Military association builds WWI Army ambulance replica

The team started with a 1917 Model T chassis and built a wooden box to serve as the ambulance compartment

By Tom Vogt
The Columbian

VANCOUVER, Wash. — A 1917 Model T Ford is getting a second life.

Fittingly enough, it represents something that gave soldiers a second chance at life a century ago. It’s a replica of a World War I U.S. Army ambulance.

The Vancouver Barracks Military Association took on the project to mark the centennial of the United States entering WWI.

That ambulance design, built on a Ford chassis, had seen plenty of action before the United States entered the war in 1917, however.

“The French used it. It was maneuverable and reliable,” Jack Giesen said.

Giesen and Tim Shotwell, the project supervisors, are military vehicle collectors and restorers.

The ambulance will make its public debut Wednesday and Thursday when the Council on America’s Military Past, or CAMP, holds its annual national conference in Vancouver. The Fort Vancouver National Trust is the host sponsor of the CAMP conference.

Giesen will discuss the project and display the ambulance Wednesday at a 6:30 p.m. military history lecture at the Marshall House, 1301 Officers Row. The presentation, which is part of the association’s monthly lecture series, is free and open to the public.

The activities in Shotwell’s workshop echo what the Army did a century ago. The team started with a 1917 Model T chassis they bought from a Spokane farmer and built a wooden box to serve as the ambulance compartment.

As far as the chassis goes,”most of the metal is the original metal,” Shotwell said.

Bucket of bolts

With no plans to follow, and with no original 1917 ambulance to duplicate, they designed the wooden patients’ compartment with the help of archive photographs. Their 1917 Model T chassis provided something of a yardstick to dial in the dimensions.

“It has a 100-inch wheel base,” Giesen said, and the wheels measure 20 inches from rim to rim. By following that scale, “We could reverse engineer it.”

While Shotwell used new wood to build the ambulance compartment, he assembled it with vintage materials that reflected that era.

“The bolts and nuts came from an old barn that had been built in the 1920s. I bought a bucket of them at a garage sale,” Shotwell said.

The olive-drab oil paint came from another restorer who had purchased a big batch of it as military surplus.

“It was made in the 1940s and 1950s. The cans had never been opened. I bought four gallons,” Shotwell said.

The engine isn’t running yet, but the ambulance will be road-worthy eventually and should become a familiar figure in local parades.

“It will be able to go down the road at 35 mph,” Shotwell said. “It has 20 horsepower, which is less than my riding mower.”

CAMP conference

On Thursday, the ambulance will be part of a military vehicle display from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Artillery Barracks, 600 Hatheway Road; the Council on America’s Military Past also will hold several history presentations from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. in the Artillery Barracks.

Thursday afternoon will feature tours of several spots in and around Vancouver Barracks, from the replica Fort Vancouver stockade to the Post Cemetery.

Clark County residents can pay a $20 admission to hear the Thursday morning presentations and take part in the afternoon tour; register at The complete schedule is at

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