2009 Spring Drive

Coalmont, Princeton, Merritt

June 13-14, 2009

This year’s spring drive was quiet, but very enjoyable. We had been to Lillooet for the last couple of years, but with the 2010 Olympics road construction activities continuing at full tilt we decided to head the other direction. Merritt was our destination. The weather this June has been hot and dry, abnormal for the Vancouver area. The forecast for the weekend was for partly cloudy skies, both in the lower mainland and the southern interior. That was fine with me as I cannot handle boiling hot weather. Rose and I arrived early at our meeting point, the Chevron at the 232nd St. Exit from the freeway. As the appointed meeting time of 9:30 approached we were wondering if we would be doing the drive alone this year. We needn’t have worried. Five cars had arrive by the 10 am departure time. Bert Sherlock and Cathy took off first in their 70 122S followed by Colin Dover in his 91 945SE, Dave and Louise McAree in their famous 73 142S, Marg and Herb Hamlyn in their V40 and finally Rose and I in our 70 1800E. I was wondering at the relatively low turnout, when it dawned on me that none of our friend’s from Washington State had arrived. This is probably because it was the first weekend that Americans needed a passport or enhanced driver’s licence to cross the Border. No wonder our tourist industry has been dreading this increased security.

We made a brief pit stop in Hope so that those whose cars eat 94 octane fuel (me) can fill up. The next stop was a picnic lunch at Manning Park. As we neared Manning the ‘partly cloudy’ turned to ‘very cloudy’ and it was threatening rain. Just as we were approaching the park, my overdrive cut out so I spent half the lunch break adding oil to the overdrive and tightening the wire to the solenoid in hopes of getting it working again. I was a bit embarrassed by the oil stain I left under the car but at least the OD was working. Traffic on Highway 3 was light and we made good time to Princeton where we met Dennis Cowell enroute from Kamloops. He had left home early in the morning and driven a circle tour through the Okanagan Valley and arrived in Princeton just about the same time we did. We drove through Princeton and then headed north west towards the historic villages of Coalmont and Tulameen. There was very little traffic and lots of curves to entertain us for the 11 miles to the tiny village of Coalmont. We were parked across from the Coalmont Hotel that is a neat old two story wooden structure that has been in continuous service since 1911. The sign in front of the bar reads, ‘If you’re drinking to forget, pay when you order’. We struck up a conversation with the fellow that lives across the street from the hotel. It turned out to be one of those ‘small world’ stories. I had just finished reading a book compiled by Steve Hutchens on the fellow that had the Morgan Dealership for Vancouver. You probably remember his dealership tucked on Grandview highway (12th ave) between Boundary Rd. and the freeway entrance. His name was JB Stearne and he sold and raced Morgans for years. He won so many trophies he almost needed a separate room to hold them all. The fellow we were talking to in Coalmont turned out to be Bob Stearne, JB’s son. As we walked through Bob’s garage there was a big picture of Bob in his own Morgan race car leading two other Morgans through the hairpin at Westwood race track in the early ‘70s.

Rest stop at store. Click for full size.

When talk of Morgans subsided, Bob told us some of the history of Coalmont and surrounding area, from the gold rush days to mining coal to supply the Kettle Valley Railroad as it passed through Coalmont. He also gave us a map and directions for the gravel roads leading from the Princeton area. We eventually left Coalmont and drove about 3 miles to the south end of Otter Lake and the village of Tulameen. It is a village of about 100 homes with a general store ice rink and Library. It is a 4 season recreational destination. They have the lake for water sports and lots of off-road trails. There is good hiking in the summer and cross country skiing in the winter and you can rent seadoos, skidoos and quads. We backtracked to Princeton and then enjoyed an almost uninterrupted drive north on 5a to through Aspen Grove and the intersection with the Okanagan connector, 97C. For those of you that enjoy driving, I recommend highway 5a. The pavement is good and it twists its way along a scenic valley, past turquoise glacial lakes, forested areas and pastures. Weekends are possibly the best times to travel this road as the logging trucks are parked and other business related travel waits for Monday. Once you hit 97C its about 15 minutes west to Merritt. 5a also continues north from Merritt to Kamloops on the east side of Nicola lake past Quilchena lodge and that stretch is an equally great drive. We arrived in Merritt about 4:30 and checked into the Best Western Motel and found that Don and Sue Prociuk had already arrived. In past trips to Merritt we have been disappointed with the motels, even the new ones. The Best Western was a very pleasant surprise. The rooms were very nice and there are 2 large patio areas with tables and umbrellas, next to a covered swimming pool. We took advantage of this for some refreshments before dinner. Bert and Cathy shared their selection of gourmet cheeses and everyone provided some goodies to the table. Good restaurants have also been a bit thin on the ground, but Bert suggested going to the early 1900s hotel in downtown Merritt. The bar in this old wooden structure was rich in woodwork and the ceiling looked to be the original stamped tin. The food was good and a country and western band fired up at 9pm. All in all it was a very nice day. On Sunday we shared breakfast and everyone headed away in a different directions. Merritt must have more ways to get out of town than any community in BC. I think I counted 8 different directions. Some headed west to Spences Bridge and Highway 1, others took the Coquihala, Rose and I headed off for a week in the Okanagan.