– by George Dyke
In February 2002 the Citroën Autoclub Canada received a most interesting phone call. Just when we thought we had a handle on every Traction in Ontario, another one popped up! Chris Minnis, a Canadian photographer living in California, called to inquire if we could be of help getting a 1947 Slough-built (RHD) Traction Light Fifteen out of his mother’s rec room in Toronto. He said that back in 1983, Chris’s dad drove it in there and put it up on blocks, wanting to do a bit of work over that winter. Unfortunately his Dad passed away and the project never got around to being finished. So it just sat there in a nice dry heated basement. Larry Lewis and I stepped up to the challenge and freed the seized brakes, put new fluids in the car, and dropped in a new battery. About three weekends of work later it drove out of the rec room and back on the road!
While we were working on the 1947 Traction, Midge Minnis, Chris’s mother, mentioned that they had another Traction that would take a bit more work to get running again. This one, a 1953 Slough-built (RHD) Traction Light Fifteen, was sitting in the second story of a barn in the Gatineau Hills north of Ottawa. It was parked there 35 years ago! Oh, and one little snag: The bridge to the second floor of the barn, as well as a portion of the floor in front the car, were long gone.
Who would have thought that in the second story of this Quebec barn, there would be a South African Traction Avant?
We didn’t know what to expect, but that summer during the Ottawa Citroën Club meet at Winchester (near Ottawa), a group of us decided to go see it. Mice had managed to devour the carpet and pack it in the headliner. The paint was flaked in some places, and the engine bay suffered from 35 years of dormancy. But all in all the car was intriguing. Over the next couple of years, how we could actually get the car out of the barn, and where it might go, made for great conversation at Club meetings. We imagined putting up scaffolding, the way you would make a rock concert stage. We talked about going back in winter, packing snow and icing it to make a frozen bridge to the second story of the barn, then rolling the Traction out. Or just getting a ong arm sky-hook and reaching into the barn and plucking it out.
Theory turned to reality this past January when the Minis’s decided that they would be selling their property. They wanted to see the car saved, not destroyed, and asked me to help in a salvage operation that would see the car restored and on the road with someone that could appreciate it. I spoke to Larry and we agreed that this had been talked about enough. It was time to take action!
As it was for 35 years! The fact the Traction was on the second floor kept moisture from collecting, but also made it ideal for mouse nests!
In May we went to survey the site one more time to determine how best to get it out and exactly what we needed to do to put it back on the road. Upon closer inspection, we found it to be amazingly rust free! Work would be required on all the wheel hubs, brakes, steering rack, wiring, and the engine itself, as it did not rotate freely. But overall it was a very nice car with lots of potential. And also, on site in an adjacent shed, was the equivalent of another Traction in parts that we would inherit if we could cart them away! We decided to set a date of July 8 as the Great Traction Extraction event.
Over the course of the next few weeks we did our homework. We wanted to ensure we’d have the easiest process to remove the Traction from the barn’s second story. Scaffolding was going to be to complex. A sky-hook crane could not be positioned for the job, would most likely damage the car, and would cost a fortune. In the end we found a local construction company that had long equipment ramps. When they surveyed the barn, they discovered that the ramps would fall short but offered to build custom ramps that could make the reach. Best of all, they agreed to pry the ancient access door off the side of the barn, roll the car along the ramp, and reinstall the access door. All we really needed to do was show up with a trailer and haul away the car and the parts.
Since I have a GM Astro Van with a trailer hitch, we made arrangements to rent a U-Haul auto trailer locally. That was our biggest problem! U-Haul told us to pick the trailer up in Hull (across the river from Ottawa). In fact, the trailer was at a rental yard in Ottawa. So we lost 90 minutes just trying to track it down. Finally we got it connected and headed north to the barn in Gatineau. By the time we arrived, the car was sitting in the sunshine waiting for us! This didn’t make it as dramatic a rescue as I would have hoped, but it did make it easy!
Just out of hibernation, it’s time for a detailed inspection in daylight.
We had more hassle humping all the parts which were stored in wooden crates than we did rolling the car on the trailer.
Cumulative “umph” and we managed to roll the car onto the tow trailer.
Only Larry, Cecil Pace-Asciak and I went from Toronto. Rick Urbanski rendezvoused with us there. It was hot and sunny and we were in by 12 and out by 2.
Secured down for the haul back to Toronto. After a few km, we figured we had better remove the sun visor to ensure we didn’t loose it.
Two months of mechanical work by Larry and the car is running, certified and back on the road. Now we will tackle the cosmetics. We are very pleased to have helped the Minnis family realize their wish that the Traction would roll again and be appreciated by true Citroënthusiasts.
Larry Lewis happily takes over ownership from Midge Minnis.