People drove from all corners of North America for the ANARC Diamond Jubilee event last month, the largest gathering of Land Rover enthusiasts on this continent in the past quarter century. Over a dozen Series I 80" vehicles were part of that count, but all but one of them arrived on a trailer. Steve Owen, of Oshkosh, Wisconsin, was the holdout -- driving his 80" four days across the United States and Canada to get to the event.
Steve has been no stranger in recent years to long-distance road tripping in his 80", which he's dubbed "TCM." Last year he circumnavigated the northern portion of Lake Michigan, setting the stage for this trip.
An 80" has just about as little cargo space as you can get in any model of Land Rover, with a small and low tub, so packing creativity is needed to get things together for a two-week trip. Steve used some surplus military ammo boxes to keep his things dry -- one for camping gear and one for personal gear, plus a cooler for food and the all-so-necessary beer. He also had to pack a lot of spare parts, as Series I parts can be very hard to find in North America. Of course, the Whitworth wrenches that are used to assemble much of an earlier Series truck were also along for the ride! The tailgate of the Land Rover made a perfect table for a kitchen, so it was very easy to keep everyone going on the trail.
Steve was joined by several members of the Minnesota Land Rovers Club, who were also on their way to Greek Peak and took up his invitation to join the ride on the backroads to the event. Since an 80" doesn't have the top speed necessary to drive at full speed on modern motorways, he used Google Maps' cycling route planner feature to find slower and safer roads. It took a full review of the route and some finagling the route as it put him onto bike trails every now and then, but he was able to get it all printed onto laminated maps that covered every twenty to fifty miles of the route.
The first leg took the group across Lake Michigan on the SS Badger, the last coal-fired steamship in the United States. Badger entered service in 1953 for the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad as a rail carferry, taking train cars across Lake Michigan to avoid the tangle of Chicago's rail yards. In 1993 it was converted into an automobile ferry, taking vacationers and cargo across the lake from Ludington, Michigan to Manitowoc, Wisconsin. You can still see the rails sunk into the car deck, and experience her original Skinner Unaflow steam engines. Perhaps it was an appropriate way to start the trip as Badger and Steve's 80" are both celebrating their seventieth anniversaries this year.
The first night took the group to Baldwin, Michigan, a little bit east of Ludington on US-10, of which the Badger is considered a connecting sector of. The next day took the group east across Michigan to Algonac, a small town on the St. Clair River. The weather was "British style" all day, and while the other vehicles in the convoy had hard tops (and in the case of the Range Rover Classic, semi-modern climate control), the Series I was a slightly wetter experience. It had no door tops, so every time a truck drove by in the rain, Steve got splashed by the spray off the tires. Early Series I vehicles have large single-piece vent flaps under the windscreen, and as his didn't align right, he also had a constant drip of water on his right foot. The group camped for the night at Algonac State Park, right on the river with views all day and night of the massive lake freighters taking iron ore and other cargoes across the Inland Seas.
Between Algonac and Walpole Island, Ontario, there is one of the few water-based border crossings between the USA and Canada. The Walpole Island Ferry makes a five-minute back-and-forth run all day, with small customs offices on either side. The small ferry only takes a few vehicles at a time, and takes you to the First Nations reservation on Walpole Island. From there the group headed east across the farmlands of Southwest Ontario, taking Highway 3 to Niagara Falls. Though Canadian speed limits are posted in kilometers per hour, and Steve's American-market Series I was only marked in miles per hour, there was little risk of getting a speeding ticket in the little 80".
After a night camping on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, they headed to the United States again, where the Customs officer had more questions about the cool old Land Rover than anything that they were bringing over in it. From there it was down to Cortland, to join the event at Greek Peak. The convoy arrived triumphantly, with the only Series I that came under its own power.
Though the Series I handled the drive out almost trouble-free, at the event it developed issues in two cylinders. Fortunately, a large portion of the North American Series I brain trust happened to be on-site, and after adjusting the tappets in the motor things ran enough to get home again.
Steve took the roll even slower on the way back to Wisconsin, tinkering around Southwest Ontario before heading the long way around the thumb of Michigan on M-25. After an issue with a broken spark plug cap, he bunged a modern spark plug wire into the 1953 system and made it home.
Almost two thousand miles later, what would Steve say about taking an old Series Land Rover on a journey like this? "If you own a Series I, get out and DRIVE! Distance is no object. Plan, don’t rush, go with the flow, and enjoy life and live life! The world is a wonderful place." After a few adventures in TCM, you can bet he's plotting the next one without worrying about the size or age of his 80".
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