Field of dreams

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION - Rus­sell Wanger­sky is TC Media’s At­lantic re­gional colum­nist. He can be reached at rus­sell.wanger­sky@tc.tc

Some things to know about car buffs: they un­der­stand sig­nage. And park­ing. And they know how to tell a story.

You could not get lost on the way to the P.E.I. Street Rod As­so­ci­a­tion’s 37th An­nual Show ’n Shine if you tried, there are so many signs punched into the shoul­der of the road, all the way from Char­lot­te­town - and once you’re there, the green field of park­ing spa­ces is marked out so well with or­ange tape that it could be a park­ing lot.

And sto­ries? Ted Church from Hal­i­fax has brought his step­side GMC pickup: it looks fan­tas­tic, even more af­ter you dis­cover he didn’t buy it as a truck: “It was two trailer-loads of parts. It took two years to build.” Other car buffs had taken it apart to put it on a new chas­sis - “they were start­ing to re­store it’ — but lost in­ter­est and sold the bits.

Next to Ted is Mur­ray Ed­munds, from Her­ring Cove, with another yarn: he found his 1952 Ford Cus­tom Coupe “by word of mouth ... it was in a base­ment in a house, and it still had the 1962 li­cence plates on it.” That was in 1987 - he fixed it up in 1991 and ’92.

“Back in the day when I was young, it was what the young guys were driv­ing,” he says.

Some­thing you no­tice about the car guys: they are pretty much of an age, which, if I can say this po­litely, is around re­tire­ment. Or older. It’s mostly guys, though there are plenty of wives as well — but more on that later.

Be­cause Har­vey MacKen­zie from Val­ley­field, P.E.I. is ex­plain­ing the history of his al­most­mint 1937 Ford: “I got it from a guy in Baddeck who had it shipped by rail from Fairview, Al­berta. He put it in stor­age, and then he died.”

The widow sold him the car: there are plenty of sim­i­lar sto­ries, like the car buff/roofer who was re­plac­ing boards in a garage roof when he looked down and saw a car that turned out to have been rolled into the garage on the day its owner had bought it - and died of a heart at­tack. Years later, it still had al­most no mileage on it. The roofer made an of­fer...

The field where the show is tak­ing place is mostly grass when I ar­rive, but that changes fast: more than 200 car own­ers have reg­is­tered for the event, with ve­hi­cles of all shapes and sizes. A steady stream of cars rolls down the hill to the show. The field isn’t the only thing that changes: the air does, too. As more and more cars ar­rive, there’s a dis­tinct tang of a kind of ex­haust cars don’t belch out any­more, and an ob­vi­ous smell of pol­ish in the air.

Some own­ers are in love with par­tic­u­lar types of ve­hi­cles: Richard Day says “I wanted a fat fen­der,” and that led to his 1954 Chevro­let 1300 pickup. He re­ally wanted some­thing from the 1930s, but “I wouldn’t trade up now.” The truck glows: it is the orig­i­nal paint, dis­cov­ered un­der lay­ers of ox­i­diz­ing paint af­ter a care­ful wet sand­ing.

Some­thing else about the car guys: ev­ery time you want to take a pho­to­graph, they step back, as if ar­gu­ing that the car’s the story, not them.

But you won­der whether they, not the cars, are re­ally what it’s all about - whether there’s a deeper story in what par­tic­u­lar car they’ve lov­ingly fixed up.

“My Dad had a ’44 Hud­son - it was a coupe, so the front end was the same. But that’s not the rea­son.”

That’s Dan Soper from Rice Point, P.E.I.; he’s got a 1940 Hud­son. He saw it online, “and I just had to have it.”

John Beaulieu and his 1954 Bel Air con­vert­ible?

“I got my driver’s li­cence in a red and white two-door Pon­tiac. 1954s sort of grew on me.” The Bel Air? It’s red with a white in­te­rior, and it’s a two-door.”

One of the show judges is look­ing at a pair of Willys Jeep­sters: “I played in one when I was a kid. It was just all rusted out in a field.”

I’m sens­ing a theme - but I’m also sens­ing some­thing else.

That this isn’t about show­ing off cars and hard work. Far from it. Grab a few sen­tences from the air: “We’re right be­side you, so we’ll be talk­ing...” “Linda showed me them last year...” “It’s nice when they do the leather...” “The fly­ing ants last night were ridicu­lous...”

That last one was from a group of wives who have set up a cir­cle of chairs un­der an awning be­hind a row of cars. In other places, it’s men, or men and women, too. They’ll talk about their cars quite proudly, but you re­al­ize the cars are also a means to an end.

This is a huge, noisy, met­al­bound trav­el­ling so­cial club. Old friends call out to each other over the hoods

How col­le­gial are they? Ted Church has his GMC up for sale for a solid $25,000. (Some­one’s nib­bling. Other car own­ers grudg­ingly of­fer up that the trucks “a nice one.”)

If you get your price, I ask, how will you get home?

“I’ll get a ride with Mur­ray.” And who could turn down a high­way trip in a vintage ’52 Ford coupe with flames painted all over the front end?

RUS­SELL WANGER­SKY/TC MEDIA

John Beaulieu’s 1954 Bel Air con­vert­ible at the PEISRA’s 37th An­nual Show week­end.

'n Shine in Bru­denell over the

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