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Country truck comes to help the city folk

After a lifetime of hard work in rural Alberta, Clem has traded in his Prairie existence for a fresh start…

By akazemi , in City Feature story , on November 21, 2012 Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Clem sits in a garage patiently waiting for his new upgrades (Photo: Arman Kazemi)

After a lifetime of hard work in rural Alberta, Clem has traded in his Prairie existence for a fresh start on the West Coast.  He’s about to move into his new home in Mount Pleasant, where he hopes to find a new community to live out his days.

“He’s kind of bruised,” said Mount Pleasant resident Robert Sutherland. “Kind of rough around the edges.”

Clem’s supporters are welcoming the newcomer as “a symbol and as a character in the community that can draw people together.”

Clem is no ordinary worker.

“He’s a super community truck,” said Sutherland, the man who recently brought the red 1946 Studebaker to Vancouver with the idea of turning Clem into a shared vehicle for his Mount Pleasant neighbourhood.

He figures the truck has the resilience for it.

“[Studebaker] had a good reputation of being tough, because they made them for the war effort,” he explained. “It’s powerful but simple.”

When Sutherland first bought the truck, the 45-year-old only planned to use it for his construction work. Then he started thinking he could link the truck to his passion for community service. Sutherland sits on the board for Livable Laneways Vancouver and the Mount Pleasant Artists’ Society.

“It’s totally an example of what happens if you take an idea and just start following through with it,” Sutherland said. “[Clem’s] gone from something that I got for myself that I was going to bring back for my own use. Now, because of my networks and my community work, it’s become this community vehicle.”

Lynn Warwick has one word to describe the truck.

“Clem’s cute,” said the executive director of the Mount Pleasant BIA, who is looking forward to using the truck for local projects.

Warwick relates the importance of the truck project to the small-town vibe Clem shares with Mount Pleasant.

“In some ways Mount Pleasant’s like a small town… we were the first suburb of Vancouver, so this is very much a socially conscious neighbourhood, [and] sustainability’s important to our people.”

Mount Pleasant is known for its quirky community initiatives, from the pop-up library at St. George Street and 10th Avenue to one of the most successful car-free days in the city. But one thing it’s never had is its own community vehicle.

“I think he really encapsulates the fact that we all tend to work together in Mount Pleasant,” Warwick said. “He’s sort of like our mascot. It’s a historic community and it’s a historic truck.”

Clem the Studebaker hits the city as the Mount Pleasant community truck. (Photo: Arman Kazemi)

Here to help

Clem is going to be used for everything from private renovations and home gardening to grassroots community initiatives and public events.

“We’re working on that web of grassroots relationships,” said Sutherland, “which is really exciting because that’s the future: managing the commons together [where] we all have to take a part of the responsibility.”

Sutherland is working on the red-truck project with Diane Lefroy, a local artist and community organizer.

“I can see that it’s going to be in demand,” Lefroy said, “so we’re going to have a price structure for hiring the truck: for-profit businesses get a certain rate, non-profits a certain rate, and free for other things.”

Sutherland will be the sole driver of the vehicle, so part of the proceeds from the project will pay his wages.

“It’s got to pay for a driver to do it, it’s got to be self-sustaining, but it’s certainly not about just making money…it’s not like a Zipcar: it’s about community service.”

Related: Clem’s first ride around the block

From fundraising to functionality

Clem isn’t ready for service just yet. He’s in a lot on the south side of False Creek, waiting for a tune-up and some mechanical fixes before he can be put to work.

“It needs upgrading to make it street legal and for cosmetic details as well,” Sutherland explained.

Sutherland and Lefroy have just launched a 30-day online campaign via the crowd-funding site indiegogo. They’re aiming to raise $12,000 in initial funds to pay for Clem’s work. Potential donors can visit the page, read the pitch and decide whether this is a project they want to invest in.

“In terms of [it being] a community truck, crowd-funding is a great way to get the word out,” Lefroy said. “It’s a way to create a feeling of pride and ownership and caring about your neighbourhood and about cooperated efforts.”

Once he gets a new paint job, new tires, mirrors, and seat belts installed, Clem could even start pitching for himself.

“We’re looking at doing it from the truck’s point of view so that it’s talking as a character. ‘I need new tires, I need new mirrors,’” said Lefroy.

Diane Lefroy and Robert Sutherland think Clem can breathe new life into Mount Pleasant. (Photo: Arman Kazemi)

Old Soul

While his parts will be new, Clem is going to be redone with history in mind.

“We’re going to get all original parts,” Sutherland said. “For me, it’s part of the character, it’s part of the soul of that truck.”

For Lefroy, soul is a big part of the reason for bringing Clem to Mount Pleasant at this time.

“A lot of the small independent businesses are closing,” she said, “and I think part of what we’re trying to do with community is to include people a little bit on the fringe.”

Sutherland also sees the truck as one way of preserving the historic character of Mount Pleasant even as  more and more developers eye the neighbourhood for new projects.

“That’s one of the major issues we’re dealing with, is how do we grow and keep all the qualities that people think of as Mount Pleasant,” said Sutherland.

“So into that Clem drives.”