Tag: Steve Swanson

For the Curious Wanderer, the Back Roads of Alberta Offer Automotive Treasures and the Chance to Find True North – Steve Swanson @Hemmings

For the Curious Wanderer, the Back Roads of Alberta Offer Automotive Treasures and the Chance to Find True North – Steve Swanson @Hemmings

Advertisements

When you live on a relatively small, wet island, you dream of road trips uncluttered by traffic and cars larger than a size 9 shoe. Pandemics can exacerbate such wistful desires but also prohibit them. In September 2021, North America remained closed to Brits. But then Canada opened its doors. I went north, hoping their love for classic automobiles and the open road matched that of their southern neighbors.

From the west coast of Vancouver, British Columbia, I set out on Highway 1 to head east for the prairie. By day two, I was past Kamloops, the wipers on my competent but uninspiring rental in constant use. So far, Canada was winning on scenery, losing on weather, and sadly lacking in classic cars. GatorBob’s fixed that for me. Of all the anthropomorphic names I expected from a Canadian car dealer, this wasn’t one of them. I was anticipating a Grizzly Pete, or a Beaver Ben, at least a guy called Moose, but Gator

GatorBob’s emporium was a chain link enclosure with a phone number and a Telus e-mail address. I stood on the wrong side of the fence in persistent drizzle, just feet from Highway 1, catching spray from the passing trucks while gazing on the classic machines penned inside. Bob’s predilection was clearly the Sixties to the Eighties, with a leaning toward Plymouth and Chevrolet, and should those cars come equipped with fat rear tires and a nose down stance, well, that was all good. I never got to meet Bob, but I liked his style. His absence allowed me to imagine him rumbling around in a jacked-up Camaro, Def Leppard on the tape deck, scouting back roads for bargain stock.

From this point on the scenery, already impressive, became quite simply stupendous. The highway carved a heady path through dense forest, river valleys and mountain ranges. The ascents challenged the auto box on my rental SUV. Stoic, laden logging trucks hugged the crawler lane, their warning flashers punctuated by the black smoke belches jetting from their exhaust stacks.

Late afternoon I pulled into Revelstoke. Downtown, resting below forested mountains shrouded in mist, blended the feel of a smart village with a kooky, offbeat “Twin Peaks” vibe. I found good coffee, friendly locals, and the railroad museum, losing myself in the story of the Canadian Pacific Railway and its construction. A feat that was both technically fascinating, fiscally exorbitant, and for the railroad workers a tough, inhospitable, and sometimes tragic drama. In 1899 they named the town after the banker that funded the CPR construction. A century later his bank, Barings, was taken down by a single rogue trader.

Read on

Finding America with no particular place to go and a Mustang convertible to take you there – Steve Swanson @Hemmings

Advertisements

Myrtle’s Café still bears advertising from the days before Henry’s gasoline carriages. Under its antique tinned ceiling, hot coffee and a gratuitous wedge of raspberry pie staved off the after effects of a nine-hour flight. Across the street, my Mustang rental waited in the shade of a red brick store. Princetown, Illinois, is just one small town off the I-80. I reminded myself I had a Mustang and the whole Midwest to go play in.

It created a strong desire to hit the road again.I was back to write a story about a family and a car, but two days before the wheels of my Boeing touched down, that story fell apart. I didn’t have anywhere to be and no plan to follow. Some people would see this as a disaster. I thought otherwise. After all, what does a car guy do with two spare weeks and a rental Mustang?

Sure, it was a convertible, which for some is inexcusable, and no, it wasn’t a 5.0. I say beggars can’t be choosers. Compared to the neutered, heavily taxed, four-cylinder shopping cart I had left on the other side of the Atlantic, this car was an unexpected win, and hardly a slouch. I’ve driven a lot worse rental fodder. I’ve owned some desperate daily beaters. Well then, let’s enjoy!I

Brimmed the tank at Iowa-80 Truck Stop, pausing to admire the serried ranks of long-haul heavy metal waiting like ships in port for their next voyage. A lady trucker, looking like a wartime “Rosie the Riveter” in denim overalls and work boots, sprang up into the driver seat of a bug-splattered Kenworth. I trailed along behind her down the westbound ramp of I-80 before sweeping past, the Mustang mirrored in the chromed wheels of her rig. Unlike her, I had no destination, no timetable to follow. I chose a random exit off the highway and plunged into Iowa.

The first time I visited Iowa was early March of 2019. The state was just recovering from five months of what it called “Hell Winter.” Everything was grey. I mean everything. Trees, grass, snow, skyline. It reminded me of grainy footage of a post-disaster Chernobyl. Now it was August and everything was green. Iowa Green, to be precise. A verdant sea of corn and peas running alongside the interstate for mile upon mile, stretching down every side road for acre upon acre, punctuated at random intervals by a square of trees affording shelter to a farm house, silo, and barn.

Off the Eighty, small towns stretched out like a chain of islands amidst the corn. Each one added a fresh piece of the story of rural America. Danish towns, Norwegian farms, a miniature Holland, all united under the flag. Each barn anointed with the geometric precision of its barn quilt.

I crossed the Mississippi, stopping at Le Claire, to climb the decks of a preserved paddle steamer and stand behind the helm. The great river lay just yards away. Idle thoughts of Twain and Huck Finn were shattered by the dual-tone wail of a locomotive horn. An earlier incarnation of that wail sounded as a death knell for the steamboat’s whistle.

Read on