Article: Classic Land Rover magazine

Forged Through Fire

Classic Land Rover Magazine, August 2024
Words by Jan Hyrman with Dave Friesen, photos by Dave Friesen

I think most if not all of this magazine’s readers will agree that metal can be shaped to create things that are by essence utilitarian but are beautiful to look at. Some, in our eyes as users or beholders, can even assume a personality. We speak to tools and vehicles (with great frustration in some situations), we are drawn to touch some surfaces just to feel their texture. I for one, thank my Land Rovers and pat the front wings whenever we come back from long trips. But can something as cold and unfeeling as metal shape and form us in return?

At the charcoal forge, turning scrap metal into a blade using traditional hand tools.

Crossed Heart Forge of Vancouver Island, Canada, is one of the places where metal with a soul is forged by the hands of Dave Friesen the blacksmith. Just browse the images on the Islandblacksmith’s website, read his customers’ testimonials and you will understand. His specialty is turning bits of old farming equipment or leaf springs into handcrafted classical style Japanese knives, often mounting them with antique Edo-period sword fittings. If you are a fan of people handy with tools (and cameras), it really is worth the effort looking it up and just drooling for a bit over Dave’s amazing work – links to his two websites are provided at the end of this article.

Starting blacksmithing and silversmithing as a young teen, travelling to train in Amish country in Ohio, USA, eventually living for several years in Japan, and then developing his own style of historical knifemaking over the past decade, Dave is no stranger to taking the path less travelled. In fact, one might even say it runs in the family.

Classical style tanto hand made from reclaimed materials using historical techniques.

Dave’s family history stretches back not only over generations, but over continents. As he recounts on his website: “I still remember the exact place I was standing and the exact moment as a young child that I first heard the name of an adventurous-sounding machine called ‘Land Rover’, visualising the scenes as I heard tales of traversing difficult terrain in deepest Africa where few vehicles could go and few sojourners would venture.” He remembers stories of when the army ants would come through the house eating everything left behind–dead or alive, the time the leopard got into the sheep shed, or a pre-Rover incident where a tie rod from their aging 1939 GMC truck fell off in the dirt track and wasn’t discovered missing for another mile.

ABR-09-62 hauling gear and supplies overland at the edge of the wet season.

In the early 1950’s to late 1960’s his grandparents helped manage a mission farm and school in Angola, Missão de Boas Novas Chitau, with a Land Rover as the obvious and welcome means of transport. During the dry season they travelled around the region, living out of the back of the Series IIA to deliver supplies and a mobile clinic to remote villages. The Rover also served as an ambulance, saving many lives by travelling up to nine hours in the rainy season over almost impassable roads to the nearest hospital, “nine hours over roads only a Rover could love”, as Dave put it. Dave has curated slide photos for the website documenting the Rover’s involvement in his grandparents’ ‘daily life far across the sea in years gone by’.

A bridge inspection under grandma’s watchful eye.

As Dave says, “having grandparents on all sides (including his wife’s in Japan) with farming roots, the agricultural workhorse or tractor-like nature of the old Rovers is also very familiar––and fitting.” Little is known or recorded of what became of the deep green Series IIA 109in with pickup cab, tropical roof, and 3/4 canvas hood after the early 1970’s but Dave likes to think ABR-09-62 may still be out there to this day, working as hard as ever – if anyone has seen it, please send photos and a vehicle number! One of the vehicle’s distinguishing marks was that his grandfather, a Scotsman by descent, had felt compelled to paint grey rectangles on the front of the wings to cover something that the previous owner, an Irishman, had painted on them.

ABR-09-62 taking on the elephant grass.
A warm welcome for the Rover bringing supplies and good news to remote locations in the dry season.

Fast-forward several decades: increasingly frustrated with the complexity, unreliability, and un-originality of most modern vehicles, Dave began a multi-year journey of research into vintage Land Rovers. In 2023, the opportunity came to answer the call and become a caretaker of a classic Land Rover. Poppy is a 1966 Series IIA 109in LWB made for the Canadian market and has been in the same province since new. Mostly original, with the 2,286cc petrol engine intact, the truck had a hardtop with side windows, a tailgate and cat flap rear door.

The name would seem to suggest red paint, but the truck came originally with Limestone paint from head-to-toe. The name in this case does not derive from the flowering poppy plant, but from Poppy or Pop as a familiar term for a grandfather. And that grandfather is not the vehicle itself – the name was given in honour of the previous owner for most of its early life.

Poppy taking a short break in a mountain pass on the way to Vancouver Island.

The vehicle has been in British Columbia since new, used mainly to navigate the rough tracks around the Kamloops backcountry for about its first 23 years. Pop or Poppy used it for ice fishing and hunting trips around many of the mountain lakes, never getting stuck. His children learned to drive in it and enjoyed it, but eventually it sat resting for about 30 years in the garage. For years the family was reluctant to let go of the truck even though it was no longer getting any use. Poppy eventually transferred it to his daughter for a dollar to resist the urge to sell it, as his children insisted it should stay in the family.

In his later years Poppy had always said, “you should put that old truck in a parade” and so a decision to get it running again was taken after he passed away. After all those years it needed a mechanical overhaul. Rover experts Allan Simpson and Monty Kinvig of Clapperton Ranch were commissioned to do the work – the same two who restored the famous Canadian ‘Grizzly Torque’ at their workshop in Spences Bridge, British Columbia in 2015.

Current state of Poppy’s original engine after some minor repairs and replacements.

A partial restoration to get it back on the road was the order of the day, with mechanical components, brakes, and electrical systems getting a thorough inspection and re-commissioning only where absolutely needed. The aged character of the vehicle was to be maintained. In the following years, the truck attended some local car shows, achieving the intended goal. After a few years though, the family decided it was time to find it a home where it could be used and cared for properly again.

As it was very similar to the one Dave’s grandparents used in Angola and somewhat rare in Canada having been in the province from new, he could not let such an opportunity pass by when it became available. 67,000 miles were on the odometer by the time Dave bought the truck – and one family owned it since 1970!

After many months of exchanging emails and phone calls the time was right and in September 2023, Dave and his wife hired a car one-way and drove through the mountains to pick up Poppy. There were some concerns whether the truck could make it all the way but they decided to take the chance that the vehicle was fit for the adventurous journey back to their home on Vancouver Island.

Taking a moment for tea and reflection after the long journey home.

Poppy did not miss a beat, overcoming difficult climbs, hot weather, and high altitudes. Large lorries roared past them on stretches of the Coquihalla highway having 120 kph speed limit, but they made it through the mountains in reasonable time. The only hiccup was Poppy running out of petrol right on the ferry ramp, which caused them to miss their sailing, but after some tense moments help from a 4×4 driver and his jerrycan resolved the issue before the next ferry departure. The good Samaritan had been living for five years in his well-equipped overland Jeep and was quick to assist a fellow off-roader. As it happens, it transpired that his father drove a Series Land Rover thousands of miles overland back in the day.

Meeting this forthcoming overlander and several others that offered support and encouragement that day highlighted something about these old trucks that many of us can agree on – classic Land Rovers bring back memories for many and cause random bystanders to smile just because we drive by. Passing through the busy city of Vancouver procured many interested looks from people of all types from children in Teslas to moms in mini vans, and of course serious 4×4 drivers who could recognize their heritage. Dave says, “Even young people who have no idea what they are looking at can tell that this machine is certainly not part of ‘the matrix’”.

Snow at the beach on a sunny, cold island day.

Since bringing Poppy back to a new island life, Dave is slowly fixing it up, one task at a time. Not content with the amounts of water leaking into the interior in the rainy West Coast winter, door, tailgate, body, and window seals are the obvious points that needed his attention. Being a blacksmith, Dave makes his own tools if none are available – one example is the tool needed to press the filler strip into the window seals, another is a special shaped punch to replace the missing semi-tubular rivets in the front corners of the galvanised roof gutter – thankfully only a couple dozen needed replacing out of the almost 170 total. Calling on his knife making skills, Dave forged a vintage Angolan style registration plate cover from a scrap of sheet metal, and even used traditional sword scabbard urushi lacquer and ground tea leaves to refinish the textured steering wheel boss.

Forging a reproduction vintage Angolan style registration plate cover.
Steering wheel boss refinished with natural Japanese lacquer and tea leaves.
Poppy the 109in in the forests of Vancouver Island.

At this point the process of fixing Poppy up is a rolling restoration, allowing Dave to enjoy local adventures while working on the small things he is able to do at home. The website came about as a way for family and friends to follow the progress of the project. As he says, taking photos “to capture the timelessness of an iconic old Rover” is a fun way to document the journey – the photos (all courtesy of Dave himself) are a clear testament of this.

Lunch with a view, looking across the Salish Sea on a stormy and cold afternoon.

Crossed Heart Forge website (IG: @islandblacksmith)

Dave’s Land Rover website (IG:

Moving the project forward one day at a time until the day of completion.
At home among the ferns and cedar of Vancouver Island.