Road Rules! A Month on the Road in a 1934 Ford and a Teardrop Trailer
Many of us have a dream trip in mind for our hot rod or custom car. But how many of us ever make the dream a reality and actually take that trip? Roy and Donna Tuttle did last year when they took their street rod pickup on an epic adventure through the Western U.S. and Canada.
“My wife Donna and I went on a 5,000-mile, 28-day road trip last August and September in a 1934 Ford truck,” Roy says. “We drove through 11 states and two provinces in Canada. We spent 27 nights in a 6-by-4-foot teardrop trailer and hit every kind of weather.”
The couple’s truck has actually been on the road for a couple of decades. Roy bought it from a friend, who had it built using a stretched TCI frame and a steel cab extended 18-inches to offer a little more legroom and cruising comfort. Most of the mechanicals are common rodding fare: 350c.i. crate engine, 700R4 overdrive transmission, 9-inch Ford rearend, four-wheel disc brakes, and rack-and-pinion steering on the independent front suspension. It also has comforts like power steering and air conditioning – a big bonus in the couple’s home state of Arizona.
“It was my dream to go to Canada,” Roy says. “I was there when I was 17 and always wanted to go back.” He started to pursue that dream on a motorcycle trip with his brother years ago, but that dream turned into a nightmare when Roy was rear-ended by a car in Montana. The wreck derailed not only Roy’s trip, but much of his life in the years that followed.
The dream never died, however. In fact, it only grew as Roy continued thinking about the journey. This time, he wanted to include his wife, Donna. “I always wanted to take Donna to see the trueness of America, and to do that you have to take the backroads.” Roy says.
The road-proven pickup needed only routine maintenance and attention to prepare for the journey. The bigger question was where the couple would stay. “We wanted to go by ourselves with no other cars,” Roy says. Enter the 1943-vintage wooden teardrop trailer Roy bought a couple of years ago. Roy worked on the trailer to get it ready, and the couple started getting accustomed to the idea of sharing tight quarters while camping on the road.
A No-Plan Plan
The Tuttles spent about a year laying the groundwork for their adventure, which would take them from Arizona through New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Canada, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, California, and Nevada. While they had the general route mapped out, Roy and Donna didn’t want to lock themselves into a rigid schedule. Instead, they kept their options flexible and let the road dictate the journey.
“The only reservation we had for anything was a campground in Durango, Colorado,” Roy says. “We just winged it and we found KOAs and campgrounds on the side of the road. We took all the backroads we could possibly take and stay off the Interstate. That’s where we met some really cool people.”
The stories the couple can tell could last for days. They include going on Jeep rides, riding narrow-gauge railroads, seeing breathtaking lakes, mountains, and waterfalls, driving through forests and along the coast, and visiting national parks, including Yellowstone, Glacier, and Redwoods. They also connected with family and friends – and made a few new friends along the way. One highlight for Roy was meeting Dave from Martin Brothers Customs, the shop featured on the Iron Resurrection television show. The chance encounter happened during a Jeep ride on the couple’s first day in Colorado and turned into a three-hour lunch and conversation.
Another highlight for Roy came in Montana, where a fuel stop brought back a flood of childhood memories.
“When I was 7 years old, my mom would drop me off at my Grandpa Stuart’s gas station to help him,” Roy recalls. “That was back in the day when you pulled up to the station and the bell would ding. I had my own stepstool to wash the windshield, check the oil, air up the tires, and pump the gas. I remember the old-style chest Coke machines; a Coke was my payment and eating lunch with grandpa was always a treat. I loved that old gas station, and low and behold we pulled into this gas station in Augusta, Montana and I felt like I had traveled back in time. It looked just like my grandpa’s, smelled like it, had the same grungy toilet room, shelves of spare parts, it was absolutely marvelous! I had chills run up my spine and tears in my eyes. I can truly say it was one of the highlights of the trip for me.”
As with any adventure, there were a few obstacles to overcome along the way, too.
“Is the 1943 wooden teardrop trailer water-tight?” Donna asked in a Facebook post while they were on the road. “If you placed your money on leaking, you would be a winner!” The couple learned this the hard way during a rainy stay at Kootenay National Park in British Columbia. Putting a pop-up awning up over the trailer helped for a little while – until the awning collapsed in the middle of the night, thankfully missing the back of the truck.
There were a few other mishaps, too. The fuel gauge quit working shortly after they left, forcing them to stop more frequently for gas. The windshield wiper motor went out in Canada. The trailer tongue broke in Canada’s Banff National Park – fortunately without failing completely – forcing the couple to find a welding shop for repair. Thankfully, the most significant trouble waited for the end of the trip.
“When we got to Blythe [California] and lost fourth gear in the tranny, it was time to come home,” Roy says. “We limped home without fourth gear. She was smokin’ and chokin’.”
The misfortune didn’t stop there, though. “When we got home, I had the truck up on a floor jack and the truck slipped of the jack. Ugh!” Roy says. The mishap damaged the truck’s front clip, but fortunately the Tuttles have been able to get the necessary repairs done and get the truck back on the road.
The couple agrees that the good moments from the journey far outweighed the bad. They met plenty of fellow car guys and gals at the campgrounds where they stayed, saw some of the incredible sights the West has to offer and, perhaps most importantly, enjoyed time together.
“I have to say that this was a true adventure because of Donna,” Roy says. “She brings me back to reality and always sees the positive in everything. Her favorite saying is, ‘Well, at least no one died!’ I always say, ‘Well, maybe someone wanted to die.’ She is the one-in-a-hundred million that would be a gas gauge, a navigator, sleep in a shoebox, put up with my wanna do this and that outrageous ideas. She is trooper. Donna has TRUE GRIT.”
Indeed, a trip of this nature takes a little grit. And while the couple could have made life a little easier in a modern RV or a regular late-model vehicle, that would have only infringed on the adventure.
“If we were in a regular car or truck, well, you’re just another car or truck,” Roy says. “Interstates and big rigs are ugly.”
“I can’t wait to hit the road again,” Roy continues. “We are headed to Texas in the near future to see Dave and visit Martin Brothers.” Roy says he hopes to meet shop owner Joe Martin, and there’s little doubt that he and Donna will have some great adventures along the way.
By the Numbers
- 27 days on the road
- 4,867 miles traveled
- 11 states, 2 provinces in Canada
- 58 fuel fill-ups
- Approximately 466 gallons of gas used
- One dead transmission
- One dead windshield wiper
- One broken trailer hitch that didn’t kill us, held together by angels
- Our bed at home has approximately 6,396 sq. inches; the bed in the teardrop trailer has approximately 3,240 sq. inches – you do the math!
Photos by Roy and Donna Tuttle