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Breaking down in Duncan

Steve Schonwald, right, fields questions about his 1927 Lincoln Couple. - Krista Siefken
Steve Schonwald, right, fields questions about his 1927 Lincoln Couple.
— image credit: Krista Siefken

Few people will ever see Canada the way Steve Schonwald has.

From Newfoundland to Vancouver Island, he’s travelled on back roads at an average speed of 70 kilometres per hour — in a 1927 Lincoln coupe.

“I’m just kind of crawling, or oozing, across Canada,” said Schonwald, an American from Philadelphia.

He left Pennsylvania in early May in the antique car that boasts its original V8 engine, 90 horsepower and old-fashion wooden-spoke wheels.

It’s got mechanical brakes, a single windshield wiper and taillight, and old light-bulb headlights that are good for daytime driving only.

Plus, it looks like the cat’s pyjamas.

But this is not a car for the no-nonsense traveller.

“It only gets ten miles to the gallon,” Schonwald explained, “so it’s a little bit of a pig, a lead sled. I stop every two and a half hours — every hundred miles or so — and just top off the tank again.”

The car itself weighs 5,000 pounds, or 2 1/2 tonnes.

Schonwald summed it up simply: “It is not a fast car.”

Plus, the 84-year-old vehicle broke down five times during the two-month journey — the final time in Duncan.

“You expect it,” Schonwald shrugged. “You drive an old car, and there are things that are going to go wrong.”

But Schonwald prepared as best he could, bringing spare parts along with him, and having others made at machine and mechanic shops as needed.

And delays don’t mean much when you’re not in a hurry.

“I love these cars, and I realized, what better way to see Canada than slowly?” Schonwald explained. “I wanted to take the time to drive across the country from Newfoundland to the west, and see if I could make it in that old car — which became an adventure in itself.”

Schonwald said he became enamored with Canada after he met his wife, Susan, who’s a Toronto resident.

He immersed himself in Canada’s history through the words of writers like Pierre Berton and Peter Newman.

“I fell in love with Canada, and I had this sudden realization that I wanted to see some of the things I’d read about,” he said. “I wanted to see the Cypress Hills, and Fort Walsh. I wanted to drive up to Batoche and see where the resistance of 1885 with Louis Riel took place — and the only way to see it all was to drive.”

Part of the adventure wasn’t just seeing Canada — it was meeting Canadians.

“It was kind of like listening to (CBC’s) Stuart McLean on the radio,” Schonwald said. “I realized this is the only way to really see the country. Don’t fly. Don’t drive on fast roads. Take your time, and treat the trip itself as the experience.”

Part of that experience was spent in the Cowichan Valley while Schonwald had the car repaired, again.

“There’s something very uniquely special about Duncan that makes you want to come back to it,” he praised of Totem Town and the Cowichan region.

And from Duncan, Schonwald was gearing up for the last leg of his journey — the drive home.

Schonwald spent four years planning the trip, buying old books and roadmaps so he could plot out old routes to take.

He stayed in B&Bs and motels, with friends and acquaintances and strangers, and even a youth hostel — a first for 66-year-old Schonwald.

And he met countless people.

Even while chatting with the News Leader Pictorial, total strangers stopped to check out the ’27 Lincoln topped with a greyhound hood ornament, and stayed to chat with its amiable driver.

“Using the car as a catalyst to talk to people, I’m meeting wonderful, wonderful Canadians,” he said. “They each have a story to tell.”

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