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A cruise through time: Auto show celebrates club's 30 years

MONTE DRAPER | BEMIDJI PIONEER From left, Jerry Solheim, with his 1955 Chevy Bel-Air Convertible and Kermit Anderson, with his 1979 Corvette, are members of the Paul Bunyan Vintage Auto Club, which will host its 30th annual car show Sunday at Bemidji High School.1 / 2
SUBMITTED PHOTOS Through the years, members of the Paul Bunyan Vintage Auto Club have kept track of Pioneer articles written about the club and its annual car show.2 / 2

BEMIDJI -- Every car has a story to tell.

Ask Kermit Anderson, a founder of the Paul Bunyan Vintage Auto Club, and he'd say automobiles can be the source of any interesting conversation.

"There's a lot of history there," Anderson said.

Anderson, along with the rest of the about 60 member vintage auto club members, will celebrate that history during their 30th annual car show Sunday at Bemidji High School, with a diverse range of activities scheduled during the event.

"We work really hard to keep it a family activity," he said. "The idea from Day 1, I think, was to make it a family club, but also to make it a community organization, too."

From show cars and seminars to swap meets and children's' games, Anderson said there are activities for all ages to enjoy at the BHS parking lot, Lumberjack Room and Commons.

The main festivities begin at 8 a.m, with the opening of the classic car display -- more than 200 are expected. Anderson said all entries are welcome to register until noon Sunday.

A swap meet/ flea market where vendors can sell car parts, etc. and a "car corral" -- an area designated for the public to sell cars -- will also open at 8 a.m.

Other scheduled events during the day include five seminars on varying topics, children's games and a concert performance by the Highway 71 Band.

Admission is $5 for adults with children 15 and younger free.

"We're really hoping that we have a show that's organized and we're hoping the facilities of BHS add to it," Anderson said. "The seminars and activities are going on in addition to the cars being there, which is unique for a car show."

In recognition of its 30th year, Anderson said spectators can expect some new additions to the event.

"No-Class Show with 'Class'" will be an exclusive area for corvettes only that the public can admire, in lieu of the model's 60th anniversary. Anniversary cars of all makes and models from any decade will also be recognized, as part as commemorating the car club's 30th car show.

As a way to give back to the community, the auto club is sponsoring a raffle of a Chevy 350 small block engine, with all the funds raised to benefit the Northwest Technical College high performance engine machinist program in the form of scholarships. The engine was performance built by students active in the NTC program.

"We have been longtime sponsors of them," Anderson said. "Helping them (students) helps us keep this hobby going."

The auto club is inviting the public -- particularly those registered to display a car Sunday -- to join them at the McKenzie Place parking lot next to Dairy Queen at 7:30 p.m. Saturday for a pre-show and chat.

To further promote interest and to offer more events for families who travel from near and far for the car show, the club schedules the car show to coincide with Art in the Park at Library Park Saturday and Sunday, a quilting show at Evangelical Free Church on Friday and Saturday and the Bemidji Symphony Orchestra Pops Concert at the Bemidji High School auditorium.

Jerry Solheim, a longtime car club member, said in its entirety, the car show is a way for people to connect to the past.

"People just love to reminisce," Solheim said. "It's kind of a walk back in time; a time warp of sorts."

Losing the "pizzazz"

The lifelong hobby of car restoration began at a young age for both Solheim and Anderson; a hobby they say gets more intense with time.

"I grew up in a working-class family that didn't have a whole lot of cash, but for some reason, I just loved cars," Solheim said. "My friends and I would stand around the roller rink and watch the cars drive by."

Dreaming about the day he might finally own a car, Solheim recalled the 1949 Ford convertible he received as a "hand-me down car" at the age of 16. It was the car that ignited his passion for restoring and collecting classic cars.

"There's much more pizzazz and ownership when you put all that work into the car yourself," Solheim said.

Considered more as a mode for transportation and not so much a "sculpture on wheels," Anderson said the uniqueness and sometimes bizarreness of a car's looks and features is rapidly changing.

"My passion for cars is really centered around the 1950s; I just love that time," he said. "The colors were so wild and you just don't see that anymore."

Reflecting on the features and accessories that entered and faded from popularity throughout the decades -- such as lowering blocks, dual exhaust, fuzzy dice hanging from mirrors, coon tails attached antennas, mud flaps and chrome -- the two car club members said history has a way of repeating itself, noting that chrome detailing is still popular today for many makes and models of cars.

However, the advancement in technology and its non-stop incorporation into vehicles is what Solheim believes will define this era of vehicles.

"Cars have become a thing to get to point A to point B comfortably, run smoothly and get good mileage," he said. " But there's no pizzazz. For a lot of families, there's no loyalty anymore in a brand."

And while the face of vehicles has changed over the years, especially in the 41 years since Anderson helped to found the car club in Bemidji, he said there are still modern cars that are able to catch his interest.

"When I'm looking at a car, I still like to see something different, even today," he said. "With all the technology, the new cars are fantastic." Anderson said this is especially true in the mileage life of cars, where he said in the 1960s any given car was good for about 60,000 miles, whereas today most cars will last anywhere from 200,000 to 300,000 miles.

And while this is a breakthrough in anything people could have imagined 50 years ago, Anderson is worrisome about the art of car restoration.

"I wonder with all of the computer technology in cars, how we will restore cars in the future," Anderson said.

Solheim said the future for car collectors is not a happy one.

"I think the hobby will die out," he said. "The perfect analogy here is I don't know anyone that goes to new car showings; look how many people go to classic car shows"

But for now, both Solheim and Anderson are content with the state of car restoring and collecting.

"My wife thinks we have way too many cars, and I think we don't have enough," Solheim joked.

Restoring nearly 15 cars to date, Anderson said he, too, is never completely satisfied with his collection of classic cars.

"My passion over the years has been trying to restore my cars myself because there's really no way I could have otherwise done it," said a laughing Anderson. "This hobby gets to be a disease and it's never-ending."

If you go:

What: 30th annual Paul Bunyan Vintage Auto Club car show

When: Sunday

Where: Bemidji High School

Cost: $5 adults, children 15 & younger free