Deer Lodge, Montana, Territorial Days Classic Car Show: Rookie in the Rain

June 16, 2018. It surely did rain on The Territorial Days Classic Car Show in Deer Lodge, Montana today, but rookie me was determined to enjoy myself regardless. At least I wasn’t riding a motorcycle or driving the outstanding 1923 Model T bucket Ford. Both of those vehicle operators toughed it out through the parade down Main Street–and kudos to them for their determination–but once we’d lined our vehicles up for the spectators, weather had its say.

The Model T driver covered his cockpit with a bright blue tarp. If he hadn’t, he’d have been driving home in a swimming pool.

1923 Model T bucket Ford, geared for the weather.

Caveat: The actual name of the event was the 29th Annual Rod Run Show and Shine, and it included a Poker Run–in which I did not participate–prior to the show itself. But I figure more readers worldwide will recognize the term “Classic Car Show,” which is why that designation appears in the title.

Side Note: The City of Deer Lodge has more warm weather civic events per year than any other community of its size I’ve ever seen or even heard about. Great place for a tourist to visit and an even cooler place to live.

Being in the parade was interesting. Not even the inclement weather could represent countless local families from lining the sidewalks on both sides of Main Street as we eased through town, idling with feet on brakes to maintain what was pretty much a walking pace. Every driver had to keep a sharp eye out for the smaller children as they darted out in the street to snatch up individually wrapped pieces of candy scattered by older, bucket carrying, candy tossing benefactors. The snack-grabbers were being watched by parents quite closely, of course, and no wee one quite put himself or herself in actual danger that I saw, but I’m pretty sure none of us were taking chances. Tagging a three year old with a front fender would have put a real damper on the festivities. Caution, care, and safety were the watchwords of the procession, especially with most drivers being old enough to be grandparents or even, in some cases, great grandparents.

Once we were all lined up diagonally across the middle of the street for the car show, it became obvious just how much the weather had reduced the car count. Last year, with the sun shining brightly, everything nice and dry on a balmy day, Deer Lodge Territorial Days had so many cars entered that I burned through two camera batteries and still wasn’t satisfied. Today, the count was much lower…which I decided was to my advantage. A rookie doesn’t need to start his swimming career at the deep end of the pool, now does he? I was so green at this that I had no idea I was supposed to look inside the plastic bag of goodies the organizers handed to every driver, so I quietly failed in the following categories:

–Ten drawing tickets for baskets of goodies and what looked like very cool little red toolboxes were never entered.

–Slips of paper allowing me to vote for Best In Show (“Do not vote for your own car.”) were never filled out.

Oops. I’ll know better next year.

Still, with the lower car count, my 1970 Impala being there counted for something. Sure, I’m biased. Can you spell “Duh?” But in my extremely biased opinion, while recognizing the Impala was in no shape to win prizes–it needs way too much work for that–I firmly concluded it was the second prettiest car in the show.

My 1970 Chevy Impala. No trophies, but it shore is purty.

Rear view of the 1970 Impala. About the license plate: HU is an ancient name for God (found in the English language in words like hu-man and humor) and can be sung for protection, balance, and insight.

Okay, so how wet was it?

It was so wet that the most prized pieces of real estate along Main Street were the awnings covering various bits of sidewalk, especially the long green awning in front of Keystone Drug and its neighbors.

It was so wet that my most prized experience of the day was the conversation held under an awning with Bob Welch. Bob and Joyce’s 1947 Ford pickup won Best Truck. It was good to see them win the trophy, but mostly it was good to find they’d driven all the way down from Troy, Montana. Troy sits in the northwest corner of the state…and I had to ask a question.

“Troy? Did you know the Colvers?”

He did. I lit up inside. “Bruce was the closest thing to a kid brother I ever had.” For some years, the Colvers lived not far from the ranch west of Drummond, Montana, where I grew up. Bruce was four years younger than me. We picked potatoes together, rode horses into the mountains together, fished together, and he was a hand. (Which, in case our non-western readers don’t know, is the ultimate compliment.)

Tim Colver, Bruce’s dad, outlived his son by a solid five years, determined to see his grandson Tony to manhood. He got the job done and then passed on. When all was said and done, I was the only member of the Baker family who managed to attend both funerals, though I had to fly out of San Diego for Bruce’s. It’s one of the better things I’ve done in my life.

Bob and Joyce Welch of Troy, Montana, with their 1947 Ford pickup truck and the trophy for Best Truck.

Even though as one of the drivers I was standing near the sound system when the show winners were announced, I did not in every case learn who won what. My hearing does not appreciate the average loudspeaker; the sound is often nothing much more than an unpleasant screech to me.

But there was no misunderstanding which car won Best Paint Job or Best in Show. Best Paint Job went to the car whose driver had already bailed out because of the rain. Pretty good, really, calling it quits and still winning. But the car (or the pickup truck, depending on which side of the El Camino coin you’re viewing) deserved it, and who could forget the license plate?

LIPSTIK, a Chevy El Camino SS owned by Larry Renfield of Deer Lodge, won the Best Paint Job trophy.

The judges were walking by, checking out the cars, just as I was lifting the hood on the Impala. They had a question: “Is this a restoration?”

Had I simply answered yes, perhaps the car could have competed (ineffectively at best) for Best Restored…but that was not an option. Honesty required me to answer, “No. I doubt there’s very much original on it. About the only thing that would count as restoration is the steering wheel.” All true. Craig Daley, an ace mechanic and self avowed Chevy fanatic at Mike Brown’s incredibly awesome Old Stage Auto repair shop, did some work on the Impala for me this past month. He discovered, among other things, that the car originally came with bucket seats. Thankfully, some previous owner found a bench seat and installed it. The rear seat is recovered in fabric that is far superior to the original factory vinyl. It’s got an Edelbrock four barrel carburetor and heads that certainly did not come from Detroit. It’s more of a sleeper street rod than a restoration; get it up into the power band, say around 50 mph, and floor it to 80 mph…yeah, you can hear it roar and watch the fuel gauge drop.

This Dodge from Lake County won Best Restored.

Winner of the Best Restored award.

A bit more about the rain. They say pictures are worth more than words, so check these out.

Rain drips from the rear bumper of a 1968 Pontiac Firebird.

It was so rainy that an hour after we’d lined our cars up, at least one driver had called it a day (note gap) and most of the crowd had already gone home as well.

Thirty minutes later, the big 1937 Kenworth touring bus had pulled out as well. With a gap in the line of this size, it was time to think about wrapping things up for this year.

And now: Time for Best of Show–and three other trophies–awarded to the red 1958 Chevy Bel Air, owned by Toby Kline. Lots of photos here because Toby’s car deserves them. This car’s wins included Best of Show, Best Engine Bay, Best Hot Rod pre 1960, and Best Interior. Clean sweep.

The 1958 Chevy Bel Air that won four trophies, including Best of Show–which I knew it would do the moment I saw it. Awesome machine.

Toby Kline (right) with his winning Chevy and trophies on top.

The engine bay.

Through the many raindrops on the side window, a view of the crisp, clean interior–complete with super friendly little dog in warm sweater and pants, tail a-wagging. Who could resist that?

Last but not least, a word about the 1937 Kenworth touring bus. As a former truck driver, I have a high degree of respect for the Kenworth company but had no idea they were making tour buses in 1937. For that matter, I didn’t even know tour buses existed in 1937. The Great Depression was still in force that year; who had money to go on bus tours? Can you imagine being a farmer in the Dust Bowl, just lost your land to the bank due to the drought, no idea where or how you’re going to live tomorrow, and here comes a tour bus full of tourists gawking at the rubes, the dust clouds, the general hard times, and going, “Ooh, look at the peasants, Ralph!” Talk about a gulf between rich and poor.

Yet the Kenworth is a thing of rugged beauty. For that matter, we’re pretty rugged here in Montana, too. We might have abbreviated the annual Rod and Run Show and Shine this year, but we did hold the event, rain or no rain. We were all promised better weather for next year–the odds are pretty good, this having been an unusual spring–and I’m looking forward to it. It’s bound to be awesome, and I’ll no longer be a rookie in the rain. Y’all come!

Bob and Joyce Welch of Troy, Montana, with their 1947 Ford pickup truck and the trophy for Best Truck.

Even though as one of the drivers I was standing near the sound system when the show winners were announced, I did not in every case learn who won what. My hearing does not appreciate the average loudspeaker; the sound is often nothing much more than an unpleasant screech to me.

But there was no misunderstanding which car won Best Paint Job or Best in Show. Best Paint Job went to the car whose driver had already bailed out because of the rain. Pretty good, really, calling it quits and still winning. But the car (or the pickup truck, depending on which side of the El Camino coin you’re viewing) deserved it, and who could forget the license plate?