Pilot stories and photos by Bill Lundquist
SMITH RIVER A new record of $11,785 was raised at the Eighth Annual Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) Benefit Car Show Saturday at the Lucky 7 Casino.
Show organizer Dayle Niemie turned the money, which came from entry fees, sponsors and donations, over to the MDA in Medford Monday afternoon during the annual Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon.
It has become a Niemie family tradition on Labor Day weekend to rise while it's still dark Saturday morning, work nonstop at the car show, then drive to KTVL TV in Medford on Sunday and work the telethon for two days.
Niemie said those who volunteer at each event have become "like family." He brings car show T-shirts to many at the telethon each year.
No one at the telethon knew who Niemie was when he showed up with $2,000 from his first car show eight years ago, but he said, "They all know me now."
The money goes to provide MDA services, research, clinics, and support services for families affected by muscular dystrophy and 43 other neuromuscular diseases. More than 170 of those families live in Southern Oregon and Northern California.
Since 1978, the MDA has also held a summer camp in the foothills around Mount Hood for children with muscular dystrophy.
In 2003, the MDA paid all camp expenses, including transportation, for 87 campers and 100 volunteers.
One of those campers, 12-year-old Ashley Rucker, came to Saturday's car show with her family.
Like other members of Niemie's extended "family," the Ruckers met him at the telethon, and now want to help out at his car show.
Ashley got in the mood for the show by popping a wheely in her power wheelchair. Her pick of the show was a 1965 Ford Mustang.
As for the show itself, the number of entries fell a bit short of the record of 117 set last year, but Niemie was happy with 100.
"I always set a goal of 100 cars," he said. "We sat on 99 cars all day. I was beginning to think I should go back and bring down another one of my cars, then Grant Johnston came down from Brookings with his 1984 Camaro." Johnston got a special award for completing the 100-car goal.
The Curry County Cruisers came out in force, winning the club award. A car show in Port Orford brought entrants from long distance who planned to do both shows.
Edgar Lea, in fact, won the long distance award for bringing his 1974 Volkswagen Thing from Arondale, La., near New Orleans, 3,782 miles from Smith River.
What's a Thing? Patterned after a World War II German military vehicle, it's sort of a cross between a Beetle and a Jeep. The version sold by Volkswagen in the early 1970s could be considered the first mini-SUV.
Lea's car was trailered to the show, so the award for the entry driven farthest to reach the show went to Virgil and Sally Moon, formerly of Brookings. They drove their 1954 Chevrolet Bel-Air from Newberg.
Niemie's own cars are also driven to the show each year. This year he showed off a new acquisition: a 1964 Buick Skylark Vista Cruiser station wagon.
Many people at the show probably remembered riding in the family Vista Cruiser as kids and looking at the scenery through the small windows in the roof. Most of the Vista Cruisers built, however, were badged as Oldsmobiles, not Buicks.
Niemie was pleased with the quality and variety of the entries. A crowd favorite was the winner of the modified truck class trophy: the 1974 Chevrolet pickup of Nyle Henderson from Eureka.
The truck started life as a 1-ton Chevy "dually" pickup, but Henderson turned it into the spitting image of one of those "big rig" tractor cabs normally seen pulling an 18-wheeler.
It was probably the only truck outlandish enough to put last year's overall show winner, Leapin' Lizard, in second place.
Named for its green paint and lizard motif, the 1955 Chevrolet pickup of John and Sharon Palmer is always a crowd pleaser. Sharon said Leapin' Lizard was also John's high school nickname.
The truck has lizards everywhere, including the upholstery and matching trailer. With colored lights and stuffed animals, the entry is as much a show as it is a truck. Sharon even passes out little plastic lizards to the kids.
"They like trucks on the coast," said Sharon. She said she knew this year's truck trophy, however, would go to Henderson's big rig.
One rare truck at the show was well known to area residents: the 1925 Stutz fire truck from the Harbor Fire Department. It earned a special "thank you" award.
"It's for a good cause," said volunteer firefighter John Brazil, the truck's caretaker. "We like to represent Harbor Fire here."
The Stutz, one of only nine made, has spent its entire life serving Coos and Curry counties. It was driven to the show, and is still capable of fighting fires today.
Other unusual entries included the blown alcohol dragsters of Donald Siegers and Brett and Amalia Dresen.
Dresen, having fun sitting still for a change, said his dragster recently hit 140 mph in the eighth-mile and thinks it should break 200 in the quarter mile.
The stock Plymouth Valiant Barracuda of Linnez Zentz, from Gold Beach, stood out for a different set of numbers: 12 45s.
That's how many 45 rpm records it can play at a time. Before compact discs, before cassette tapes, even before 8-track players, Detroit briefly offered actual record players in its cars.
Those old enough to remember that may also recall that the mighty Cuda of the late 1960s started out in 1964 as a basic Plymouth Valiant compact car with a huge glass fastback.
Only a month later, the Ford Mustang took the world by storm. The "pony car" class was named after it, but the class actually began with the Barracuda and another car owned by Zentz: the AMC Marlin.
Another rarity was the 1958 supercharged Packard Hawk of Peter Holgerson from Eureka.
It was one of only 588 built in Packard's last year. It was really just a Studebaker with the prestigious Packard name tacked on. Five years later, Studebaker was gone too.
The Best of Show award went to the 1935 Ford of Ron and Rita Bishop from Coquille.
The crowd went "ape" over the coupe's customized paint, upholstery and engine. Just in case they didn't, a giant stuffed ape was sitting in the rumble seat to help them along.
Personnel from the Lucky Seven Casino also got to pick their favorite entry. Niemie said the casino has hosted the show for most of its years, and foots the bill so the money raised can go to "Jerry's Kids."
The Lucky 7 pick was the 1934 Ford hot rod of David Altman from Crescent City. Who would dare deny it an award? The car was driven by Darth Vader and an imperial storm trooper from "Star Wars."
Jerry's Kids, including the Niemies, Rucker, and several show volunteers with their own personal experience with muscular dystrophy, had their own favorite.
The MDA Choice Award went to the 1965 Ford Mustang of Joan Galloway from Coquille.
Niemie had special thanks for Brookings High School teacher Joe Morin for designing and printing the show T-shirt based on Steve Kerr's 1969 Chevrolet Camaro.
"That's my kind of car," said Niemie.
He also thanked Kevin Bane of KURY radio for doing the show year after year. Bane not only played period music, but classic ads for Edsel, Plymouth and other makes.
Niemie said he originally set out to put on the show for 10 years.
"So you all get to come back for two more years," he told the crowd.