Lost [Courtesy Rovers Magazine, June 2010]
By Jeffrey Aronson
I spent a month away from home in the Conway, NH area, with my Land Rover, the QE I. On my island town, I’m the only year-round resident with a Land Rover, so I’m used to waiting until summer before other Land Rovers appear on our roads. Traveling to a month’s study to become a Wilderness EMT at the Solo School, I hoped to meet up with other Land Rover enthusiasts.
Posting my travel plans on the Rovers North and Southern New Hampshire Land Rover Club’s forums produced a recommendation that I find the owner of a brewpub called The Moat in North Conway, easy advice for me to accept. The 5 hour ferry ride and drive across Maine into New Hampshire confirmed my worst fears; other than a couple of LR3’s in southern Maine [our state’s only dealership is located there], I saw no other Land Rover on the road.
Daily classes, evening study groups and weekend clinical schedules left little time to drive the Land Rover, but the urge to take a short drive would become overwhelming at times. One sunny but cold Saturday afternoon, I drove to North Conway and saw a sign for a high school fund-raising car wash. Since the QE I had last been washed before the winter solstice a bath seemed like a good idea. The student scrubbers sounded delighted to subject themselves to cold water on a cold day. One junior insisted my car “was the second one I’ve seen today, and I never see one of these!” The second one - I was not lost! There was another Series Rover in the Conway area.
That brewpub recommendation seemed like a great place to start, so I made a couple of weekend trips to The Moat. There I met Steve Johnson, the owner of The Moat and a Defender 90 with a Tdi implanted under the bonnet. Parking our Rovers in front of the brewpub on the busy road to nearby ski areas drew admiring gazes from passer-bys. Meeting at a popular brewpub also drew enthusiast Dave Sticht from Meredith, NH, who drove up for a Sunday meeting. Dave’s 109” features a coil spring chassis underneath the car, an enhancement he enjoys very much, as well as a custom front bumper, but otherwise, he runs it as stock vehicle.
Once Land Rovers meet a photo shoot always follows, so we parked our Rovers on a grassy strip next to the brewpub. I noticed a man washing his Discovery Series II nearby, introduced myself and asked if he would permit his Rover to join the photo. Keith Thurber, the owner, agreed and then offered to take our small group off roading anytime.
Again immersed in classes and field training, I would wonder about that “other” Series Rover. Conway and North Conway are the market towns for the Mt. Washington region; anyone who required any goods or services for sustenance, health, rock climbing or skiing would drive the one main road between the two towns; how come I never saw that other Rover?
A chance meeting with another auto enthusiast set the stage for a momentous afternoon. Every morning it did not snow, I took a long, uphill trek past an old farmhouse whose barn housed a 1950’s pastel green Pontiac. One Saturday afternoon I saw it drive by the Solo School and I followed it up the hill. There I met Bob and Elizabeth Hatch, and Bob happily accepted my request for our two classic cars to meet up. Bob’s 1956 Pontiac, with its straight 8 engine, looked fabulous and benefited from the thousands of miles of driving that Bob has put on the car since its purchase.
As I thanked him and left, he said, “You know, there’s a fellow who has a few Land Rovers just like yours. His name is Gagnon and he lives just a few roads over, in Madison, the next town over the hills.” I couldn’t resist; I jumped into the Rover with fellow student Adam Long and went to search out the “other Rover.” We followed Bob’s directions, found the dirt road and traveled its length. Mostly we saw woods, some fields, a couple of houses, and views of a lake. We found a sign that read “Gagnon,” but a gate blocked the lane so we turned around and headed back. We peered down every driveway and suddenly Adam shouted out, “Land Rover!”
I crept slowly down a driveway and saw the fender of one Series Rover, then another and yet another. Two men chatted beside a fourth Land Rover, and just as I decided not to disturb them, I saw one man wave in greeting. As I pulled in he said “Don’t tell me, I know that car!” Nordel Gagnon and his Land Rover friend, Ed Starr, both readers of this magazine, recognized the QE I and welcomed us to Nordel’s home.
After a few weeks of feeling rather alone and lost, reveling in the presence of two rabid enthusiasts lifted any gloom from my extended stay. Whatever plans Nordel had for the afternoon, he dumped them and plied us with hospitality. We met the entire family: Beth, teenagers Allie and Owen, and the dogs Aztec, Scotty and Willy. I toured their handsome lakeside house, a majestic treehouse constructed by Nordel, and wandered the shore of Big Pea Porridge Pond.
Along with Ed’s daily driver, a ’73 Series III 88”, I viewed Nordel’s ’72 Santana 88” [only the second I’ve seen in person], his ’61 Series II-A 88” and his ’73 Series III 88”. Nordel came across his love for Land Rovers in childhood (“a neighbor restored cars and had an early Land Rover parked at this house”) but found it reinforced on his honeymoon 20 years ago. “Beth and I stayed on a sheep farm in New Zealand. The farmer took us on a ride through his fields in a tattered old Land Rover with bald tires. I knew I wanted one again.”
Nordel, a wildlife photographer and conservationist, found his new home in New Hampshire a perfect site for his love of family, loon habitats and Land Rovers. He uses his eye as a photographer to increase awareness of the wonder of birds, and calls himself a “romantic” about Land Rovers. His friend, Ed Starr, is the “mechanical genius who helps to keep my Land Rovers running”. They met just we did that April day; “Ed popped in out of nowhere, driving his Series III, and we’ve been friends ever since.”
By the late afternoon, Nordel had already invited me and any interested Solo School students to enjoy an off road trial ride the following weekend. To my surprise, several students, Eli Kasper, Norwich, VT, Matt Rudyanzky, Trenton, NJ, Adam Long, Petaluma, CA, and Isaac Kintindi from Tanzania, jumped at the chance to ride along. Joined by Ed Starr and Nordel’s family, we packed into the Rovers for an enjoyable ride through the forests and hill roads on Madison and Eaton, New Hampshire,
On a dry, sunny day these trails were simply genuine green lanes, but the fabulous scenery and mountain vistas relaxed everyone from the stresses of study and clinical time. As is often the case, these local enthusiasts took us places that we would never have traversed if not for their time and energy. For Nordel and Ed, it provided a chance to show non-Rover owners the communal joy and delight brought on by these classic vehicles. The afternoon trail ride ended all too soon. The day was made even more remarkable given that the entire Gagnon family had an educational vacation in Wales planned for that very week; the last thing I could imagine doing before an overseas trip was taking a group of strangers off roading!
Land Rovers attract interesting people and bring those enthusiasts together in fascinating, serendipitous ways. It takes only two or three enthusiasts driving their Land Rovers to make a day special. Don’t hide yours; there’s probably an enthusiast feeling lost, just waiting to stumble across another Land Rover.