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THEN AND NOW: Driven by a dream at the Sand Beach Auto Farm near Yarmouth

‘I just want to keep these cars in people’s lives.’


YARMOUTH – Some old-timers slide into obscurity, their joints seizing with time, lesions and spots appearing on their once healthy, glowing skin. Forgotten and unloved, they slowly become dust.

But not the old-timers rescued by Gary Colquhoun.

This “pre-war” automobile enthusiast has a huge passion for resurrecting dilapidated remains.

Last year Colquhoun bought a property just outside Yarmouth with a ramshackle farmhouse, barn and shed on it. The place now has a name, Sand Beach Auto Farm.

And it has a purpose.Colquhoun has a different definition for the five antique automobiles he has stored on the property. He prefers to call them “pre-war.”

“People talk about antiques… to me this is an antique car,” he says, gesturing to a 1930 Willis Knight. “Maybe that’s because I’m an antique, I don’t know… A ‘60s car to me is not an antique car. These are like where the automobile started.”

He describes the workings of the Willis with enthusiasm. The sea of knowledge he excitedly dips into about his treasures is fathomless.

“It’s got no clickety valves. It’s almost like a steam engine when it runs,” he says.

“Knight patented these sleeve-drive motors in 1906. There were 30 manufacturers of Knight motors, most of them in Europe.

“There were like 300 brands of cars in the teens and 20s, before they all disappeared with the Depression. Everybody went out of business except the real junk, the Fords, the Chevs, the stuff we got left with.”

Colquhoun is a machinist and millwright and used to be a tool and die maker for DND, working on ships for the NATO fleet.

He has a machine shop at home and if he can’t find what he needs to restore these vehicles to their former glory, he’ll make the parts.

Next to the Willis is a 1919 Maxwell – a brand of automobiles that was the predecessor to Chrysler. It needs considerable work, but adaptation is something Colquhoun is accomplished at. Take the carburetor, for example. He points to the engine.

“You have to be inventive. You have to be able to adapt stuff. That carburetor there would be a Model A carburetor, but it’s sitting on the side of a Maxwell car,” he says.

Where does he find these pre-war gems? He says he always keeps his eyes open and his business – that of selling fireworks – entails travelling as far away as Labrador City and New Brunswick. 

He moves back to the Willis and runs his hand over the still-gleaming door.

“I love the lines on this one. This paint finish? That’s been on there for 90-something years.”

Colquhoun’s been working to restore the buildings on the property as well as the cars they’re sheltering.

1929 two-door Oldsmobile sedan.
1929 two-door Oldsmobile sedan.

There are two more vehicles in a barn next to the garage. Colquhoun took the rotting south side out of the building with an excavator. The wall’s been rebuilt and is looking as fine as the 1929 two-door Oldsmobile sedan that he was driving around in last year.

“It’s all original. It lived in Michigan most of its life,” he says as he pulls the tarp off.

“Isn’t that gorgeous? Oldsmobile had its 100th anniversary in 1998,” he adds as a point of interest.

He hoists the door of a trailer next to the barn to show a 1919 Dodge Brothers with non-skid tires. He points to the grease cups that could be turned to supply grease to wear points during long trips.

At some time in the future, Colquhoun would like to open a small transportation museum and have a little track running down into the field on his 40-acre property, where people could enjoy the experience of driving these beautiful relics.

“My long-term goal is to expose people to these cars and create a space where they can be enjoyed and driven. I’d love to have picnics here, set up barbecues. I just want to keep these cars in people’s lives.”

And he’s still adding to his collection.

“I’ve got a short list of what I’m looking for. I’d like a Model A and a Buick, a Packard and maybe a Rolls-Royce.

“This is my dream that I’m plugging along at.”

Historic fact

In 1908-1913 P.E.I. banned cars. Automobiles routinely were referred to in the newspapers as “terror wagons, instruments of death and death-dealing machines.”

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