Check in with the Australian tractor trekkers midway through their trip across America
Participants in the trek across America (from left): George and Anne Bass, Ron and Kerry Bywaters, Jeff Fordham, Jeff Smith, Wendy Fordham, Hugh “Cumber” Campbell, Barbara and Dick Garnett, Allan and Carolyn Faulkner, Peter Barr and Neville Thompson. The caravan consists of five Chamberlain tractors (each pulling a camper) and two RVs.
Chat a bit with 14 Australians crossing America aboard vintage Australian-made Chamberlain tractors, and you might summarize their travelogue in simple terms: Stunning hospitality, bountiful crops and fried chicken.
In fact, the visitors’ impressions of the U.S. flow like a river. In late July, at the end of the fourth week of their 10-week trek, each had collected enough tales to last a lifetime.
“We’ve been blown away by the assistance and hospitality we’ve received,” says Ron Bywaters, who, with his wife, Kerry, acts as coordinator of the trek. “That was a surprise: We didn’t anticipate this much generosity and enthusiasm and keenness to help us.”
Nor did they entirely anticipate the lush rural vistas with crops at the height of their growing season. “We came from the end of a long, dry summer in Australia,” Ron notes, “and to arrive here, see green grass, ripe and growing crops, it was just amazing.”
And then there’s the quintessential American delicacy, fried chicken. Popular from coast to coast, the classic dish so quickly became a staple in the trekkers’ daily menu that they’d be forgiven for mistaking it as the national bird. Food in America, Ron notes, is generally less expensive than in Australia but lacks one familiar dish from home: “We do miss lamb,” he says, “and we do enjoy steak.” Other bargains here, he notes, include fuel and beer.
Following historic trails
The group set out from Westminster, Md., in late June, and expects to finish near Los Angeles in mid-September. During 18 months of planning, the group maintained clear focus as they considered their route. “We wanted to go from east to west to follow the historic wagon trails,” Ron says. That route eventually took the trekkers to Loveland, Colo., where they were to be special guests of the Oregon-California Trails Assn. convention Aug. 18-22.
While plotting a route is key to any trek (see related article, “Rule of the Road: Be Prepared”), planning for this trip differed from equally lengthy treks the group has tackled in Australia. There, they’d more typically travel bush tracks and gravel roads in remote areas, carrying fuel and water. Here, they often set up camp in the wilds of a Wal-Mart parking lot or a friendly fairground.
Here, they’re equipped to handle minor mechanical repairs on their own but hand off major needs (like the head gasket replacement that Ron described as a “quadruple bypass”) to well-stocked repair shops. There, they are totally self-contained. “These guys are bush mechanics. They’ve got to know tricks and ways to get out of trouble,” he says. “I’ve seen them make repairs in the middle of the desert, and it’s just like a team of doctors in surgery.”