converted his first vehicle into a tow truck, and his company’s designs would go on to be the standard in the industry for decades, notes Lequesne.
A feature story on the ’51 wrecker is already online and will appear in the fall edition of the magazine.
The most recent family project, again spurred by Al’s love of local history and penchant for restoring vintage commercial vehicles, is a replica of the car used by first Langford fire chief Rod Bayles in the early 50’s, a 1951 Pontiac Chieftain.
Dave sprang into action in July and began a search for that make and model of car. “I found the vehicle on UsedVictoria.com, got a deal done within a week and it was into the paint shop on the following Monday, and we got the lettering done shortly after that,” he says.
While the car has been an instant hit, evidenced by the fact it won the People’s Choice Award at the Langford Car Show last month, there’s more that Dave and Al want to do to make it a true replica.
“When my dad joined the department in 1952, the car was being used as a second ambulance. The plan is to put it back the way it was, with the stretcher in there and the back seat removed,” Dave says.
These projects have one thing in common; they all have a link to Langford. And by showing them around a broader geographic area, it brings attention to the city, he adds. “What we’re doing is we’re going after stuff that’s relevant to the area. I have a lot of respect for Langford and want to keep the old Langford alive somehow.”
Adds Al: “There’s a couple more out there that I would like to get. We are digging and finding out where some of the stuff went.”
After he joined the fire department in 1952 some of the existing emergency vehicles, far simpler than the technological marvels that today’s fire trucks are, wound up being traded for labour on building the fire hall.
Al points out that none of the vehicles in service during his 44 years with the department remain, which could give a clue as to where he and Dave might be looking for their next project.
Whatever it might be, it’s sure to have a strong connection to Langford.