Rotarians Dr. R. Lee Harman and Winston Conyers fund-raise to eradicate polio

  • web1_231123-pan-conyersmodela-missvickie_1
Dr. R. Lee Harman (left) and his rookie driver, White Rock’s Winston Conyers, pause for a photo with Harman’s 1931 Model A Ford Victoria, Miss Vicky, at Mile Zero of the Alaska Highway in Dawson Creek. The pair completed the first leg of an Alaska to Mexico vintage road rally in September. (Contributed photo)


Is the spirit of adventure dead?

Not if you count a recent epic journey for an epic cause – which has a coda, of sorts, this Saturday at noon (Nov. 25) in White Rock.

That’s when White Rock’s Winston Conyers (of Conyers and Associates/Sotheby International) and Dr. R. Lee Harman will present their experiences – and video – of a marathon road trip earlier this year in a 1931 Model A Ford Victoria.

Their account of participating in an Alaska-to-Mexico rally of vintage cars will be the highlight of a luncheon catered by Red Rose Restaurant at White Rock Elks Club, 1469 George St. (doors open at 11:15 a.m.)

Conyers, a member of White Rock Rotary Club, was privileged to drive Harman’s antique vehicle (affectionately dubbed Miss Vicky) on the 17-day first leg of the trip, from Anchorage, starting on Aug. 28, to Walla Walla, Wash.

Throughout that leg, Conyers, valiantly operating the vehicle’s manual shift system, was cheek by jowl with Harman, as navigator, in the cramped confines of a two-and-a-half-foot driver/passenger compartment.

The minor miracle, Conyers laughed, is that the two Rotarians – rookie driver and seasoned road rally participant – emerged from the experience still friends.

The major miracle is that funds raised by the trip, and by the $50 per ticket luncheon (table of eight for $400) will go to The Rotary Foundation's PolioPlus campaign to end polio once and for all.

In case you felt you misread that, Conyers was swift to confirm that what once seemed impossible is within reach.

“That’s not supporting research, that’s eradication of polio, completely,” he said. “There are eight cases left in the world, two in Afghanistan and six in Pakistan. This could be the year that polio is eradicated.”

READ ALSO: ‘Guarded optimism’ in polio fight

Conyers said successful completion of treatment for the remaining cases will start a three-year countdown in which the World Health Organization will watch for any further outbreaks, before declaring the threat of polio officially over.

Christiana Flessner of the Canadian Wheelchair Foundation will also speak at Saturday’s event, and a five-piece jazz band will be on hand to provide a suitably celebratory tone to the proceedings.

Conyers said Harman, who lives near Camano Island State Park in Washington State, is a frequent participant in international rallies held by Rally the Globe, an international society of vintage car enthusiasts, including a 2014 Peking to Paris rally.

“We’d known each other for a few years after meeting at Rotary conventions and I’d mentioned to him that if he ever needed an extra driver for one of his rallies…,” Conyers said.

“The week before the event, he rang me up saying ‘You’re not going to believe this, but…’

“His original driver for that leg had had to drop out, so he asked me ‘do you think you can be in Alaska before next Thursday?’

“I talked it over with my wife, Karen, and she said ‘if you don’t go, you’re crazy – it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

With a lot of excitement, and no little trepidation, he flew to Alaska, not quite sure what to expect.

The pride of the rally society, he discovered, is to do as much traveling as possible by side roads, logging roads, and even off-road wherever possible; with special side-trip time trials and driving challenges scheduled along the route.

The aim is to recreate, as closely as possible, the rough and ready adventure of early road travel – with breathtaking scenery (in this case, the mountains and rolling hills of Alaska, the Yukon and north and eastern B.C.) vying for attention with bumpy, unpredictable surfaces and mechanical failures.

It didn’t disappoint on either count, Conyers said, even with two modern support maintenance trucks traveling with the veteran vehicles.

Some 57 different cars participated in two classes, vintage (from the 1920s to the 1940s) and post-war classic cars (up to 1976), with the oldest being a 1925 Bentley owned by a British collector, who had upgraded the original 3.5 litre engine to a 5.3 litre.

Miss Vicky, with her four-cylinder engine (the car’s original 40 hp output has been upgraded to 75 hp by Harman) was among the running to be the slowest, albeit most charming, vehicle competing in the rally.

Time trials are handicapped to take divergence of power plants into account, Conyers said, but Miss Vicky did tend to lag behind the rest of the field.

For Conyers, the biggest challenge, aside from squeezing into the car alongside Harman, was mastering the car’s complicated six-gear manual system, which required much high and low gear shifting depending on the terrain.

“The car’s maximum speed is 60 mph, although we got it to 70 on longer downhill stretches by flooring it; but we were pushing it to the limit,” he said, noting that Harman, a U.S. Navy veteran who also has a pilot’s license, is clearly not lacking in adventurousness or competitive spirit.

“I’m chugging along at a reasonable 57, and he’s like ‘get going!’ – as if we were going to catch up to anybody.”

Ironically, some of the hairier moments of the trip involved figuring out not how to increase, but how to counteract forward momentum, he added.

“We lost our brakes for about 250 km through the mountains,” he said. “We were using the gears to slow down, literally picking out which side of the road would be better to go off, so that we’d only be hitting bushes, not rocks and trees.”

At another point in the trip, at the end of the day, a mechanic’s inspection revealed that an engine mounting bolt had fallen off somewhere – not a very reassuring discovery. Luckily, a closer inspection showed that the detached bolt was not gone, but had merely had lodged itself in a cranny of the engine compartment.

Accommodations organized by the society were first class, however – and Conyers had phoned ahead to Rotary clubs along the route to alert them of their itinerary, which resulted in even greater hospitality in those communities.

That reached a high point in Dawson Creek, where the Rotary Club threw a barbecue for all of the rally participants, with members of the local vintage car club at an antique village in the city.

“On top of that, we needed some welding done on the car and while we’re talking to one of the car guys, a young guy, he said ‘I’m a welder, but I’d need to ask my grandfather if I could use his equipment.’

“The next thing I know, off goes Lee with the kid to fix the car.”

Animal encounters were also common during the trip, he said.

At one point, while Miss Vicky stopped to allow some bears to cross the road, one of them –“the big daddy bear,” Conyers said – stopped and started walking toward the car.

“Luckily, he must have decided we were OK and went back on his way.”

And while Conyers was disappointed they never encountered a single moose between Anchorage and Walla Walla, he was somewhat mollified by seeing a herd of buffalo in Northern Washington.

There’s no doubt he has a host of stories about the trip – enough for the upcoming event and long after.

But would he do it again?

“I’d go in a heartbeat,” he said. “And I think I could persuade Karen to come with me if there was a next time.”

For tickets to the luncheon, send an e-transfer to, or for credit card payment call Conyers at 778-908-3377.

Alex Browne - Peace Arch News