By Dick Parkes, Vintage Cars of Canada, Kamloops Chapter
I have known Bob Chambers and his wife Jeanne for over 35 years and one of the best things about doing these interviews is that I get to learn even more about the interesting lives of my subjects. Bob and Jeanne could be described as being “well-travelled” as their careers have taken them to many locations in Canada as well as to the U.S. and Asia with many vintage car experiences along the way.
Bob was born in 1933 in Exeter, Ontario, growing up there and after high school took a one-year electrical course at a tech school. His first permanent job was at an electrical rewind shop and in 1954 he relocated to a similar job in Calgary, driving there from Ontario in his first car, a 1948 Chevrolet. Two years later he was hired by the Westinghouse corporation who were installing a hydraulic waterwheel generator near Banff. Westinghouse then sent him back to a hydro project at White Dog Falls on the Grassy Narrows Indian Reserve north of Kenora, Ontario. This proved to be a fortuitous assignment as this is where he met Jeanne, who was working for Ontario Hydro, and they were married October 10th, 1958. The next year, Bob bought his first brand new car, a 1959 Ford.
As there were no more big hydro jobs in the works, Bob and Jeanne moved to Toronto where he began working for an insurance company as an inspector of boilers, maintenance, etc. even working 5,000 feet underground in a gold mine in Timmins. Their two daughters, Susan and Cathy, arrived during this time and then It was then off to Brantford, Ontario with Bob as a digester specialist at a pulp and paper mill, then to Prince George and then to Great X Paper in Thunder Bay, Ontario. While there, Bob was taken for a ride in a 1929 Chevrolet by a friend and he enjoyed the experience so much that he started looking around for a vintage car of his own. After making some enquiries, he found and purchased a 1930 Model A Tudor sedan and he was hooked.
Next stop for the Chambers was the Weyerhaeuser pulp mill in Federal Way, Washington (near Tacoma) and the Model A went with them. Restoration was started on the car and then Bob found a Sport Coupe body in good condition and since this was a more desirable body, Bob bought it and replaced the Tudor body with it. In 1980 the U.S. authorities had some problems with Bob’s work permit which forced a transfer to the Weyerhaeuser pulp mill in Kamloops, and they have essentially been here ever since. By now, Bob had their Model A Ford running and entered it in the 1980 Spoolmak Parade, where he met up with Vintage Car Club member Glenn Gallagher who also had a car in the Parade. Glenn introduced them to the VCCC and in 1981 Bob and Jeanne joined the Kamloops Chapter and the Model A became a regular participant in our events.
Never one to shy away from a challenge, Bob decided to drive the Model A, by himself, across the country to visit with family in Ontario. This trip encompassed 5,500 miles, with the only problem being a leaking water pump which was repaired in North Dakota with the help of some friendly folks in a farm shop. The next challenge was an un-restored 1926 Willys Overland sedan purchased from fellow Club member, Noella Dickinson. In Bob’s small basement workshop, this car was expertly restored and entered in the Expo ‘86 car show in B.C. Place where it placed second in its class. The next car to grace Bob’s workshop was a wrecked 1919 Chevrolet 490 (so-named as its new price was $490) touring sedan that was purchased from Stallard McConnell, another Club member who lived in Salmon Arm, and Bob began a full frame-off restoration.
Bob was then offered a job in Indonesia at the world’s largest pulp mill so their house was occupied by one of their daughters and Bob and Jeanne moved to Indonesia and stayed there for two years. Then it was over to another pulp mill in Thailand for a few months but when Jeanne developed health problems they moved back to Kamloops for a year and then back to Indonesia for another year and a half. By now, Bob and Jeanne had had enough of foreign living and came back to Kamloops for good and Bob got back to work on the 490 Chevrolet and made it another show winner. Now ready for still another project, Bob went back to old-time restorer, Stallard McConnell, purchasing another car from him, a 1913 Model T Ford express wagon. Stallard’s specialty was creating authentic wooden bodies from the wood off of his own property and although the woodwork was completed when Bob bought this car, the running gear was not. Bob then proceeded to do another ground-up restoration on this rare and original B.C. car which had right-hand-drive. Upon completion it was entered in the 2003 Hot Nite in the City event where it won the trophy for Best Vintage Truck. Driving a 100-year-old vehicle in today’s traffic is not much fun and when the Chambers went looking for something a bit more modern to participate in our tours, their friend Glenn stepped up with a 1955 Pontiac Laurentian 4-door sedan. This car is an original un-restored Kamloops vehicle, purchased new from Reid Motors by Yosh Nabata and had only 77,000 miles on it when Bob took it over. He rebuilt the motor and transmission, did some upholstery repairs and made it safe for the road and they continue to enjoy it today.
Storage of our vintage vehicles is always an issue and as the Chambers have limited space available, they have downsized their vehicle collection over the years. The Model A Ford was sold to a collector in Victoria and when the Overland was stored in the White Post Museum in Tappen, some German tourists took a liking to it and took it home with them to Bremen. The Chev 490 has gone to Washington state where it now resides in the famous LeMay Auto Museum, another credit to Bob’s restoration skills. And, finally, the Model T has ended up with a collector in Mexico.
Over the past 37 years the Chambers have been active participants in the Vintage Car Club where Jeanne had some stints as secretary and Bob has been vice-president, president, national governor and spent seven years on the Hot Nite in the City organizing committee. In their golden years Jeanne sews her marvelous quilts and although Bob no longer has any vehicle restorations in mind, he now builds intricate wooden model vehicles. Bob is one of the best restorers in our group, doing almost everything himself and turning out beautiful projects from his very modest basement shop. Bob tells me that he has never made any money from the cars he has sold but he has enjoyed immensely the learning and doing aspects of auto restoration and interacting with the like-minded individuals in our hobby.