No man left behind!
While the genesis of this saying may be from the military, it applies to many things, both animate and inanimate.
My wife had a university reunion in Winnipeg, Manitoba scheduled for July 30 to August 1st. I felt this would be a great opportunity to take an extended photo trip from Calgary
to Winnipeg spanning three days. The vehicle of choice would of course would be Mr. Happy my 1970 VW hippy van. Mr. Happy got his name from the happy face tire cover he proudly wears on the spare.
Kids and grownups alike love Mr. Happy. Kids wave and people my age give me the peace sign. I’ve even been waved at by some cops that I am sure could have stopped me for speeding had I been driving anything else.
This adventure was planned to be a full-on photo safari. The large format camera, a selection of lenses, 20 film holders, tripod, Nikon D700, Nikon F5, a selection of Nikkor
lenses, Canon A640 for snap shots and tonnes of film was loaded into Mr. Happy. A few clothes, some food and water, Ipod, cellphone and my favorite pillow were chucked in for
good measure. Off we went in a cloud of dust July 28th.
The only two deadlines I had were to met a photo buddy I have gotten to know through Analog Photographers Users Group www.apug.org in Brandon, Manitoba on Thursday night for some beers, tall tales and a place to crash. The second deadline, the important one, was Friday evening to pick my sweetie up from the airport in Winnipeg. The rest of the trip was wide open.
The first day say me getting some great shots of a lonely gas station out in the middle on nowhere Alberta. Some people hate the praires and I can understand that sentiment.
This gas station offered a small oasis of humanity in an otherwise hostile environment. Cars pulled in, kids pilled out, parents would bark orders. Trucks would charge in to
gas up, their drivers checking the tire pressure. Locals would hangout on the bench not in a rush to head anywhere. Especially into the dust and heat. Some feel this land is
barren and empty. Well I suppose it is to some but I feel it mirrors what’s on the inside more than anything else. Personally I love the wide open spaces Alberta and Saskatchewan offer. To me they offer an endless vista of ever changing tones, complicated compositions and a sky that can be both threatening and beautiful at the same time.
They joke that you can watch your dog run away for three days. Some quick shots with the Linhof Technika IV, a couple with the D700 and a record shot with the A640.
It was off again, destination Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. In the old days this town was know as a bootleggers paradise. It’s rumoured that Al Capone stayed in Moose Jaw on
occasion to oversee his distribution network into the US. Canada didn’t suffer the delusion of prohibition. There was some talk that my own family had benefited from quenching
the American’s thirst for spirits during that time. Economies have been built all over the world supplying the Americans with things they don’t really need or are not suppose to
Moose Jaw is a very pretty town with a wicked Thai restaurant, a very photogenic oil tank farm and the most unusually painted bridge supports. There was not enough time to
The next day saw Brandon, Manitoba on the horizon. It would be a full days drive given Mr. Happy doesn’t go over 60 mph. Well he will but it’s not safe in my estimation. I
dropped into Indian Head, Saskatchewan to see if they had any funky buildings. To my surprise what I found was a TV production crew filming a CBC weekly series called “Little
Mosque on the Prairie”. I got as close as I could to snap a quick “I was there” picture and then beat a hasty retreat before the traffic control thugs got a hold of me. Beyond that, Indian Head didn’t have much to offer photographically so it was back to the asphalt ribbon. I should have had Meat Loaf’s “Highway to Hell” blaring on the stereo. It was sure hot as hell!
Just west of Wolseley, Saskatchewan I spotted a drive in theatre in what looked like the middle of a farmers field. I found the road leading to it and soon realized it just
looked that way from the highway. At one time this drive in had mulitple rows of posts each holding oversized pot metal speakers that hang from the car windows. Today there is
only one row left. In todays HD 52 inch widescreen LCD TV’s I guess no one wants the outdoor movie experience. To bad really but I guess if kids want to make out in the back
of the truck these days they can put on the movie of their choice and have it play on the in-vehicle DVD screen. I would suppose the advantage would be the movie screen doesn’t
fog up even if the windows do.
The drive-in wasn’t worth getting out the large format gear but I did manage to mangle a few digit with the D700. I spent 45 minutes there and had a great time both making
photograps and remembering my own drive-in days.
Once back to Mr. Happy I found it wouldn’t start. The engine was very hot and had what is normally called a vapour lock. Another 30 minutes and Mr. Happy was cooled off enough to start. Back to the highway.
The next 16 miles was straight east, and I do mean straight. Not one turn of any kind. Mr. Happy started to loose power so I turned into Grenfell, Saskatchewan thinking that
after he cools off I could check the timing and/or the valve gap. If either of these are out, overheating is the result. He wasn’t pinging so I was leaning to valve problems.
Mr. Happy and I toddled around town and found a nice shady place right across the street from a auto parts store. Lunch was in order at this point so I walked down the street and spotted the usual Chinese cafe you find in any rural town in either Alberta or Saskatchewan. Seemed everyone was having the number one special so not being one to tempt fate in one of these establishments I ordered the same. Once it came out I thought to myself that if I had any problems with constipation this meal would cure it. Everything
was either deep fried or very greasy.
Back to Mr. Happy. I quickly checked the timing and it was spot on. Next up was to adjust the valves. Normally you do this when the engine is stone cold, but I didn’t have that
luxury as I was suppose to be in Brandon that night.
Since I was so preoccupied with getting my photo gear ready prior to my departure I neglected to pack my repair manual. This was a problem because I have never adjusted the valves on a Mr. happy before. I sauntered across the street in my best local farmer saunter and asked the guy in the parts store if there was a library in Grenfell. Indeed there was, but he wasn’t sure if it was open today. In any event it was at the end of the main drag. More sauntering and a 15 minute wait for them to open up and I was in heaven.
Air conditioning!! I asked the gal at the counter if there was a computer hooked up to the internet I could use. Indeed there was and did I have a library card. Well I be
giggered. Once I related my tale of woe she relented and let me use the computer but it would cost me 25 cents a sheet to print anything out. I quickly found what I was looking for, gave the nice lady 75 cents and headed back to Mr. Happy.
Well after about 4 hours of back twisting eye straining grunting I had all the valves adjusted. I was covered in thick dirty grease but the friendly gentleman at the Standard
Auto Parts place let me clean up in his bathroom.
Off we went again. We galloped down the highway a glorious 18 miles and then that was it. Mr. Happy said enough is enough. The number three cylinder was not producing any
power. One of the valve wasn’t working and was probably broken. Valves that go in, must also come out. No such luck.
Now things get interesting.
It was evident that I was not getting to Brandon tonight, and probably was not getting to Winnipeg for the Friday pickup of my sweetie. So what to do? I called my sweetie in
Calgary and explained the situation asking her to call AMA to send a tow truck out to me. Fortunately they had one in Grenfell. This meant Erna had several options; 1. fly to
Winnipeg without me and fly back (one more plane ticket), 2. that very night once home from work jump into our minivan and drive to where I am, or 3. change her plain ticket to
Regina – pick up a car there and drive to Grenfell in the morning. Since Erna wanted me at the university reunion, bless her soul, the first option was out. She was bagged
from work so option two was discarded. That left the more costly option of changing the ticket and picking up a rental car. Somewhere in the discussion me taking the Greyhound
was mentioned but with all the camera gear I had this would not work. Poor Erna, this extra stress, she did not need.
Mr. Happy, now Mr. Unhappy was towed to a lot in Grenfell and I booked into the local highway motel. This motel was just purchased by a commercial real estate agent hoping I’m sure to fix it up and flip it. I named the establishment Hotel 1 1/2. Given that every commerical building in Grenfell was up for sale, he might have to be a bit patient.
The room was comfortable and once I figured out how to get the AC working quite cool. Things went on well until about 3am when some yahoos wanted a room and began banging on the office door and for good measure my door as well. I just told myself it was probably better they get a room here than drive since it sounded like they were quite drunk.
The rest of the trip was very uneventful. Once back in Calgary my father in law and I drove his 1/2 ton truck back to Grenfell and we towed Mr.Happy back. No man left behind!