Riding the Rails in Canada in a Packard

While doing data entry in the PPG Vault some time ago, I came across this intriguing photo (above).  What were these two men doing driving a car on such a precarious-looking railroad trestle?  Further inspection of the photo shows a sign on the back of the car that says “Winnipeg to Victoria via Canadian Highway.”

My research found that this car, a 1924 Packard 226, was being driven by Austin F. Bement and E.S. Evans of the Lincoln Highway Association across Western Canada from Winnipeg to Victoria (Vancouver) for a promotional highway tour in 1924.  At this time, many of the dirt and gravel roads in this part of Canada were impassable by automobile. And the only route through parts of the Canadian Rockies was by rail.  So the Canadian National Railway gave the men permission to drive on the railroad tracks when necessary as long as they gave trains the right-of-way.  One shudders to think what would have happened if Bement and Evans had met a train on this trestle or in the tunnel pictured above.

In 1924, Bement was Vice President of the Lincoln Highway Association. Evans was one if its founding members.  The Association was created to promote the Lincoln Highway, which was dedicated in 1913 and stretched from New York City to San Francisco.  It was the first transcontinental road for automobiles in the United States.  In the early part of the 20th century, motor car touring was growing in popularity as people took to the roads, or what passed for roads at the time, for driving and sightseeing adventures.  The Canadian Highway Association, along with the Packard Motor Car Company, saw the economic benefits in getting motor car tourists into scenic Western Canada.  And so was born this well-promoted tour with Bement and Evans in a Packard.

The two men left Winnipeg, Manitoba, on August 30, 1924.  They traveled approximately 1,700 miles with two other men, 600 lbs. of supplies, and a camera to document the journey.  It was an arduous trek with many challenges, including getting bogged down on washed-out dirt roads and dodging trains on the railways. Hoping to make it easier to ride the rails, the Packard was equipped with custom-made flange wheels.  But the car wouldn’t stay on the rails, so the standard wheels with rubber tires were re-installed.  The rubber tires survived being driven on railroad ties and rail-bed gravel without any damage.

The men arrived in Vancouver, British Columbia, on September 7th.  They were awarded the gold medal (below) offered by the Canadian Highway Association for the first car to make it across Western Canada under its own power.  Today, the scenic journey from Winnipeg to Vancouver that took nearly 9 days to accomplish in 1924 now takes just under 24 hours on paved highways, thanks in part to Bement, Evans, and the Packard Motor Car Company.

There are many more interesting photos of the Western Canada Packard road trip in the PPG Vault collection.  PPG volunteers are currently working to make the Vault photos available for viewing and purchasing.  Stay tuned!

Canadian Highway Association Gold Medal 1924
Canadian Highway Association Gold Medal awarded to Austin Bement and E. S. Evans in 1924