Field of dreams
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?
John Beaulieu’s 1954 Bel Air convertible at the PEISRA’s 37th Annual Show weekend.
'n Shine in Brudenell over the