Monday, November 17, 2008

What was I doing 51 years ago ?

About this time in 1957 I just arrived back from Argentina after being on a six week photo shoot for Chevrolet. I was the head art director on Chevrolet Sales Promotion at Campbell Ewald. Chevrolet wanted to show how well their cars and trucks could handle tough mountain roads and decided to have us drive across the rugged Andes from Argentina to Chile after having sent out a reconnaissance team to check things out. I was in charge of the still photography and hired Todd Walker, a photographer from Los Angeles to join me on this trip. We also had a separate TV crew that shot the footage for TV ads.
Why did it take us six weeks ? We had shipped the cars and trucks down in advance, but when we arrived, the dockworkers went on strike and refused to unload the vehicles. We called our office and asked what we should do, they said to stay until the strike ended. So, the trip inadvertently turned into a vacation in wonderful Buenos Aires ! We sure enjoyed ourselves, but after a while we were getting antsy about our photo shoot because of the production deadlines involved. John Bracken, the Chevrolet account executive, decided to make some kind of a deal with the union which fortunately worked out and our vehicles were promptly unloaded after which the strike resumed.
We finally were on our way to cross the rugged mountain roads of the Andes which would finally end in Santiago, Chile. We had quite an entourage, including a truck full of camera equipment. When we crossed Argentina and reached Mendoza, we stayed at the summer retreat of former president Juan Peron. It was now a grand hotel run by his servants. The place was full of Argentine military personnel, except for our group. The Generals and other officers were all very friendly and invited us to a dance they were having that evening. They even invited us to their army maneuvers the next day which turned out to be an incredible experience. The event took place in a mountainous area and they even had bombs going off and troops charging up the mountains. It was very surreal to say the least.
The next few days were spent taking photographs, when we finally reached the border we couldn't drive across the mountain pass to get to Chile because of heavy snowfall and ended up driving through a railroad tunnel. It would take many blogs to tell you all the insanity we went through during this venture, so I'll just leave it at this. Anyway, it was a never-to-forget experience and we did come back with some great promotional photographs. Incidentally, Betty Skelton, the famous pilot and race car driver, worked for CE and was with us on this adventure, if I remember correctly she was the head of the whole group.

Here are a couple of photos of me during the Andes trip. I'm sitting in a very foggy mountain situation wondering how we were going to take photos this day and where the hell is the car? In the other shot we had just arrived in a small mountain village and were swarmed by a bunch of young boys. They were showing us the local newspaper that had photos of us on the front page. To them, we were like men from Mars. Everyone was flabbergasted by the new Chevrolets.

A shot of Photographer Todd Walker and Writer Barney Clark on the dangerous slopes of the Andes somewhere in Argentina near the Chilean border. Not much traffic in these parts. Once in a while we would see a cog railway train with cars loaded on it, apparently the drivers chose not to drive these wicked mountain roads. The train moved very slowly, in fact, you could walk and keep up with it easily. Barney even hopped on the train and had a glass of wine with a friendly passenger. We picked him up a couple of miles later after shooting some interesting scenes of the Chevy in action.


Leif Peng said...

Good lord, Harry, if this adventure had happened in modern times, it would be a reality tv show on the Outdoor Life Network! Amazing!

Here's hoping you DO reveal some more of the tasty anecdotes from that adventure - I love the idea of you guys driving through a train tunnel... you must have been terrified that the train would be coming along!

Thanks for sharing this great story with us!

Harry Borgman said...

Hi Leif,
The railroad had guys with telephones at each end of the tunnel, so they called ahead before we drove through. It's probably a common practice in this part of the world. It was still pretty spooky as the tunnel was quite long and something none of us had ever done before. I'll search for some photos I took during the trip, the ones shown were from an old July 1958 Art Direction magazine. I also have a few more strange tales to tell about this escapade. Keep tuned in !