It doesn’t make sense, does it? Crossing Canada in a motorless car…but if you check Ripley’s Believe It or Not, the Guinness Book of Records, a Maclean’s from the 50s, Historic Amherst by Pauline Furlong, Bev Tanguay in her CANU reader, you will learn that Frank Elliott and George Scott of Amherst, Nova Scotia, did exactly that - in 1927.
To orient you to Frank, he is father to our Ron Elliott who graciously shared his binder of clippings with me, and grandfather to our present Frank Elliott (the third), who referred me to his uncle. They are the Elliotts of Carnival fame, among numerous other accomplishments and firsts.
It started with a bet for $1000, much more money then than now. By the time they were ready to leave on July 18 from Halifax, the battered Model T Ford with a flapping canvas top had been equipped with a long tow bar, and foot long tin fish with the names of sponsors were dangling from the car everywhere. They also raised money along the way by selling postcards.
The men were dressed in fisherman’s rubber sou’westers to represent Bluenoses. On the back of the jackets were stamped “HALIFAX TO THE COAST IN A CAR WITHOUT A MOTOR”. One of them carried a letter from the Mayor of Halifax to the Mayor of Vancouver.
According to Roland Sherwood in The Citizen in 1985, their first tow to Truro and the second one to Amherst were uneventful. The papers loved the story so the crowds were gathering in each place - and got larger as they crossed the country.
You can imagine that their hometown of Amherst turned out with great enthusiasm. Sherwood writes that a grinning American in the latest Buick, shiny and black, “gave his powerful car the gas and ripped off to a flying start. The heads of the two adventurers…snapped back, and the sudden start lifted the front wheels of the light Ford absolutely clear of the pavement. Gaining speed as they went, the Buick with its trailing motorless Ford raced down Lawrence Street and out to the gravel roads and the steep hills of the Tantramar Marshes.” Forty miles an hour was unheard of then. “But he reckoned without judging the gas consumption of the added load on the Fort Lawrence and Aulac hills…the big Buick died for the want of gasoline. Dust covered and wind blown, Elliott and Scott…thanked the embarrassed American…hooked onto another passing car and went on…”
This was only one of many rides, all on unpaved roads, where the driver tried to scare them. One driver who scared himself instead discovered they had become unhitched somewhere out of sight and turned around, fearful he had caused them to have an accident.
They did have one incident that could have been serious. Sherwood records that “The towbar broke and left them flying on their own over a forty foot embankment to land in the red mud of a river bottom.” If the tide had been full…
Each of their 168 lifts by vehicles, 4 by teams of horses and 2 by teams of mules is meticulously recorded in the log book as well as journal entries and messages for folks back home. Mules pulled them up a Rocky Mountain. Their steering wheel was stolen in the same area.
Along the way people generously fed and sheltered them.
On Oct. 15, 1927, three months after leaving the Atlantic, they reached the Pacific, a distance of 4,759 miles. The letter was given to the Mayor of Vancouver, although it is now in Ron Elliott’s binder.
They had made history but they had not made money. They had to give up the car and work their way home via the Panama Canal on a coal boat, arriving home on Christmas Day.
In 2000, 73 years later, Ron placed an ad in Vancouver Sun’s “Wheels”, asking if any readers were present for his dad and Scott historic ride. He received five responses. You don’t forget a sight like that!
Thanks to Jim Milner for bringing the story to my attention.
My booklets, “Read About Amherst”, 30 of these columns, “Me, Myself and I: to Age 4” and “Grace McLeod Rogers; Moving On” are available at the Cumberland County Museum, from Stephanie’s Market at Dayle’s and from John McKay at the Farmers’ Market on Fridays at the Lions’ Den for $5 each.
Clare Christie is a member of the Amherst News Community Editorial Panel. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.