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NNSL Photo

Mike Walcer's 1948 Chevrolet has remained at the corner of Franklin Avenue and Hershman Road for more than 30 years. - Jennifer McPhee/NNSL photo

Parking a piece of the past

Jennifer McPhee
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Aug 09/02) - Rusty and a bit worse for the wear, the 1948 Chevrolet sits, obscured by overgrown shrubs and weeds, beside an equally decrepit paint-cracked shed.

These two old relics have sat, growing old together, at the corner of Franklin and Hershman since 1968.

Twenty-six years ago, antique car enthusiast David Siemens came to Yellowknife and spotted the car just sitting there. "It was already a wreck in 1976," said Siemens.

He knocked on the door of the house and the owner told him it wasn't for sale.

"I know there are probably a hundred or two hundred people that would love to get their hands on a 1948 Chev and restore it," said Siemens. "Obviously for some personal reason - which peaks my curiosity - he hasn't sold it."

Siemens wasn't the first nor the last to inquire about the car.

One gentleman approached the car's owner with cold hard cash about 15 years ago.

"He pulled out a wad of $100 bills and he counted up to 27," said owner Mike Walcer. "I told him, you can't corrupt me with money. It's not for sale."

Walcer promised the car to his son - on the condition he restore it. "I said you can't just pick it up and sell it. That's not what I'm doing it for."

But around that time, his son was also building a house.

"I told him to be careful - don't take on a project you can't finish. Otherwise, there will be parts all over the place."

So his son spent his money on the house and the car remained where it was.

"I wasn't willing to sell it just to get rid of it," said Walcer.

"When your heart's in a thing... You have a knowledge and a love for a vehicle."

Although he still might sell it to the right owner, chances are he'll keep it for as long as possible. He seems to love it too much to say goodbye.

"It's sturdy. You get a pebble hitting it from underneath and it doesn't sound like one of those new tin can cars. It sounded more like a Sherman tank, you know?"

"I would want to make sure that it doesn't just go to some young fellow who wants to give it an orange or purple paint job and put it on the road."

He admits to having pack rat tendencies. After all, he can't part with the shed either. "I haven't had the heart to haul it to the dump," said Walcer.

It's tough letting go

His unwillingness to discard old things stems from his upbringing.

"It's just something in a person's nature or character - the way you grew up," he said.

"The modern day trend is everything is garbagable. I resent that aspect of modern day living."

Walcer was born in 1931 - "a pretty tough decade."

He bought the car in 1960. A hairdresser from a Hay River sent it by barge to her brother in Yellowknife to sell because she wanted a more modern vehicle.

Walcer and his late wife spotted the car in Yellowknife. The owner told him to take it for a spin.

"I was kind of excited by the way it sounded. It sounded A-OK. That motor purred."

He drove the maroon-coloured, metallic-tinged beauty until the license expired in 1968. Then he parked it and let it age peacefully for more than three decades.

"I've bought cars and sold them or put them in the trash. That one to me is not trash. It's a gem that I liked at the time. Some things are a keeper, you know?"

At the Birchwood Gallery hangs a painting by artist Graeme Shaw of the car and shed titled "Friends."

"The building and car seem to be in about the same shape and about the same age," Shaw explained.

The artist is fascinated with old, abandoned objects because they are mysterious and speak of a past that is slowly disappearing.

The car is something tangible from a bygone era. "It's a little doorway into what was," said Shaw.

"I didn't know anything about the car or where it came from. It represented a mysterious collection of events from a past that, as Yellowknife goes on, is basically being bulldozed away."