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Chuck Myers: a community caretaker

Chuck Myers stands among his collection of 1,577 ambulances, all of which are catalogued. It takes three days to dust the collection.
TRR photos by Sandy Long

By Sandy Long
May 29, 2013

ELDRED, NY — Chuck Myers gathers his wife Ruth gently into his arms with the tenderness one might use when handling a delicate flower or fragile bird. With 67 years of marriage behind them, the couple is navigating new terrain as Ruth enters the ever-changing landscape of Alzheimer’s disease.

A good life it’s been though—deeply rooted in the Town of Highland and filled with adventurous travel to all 50 states and more. Blessed with a son, Robert, good work, service to country and the wide-ranging respect of his community, Chuck has also managed to amass a remarkable collection of 1,577 ambulances. One of them is a replica of the first American Legion ambulance he helped bring to town—a 1936 Packard.

Chuck began collecting ambulances in 1988 on the couple’s first cruise to Alaska. The rest have come from flea markets, toy shows, yard sales, friends and sources on the Internet. “I admit to having an E-Bay obsession,” he confides.

For more than a decade, the couple transported 300 to 400 ambulances from their collection to exhibits in various states. Although the travel has ended, the public can still see displays at the Eldred American Legion Ambulance Service (ALAS) and the Bon Secours Community Hospital in Port Jervis.

These days, the couple spends most of their time in the house Chuck has called home since he was three years old. Near where Peck’s Market sits today, his father ran a general store with a gas station, dance floor and soda fountain. The family home was on the second floor, and Chuck was born there in 1926. When he was three, the family moved to their present home in Eldred, just up the road from the town hall.

Upon graduating from high school in 1943, Chuck enlisted in the Army, completing a specialized training program at Harvard before being sent to Germany and serving in the reserves until 1946. After discharge, he married his high school sweetheart, and the couple joined Chuck’s parents in the sprawling family home across from the high school where Ruth was employed.

In the ‘50s, he worked for Metropolitan Life Insurance, then spent 33 years with the Sullivan County Highway Department, which later became the Department of Public Works (DPW). Before retiring in 1986, Chuck served as commissioner of the SCDPW for three years.

In 1948, Chuck and fellow veterans decided to establish the American Legion Ambulance Service (ALAS) and Post rather than building a 33rd bar in the town. “We didn’t think the town needed another bar, but we did need an ambulance,” he says. For $875, they purchased the Packard second-hand. Today, an unequipped ambulance sells for $150,000.