Tag Archives: africa

The Grizzly Torque

Grizzly Torque, circa 1957

In the fall of 1956, Bristol Foster was itching to get out and explore the world. He had recently finished his masters degree in biology at the University of Toronto. Foster immediately thought of his friend, Robert Bateman as an ideal travel companion. The two men mapped out a trip that involved crossing four continents. They only needed a vehicle.

Foster and Bateman picking up the Grizzly Torque in England

“… it had to be a Land Rover,” says Bristol Foster. So they ordered a 1957 Series I with an ambulance body. Foster went to Solihull to pick up the Rover, and get trained on their off road course. Bateman arrived later and they took the Series I on a shake down trip through Scotland.

Camping out of the Torque

Foster & Bateman set off for Africa with the newly christened Grizzly Torque. They had agreed to send regular articles and illustrations documenting their trip back to the Toronto Telegram, where they became known as The Rover Boys.

The Rover Boys had a very loose schedule. There was a general direction they meant the trip to follow, but the route taken from Point A to Point B was by no means a straight line. They were free to do as they wished, at a time when this type of travel was ideal. Today, it would be virtually impossible to make the same trek. Not only due to safety concerns, but the difficulty of getting visas throughout the area.

In the Belgian Congo, the little four cylinder engine whined from the excessive load. Some thirty members of the Mbuti tribe were crammed into and onto the Land Rover along with the two Canadians up front. They bounced along a forest track, with the tribe members laughing and singing traditional hunting songs. Foster and Bateman were in Africa, on an adventure of a lifetime. Robert Bateman, thinking back on that time said, “One of the greatest senses of freedom I think we’ve ever had.”

Bateman, now a renown Canadian artist and naturalist, painted small murals along the body of the Grizzly Torque, documenting the places they traveled through. The artwork is stunning, and no doubt caused some excitement with the people they met along the way.

Elephant meets Grizzly

The trip was not without unexpected “adventures”. The Grizzly Torque was flipped over on its side in India, after swerving to avoid a bicyclist. A window was lost in the crash, and was replaced with plexiglass.

In total, The Rover Boys traveled over 60,000 kms, through 19 countries, on 4 continents over 14 months with their Grizzly Torque. The trip ended in Australia with the Land Rover being shipped back to Vancouver after traveling throughout the Australian Outback. From there, the Grizzly Torque continued to be well traveled.

Foster used it on what was then known as the Queen Charlotte Islands, as he pursued his doctorate. It was eventually sold to a student studying peccaries in Texas. The student was raising a juvenile eagle at the time, and the raptor learned to perch up front between the seats. As an adult, the eagle rode happily along, all across the state of Texas, on various expeditions. The student returned to British Columbia with the Land Rover, where he sold the Grizzly Torque to a rancher. Things become murky after that. At some point, the well traveled Land Rover gets sand blasted down to bare metal, painted light blue, losing the wonderful murals, and its identity. The old Rover then spends decades out of the public view.

A blue Torque (?)

Stuart Longair now enters the story. A rancher has four old Land Rovers out in a field, and he wants them gone. Longair, has been a Land Rover cult member from an early age, since riding along with his father in a Series I as a young boy. He buys all four Rovers, sight unseen. The now, faded blue Grizzly Torque, spends the next decade out in another field. Then Longair comes across an old picture of Foster & Bateman with the Grizzly Torque, and he starts to wonder about the neglected Rover he purchased over a decade ago. Longair gets a hold of Bristol Foster, and convinces him to come out and look over the blue Rover. Foster immediately recognized the Grizzly Torque under all of the neglect, but to make sure he went over to the driver’s side door, and found that it was still fitted with the replacement plexiglass from India.

The Grizzly Torque restored

Now that Longair knew that he had a piece of not only Land Rover history, but Canadian history too, he went about restoring the Grizzly Torque. Working off of old photos, Robert Bateman himself, repainted the Rover’s murals along the flat sides.

The Rover Boys reunite with a restored Grizzly Torque

The restored Grizzly Torque and its repainted murals

The eagle in the Grizzly Torque, somewhere in Texas

Photos credit: Bristol Foster & Robert Bateman; Video credit: Land Rover

Maneless Bruin?

First Lion of Tsavo w/Lt.Col Patterson
One of the maneless maneaters, with Lt Col Patterson

This past weekend, a neighbor walked over through the woods with his dogs. Suddenly, the bird dog caught a scent, yelped, then high-tailed it back home, quickly followed by the four remaining dogs, all with their tails between their legs. It sounds like the grizzly is still in the vicinity. I have not seen the bear yet, just the tracks and scat.

It’s been snowing for the past 24 hours, so I am curious to see if there is any fresh sign.

I recently re-read “The Man-Eaters of Tsavo”, by Lt Col John Henry Patterson. It’s the story of the two, maneless, man-eating lions of Tsavo, Kenya, who stalled the Uganda Railway’s construction in 1898, by making meals out of the workers. Patterson eventually shot and killed the two lions, who ate 28 railroad workers. The lions can now be viewed at the Field Museum of Natural History, in Chicago.

All of this came to mind the other night, as I was working late in the Rover Hut on the Land Rover. At one point, I was sure I heard a loud “Huff” outside the glorified tent’s walls. I couldn’t see anything out in the falling snow, but I did have a vision of “coolies being dragged out of their tents” by a large lion.

I should probably get a bear tag.

Congo River

“It had become a place of darkness. But there was in it one river especially, a mighty big river, that you could see on the map, resembling an immense snake uncoiled, with its head in the sea, its body at rest curving afar over a vast country, and its tail lost in the depths of the land.”
——–Joseph Conrad “Heart of Darkness”

Malawi Wisdom

“Your mother is your mother, even if one of her legs is too short.”

“Ask for rain and you’re asking for mud!”

“Two buttocks cannot avoid friction.”

“He said in English, ‘They do not want your life, _bwana_. They want your shoes.'”
—-“Dark Star Safari:Overland From Cairo to Cape Town”

Where to go?


Repeat after me: “Vague is good”

“It is always a mistake to try to explain plans for the onward journey.  Such plans sound meaningless because they are so presumptuous.  Travel at its best is accidental, and you can’t explain improvisation.”

————-Paul Theroux

“Large-leaved and many-footed shadowing, what god rules over Africa, what shape, What avuncular cloud-man beamier than spears?”

———Wallace Stevens   “The Greenest Continent”


“All news out of Africa is bad.  It made me want to go there…”

——–Paul Theroux   “Dark Star Safari”

Space I

Foa w:Lion

“Those parts of the earth not yet trodden by the foot of man, where nature is left to itself, are becoming more and more rare at the end of the nineteenth century. Future generations will only find in fossil traces of those gigantic animals which an unknown law is sweeping little by little from the face of the globe, giving preferences to races smaller and better adapted to lack of space and to the ever-increasing invasion of humanity.”

— Edouard Foa, F.R.G.S.
“After Big Game in Central Africa” c.1899

Thinking of other continents…

While surfing the web and watching the Olympics wind down, I came across a video of a young elephant running across a dirt road to catch up to its mother. Which started me to thinking…

The Dark Continent