A publicity campaign featuring rural Saskatchewan residents in the buff and posing along a stretch of pothole-damaged highway has paid off.
On Friday, people from Leader, Sask., and other communities along Highway 32, celebrated the official opening of a newly paved road.
"It looks great," Gord Stueck of Leader, told CBC News. "It's quite a change from what it was two or three years ago. It's a sign of progress for our whole area. And I tell you: there is optimism back in the country now.
"People are doing business locally because they can travel down the highway and not be afraid of ruining their vehicle or having an accident," he added.
'There was one guy, we couldn't get him to keep his clothes on.' —Pothole calendar proponent Gord Stueck
Stueck, who runs a pharmacy in the town of 900 about 450 kilometres west of Regina, was one of the key proponents of a campaign aimed at convincing provincial government officials to repair the highway.
The road runs from Leader to Swift Current, the nearest major city, about 160 kilometres away.
Neglect of the road spawned a website in 2006 to chronicle concerns.
The road had become so poor that even the local ambulance drivers were reluctant to use the route. Broken axles and lost hubcaps were regular occurences.
"It got to the point where it was ridiculous," Stueck said.
Calendar idea hatched
The calendar project was an attempt to gain the attention of the provincial government of the day, the NDP administration.
"We weren't making any headway at all," he said. "They just absolutely [wanted] nothing to do with that highway. They wanted nothing to do with it. In fact, they were quite willing to summer fallow it up and turn it back to gravel."
The gravel road only made matters worse as vehicles, including school buses, got stuck whenever it rained.
Stueck pitched the idea of a calendar almost as a throw-away line when he was interviewed by the media and asked what else people in his community could do to catch the attention of the government.
"The press kept phoning me, every two months wondering: 'Is the calendar ready?'," he recalled.
Finally, he convinced 10 other men and one woman that they had to create the calendar for 2007.
Most were reluctant recruits, however "there was one guy, we couldn't get him to keep his clothes on!" Stueck said.
With the novelty item produced, Stueck said the effort instantly paid off.
"We got the publicity that we wanted," he said. "We sold 3,000 calendars all over the world."
Profit from the sales, roughly $40,000, paid for a new roof on the local community hall.
It also motivated the government to improve the highway.
Stueck said the change of government in 2007, to the Saskatchewan Party, found a change in attitude.
It also helped that the local MLA, Wayne Elhard, was the first Highways Minister in the new government.
Elhard was among the dignitaries at Friday's ribbon-cutting.
"We actually stood out on the highway and cut the ribbon, had a few speeches and slapped each other on the back and congratulated each other," Stueck said. "Everybody agreed it was a worthwhile project and it's a beautiful highway."
Stueck, who posed as Mr. January, said people still talk about the campaign.
"I'm going to have to drop that moniker now that the highway's been fixed," Stueck said with a chuckle.
While the calendar was promoted as nude photos all the images featured strategic poses or props to protect the modesty of the models.
In Stueck's case, he had a camera in hand "with a very, very long lens".
Another model posed in the buff, but was seated in a canoe with the craft floating in water-filled pothole.
Stueck said the shot was genuine.
"The canoe is actually floating," he said. "That's how bad the pothole was."
When asked if there would be an encore, Stueck said he has been pitching new ideas for calendars, but was having a hard time convincing people in the community to go along.
According to the province, the highway renovation project cost $44.4 million, with about one quarter of that covered by a federal government infrastructure fund.
The work was done in stages over several years. The final leg of work involved a 56-kilometre stretch between Shackleton and Prelate.