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Cross Canada Adventures


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In the beginning...

February 7, 2018

I remember when I decided to go to the east coast. It was because of a hat. I made my decision during a great weekend spent on the west coast of Vancouver Island (the “Island”) at Long Beach near Tofino. In those days, it was much harder to get there. The road through the central mountains from Port Alberni was rough gravel and excitingly winding, including a particularly nasty batch of steep switchbacks.



I had been out there with two buddies earlier that year escaping a boring day at school at the tail end of winter. My friend had one of those old fastback Volvos that he dearly loved to drive. I had grown up on farm trucks and big old sedans, so was unused to John’s road rally car and road rally driving. A couple of times I was more than a little anxious as we raced out to Long Beach, but as soon as I realized I was in good hands, I settled in to enjoy the ride.

The road we had been travelling on was rough, and narrow, and snaked through thick, dark mountain forest for a long enough time for it to begin to feel tiresome and tedious. It was the first time I had been over that particular road and really didn’t know what to expect. I was quite unprepared when suddenly we came out of the shadows and found ourselves on a cleared hillside. The bright world had opened in front of us. It was fantastic. The miles of beach and the Pacific Ocean stretched out in front like an awakening. I was absolutely astounded. It is a scene I’ll keep forever.



 We were so impressed by our visit to the place that a few weeks later, we organized an exodus from school to camp out on the beach. There were piles of driftwood all along sand at the edge of the forest. It was no large task to make a kind of lean-to settlement. We had plenty of polyethylene sheeting and a few tarps, and we staked our claim amongst the other hippies. With plenty of substances to abuse and basic foods like chili and bread, we were ready to party away the weekend.

You could drive on the beach in those days. We found that sitting on a stout canvas tarpaulin pulled behind a VW van made a great ride across the sand. Unfortunately, when driving on the beach, there was a real risk of losing your vehicle if you found a soft spot and the tide came in. I remember two vehicles that had gone to their rest in that sand. The discovery of the first came as a surprise when I heard a strange kabunk noise as my buddy Gord and I walked on the beach.

I said to Gord, “Sand doesn’t go kabunk!

I walked back and forth a couple of times to get an exact location and fifteen minutes digging with our hands revealed the top of what we reckoned was a VW bug. No wonder the west coast is called the Graveyard of the Pacific, although I think that name was more for ships than little cars. The second vehicle’s end was more dramatic and amusing.

As I said before, in those days you could drive on the beach. It was all kinds of fun. There were lots and lots of young people on the beach driving lots and lots of cars, so it should not come as a big surprise to learn that some of them were drinking beer while they drove. A lot of beer. Enough beer to make a nuisance of themselves and to encourage the local constabulary to bring their police car onto the beach and put an end to the drunk driving.

Now, most of those young people’s cars were not expensive. In fact, it was a wonder that some of them even managed to make the drive to the west coast. The one that the police were particularly interested in had no muffler because that bit was probably somewhere on the nasty gravel road from Port Alberni. That car also boasted lots of rust, a missing tail light, dents and scratches, and rough body repairs, resulting in a net value that was probably less than the beer it carried. Quite an audience gathered to watch as the police herded those hooligans to our end of the beach where large rocks blocked any further progress. When the occupants of the car saw that there was no escape those gangsters turned their car in the direction of China. Shouting, “You’ll never take this car alive, Coppers!” they drove it straight into the sea until the water was halfway up the doors. They climbed out of the windows and sat on the roof laughing and finishing the last of their beers.

After we enjoyed the car chase and the antics of the gangsters, things quieted down so my friends and I hiked out onto the rocks to seek further amusement. To our delight we discovered a keyhole-shaped niche in the rocks that had a sandy bottom and a fairly long channel to the sea that allowed waves to rush in and fill the round part of the keyhole with knee deep frothing water. Almost immediately the water would retreat, exposing the flat, sandy bottom. In no time we were taking death-defying, or at least wet-defying, leaps down onto the sand and scrabbling back out before the next wave would fill the basin again. To make it more of a challenge, someone had the bright idea of jumping down and writing their name in the sand before they were swamped by the incoming cold seawater.

On my turn, I had jumped down and written my name, but on the way out I dropped my hat into a puddle at the side of the keyhole floor. I loved that hat and had no intention of sending it to China.

A hat is a special bit of apparel which can serve various purposes; you can show respect by tipping or removing your hat; a hat can protect your head from the sun and rain; a hat can also be a fashion statement. You can even “keep something under your hat”. Some hats are worn by members of a certain profession. Mine qualified for all of the above. It was one of those striped caps favoured by railroad engineers and I cherished it.

I had little time before the next wave came in and frothed away with my hat, so down I leapt again, grabbed my wet hat, and scrambled up chased all the way by the Pacific Ocean. Luckily my friend John lent a hand to haul me up. He said it was lucky that my hat hadn’t gone out to sea, maybe on its way to Japan. While I stood there with a little of the Pacific Ocean dripping down onto my face and neck I was imagining the possible travels of my hat. That’s when I came up with the idea that since I had dipped my hat in the Pacific that perhaps I should dip it into the Atlantic as well. In retrospect, it wasn’t much of a reason to travel across the country, but it seemed a good idea at the time.

My new book is underway - Cars I have known

December 23, 2017


My grandfather had a blue 49 Ford like the one in the picture above well not exactly. His Ford was a little bit rougher however it was an amazing piece of equipment. I don’t know how Grampy had trained it but he was convinced that it like to eat grapefruit.


Now I know that most people probably have not fed their automobiles grapefruit. In fact I have never known anyone before or since that fed grapefruit to automobiles. But Grampy did.

This is how it worked: the old Ford was prone to stalling in warm weather. In retrospect I guess the fuel line went too close to the heat of the engine and the fuel would turn from a liquid into a gas in the pipe and the engine would s starve and stall.


I have heard that wrapping a fuel line in a wet cloth to cool it off will solve the problem. I have even seen this done. However for some mysterious reason Grampy would use a grapefruit. He would slice it in half and rub it over the fuel line to cool it down. He would even rub it all over the carburetor. And I remember on one occasion, I stood watching while he was rubbing it over the carburetor grandma tried to start the engine. The engine fired up and the  vacuum in the carburetor began to suck on the grapefruit like a hog eating watermelon. Which is something you don’t see every day.


That car also provided the introduction to witching:


Cross Canada Adventures - Stealth Camping

December 23, 2017

Before we left home, I had been doing a little work on the Marmot van because I wasn’t happy with the interior layout. I wanted to install some kind of air conditioning. In 1981, when the van was built, dashboard-controlled air conditioning had not been installed. I priced out some options and an aftermarket installation was going to be more than half of the price we paid for the van. Even if I had gathered up a system from an auto wrecker and installed what I could, I still would have been obliged to have a licensed technician complete the installation and that amount of money and effort was not what I wanted.

The solution turned out to be a home air conditioner, an inverter, and some batteries. It was not really cheap, but the price was at least reasonable to me and the install was pretty straightforward. But before I took on the job, I did a little research on van conversions. That’s when I came across an article about stealth vans. Evidently these are vans that people in cities live in. The owners just move about finding unobtrusive places to park each night. With a stealth van, you don’t pay rent. Cool idea!

So having been paying $30 or more a night for camping spots that weren’t really even up and running, I suggested we “stealth it” and use the money to buy a meal. We agreed on the plan and it seemed a good one.

Here is our stealth van


Actually, the plan was quickly modified to read: sleep in a box store parking lot. It turned out that some box stores had hatched the scheme of allowing RVs to park overnight. It actually works in the favour of the store because, instead of making a campfire, visiting with the other campers, or walking to see the river or lake or whatever, the hapless traveller sitting in the RV in the parking lot eventually succumbs to the lure of the hardware department and spends at least as much as a campsite would have cost.

So walking out of the store with our purchases, we were not particularly pleased to see that the parking lot was pretty much empty except for a couple frantic shoppers who ran in and ran out with a carton of cigarettes or a jug of milk and a couple of shady characters sitting in an old pimped-out Oldsmobile. It appeared they had a number of acquaintances who stopped in for a quick chat and perhaps were loaning our guys some money or perhaps were buying homemade jewellery. It eventually occurred to us that their transactions might have been of the unlawful kind. Seems a lot of money was changing hands and they were doing a pretty brisk trade. We decided it was not the place to be in the middle of the night. Okay. Plan B.


Farm Boys and the Goderich jail

December 22, 2017




I had a shower and got cleaned up while Shorty’s dad made supper. Before we sat at the table, Shorty’s brother Bill arrived. Bill and I hit it off right away. Bill had been slated to help with the pigs the next day. He was really glad that he didn’t have to cut pigs, and I was happy when Bill invited me along to go out for the evening. We ate our fill and Shorty’s dad wished us well as we climbed into Bill’s red and white ‘67 Impala.

It was when we drove to Bill’s buddy’s place that I learned that Bill had a case of beer; and his buddy Dan was to bring along another case. I offered to chip in for the beer, but Bill said that by helping cut the pigs I had contributed more than enough. It was when I saw Dan packing 24 bottles of beer that I asked about and learned the eastern definition of a case of beer. Well, at least we weren’t likely to run out. Dan and I were introduced over the first of the 48 beers.

Bill and Dan filled me in on the program for the evening as we drove. There was a dance in a town about half an hour away and the girls in that town were reputed to be friendly and fun-loving, especially if there was plenty of beer around. Not only had my companions scouted out a likely venue to meet friendly girls, but they had also procured enough beer to ensure the success of their plan. As I drank my second beer, it seemed that I had taken up with a couple of smooth operators and it promised to be a great night.