By Chris Parker
The End of the Road stories come about as a result of wandering in and around the Robson Valley and feature every day people who have developed unusual skills that they practice as life supporting hobbies in some instances and retirement activities in others.
As I think back to my early years in England, I can remember my love for trains and fascination with classic cars. Now for me a classic car isn’t a 64 Mustang, 76 Camero, or a 57 Chevy. When I say classic I refer to the beautiful body and styles from the 20’s and 30’s, which my wife tells me makes them antique not classic, but I refuse to believe I’m old enough for things I enjoyed as a child to be antiques. The craftsmanship that went into those automobiles is to me timeless, so imagine my amazement when wandering through McBride to find a renowned craftsman who makes custom parts for these beautiful automobiles.
Kris Arneson returned to the Robson Valley in 2013 after some years away in the Lacombe and Edmonton areas, with the intention of semi-retiring in McBride. Importantly it was his wish to spend his own retirement years near his mother and other family members. Arneson, a highly skilled craftsman is known in the McBride area having been the local auto body repair shop owner before his move to Lacombe where he went to fulfill what he refers to as his ‘farming adventure,’ some years ago. In his lifetime he has developed skill in a variety of trades including farming, logging, as a machinist, welder and an auto body painter along with the appropriate trade certifications. You’d probably call his expertise a world class skill as evidenced by a quick look at his client list which stretches around the world. In particular welding, painting, and a specific talent working with rubber to create running boards for old vehicles that are undergoing restoration.
Arneson has the skill to create new running boards for vehicles originally built in the early 1900’s. This highly specialized hobby sees Arneson look after the painstaking process of tracking the original design down and then welding the foundation for each unit, faithful to the smallest detail, then painting it – before painstakingly hand creating the running boards and rubber mats, using individual tiny pieces of rubber to create each non-slip running board. These detailed parts have been created for noteworthy clients around the world including a Sheikh in the Middle East, Nicola Bulgari (an avid automobile restorer and collector in Italy), Jay Leno in the USA (another world Class Collector and re-builder, famous for his TV shows), as well as others across Canada and around the world. These clients want the faithful rebuilding done to the highest skill level possible (so that you cannot tell the new product from the original product). The running boards were prevalent on vehicles from 1902 to the 1950’s and include everything from Ford’s, Chevrolet’s, Duesenberg’s, and others
He takes the product from conception to completion without farming out any of the steps (He jokingly states that none of these components come from NAPA parts stores).
In order to build the rubber portions of these products, he needed to create some highly technical equipment (shown in the attached pictures) on which he can cut and create each individual small piece and then slowly add the pieces together to create these one of a kind parts. These ‘jigs’ are unique and enable him to build units that typically can be anywhere from four feet to as much as seven feet in length. This is a slow process as one set of running boards can take upwards of a week to create. You only have to spend an hour or two in Arneson’s shop watching over his shoulder as his passion for this detailed work comes to life. He notes he spent 35 years building up his various skills to allow him to do this work and looks forward to continuing to practice his passion in his semi-retirement.
Where do you go when you want the highest and most unique skills and creative talent? Well to the Robson Valley in Canada of course!