Crazy ’bout a Mercury

More than just a sweet ride, owner and local musician Ryan McNally loves his truck for its place in Whitehorse’s rich local history

“Well if I had money

Tell you what I’d do

I’d go downtown and buy a Mercury or two

Crazy ’bout a Mercury

Lord I’m crazy ’bout a Mercury

I’m gonna buy me a Mercury

And cruise it up and down the road…”

Anyone who grew up listening to country music surely heard this song, Mercury Blues, written by K.C. Douglas and Robert Geddins in 1943 and performed by such famous musicians as The Steve Miller Band and Allan Jackson.

Local musician Ryan McNally really does have himself a Mercury, which he definitely does cruise up and down the road. If you live in Whitehorse, you’ve almost certainly seen him driving it – the decidedly vintage shape, bright yellow paint and EVA13 license plate make it hard to miss.

Ryan first came into possession of this unusual but beautiful machine through his father, who lived briefly in the territory a few years ago. He saw the truck sitting on the corner of 8th and Ogilvie Street, was struck by it, and bought it for $1,500. When circumstances forced him to return back east, the truck sat unused through two bitter-cold Yukon winters until he asked his son to go and resurrect it.

“When I first got it, it wasn’t running,” McNally says. “You’d turn the key and nothing would happen.”

McNally admits he wasn’t much of a hand with machines at the time, but fortunately he had friends; he enlisted the help of local goldsmith David Ashley. Ashley was a mechanic for 15 years and helped McNally go about the business of getting the truck back on the road.

“He was a great teacher,” McNally said. “A jack of all trades, really helped me out (without coddling) me… as soon as I have a clue what I’m doing, he walks away.”

“People are very estranged from what makes their life go these days,” Ashley said. “Ryan was a quick study… as a musician, he has to get up there every night and handle that guitar and wrap his head around that… so he had a lot of skills that were transferable.”

Together, they replaced the starter and the battery and the truck kicked over. Later they  redid the brakes and replaced the worn clutch. McNally’s initial goal, he said, was just to get the thing up and running so he could drive it to the 2014 Atlin Arts and Music Festival, but once he started driving it he just couldn’t give it up.

“I really didn’t want a truck, but now I’m totally hooked, because I can fix it myself with minimal mechanical experience… if it breaks down, I know I can get it going again. There’s a freedom you get when you can fix your own car,” McNally says.

The truck is a 1965 F150 Mercury pickup with a straight-six engine (as opposed to a V6), manual “three-in-the-tree” transmission (meaning it only has three gears instead of the standard  five).They were marketed in the United States under the Ford brand, but were sold in Canada as Mercurys, making this distinctive machine even more rare and interesting. For every 1000 Fords that came off the line, McNally says, they made approximately 100 Mercurys.

McNally’s affection for the truck led him to do some research into its history. It was originally a work truck for the city, which accounts for its unusually bright yellow paint job – all City of Whitehorse vehicles in the ’60s were apparently painted the same shade, he says. Moreover, the truck belonged to the illustrious – or infamous, depending on whom you ask – Moe Grant. Grant was, among other things, a bush pilot. He flew a Tiger Moth and famously survived a crash in 1950, in which he lost both of his legs.

“He was called ‘the pilot who never got cold feet,” because of this, says Casey Lee, who was the Director of the Yukon Transportation Museum until recently. She now lives and works in Ottawa.

Lee says Grant “loved to push the limits… The accident didn’t slow him down for a second and he is known as one of Yukon aviation’s colorful characters. He loved airplanes, music, and – yes – the ladies.”

There is still a tin shack town on Schwatka Lake with the word MOE written on it that used to belong to him, she says,

While the truck has now been to Atlin twice – and once  up Grey Mountain – it’s still 50 years old and prone to having mechanical issues. While this article was being written, McNally and Ashley were discussing how best to take a tricky electrical problem which left the vehicle’s tail lights functioning only when they felt like it. Additionally, McNally admits, it’s not easy on gas.

So why keep driving a vehicle that’s so difficult to maintain?

“I was going down Robert Service the other day, just past the campground and some guy sees me, drops to his knees in the gravel, throws his hands up and is like ‘Yeah man! Yeah!’ shouting and waving.”  McNally says, smiling. “The truck just makes people happy.”

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