CruiseIn' th' Square provided good times, cars, trucks, commerce

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The number of cars and trucks registered for the first of six monthly car shows on Lewisburg's public square Saturday probably doesn't accurately reflect total attendance at the event dubbed "Cruise In the Square."

"More than 100" vehicles were registered, according to the Rev. Leland Carden, president of Lewisburg's Downtown Alliance, the non-profit, tax-free organization that's now running the show to continue what's been a labor of love for men and women and their machines.

Boosted by a dunk tank for county candidates in the Aug. 5 election, events aimed at children and at least three new businesses on the square that weren't there a year ago, the crowd gathered, had a good time and dispersed when a light sprinkling of rain started to fall at about 7:45 p.m. It was more than a light mist, less than a drizzle and provided a cooling effect for people. But still, the threat of a downpour like Friday night's gully-washer prompted show car drivers to roll on their way.

So, the weather was great for nearly all three hours of the event, said Edmund Roberts, chairman of Lewisburg's Community Development Committee, the panel overseeing a fund to be loaned to downtown businesses for building improvements.

Beyond the good times and fellowship, mixed with nostalgia for the happy days of America's love affair with cars, the evening's events were clearly an attempt at attracting commerce downtown where two out of three interviews revealed out-of-towners were proud to show off their cars, share their stories and make new friends.

Originally from Orlando, Fla., Randy McKendree, now of Culleoka, was seated with his wife, Jana, in front of their 1937 Plymouth. It's white with thin red stripes, has suicide doors and, among other modern amenities like air conditioning and an automatic transmission, the 73-year-old car has a DVD player.

So, during the Cruise-In, McKendree's Plymouth became an impromptu movie theater. Watching Avatar, were Peyton Finch, 9, son of Jason and Pam Finch of Lewisburg, and Cody Umbles, 10, son of Dwayne and Angela Umbles. The boys were quick to point out they were watching the movie, not the cartoon.

The car is "like Bonnie and Clyde's car," Jana McKendree said. Randy McKendree said, "Gangsters liked them because of the running boards and the doors opened wide so they could shoot their way out while they were making their get-away."

Suicide doors were usually backseat doors that opened from the middle to the back. If opened while the car was rolling, they'd catch the wind, channeling it into the cab.

At least one of the vehicles at the show was a tribute to a lost loved one. Tony Brawner of Summertown displayed his bright red 1952 Chevrolet pickup truck. Jane and Amy are the names on his license plate. Daughter Amy was taken by illness. Wife Jane stopped to help friends a year and a half ago when they had car trouble in Columbia. A motorist came around a curve, couldn't see because of direct sun. One woman died instantly. Jane passed 11 days later. Tony had been saving for a truck. He bought the Chevy last year and is retired from an office supply store in Lawrenceburg.

The bright, reddish-orange 1940 Pontiac business coupe portrayed in a front-page photo here on Friday is owned by Rick Roberts who explained the phrase business coupe.

Manufactured for traveling salesmen, the cars didn't have a back seat. Instead, shelves offered space for products and the space behind the bench front seat was open to the trunk lid. The spare tire lays horizontally behind the passenger seat. It was the cheapest Pontiac made that year and sold for $648.

"This was bought by a little old lady from Canton, Ohio," Roberts said.

That apparently sounded like a car salesman's line to William McCartney, a reporter for the Canton (Ohio) Repository newspaper who's Sunday, Oct. 31, 1971, story was headlined, "She drove it ver-r-ry carefully." Her nephew inherited the car. On Veteran's Day last year, Roberts bought the 70-year-old Pontiac.

"He was going to street rod it," Roberts said of the seller.

The little old lady, according to the Repository, apparently didn't know much about the flat-head six-cylinder motor. Records made available at the time of the story reportedly show that the oil was changed in 1961 and that 50 miles later it was changed again.

"Someone told her it evaporated," according to the story.

Cruise In the Square returns on June 26, the last Saturday this month. They continue on the last Saturday of each month through Halloween.