Nfld. & Labrador

Preserving pieces of Lewisporte history a 'pretty neat trick' for real estate agent

Richard Small has his quasi-retirement all figured out: It's in Lewisporte's original town hall.

Richard Small is showing off town history in his renovated office

The Ford truck was brought to Lewisporte in 1949, alongside firefighting gear for the department. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

Real estate agent Richard Small has his retirement plan all sorted out.

It's not much of a retirement — 65 is "when your fun starts," he said — but it is a return home, back to a historic building near his childhood house.

Small has moved part of his sprawling painting-and-memorabilia collection into the building that originally housed Lewisporte's town hall and fire hall, which he saved from demolition when he purchased the property in 2013.

His collection — a signed Gordie Howe hockey stick, an original pump from the S.S. Kyle — is crowned by a pair of classic cars, originally used by the Lewisporte fire department in the dawn of Confederation.

This is the instrument panel inside the 1948 Ford F Truck. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

The first is a truck from the original Ford F-Series, built in 1948.

"This is the original truck that came to the town, and they got it originally with their uniforms, with the rain gear, firefighting gear, everything came in one package in 1949," Small said. 

On the opposite side is 1950 Willys Jeep van, which operated until the 1960s.

The 1948 Ford truck is part of the original F Series that Ford manufactured, between 1948 and 1952. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

Both are in their original condition — well kept, but with no restoration, according to Small.

"You could still fight a fire with them," he boasted.

Ventilation controls in the interior of the Willys Jeep, originally used as an ambulance in the town of Lewisporte. Small says the vehicles are in their original condition, so more restoration is possible. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

The trucks are still owned by the Town of Lewisporte, but Small is caring for them on the bottom floor of the fire hall. He's built a glass garage door and installed LED lighting so traffic and pedestrians outside can see the collection.

And he'll let people in to look too — he says he's hosted current members of the fire department — but this building isn't a museum. It just looks like one.

"This was going to be torn down and levelled. No need to," he said. "As you saw upstairs, this is a very functional building. It can be utilized for the next 70 years as offices or entertainment centre. It could have been used for anything."

Small is 63, and says he's looking forward to turning 65 — but isn't planning to retire any time soon. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

Small is moving his real estate office into the hall, where he says he'll be working forever.

He likes being surrounded by paintings and artifacts, including the original furniture where Lewisporte councillors mapped out the future of their town.

"The original building of the town was discussed and dealt at this table, for all those years," he said.

Small says he's repurposed the original table and chairs that were used for town council meetings in Lewisporte in the 1950s. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

Small says he's not a car guy, despite the classics in the garage downstairs. He's only interested in the link between these specific vehicles and Lewisporte's history.

"A lot of the guys that are firemen today, it was their fathers and grandfathers that were firemen here," he said. 

He says he's received accolades from the current fire department and from some Lewisporte residents about his project. He's also asking them for some donations of their own.

Small says the 1950s Willys Jeep was first operated as an ambulance in the community, and then later it became property of the fire department and was used to move equipment. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

And being inside is a chance to reminisce himself, too.

"I grew up about six doors up the street here. And I can remember as a child these things going back and forth, I can remember Mr. Freake coming down, running down to get aboard the ambulance."

Small is building a small shrine to the Lewisporte Fire Department in the building's basement. He's collected jackets and is recreating hangers for the two dozen members who served in the early fire department. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

And there are memories on the building's outside, too. Like the siren on the top of the building that he used to hear as a child.

He used his own money to buy and fix up the building, and used his own money to display the trucks downstairs. He says he blew his budget — a bit — but what odds.

"To be able to keep a part of it, to be able to keep it together, it's a pretty neat trick."

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About the Author

Garrett Barry

Journalist

Garrett Barry is a CBC reporter based in Gander.

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