What do you get when you take two century-old cars, vintage camp supplies, a banjo player, a busted wheel, and an AMA tow truck?
No, it’s not the start of an old-timey tall tale, but the beginning of an adventure that saw car nuts and history buffs Ray Fowler and Pat McKenna plot a course from Calgary to Edmonton using a 100 year-old map. Their trek steered the pair off the QE2 and across farmer’s fields where they kicked up three-and-a-half days of dust this past August. It was a journey to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the first Alberta Road Guide — created by AMA’s ancestor, the Good Roads Association, it’s proof that it’s in our DNA to look out for motorists.
Setting out in Fowler’s 1914 McLaughlin and McKenna’s 1915 Canadian Studebaker, the pair was expecting adventure. Instead of turn-by-turn GPS they were working with directions like, “There will be a farmhouse on your left with a telephone.” They just didn’t expect the adventure to start so soon. They hadn’t even made it out of the parking lot of Calgary’s Fairmont Palliser Hotel when the rear passenger wheel of the McLaughlin blew up.
Thankfully the group, which also include Ray’s wife Lynn, and Jerry Huck was still able to set out in McKenna’s Studebaker, while Fowler used his mobile telegraph machine (okay, it was a cellphone) to call on AMA to save the trip. (Spoiler alert: the wheel got fixed and Fowler was able to reconnect with the group later that day.)
Cellphones aside, the rest of the trip was as authentic as it gets. Dressed in period clothes, and hitting speeds up to 55 km/h, the group pitched a tent in a field at the end of each day, cooked their meals over an open fire, and enjoyed the musical talents of Jerry on the banjo.
A camera crew captured the journey down dirt roads and overgrown paths – their cars only touched eight km of pavement during the entire trip. The roads marked impassable were of particular interest, as a bit of rain on the already mud-rut-infested roads almost guaranteed getting stuck. Fowler seemed to be looking forward to the opportunity to block and tackle their stuff out.
The drive was also an opportunity to pull the static past into the present and bring history to life, if only for a few days. Kind of like Back to the Future, but instead of Michael J. Fox playing that guitar solo there was just Jerry strumming on his old banjo. Speaking of movies, the documentary of the trip, filmed by a City TV crew, will ensure this piece of history is kept alive. The documentary is scheduled to air on September 26 at 6 p.m.