The Great Beater Challenge 2021 – The Red Coat Trail on Day 1 Part 1

As I mentioned in the last installment this year’s Great Beater Challenge is little different due to its route which follows part of the historical Red Coat Trail rather than going west into the mountains. This promises ghost towns, varied prairie landscape, gravel roads and a few surprises along the route.


Source –

The Red Coat Trail (in red above) goes from Ford MacLeod, Alberta to Winnipeg, Manitoba. The yellow line is a the Trans Canada highway #1 which is the main highway spanning the whole length of the country. The Red Coat Trail is the approximate route that the North-West Mounted Police took in their “March West” in 1874 concluding with established Ford MacLeod. More information is found on Wikipedia.

Map of day 1.

As mentioned above our route for a section of the Red Coat Trail from Lethbridge, AB to Cadillac, Sask. Ironically, the three or so Cadillac cars that were registered did not materialize at the start line. There was a short jaunt down Highway 4 before turning west but otherwise it was all secondary highways.

As in previous years there was a quick driver’s meeting before heading out. As we were making a move to leave we discovered the hatchback no longer opened on the Mustang. It looked a little crooked and I later discovered that I had left a 13mm socket on the edge when I had closed it somehow jamming the mechanism. This certainly complicated taking items in and out of the car.

Wing failure.

Less than thirty minutes in we had some kind of wing failure that saw the wings flip backwards. I suspect in our haste we did not fully attach the front section correctly and this combined with a sideways gust of wind created the issue. This put a few dents and scratches in the roof unfortunately. I did not want to chance another repeat so the wings were stashed at the side of the road for retrieval at the end of the weekend.

The first item on the list was finding a wooden grain elevator. In recent years we have lost a lot of these in Alberta as they are torn down for the reclaimed lumber or as a safety hazard. Saskatchewan seems to have a bit more forethought around this practice and there would be plenty to see there. Despite this most competitors stopped at the first one along the route in Wrentharm, Alberta.

What year is it?

The challenge offers interesting scenes like above in which it could be mistaken to be the year 1989.

The 1960 Valiant V200 was saddled with some tough to solve on the road cooling issues. We caught up with them in Skiff where they were attempting to add an overflow bottle to the system and replace the lost water. We heard later in the day that they had to call it quits but at least they managed to limp it home. A real shame as this one was decorated to perfection.

Oil rail cars.

We drove by several instances of a large number of oil rail cars just sitting on a side line being stored. Alberta is a big oil and gas producer but has had huge issues getting its product to market due to the politics of getting pipelines built. The government came up with a scheme to ship by rail cars a few years ago which I do not believe was massively successful so I wonder if these are the rail cars from that endeavor.

Truck and Tractor

Small rural towns often mean a chance to spot classic vehicles, usually of the truck variety. Here is a matching set of Ford truck and tractor.

Last gas

The town of Foremost was the last chance to fuel up for a few hundred kilometers so the heavy fuel drinkers like this classic 1955 Oldsmobile 88 needed to fill their tanks. This station was a unmanned self service one. The Oldmobile’s owner mentioned he had owned this car for a long time and was happy to find an event that allowed him to get out and use it. Maybe he bought it in 1986 to get under budget? Perhaps the one advantage of owning a four cylinder version of the Mustang was our fuel consumption was fairly reasonable.

Ford Thunderbird parked.

Foremost was one of the bigger towns along the route so it contained a few CC worthy finds including this lovely looking Ford Thunderbird.

1950 Studebaker

As well as this 1950 Studebaker which oozed patina.

One of the things I find appealing about small towns is they often have very unique signs including unusual objects on top of poles. This golf course advertised via a full sized golf cart on a stick.


Next up was Etzikom which had an honest to goodness windmill museum. Well, the title of the place was Etzikom Museum & Canadian Historic Windmill Interpretive Centre but the main focus was their large collection of vintage windmills.

Probably the most visually impressive one was called “Wild Rose Mill” from Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. It must have been a massive undertaking to move and re-assemble it in Etzikom, Alberta.

There was also an indoor portion of the museum which we did not explore but crucially it also a gift shop/cafe that sold ice cream. I opted for the healthy looking “birthday cake” flavor as we explored a few of the other windmills.


Not being overly familiar with the specifics of windmills it was interesting to see the variety of designs used depending on the purpose and expected wind speed.

Here is a Boss vaneless windmill with a distinctive counter weight that was apparently a target for thieves.

windmill from Model T

Since this is an automotive focused site how about this one which is partially made from Ford Model T axle? This example was produced by a blacksmith in Leduc, Alberta.

The museum also had a display room filled with a selection of vintage stationary engines.


My good friend Rod is also a GBC veteran from back to its humble origins and usually brings the family and his trusty Honda Civic hatchback. This year he was operating as one of the sweep vehicles on the first day with this Ford Econoline van sporting some prototype aero mods. He blew my nineteen year old son’s mind when he mentioned that this museum was one the location of an early date between himself and his wife.

Like a lot of towns there are a fair number weathered buildings that appeared to be no longer in use including this church.

As we were leaving I spotted a familiar (to me at least) shape. It was a Vauxhall Viva HA or the Canadian badged equivalent Epic Envoy like the one I owned briefly. There is a still a few British saloons out there but sadly a lot are in a similar state to this one.

We hit the road again heading east. The land had different variations on prairie landscape alternating between grown crops and a ranching.

The ice cream / I scream themed minivan had a tire (or maybe rim) failure and they were somehow able to purchase a replacement from a local farm. At least they had a common bolt pattern to work with. There would be no such luck for our Mustang which used a much less common 4x108mm bolt pattern.

Next up was the semi-ghost hamlet of Orion which I had visited previously on my motorbike. The highlight of the town is a trapped in time store run by a character of an owner. It was like walking back in the Sixties. It was, unfortunately, not open on this day but a nice article by CBC if anyone is interested.

The next settlement alone the highway was the hamlet of Manyberries, Alberta which I have never visited. I was amused to see that all the street names were named after berries; Blueberry Street, Gooseberry Ave, Raspberry Street, etc. This again was another classic almost ghost town with the businesses abandoned and only a few residents hanging on. The old railway station situated along the highway has been converted to private residence.

An old travel hotel / restaurant / tavern that had an article in the window about how it had been revived in the Eighties or Nineties by an enthusiastic local. It had since closed however.

2004 Toyota Tundra for anyone? A Curbside Classic bench ad.

This dripping with patina International truck cab sits on an empty lot in Manyberries.

How much does a 1992 Ford Mustang with camping supplies, food, tools and a teenager weigh? 3280lbs apparently. Continuing their tough luck streak the Valiant team lost their exhaust on this scale.

The terrain was a little more natural around here. Less and less signs of life.

The road soon turned to gravel. This Volkswagen Jetta was a little faster than us. The Mustang wagged its tail badly at over 80km/h on the deep packed gravel. Rear wheel drive and a short wheelbase are likely not an ideal combination.

There was the occasional cow about but one could drive for great periods of time without seeing anything beyond fence posts

Check out the height of our majestic whale tail! Take that air cooled Porsche owners.

Highway 501 is gravel for portions and has massive (land wise) ranches on either side. This specific area even has no fences which I suspect was one 50+km long ranch with a Texas gate at each end. In the next installment we enter Saskatchewan to see some classic cars, ghost towns, grain elevators, and dinosaurs.


The whole Great Beater Challenge 2021 series

Preparations and Competitors

The Red Coat Trail on Day 1 Part 1

Saskatchewan Exploration on Day 1 Part 2

Climax on Day 2 Part 1

Heading to the finish line on Day 2 Part 2