When TV or film needs a military vehicle, they call Major Hollywood
Aldergrove, B.C. — Major Ian Newby (Ret.) is giving directions to his house. “You can’t miss it. There’s a Huey on the lawn and an M109A4 out front.”
He fails to mention the two London double-decker buses parked around the side of the house, or the collection of early Jaguars huddled under the veranda, or the multiple outbuildings that spread across some 16 acres of fields and gravel. However, when you’ve got a self-propelled 155mm howitzer parked in the driveway, it’s not like the mailman is going to have to double-check your address.
Newby is a retired Canadian artillery officer and founder of International Movie Services, a company that provides vehicles, props, and costumes to the movie industry. While much of his business is local—he recently provided two Oshkosh heavy high-mobility trucks to the Vancouver-shot Deadpool 2—his company has been involved in more than 5000 productions, from Saving Private Ryan to the historical CBC television series Murdoch Mysteries.
Like so many enthusiast stories, Newby’s tale begins with a love for British cars, specifically Jaguars. First was an unusual 1951 MKVII saloon, which he bought at RCAF Rockcliffe in Ontario when he was 18. Formerly sold in Frankfurt, the electrics had been converted from Lucas to Bosch, which probably contributed to young Newby being able to put well over 100,000 miles on the car.
Now a dedicated Jaguar fan, Newby keeps a large collection of coupes, convertibles, and saloon cars, and his love for all things British extends to a period-correct modified 1953 MG TD, and a well-preserved Austin-Healey Sprite, both campaigned at the old Westwood circuit. However, it is the TD that hints at Newby’s even greater passion: its radiator cap is the walrus-mustachioed head of Old Bill, the character created by WWI British Army cartoonist Bruce Bairnsfather.
“I’ve tried all my life to preserve history,” Newby says, leading the way along a rutted path towards a cluster of buildings. His wife, Doreen (who he jokingly refers to as the long-haired colonel), has perhaps the largest collection of Bairnsfather pottery in North America. Newby’s collectibles are quite a bit larger.
The sheer number of military and police vehicles located here is hard to get your head around. You expect the usual stuff: decommissioned Humvees, old camouflaged Land Rovers, the occasional Jeep or two. What’s less expected is the pair of Russian amphibious armored cars, the Canadian-made eight-wheeled IAV Stryker, the Scots Guards Bedford, the Vietnam-era M715 tracked APC. There are well over 100 vehicles here, some of them original, some of them made up in movie paint, some restored, some in project status.
Tucked behind an armored car that is done up in the fictional livery of the occupying Japanese army from the show The Man in the High Castle (a historical series that speculates on a world where the US and its allies lost WWII) is the genesis of all this movie madness. It’s a 1979 Ford LTD II police car, the villainous Sheriff Teasle’s car from Rambo: First Blood. That movie was shot nearby, in the small town of Hope, British Columbia, and when the production crew came looking for a military adviser, Newby got the call.
A captain at Canadian army headquarters, Newby found himself attached to the first Rambo film, and a happy coincidence led to a career. Already he had been trying to buy up decommissioned military vehicles as they cycled through his own regiment, as he knew they were rarely preserved.
When he retired, the combination of military experience, insider knowledge, and ability to get the proper security clearances to own and operate tracked and wheeled armored vehicles helped him amass this huge collection. Further, it’s not just the size and presence of these massive machines that impresses—everything seems to have a story.
There’s the agricultural Iltis ambulance that Newby and his crew drove over from the prairies in the dead of winter. “If you survived your wounds,” he jokes, “the ride might finish you off.” There’s the hulking great cab-over Chevrolet truck that was used to haul around nuclear warheads on a U.S. submarine base. Much of the decommissioned U.S. military equipment has labels on it that show just how much it originally cost the taxpayer, and the numbers are eye-watering.
Then there’s incredibly rare stuff like a captured Argentinian Mercedes-Benz Gelandewagen. Taken by the British in June of 1982 during the Falklands War, this G-wagen should have been destroyed with all the other captured materiel; those were the orders. However, the commanding officer at the time fell in love with the thing, and spirited it back to the UK. He then was assigned to Washington, D.C., and brought it along with him. When he was later transferred to California, Argentinian military specifications didn’t have a hope of meeting smog requirements, so the G-wagen first ended up in a military museum, and then was swapped to Newby in exchange for a Canadian military Iltis.
“I think I came out well ahead on that one,” Newby says, beaming.
Walking down a hallway filled with props, ammunition boxes, and military racking—Newby briefly gestures towards a closet, “That’s a nuclear warhead”—we come to yet another workshop in this rabbit’s warren of a place. Here, a Daimler Ferret is being brought back to life, alongside a Jeep from Newby’s old regiment.
Later, he’ll show me the warehouse, a massive building filled with some 10,000 military and police uniforms, many of them completely authentic and decades old. However, it’s the ex-regimental Jeep that prompts Newby to tell a personal story.
“During WWII, a Canadian anti-aircraft artillery regiment was stationed across the road from my grandmother’s house,” he says. “We lived in the Thames Valley, and the German bombers would fly right over on their way to London. My grandmother adopted those boys, and after the war she visited Canada and stayed with them, all across the country. One of the soldiers became an immigration agent, and in 1953 my family arrived in Quebec on an emigrant ship, the SS Atlantic.”
Newby pauses. “It’s why I joined the Canadian army. I had a debt to repay.”
Looking around at the staggering amount of military history that he’s gathered and preserved, it’s a debt he has repaid time and again.