Geoff

Tunnel to Canada – while you still can

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By now, Clancy was on the scent of home: visiting his brother in Beloit, he made the front page lead in the local paper, then was brought down to earth yet again by a crash 20 miles from Chicago which bent his rear wheel.

Geoff at the site of the former Henderson factory in Detroit
Geoff at the site of the former Henderson factory in Detroit

Riding on carefully, he came on two bikers repairing a puncture who regaled him with thrilling tales from their 200-mile adventure, then guided him to the Henderson branch factory on Michigan Avenue.

We were now in the last few days of our own grand adventure, and when I looked back through the pages of our daily schedule, it felt like we had gone through an entire lifetime in just three short months, with events like leaving Belfast in the snow, sitting on the boat to Tunisia, riding through Sri Lanka in monsoon rain and marvelling at our first sight of Hong Kong bay or the skyscrapers of Shanghai like something we had done years ago, when we were young.

The next morning, I tore a page of my research notes out of the ring binder in which I kept all the trip paperwork, and realised I was down to the last page out of the 89 I had started with.

When Clancy rolled up at the gates of the Henderson factory in Chicago, he was given a hero’s welcome: they placed his battered Henderson in the front window and entertained him royally for two days solid.

As for us, we were entertained royally for two hours solid at the Adventurers’ Club of Chicago, founded in 1911 and the oldest in the USA. There was an older one in New York, but it closed, presumably because all the members had been eaten by tigers.

Inside, it was exactly as you imagined an adventurers’ club should be. Either that, or they’d been really busy on eBay, for a stuffed polar bear and grizzly guarded the entrance, the heads of various other dead things stuck out of the walls with no obvious indication of where their nether regions had got to, various saddles, Zulu spears and shields leaned against the wainscoting, several shrunken heads gazed out blankly from glass cases, photographs and paintings of chaps in pith helmets peered sternly down from the few spaces in between mounted dead things, and the bookshelves were lined with volumes such as How I Hopped on One Leg to the North Pole (And Back!) by Hyram D Rickenbacker III.

At the main Henderson factory in Detroit, Clancy was feted even more than in Chicago, while the brand new machines rolling off the production line looked at what he fondly imagined was mute admiration of their older and wiser brother.

The factory, an imposing building on Jefferson Street looking over the river towards Ontario on the far bank, closed in 1931 and was subsequently demolished.

Today, the site is a grassy park watched over by the grey stone Mariners’ Church, although it wasn’t there in Clancy’s day.

Built in 1842 , in 1955 it was moved on rails 880ft to its present location to make way for the Civic Centre Plaza, since then joined by the towering Renaissance Centre which was supposed to herald the rebirth of the city.

From the number of homeless people sleeping in the park, it has not entirely succeeded, and the large sign at the end of the street saying Tunnel to Canada may well be, not traffic information, but a recommendation.

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