Article 12 December 2007/January 2008

Homemade Station Wagon Ambulances

Deciding which type of ambulance to use was difficult for most Canadian ambulance operators. Although most preferred the large Cadillac, Oldsmobile and Pontiac ambulances that could be imported from the US, most could not afford them. The Cadillac-type ambulances had a high manufacturing cost, and became even more expensive for Canadians when they paid currency conversion, 17.5 per cent import duty, 12 per cent federal sales tax, as well as the cost of freight from the US.

Often, the choice became whether to purchase a used Cadillac-type ambulance (which was still relatively expensive, and came with the unreliability of a used vehicle), or to purchase a new station wagon and convert it into an ambulance. The benefits of a used Cadillac-type were additional interior space, a smoother ride for the patient due to the long wheelbase and a more professional appearance. The benefit of a station wagon was a lower purchase price. The ability to generate revenue was a non-issue for the service owners - ambulance fees were the same regardless of what type of ambulance was being used. So, as a result, the ultimate choice for many Canadian operators was to buy a new station wagon and convert it into an ambulance by folding down the rear seat (so the cot could roll in), install a red light on the roof (maybe a siren too) and paint the name of the service on the sides and on back.

A few operators took the additional steps of adding a raised roof and extra lights to make their station wagon look more like a "real" ambulance. One of these was Don Irish of Irish Ambulance Service in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Don purchased a new 1964 Meteor station wagon and had a local auto body shop fabricate a raised roof and install warning devices on it. After several years of service in Winnipeg, this ambulance was sold to Lorne Halliday, who painted it red (shown in photo) and used it in his Swan River, Manitoba ambulance service.

Another raised roof station wagon ambulance was Riverview's 1966 Chrysler, also in Winnipeg. Gateway Auto Body raised the roof on this car and went to the expense of adding a proper side-swinging rear door. Large Riverview lettering on the sides and rear left no doubt as to which of the private ambulance services in Winnipeg this ambulance belonged to.

Working in a raised-roof station-wagon ambulance was less comfortable than working in a big Cadillac, but it was a step up from an ordinary station wagon because you could elevate the head of the cot properly. As well, gravity fed IVs ran slightly better with the raised roof. Aren't you glad for all the space and comfort you have in today's ambulances?

Copyright 2008 Peter Adsten

1964 Raised-Roof Meteor, Halliday's Ambulance Service, Swan River, Manitoba

Photo Terry Lange Column

1966 Raised-Roof Chrysler, Riverview Ambulance Service, Winnipeg, Manitoba

Photo Terry Lange Column