Photo: Murray McEwan. Click image to enlarge
by Bill Vance
The little town of Bothwell lies nestled amid the corn and soybean fields of southwestern Ontario’s Kent County. Now some 900 souls, Bothwell was born during the Ontario oil boom of the 1860s. Houses were built in a day and some 20 hotels provided food, beds and spirits. But when the oil bubble burst so did Bothwell’s dreams of grandeur.
While its early oil ambitions soon faded, Bothwell now has a unique place in another oil-related world: automobiles. It is the home of Old Autos newspaper, a tabloid size Canadian commercial publication for the old car hobby.
Twenty-four times a year Old Autos issues forth from a long, low, cinder-block ex-theatre on Main Street. It goes to subscribers in every part of Canada, as well as to many U.S. states, and Europe, Australia and New Zealand.
Old Autos was founded in 1987 by Murray and Janet McEwan and Murray and Joyce Cutler. In 1961 the McEwan family had bought the weekly Bothwell Times newspaper. They later sold the paper’s rights, but continued to operate a custom printing business.
With some excess printing capacity, the old-car enthusiast McEwans thought there may be a market for a Canadian equivalent of the U.S. publication, Old Cars Weekly. They recruited their old friends, the Cutlers in the enterprise; McEwan is the editor/production manager, and the Cutlers handle sales and advertising.
A four-page promotional issue published in the spring of 1987 was so encouraging that they went ahead with their first issue, dated July 6, 1987. With a print run of 1,000, it set a chatty, down-home tone that continues to the present. Its 16 pages contained a report of the Barrie spring flea market and a Historical Automobile Society of Canada show at the Ontario Agricultural Museum in Milton, Ontario.
There were lots of pictures, and advertisements for vehicles, car shows and coming events. The name of the paper, and the cover logo, were the work of Joyce Cutler, a professional artist.
Momentum built slowly. “We took 1,000 subscription forms, 20 pads with 50 forms in a pad, to our first show in Virgil, Ontario,” says Murray Cutler with a laugh, “and sold 11 annual subscriptions at $10 each.” Their next show, Guelph, yielded 14.
But growth soon accelerated, and they realized they had tapped into a need for a nationwide medium of communication for the old car hobby. “We were gaining about 100 subscriptions an issue,” says Murray McEwan, “and by the fall of ’87 we had 1500.” By the 100th issue, August 19, 1991, it was up to 10,000. By 2004 it was 20,000.
In addition to its regular writers, Old Autos has 25 to 30 eager contributors coast to coast who send in show reports. If the prose is not always Shakespearean, it is always sincere.
The McEwans manage the Bothwell headquarters, and the Oakville-based Cutlers promote the paper by visiting 40 to 50 events a year. With stringers, Old Autos is represented at 150 to 200 shows annually.
The organizing, coordinating, setting up, proofreading, etc., is a big job, and over the years the Old Autos Bothwell staff has grown from two to 12. Their cross-Canada number (1-800-461-3457) keeps them in touch with readers.
Every second Thursday is mailing day, and it’s all hands on deck. It runs from 8:30 a.m. until the job is completed in the afternoon. During that hectic period the full subscriber list is labelled, sorted and batched for the post office, and if the atmosphere gets a little tense, it’s all in the interest of production. And Old Autos has helped secure the local post office’s future.
In 1992 Old Autos took over the organization of the annual Bothwell old car show from the Optimists Club. With the Old Autos publicity and goodwill the show expanded from 325 vehicles in 1992, to the well over 1,500 that showed up for the 2004 event.
Old Autos keeps close to the hobby, and the mail pours in. Readers don’t just renew subscriptions, they write sincere peons of praise for the paper. “It’s nothing to get 150 pieces of mail in a day,” says Murray McEwan, “normal is about 75.” They print as many as possible.
So as it approaches its 20th year, the folksy little newspaper keeps the faith, and spreads the gospel of old car enthusiasm from its Bothwell headquarters and its Oakville satellite office.
The most often heard reader refrain is “Keep up the good work.” It’s a job the two easygoing Murrays, their wives Janet and Joyce, and the hard working staff and correspondents, plan to keep right on doing. (Old Autos, 348 Main St., Bothwell, ON. N0P 1C0.)