America’s Greatest Road Trip!

by Tom Cotter and Michael Alan Ross


In 2017 Tom Cotter and Michael Alan Ross drove from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific in a 1926 Model T, 3707 miles along the Lincoln Highway. Accompanying them was an experienced T co-driver named Dave Coleman. That adventure was shared on the pages of a 2018-published book titled Coast to Coast, A Slow Drive Across a Fast Country. 

That trip had been such a fine time, it didn’t take former public relations guy, Tom Cotter, long to start scheming and planning an even more adventurous outing some 9000 miles one way (well, really just 8881 miles) from the southernmost tip of the US to the northernmost; Key West, Florida to Deadhorse, Alaska. Their conveyance another Ford but not vintage, rather a brand new Ford Bronco pulling a slick new Airstream model it calls Basecamp 16X. (You are encouraged to check these Basecamp models out online as they employ new technologies and materials in an innovative package.)

As the book’s subtitle suggests one caveat for the trip was to avoid highways in the Interstate system. Typical Cotter-style, the duo sought out interesting people and places and, motivated by Ross’ enjoyment of coffee, non-chain coffee roasters everywhere that are presented in little sidebars headed “My Morning Mug.” 

Their route is a bit zig-zaggy. From Florida they nipped through the southern third of Georgia into Alabama, then a corner of westernmost Tennessee into Missouri then Kansas with a requisite stop at McPherson College (known to our readers for its Automotive Restoration courses although that is not all they teach). Nebraska is next and then, as neither Tom or Michael had ever set foot in North Dakota, they kept going north into South Dakota, pausing at Mount Rushmore before pressing on into North Dakota. 

If you know US geography this map looks wrong! That’s because it’s not intended as a map proper but the Table of Contents, hence Chapter 1 has to be on the top left even if in real life, Florida belongs on the bottom right.

Ever heard of Dot’s Pretzels? Apparently they are something really tasty now distributed all across America with founder/owner Dorothy Henke based in Velva, North Dakota. On the outskirts of Minot, spotting car haulers arriving at the fairgrounds, Tom and Michael attended races held on the 3/8 mile dirt track watching stocks, modifieds, compacts, and sport mods slip and slide around mostly sideways. The next day, they found a super well-run junkyard owned by husband/wife Dick and Nancy Sundhagen named simply Dick’s Autos. So wisely is stock acquired and the business run, it has developed an international clientele.

Not quite ready to head north of the border (you do have to traverse parts of Canada to get to Alaska, after all), they turned due west, into and across Montana which provided still more vistas and views for Michael, whom Tom refers to as MAR throughout his narrative, to photograph. The book is filled with his wonderful imagery but rather than just show you a few pages, we’ve opted to show you the specially-created, just-for-this-book, endpapers which feature approaching 40 of the over 200 images in the book, albeit in black and white where on the pages they are predominately reproduced in color.

Still on US soil, paralleling the Canadian border, pointed toward the Grand Coulee Dam, it’s a short nip across the narrowest part of northernmost Idaho on into Washington. Approaching Seattle, Tom and MAR were contacted by a guy who’d been following their cross-country trek. He invited them to display their rig at that weekend’s Concours at the Vineyard. They accepted, afterward visiting Cars Yeah! host Mark Greene and his wife Jill. 

Then it was on “Into the Great White North,” the title of the sixth of the eleven chapters that begins on the 116th page of the 192 total. Readers are along for the four days it took them to climb ever northward through British Columbia thence into Yukon Territory before re-entering the US on the Alaskan Highway.

Once they reach Deadhorse, which Tom describes as “not really a town, it’s an industrial site,” going on to explain it exists to house and feed pipeline workers in a clean, well-run facility offering excellent meals and entertainments sans a single drop of alcohol and nary an “attitude adjusting” drug permitted. Transgressors are immediately fired and permanently banished by all employing companies. 

The concluding chapter brings Cotter and Ross “Back to the World” as it chronicles the drive back from Deadhorse to Fairbanks where they visit “The Last Car Museum in the Final Frontier.” If you’ve not yet heard of—much less visited—The Fountainhead Automotive Museum, currently occupying 30,000 square feet and looking to double in size, take time to explore its stellar collection even if only virtually for it houses cars it has been invited to enter at the likes of Amelia Island Concours and won their class!

Cotter may not be quite as eloquent or writerly as William Least Heat Moon in Blue Highways or John Steinbeck in his Travels with Charley, the latter of whom he does cite/quote. That said he spins an entertaining yarn about people met, places seen, and roads driven as he and MAR traversed this North American continent—all wonderfully illustrated by Ross’ superb photography. Settle into your favorite chair and enjoy as they take you along, too.

America’s Greatest Road Trip!
Key West to Deadhorse; 9000 Miles Across Backroad USA
by Tom Cotter and Michael Alan Ross
Motorbook/Quarto, 2023
192 pages, 5 b/w & 209 color images, hardcover 
List Price: $40
ISBN 13: 978 0 7603 8106 9

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