Curbside Museum: A Gem off the Historic Alaska Highway – Fort Nelson Heritage Museum

Located just off the mile 300 post on the world-famous Alaska Highway the Fort Nelson Heritage Museum takes its theme from the road with many of its featured exhibits having been involved in some way with that storied route. Its scope is not limited to that, but I would imagine they have many vehicles unlikely to be seen anywhere else. I managed a whirlwind visit on this summer’s trip to northern British Columbia.

Like a lot of these places the museum came about due to one man’s collection and passion. In this case it was Marl Brown, a mechanic for the Canadian Army, who collected items that others tossed away. The museum finally opened in 1987 after a decade of planning and community fund raising. Marl remained involved until his passing last year (2021).

 

 

On the grounds there were several old buildings and structures with assorted vehicles nestled around them.

Many of the outdoor vehicles definitely had a construction or industrial flavor to them. Many were reputed to have helped build or maintain the Alaska highway.

There were several Canadian market vehicles including this Mercury badged M600 truck.

Upping the Canadian content even further there was even an ice resurfacer. This one is even the most well-known brand, Zamboni, which was actually developed by an American.

Here is a quick look at the controls which look to be intimidatingly complex for the uninitiated.

There were several of these Flex-Track tracked vehicles built for traversing rough terrain.

There was plenty of rather random items like this cement crayon.

More heavy equipment.

A big cab over engine Mercury with a tow bar.

A selected number of vehicles were mostly out of the weather in a semi open shed. This 1942 Ford 1500 WT is a so-called Canadian Military Pattern vehicle or CMP with both Chevrolet and Ford using the same cab with their own mechanical bits.  This one sports a Ford flat head V8 engine. We will have to do a deep dive into these one day but after the war these were utilized for various tasks including during the construction of the highway.

A big International truck …

… with its Alaska Highway logo still intact.

An unexpected find in this Ford/Thames E83W pickup truck.

It was also a member of the NWHS (Northwest Highway System), but it is hard to know in what capacity it would have been used.

Speaking of capacity here is a real big block engine with 16 cylinders, 15 1/2″ bore, 22″ stroke making a massive 4210hp @ 327 rpm. This particular Cooper-Bessemer engine was used to driver generators for Fort Nelson’s power needs. According to the sign there are still five of these engines in place ready to provide stand by power presumably in an emergency.

Nearby stood a crank and camshaft from the same or similar engine.

Like any good museum they had a back lot some of which was not accessible to the public, but I was able to get this shot through the fence.

There were a few back lot type vehicles accessible nearby however including this mystery vintage car. Any thoughts on its identity?

A solid looking Packard sedan was sitting in a wooded area.

A Sno-cat machine once owned by CN rail.

There was also an indoor collection with many treasures.

A British Ford Prefect sedan was presented in very nice condition. Like a few vehicles in the building, it did not really fit with the theme of the place but left-hand drive one in such nice shape is a rare find.

More on point was this heavy duty 1927 Graham Brothers truck.

A selection of vintages cars including this 1928 Durant M2 Star with a 152cid four cylinder engine making 35hp.

This 1908 McLaughlin Buick Model 10 drove from Ford Nelson, BC to White Horse, Yukon and back in 2008. That is about 1900 kms or 1180 miles. The trip was done by Marl Brown (founder of museum) with Bill McLeod and Mavis Brown. McLaughlin Buick was a Buick design built in Canada. These early ones are right hand drive. This would have been an epic journey but there was no further information on it that I could see in my limited time here.

A homemade motorcycle dubbed a Hardly Davidson. It is a joke nickname that I have seen more than once but is still amusing each time. Someone managed to register this for road use in 1969.

A Bullet nose Studebaker with an interesting headlight treatment sits next to a Ford pickup truck.

Here is another interesting motorbike. Notice anything unusual? That is chain on the front but that is not all …

Yes, its a three wheel drive motorcycle! This Yellow Trail Partner was built in Prince George in late 1950s and early 1960s. Up to 300 of these rugged machines were built for off road use.

In addition to the vehicles there were smaller displays of interesting objects including these outboard motors. Due to my wife waiting for me I did not get a good chance to explore this part of the museum at any level of detail. I may have told her I would only pop across the road for a couple of minutes and been quite a bit longer.

Back outside there were several equipment creations like the lawn mower based racer.

As well as a rather distinctive vintage bus. No lack of headroom in this one.

This 1942 cab over engine Dodge truck has to be quite rare anywhere. Much like a lot of museum contents it is rather unique, rugged and a product of its environment. That concludes our whirlwind tour. If you ever find yourself up north the Fort Nelson Heritage Museum is well worth a visit.