Paul Loerke of Prince George is restoring an M43 Dodge Ambulance once stationed at Puntzi Mountain Radar Station.

Paul Loerke of Prince George is restoring an M43 Dodge Ambulance once stationed at Puntzi Mountain Radar Station.

Military ambulance has link to owner’s past

Paul Loerke purchased a Canadian built 1952 Dodge M43 Ambulance and discovered it was once stationed at the Puntzi Mountain.

Two years ago Paul Loerke purchased a Canadian built 1952 Dodge M43 Ambulance and discovered it was once stationed at the Puntzi Mountain Radar Station west of Williams Lake.

“The neat thing about that is my dad was stationed at Puntzi in 1963-64,” the 49-year-old Prince George resident said.

“He was a radar technician for the Royal Canadian Air Force.”

Loerke first learned about the M43 in 1985 after he met a couple from Penny, B.C. who owned it.

One of the things that fascinated him was the fact it was marked US AIR FORCE, but also had Canadian markings.

He had never seen both types of markings on one vehicle. It left him perplexed for many years.

Almost three decades later he located the Penny couple, now living in Vancouver, and bought it.

One day after the purchase, he was scraping away some paint on the dash heater duct work when he found the “Holy Grail” of markings.

“With civilian vehicles you can do wonders with the vehicle identification number to determine the history of a vehicle, who owned it and whether it has been in a collision,” he said.

“The military, however, has its own licence plates and Canadian Forces registration numbers for the older 50, 60, 70s vehicles.”

Markings he found indicated the ambulance was winterized in September 1961 to a 36 1-7 Type A for the 917th Air Command Warning Squadron, the U.S. Air Force squadron first posted at Puntzi from 1952 to l962.

After that the station was occupied by the RCAF’s 55 Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron from 1962 to 1966 until it closed down, he explained.

“Dad said on some occasions they used the ambulance to travel from the base to town and back if the weather was bad and the RCAF aircraft (otter) couldn’t fly,”

Loerke is keen to trace the history of the ambulance and recently contacted Stanley W. Little who wrote a letter to the editor to the Williams Lake Tribune in 2011, recalling his memories of being stationed at Puntzi Mountain Radar Station with the U.S. Air Force in 1952.

In June, Loerke called Little on the phone and the two men have since exchanged photos and information.

Little has posted some of his memories on the Internet.

One of the stories he recalled  was when they used the ambulance to travel to Williams Lake with $10,000 cash to change into Canadian currency.

They stopped and asked the RCMP if they could store the cash overnight in the detachment safe but were told the Famous Cafe had a better safe.

“It worked out just fine and when the bank opened in the morning we were handed our briefcase after enjoying a great breakfast,” Little wrote.

Loerke visited the old site at Puntzi Mountain last summer to match old photos to new photos in an effort to  keep some of the history alive, he said.

“I have visited some of the old radar stations where we lived and some are all but gone.”

Through his research, he has learned a total of 409 M43s were built between 1952 and 1955, but cannot find anything about his ambulance’s history between the time the radar station closed in 1966 and 1977 when the Penny owners purchased it.

The Penny couple told him they bought it from someone who had purchased it from surplus Crown assets.

Growing up in isolated radar stations across Canada meant Loerke didn’t see that many military vehicles.

Then when he turned 35 he developed a passion for them and decided he wanted to own an Air Force vehicle.

As he rebuilds the ambulance, hoping to restore it to its “former glory,” he looks forward to the day he can display and drive it.

“Owning something dad rode in while he was in the RCAF is remarkable,” he said.