The origin story of an old ‘panel truck’ was revealed back in the 1970s when paint peeled off to expose yellow letters spelling ‘Harrison Hot Springs Hotel.’ The owners aren’t sure what they’ll do next with the truck, but said they would consider selling it back to the hotel. (Submitted)

Old ‘Harrison Hot Springs Hotel’ panel truck returns to area

Car was likely built in ’40s or ’50s

A rusted, red and peeling piece of Harrison Hot Springs history resurfaced on an Abbotsford gravel pit back in the 1970s, but decades passed before it returned to the Harrison area.

The late 1940s or ’50s-model truck now sits on an Agassiz property. Although faded, yellow letters on the side of its cargo area clearly spell ‘Harrison Hot Springs Hotel.’

Lindsay Foreman, Agassiz-Harrison Museum manager and curator, said the truck is a particularly unique find – one sought after by many automobile collectors for its rarity. Generally referred to as a ‘sedan deliveries’ trucks or ‘panel trucks,’ Foreman said the vehicles weren’t preserved as often as other sedans from that time period.

“It was a work truck,” she said. “They used them and abused them and that was it. They just ended up in the junk yard.”

I think it’s very unique that it’s still in the community after all these years and it’s still recognizable! That was strong paint, because it’s still there 70 years later. That’s a pretty unique situation.”

The truck, with enclosed panels (replacing windows in a regular sedan), only had seats for a driver and one passenger. It was likely used to transport furniture, bread, groceries or linens for the hotel – items that needed protection and couldn’t be transported in a regular open bed truck.

“They wanted to protect their cargo from the open elements,” Foreman said. “If you have a bunch of clean sheets you don’t want them flying out the back of your truck!”

They may have used it to transport furniture, luggage potentially. But not passengers.. well it shouldn’t have been used to transport customers, but we can’t say it wasn’t,” Foreman added with a laugh.

The truck spent years in Abbotsford on the family property of Steve Charles. It’s hard for him to pinpoint when his family bought the truck – he was a little kid at the time – but Charles thinks his late father purchased it in the ’50s and repainted it for its new job: a deliveries and equipment transport truck for his father’s company, Totem Ready Mix.

“My recollection is [that] it’s always been there,” Charles said. “I’m pretty sure we used it for local deliveries and parts pick-ups and that kind of stuff. It would have said Totem Trucking or Totem Ready Mix on the side of it.”

As time passed, the new paint job wore off, revealing the car’s origin.

Still, it sat on the Abbotsford property for decades, even after Charles’ father passed away about 15 years ago. For some reason Charles couldn’t bring himself to sell or destroy the vehicle.

“Ever since I was eight or 10 years old, I’ve sort of stood in front of it and not let it go for scrap, I just thought it was kind of cool as a kid,” he said.

Charles had to find a new home for the truck when the family property sold, so his sister, Susan Caldbeck, took it out to her Agassiz property. She was excited about the rustic gem and happy it had found itself only kilometres from its first home.

“I think it was meant for us to move so close to the hotel,” Caldbeck wrote in a Facebook post. “My brother has contacted the hotel to share our treasure. The lighting makes it a bit challenging to see the writing but look closely. We will give it some TLC and enjoy the history, unless of course it ends up where it should probably go.”

“Where it should probably go” was a reference to the Harrison Hot Springs Resort – the only seller Charles and Caldbeck will consider for the truck.

Foreman hopes the truck will stay in the area.

“I mean it would be awesome if we could keep it in our museum!” she said. “Somehow keep it in the community.”

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