Crossing the Yellowhead – An early obsession

Leonard Lea Frazer
Car stopped by rubble in road.
Car stopped by rubble in road.
Photos from The Yellowhead Interprovicial Highway Association.

After scaling a dangerous shale hill just past Moose Lake, the leading party of the “Overlanders of 1862” reached Mount Robson. They knew that Tete Jaune Cache lay a few miles ahead. The wiry travelling party had just crossed the Yellowhead Pass.


The Overlanders were met by Shuswap Indians at Tete Jaune on August 27, 1862. The local First Nation traded berries and fish for ammunition, clothing, and needles and thread. The group of travellers pushed south through Cranberry Lake (Valemount) and on to Fort Kamloops.
The next year, 1863, Milton and Cheadle’s party passed through on roughly the same route. Fast-forward to 1909 when the Grand Trunk Pacific and the Canadian Northern Railways started chopping out a pathway through the Yellowhead Pass. The two railways were completed by 1915. To support the “War Effort” (World War I) eighty miles of Canadian Northern track was removed and shipped overseas to France for military railways. Soon after, other sections of the CNR line were abandoned, and by 1918 the Dominion Government came to the rescue and helped to combine the two new railways into one, eventually to become the Canadian National Railway in 1922.
In Edmonton, Alberta that first saw the arrival of a “horseless carriage” in 1904, a local group was eager to push through the Yellowhead Pass once again. This time, a road for automobiles was proposed. A Northern route to the Pacific Coast, following the route of the now abandoned railway sections, was suggested by the Edmonton Automobile and Good Roads Association. To help promote this idea, a gold medal was offered for the first driver to travel from Edmonton to Victoria following in the footsteps of the Overlanders of ’62 and to travel on rubber tires through the Yellowhead Pass by way of Kamloops.
Frank Silverthorne, a mechanic, teamed up with Charles Neimeyer in Edmonton and together they drove an “Overland Four” (the car was on loan from their sponsor, the Lines Motors of Edmonton). They left Edmonton on June 17, 1922, bridging creeks, creating corduroy roadbeds, and made Jasper on June 23. Most people say that the Overland Team were the first to drive a car into Jasper. The team followed the old abandoned railway roadbeds where possible, building bridges as they went, and crossing many a gully.
J.E. Sims and George F. Gordon also left Edmonton, entering the race on June 22, 1922. They were driving a 1921 Model T Ford pick up. Before reaching Kamloops the Gordon/Sims team passed the Neimeyer/Silverthorne crew. However, both vehicles reached Victoria on July 4, taking different ferries to Vancouver Island. Gordon received a cheque for $500, and both teams, medals in the shape of a gold wheel with a thick bar across the centre. Now, the route through the Yellowhead Pass was destined to have a modern highway, eventually completed in the 1960s.
Final note: The photographs shown here originally appeared in the Summer Edition of the Yellowhead Magazine in1978. Soon after, I received a letter from Mike Frye in McBride, and the following story:
“Regarding your article about the first car to negotiate the Yellowhead in 1922, I can very easily see it now, as my dad hauled it across the fields at our homestead at Albreda.  Believe you me; this was some sight for me. I had never seen a car before in my life. All I had seen was the local train and horse drawn sleights and wagons. And I was just flabbergasted when I heard this thing as it came along the railway tracks near our home, and then stop as it came to the gate leading to our place from the railway. As it had been travelling on the ties in many places along the railway, it had broken a front spring, and as it drove up and stopped across the field at our place two men got out and came over to the house, and of course I was all ears as they talked to Dad. Finally they hitched up a team and went over and hooked onto the car, pulling it off the tracks and hauled it across the field to the big blacksmith shop that Dad had. Here they started to work on it.
Getting a good fire in the forge they took the spring off and I tended the bellows to keep the forge hot and I was all eyes and ears as they repaired it, and of course I had to be as close to the operation as I could. I was standing near the forge as they pounded the red-hot steel and a piece of the spring shot off and embedded itself in my leg, near my ankle.  I did not notice it at the time, being all together too interested in what was going on, however, that evening I saw the red spot on my ankle and did not know there was a piece of steel in there. All I did was to bandage it. As time went on I found out more about that red mark on my foot. I had an x-ray of my ankle, and it showed the small piece of metal, with a hard piece of muscle around it, and I can still feel it today, so I have something to remind me of that first auto.”

 

Charles Neimeyer and Frank J. Silverthorne drove from Edmonton to Victoria, BC via the Yellowhead Pass in seventeen days (June-July, 1922).
Charles Neimeyer and Frank J. Silverthorne drove from Edmonton to Victoria, BC via the Yellowhead Pass in seventeen days (June-July, 1922).
Photos from The Yellowhead Interprovicial Highway Association.

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Crossing abandoned Grand Trunk Pacific railway bridge. The track was torn up during and after World War I.
Crossing abandoned Grand Trunk Pacific railway bridge. The track was torn up during and after World War I.
Photos from The Yellowhead Interprovicial Highway Association.

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The “Overland Four” car of the Neimeyer-Silverthorne expedition June - July, 1922.
The “Overland Four” car of the Neimeyer-Silverthorne expedition June - July, 1922.
Photos from The Yellowhead Interprovicial Highway Association.

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Neimeyer and Silverthorne took along 1,200 pounds of equipment, including four twelve-foot planks of wood.
Neimeyer and Silverthorne took along 1,200 pounds of equipment, including four twelve-foot planks of wood.
Photos from The Yellowhead Interprovicial Highway Association.

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