We were feeling a little despondent after saying good bye to our UK bound friends last weekend, so decided to take a road trip. Inspired after reading “Great Plains” by Ian Frazier, we opted for a short road trip, and to go in a different direction. Usually, we head west, or southwest, but instead pointed east, on the prowl for prairie possibilities…
What a delightful trip it was! We saw so much, and really appreciated the change, but I won’t cover it all here. I have been stretched for time this week, so this post will be brief, and focus on an automotive encounter we had in a ghost town. As Frazier notes:
“You can find all kinds of ruins on the Great Plains; in dry regions, things last a long time. When an enterprise fails on the plains, people usually just walk away and leave it.”
We rolled into the tiny ghost town of Dorothy, located along the banks of the Red Deer River, brightly lit in the spring sunshine, and under huge prairie skies. We wandered between the ramshackle buildings, admiring the gravity defying lean of walls and buckling roof lines. My inner child was almost overwhelmed with excitement when we turned a corner and saw an old Plymouth (Chrysler in Canada) Valiant lurking in the grass.
When I was a little boy, a favourite car was the Plymouth Duster. I also quite liked Dodge Chargers, wanted Steve McQueen’s Ford Mustang in Bullitt, and thought I’d be Steve McQueen when I grew up.
It turned out I wasn’t going to be Steve McQueen, I’ve never owned a muscle car (or had that many muscles), but finding the Valiant transported me back to those childhood days. So it wasn’t a Duster, but seeing it there, it was still pretty cool, I think.
Valiant! Brave and determined! Enduring decades of high summer sun and bitter winter cold and snow. Still there, perhaps a little diminished, but still there, year after year. How could the owner walk away and leave it? Is that what happened?
I was excited and sad all in one go. Should anything be done? One view might be that the car is a large piece of metal trash, a discarded item of rusting garbage in need of recycling. No special favours just because it is old. (Not a huge fan of that view, given I’m about the same vintage…) Another view is that it is full of character, photogenically mouldering away beside an equally decrepit farm building – and maybe it is providing a home for a family of nesting creatures? Or should it be rescued and restored by an enthusiastic car nerd? So many possibilities!
This car must have a fine history, a backstory of reckless adventure and high times on dusty prairie range roads, at least to the inner PlaidCamper child. To end up abandoned and unloved (not any more – I’ll love it, even if I can’t keep it) surely speaks to a sad story? Maybe the story that has the car abandoned and forgotten ends something like:
“They left the car where he last parked it, in the shade of the small barn, and continued to work the farm. Waiting for him to return, to take up his inheritance and take on his responsibilities. To see his familiar routine one more time; slide behind the wheel, fire up the Valiant, and gun the engine twice before heading out in a cloud of dust. Passing seasons turned into passing years – they never stopped hoping with all their hearts – but they never saw their boy again.”
To borrow from and paraphrase Frazier, it is wonderful how large prairie spaces have plenty of room for the past. I’ll return to our prairie explorations in future posts, but will stop now, happy to have seen the Valiant, visited with ghosts, and shared it with you. Thanks for reading, please feel free to comment, share a story – or help to improve the above ending! – and have a great weekend!