August 13, 2009
Cruise-in draws the cars ... and the banter
The three 70+year-old Fords sat side-by-side in the McDonald's parking lot -- roadster, coupe, Woody -- while their owners sat behind in picnic chairs, trash-talking.
The cars almost were secondary as Ron Kraus of Rochester, Ed Gutsch of Franksville, and Jim Joannon of Franksville (l-r), traded quips and insults, and answered questions about their beautiful cars. In red shirt is Greg Brackett of Waterford.
Kraus, owner of the red A roadster, insisted, looking at Gutsch's blue-and-white coupe, "A's rule; '32's drool." The only reason coupes are popular at car shows, Kraus said, is "so you can stand on the roof and look at A's."
Gutsch would only admit that he ordered his missing fenders in '33... and is still waiting for them. He said, "I got the car I built in high school," to which Joannon replied, "And he still can't get it to run."
Ah, and then there was Joannon's Woody -- what Kraus called, "The dead tree express... the world's fastest ice fishing shanty." Joannon just smiled. "Some people like the cars, some the bad-mouthing," he said.
And so it went, four friends enjoying themselves, their cars and especially the good-natured banter. Brackett, whose '51 pickup was parked in another aisle, was the quietest of the four. Asked why, he said, "Because I don't lie."
It's hard to tell what to believe when these guys -- and the hundreds of other car owners get together at these informal car shows -- well, cruise-in is the more correct nomenclature. There's no competition, no effort required except to show up (with a stunning car). They each just drive up and hang out, and talk about parts, engine modifications and the like. And, of course, they help each other out.
Kraus, who's owned his roadster for 12 years -- "everything's been done to it" -- says the transformation was accomplished "with a lot of help from my friends... old guys with nothing to do." His engine is a 454, "overbored," so it's really a 460. That translates to 570 horsepower driving a 2,400-lb. car. Is it fast? Well, under the hood, the words "You'd lose" are painted in big yellow print on a checkered flat.
As you might expect, this is a man's world. Kraus explained why his wife wasn't along: "Well, there was this time she was with me, and a young guy in a Camaro challenged me at a stop light... I got the cold shoulder all through dinner."
I had to ask: But did you take him? "Of course!" Well, then, it was all worthwhile! Another point in Kraus' favor: he drives his car a lot. "I'm just back from Louisville, Kentucky," he said, "where there were 12,000 street rods." And he drove his car there. "This ain't no trailer queen," he said -- my kinda classic car owner!
There's a cruise-in every night of the week in southeastern Wisconsin. Thursday nights are reserved for the Mt. Pleasant McDonald's at 6630 Washington Ave., where a wide variety arrives all summer through mid-September, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. This week's event spilled over into the Stein Garden Center parking lot as well as onto Sunnyslope -- some 200 cars by my count, with a pulsing Elvis soundtrack for added ambience. Fords and Chevys dominate, but there was a gorgeous green '51 DeSoto, Corvettes, a Porsche, a Nash or two, some great pick-up trucks, original T'birds, a Corvair, a 'Cuda ("much rarer than the Barracuda," I was informed by its owner), a purple Gremlin, a Viper (with a "Will work for gas" sign in the engine compartment), even a '37 Chevy Darley fire engine!
Other cruise-ins are: Saturdays in East Troy; Tuesdays at Culvers in Milwaukee; Wednesdays at the Solid Gold Mcdonald's in Milwaukee and Fridays at Hardees in Milwaukee.