Sept. 13, 2023
Our last push to conclude The Drive Home: Great American Family Vacation began from Shelbyville, Michigan, under clear and crisp weather with just a hint of changing leaves – nature’s way of indicating that summer was ending, and with it our summer vacation. Designed to celebrate the nostalgic family road trips to iconic national parks and attractions across the U.S., The Drive Home produced so much more; highlighting stories of young people building rewarding careers in the automotive industry, the need for more funding for shop classes, and the unique perspective achieved by driving classic cars across America – even if at times the trip more closely resembled the comedy movie National Lampoon’s Vacation.
Beginning with a small transmission fluid leak at Old Faithful, we met Cailey Borello, the 24-year-old mechanic-on-duty and graduate of automotive tech from Waubonsee Community College, who plied her mechanical trade for the opportunity to live and work amongst the beauty of Yellowstone Park in Wyoming.
Two days later, a serendipitous meeting with Sundance High School instructor Brian Kennah brought us to his school, where we heard firsthand that the love of old cars still burns within the younger generation, but vocational education funding for the automotive trades remains limited. Mr. Kennah and his colleagues must stretch their meager resources to cover agriculture, welding, woodworking and small-engine repair, skills immediately needed in this rural community. Tackling this issue is the precise mission of the RPM Foundation, whose livery adorned the 1984 Chevy Estate wagon driven in the trip.
We also met John Hoffman, veteran and 55-year proprietor of Lakeside Service, who is living a satisfied life on his own terms, working with his hands in the small rural community of St. James, Minnesota.
The Drive Home regularly brings together drivers from all walks of life and from many different perspectives, and makes them a unit in a way that could only be achieved by eight days of communal living on the road. It is always fun to hear the impressions from the “rookies” on the event.
Jake Whitman, a producer for NBC’s Today Show and the owner of the 1955 Ford Fairlane Country Squire on The Drive Home, found himself bitten by the allure of the open road and the joy of using his collector car. “I was pretty reluctant to offer up our ’55 Country Squire for The Drive Home. Of the three vintage cars in our collection, it was notorious for being the most unreliable.
“When it came time to pull the trigger on whether to send the car out west to join the event, my mechanic was feeling confident and I decided it was now or never. So I gave the thumbs up to take it out to Jackson. If the car couldn’t do this trip, maybe it was time to replace it with something more reliable?
“A week and half later, we’ve arrived in Detroit, after a 2,000-mile trip and the Country Squire feels like a different car. It starts up every time and performed flawlessly on the five-state road trip. The transmission is dripping pretty badly, and the gas tank still leaks if you fill it too high, but other than that, the car is running beautifully.
“I never expected the trip to be so fulfilling, not just because the car performed so well, but because seeing the country this way turned out to be incredibly inspiring. As a journalist, I’ve been able to travel all over the world and see some amazing sights, but witnessing the country this way brought feelings I’ve never experienced before. It was almost as if this was what the car needed all along, to just get out on the open road and run. Perhaps it was finally rewarding me for all the time and effort I’ve had to put into it over the past 5 years?
“Needless to say, I have a new appreciation and love for the Country Squire after making this journey. I’m already dreaming about the next long road trip and have no plans to kick it out of the collection anytime soon.”
Glenn Stevens Jr., the Executive Director of MICHauto and a prominent figure in Detroit’s automotive industry, remarked upon his experience with The Drive Home. “When you are asked if you want to join a group of people you don’t really know and help drive a caravan of classic wagons on a trek across 2,000 miles of the mountains, plains, and Great Lakes states there is a bit of trepidation but also an excitement in the potential of such a special road trip. Then, you do it and it is simply one of the best experiences of your life. It truly was.
“When I took the wheel of a 1955 Ford Country Squire Wagon, and drove it to Mt. Rushmore, across the Badlands of South Dakota and into the farmlands of Minnesota and Wisconsin, it was more than just a unique and special experience. The experience put me in touch with the open road, with the special places, geography, and people of our great country.”
“I witnessed the camaraderie and teamwork of my fellow drivers and new friends that it takes to drive vehicles like ours on a journey like that. As I drove, often with only the wind and sound of vehicles passing, I felt the history of our industry, of our country and of all the people who came before us that have helped shape the vehicles we drive and the country we live in.”
Glenn’s thoughts were echoed by the other TDH drivers, and he now joins a larger family from all six-Drive Home events who have come to cherish their time on the road together, bringing the classic car driving experience to people all over the country.
Pulling into Huntington Place in downtown Detroit, the home of the Detroit North American International Auto Show and the site where the cars will be displayed for the show’s run, we felt a sense of accomplishment with ourselves and our vintage cars. While the trip had its share of challenges, the newest branch of our family of drivers rose to the occasion, truly re-creating the feeling of the Great American Family Vacation. Somewhere, Clark and Ellen are smiling.