Volume 25, Number 146, August/September 2022 Fourteen Cents Per Mile All-In Road Trip by Terry Huntington
In August 1959, on a budget of $1,000.00, Gerry Dyke, Jim Groenewald, Moe Hague, Terry Huntington, and Albert McArdle set out from the Montreal suburb of Lachine on a 7,000-mile camping car trip across part of North America. (Okay, it was 7,192 miles, and worked out closer to 13.9 cents per mile.)
To enable cash-strapped student Gerry to join them, the others each advanced him $50.00 in return for which he issued four $50.00 IOU notes.
Hopes were high that Bert’s recently purchased used Pontiac station wagon with 31,000 miles on it could handle the challenge. Jim’s 35-page trip log assists in this reflection on the journey today.
Realization that this was all really happening hit as they crossed the Thousand Islands bridge into New York state for a run southwest paralleling Lakes Ontario and Erie, to Chicago. Then, mile upon wearisome mile of straight road through corn and wheat fields, where crops grew higher than their car.
Occasionally, a welcome diversion. Moe had brought along a vial of vinegar to treat warts on his finger. One day as he slouched snoring open-mouthed in the back seat, the others thought the vinegar might also be a cure for snoring, and administered a couple of drops down his throat, sure this would be funny as well as curative. It was a smashing success. Four of the five people present thought the reaction it triggered was hilarious.
They took special note of a sign near Kearney, Nebraska, touting this as being exactly half-way between Boston and San Francisco. A couple of them got into “western” mode, buying Stetson hats, chewing tobacco (later discarded in disgust,) and hiking boots.
Near Ogallala, Nebraska, after five car-crammed days of what might bedescribed as diminishing hygienicniceties, a slight diversion off coursetook them to a phenomenally welcome swim in Lake McConaughy, where they swam until unwanted dirt and sweat just disappeared from their bodies. There, they also predicted they should have no difficulty reaching their destination on time.
Their ultimate destination was the Third Canadian Rover Moot in Banff, Alberta. They were in their waning years of membership in Lachine’s Red Otter Rover Crew, and this Moot would be a rounding out of their Rover careers. Another objective was to beat the budget.
Changing flora and fauna as they dipped south reminded Terry of snakes, to which he had an abiding aversion. And of course, it was he who, one evening as they were pitching their tent, backed into a cactus. It never occurred to him that this could be anything other than a rattlesnake bite.
He yelped, convinced that somebody would be cutting a notch into his violated flesh, through which they would suck out the venom. That was snakebite treatment according to every cowboy film he had ever seen. When all was confirmed benign, the humour of the situation registered - for some. Again, four of five people present thought this was rollicking good entertainment.
After camping in prairie, desert, and mountains, prospects of more adventure took on as much importance as did reaching the destination itself.
Colorado offered the whole gambit of awe-inspiring landscape, and in Durango they played tourists, ate well, and bought souvenirs. It seemed just a hop to Aztec ruins in New Mexico, and from there the meandering northward road to Canada.
One evening in Utah they pitched canvas against a fence at the edge of a field. The next morning Bert, Gerry, and Jim went into Salt Lake City, taking water cooler and food with them, leaving Moe and Terry under hot canvas in blazing sun until they returned, at which time Moe and Terry were pretty much emaciated and in no good mood. Moe hoisted the water cooler over his head, and dumped half its contents over himself.
A log entry shows that one day, with the fuel gauge showing “low”, they topped up at a gas station for a $2.50.
In Battle Creek, Montana, there was a highlight, a night’s sleep in beds in a cabin with a fireplace. The next morning, after hearty he-men’s breakfasts, they saddled up for 8-1/2 hours on horseback on Rocky Mountain trails. Before long, backsides became tender, and riding inexperience manifested itself in grand style. The day’s excursion including horses and guides cost them $12.00 each.
They were still on time, and still had money. Yellowstone, Old Faithful, and lots of bears and moose. Then the Canadian border crossing and more drives through wheat fields until they reached Banff, Alberta.
The five days of the Rover Moot were rewarding, including all the ceremony, camps, meeting new friends, spotting wildlife, boulder hopping along a mountainous stream bed, a trip to Banff Springs, a buffalo meal, and dips in hot springs.
They dropped Terry at the Banff train station because he had to get back to work. That was the end of the trip for him, although the long train ride back to Montreal was a different adventure in itself.
The remaining four packed up and headed home, with welcome extra room in the back seat. More prairie. Leaving Canada again in Manitoba, they crossed into Minnesota, and on through the top of Wisconsin and across Michigan to re-enter Canada at Sault Ste Marie, Ontario.
They arrived on Montreal home turf in early September, having acquired a lifetime of memories all for fourteen cents per mile, or less than three cents per person per mile, including transportation, tent and open-sky accommodation except for one night, and campfire-cooked meals.
The final act came a couple of years later when Gerry retrieved his four IOU notes, paying back each of his fellow travellers their $50.00.
Gerry, Jim, and Terry are grateful today to have the opportunity to reflect on this shared youthful adventure. They are at the same time saddened that fellow travellers Moe and Bert are no longer with them.