On Saturday it was the huge American Flag flying from atop a gigantic crane provided by Hess Services Inc. that caught the eye of brothers John Stegman, Ashland, and Steve Stegman, Hays.
Driving on U.S. Highway 183 Bypass by Frontier Park East they spotted several hundred cars — many of them classic, antique and vintage — at the third annual Thunder on the Plains Car, Truck and Cycle show.
“We saw this and said ‘We gotta stop.’ We’re old car and motorcycle guys,’” said John. “We’re kind of surprised you don’t have to pay to get in. It’s one of the biggest car shows I’ve seen.”
So many cars from their day in one place brought back childhood memories of Hays, including dragging Main Street and circling through the Varsity Bowl Drive In, and encounters with foot patrol officers while loitering at the Hays City Flour Mill.
“They had a loading dock and we’d sit there on our cars drinking beer,” recalled Steve. “Blackie Augustine would come along and tell us to take our beer and get home.”
Darrell and Jacque Staab, Wichita, drove their white and turquoise 1963 Ford Galaxie convertible to the show.
“We drive it wherever we go,” said Darrell, a Hays native whose brother Lambert Staab rebuilt the 260 V8 engine and transmission. “It’ll keep pace with anything out there, or get you a speeding ticket. We just jump in and go.”
The maiden voyage a year ago was 800 miles to Eureka Springs, Ark., the morning after Darrell installed the transmission and the engine.
“It was fingers crossed, because we hadn’t driven it yet,” said Jacque, who says they recently drove it 1,800 miles to Tupelo, Miss.
Tawnya and Jesse Rohr, Hays, brought their 1965 Mercury M-100 Custom Cab pickup. Yes, that’s right, a Mercury pickup.
“It gets a lot of double-takes,” said Jesse. “People think it’s a Ford, and realize it’s not.”
The Mercury pickup was built and sold only in Canada, from 1946 to 1968. Tawnya’s dad bought it in Saskatchewan in 1987 for $450 while custom cutting. The truck sat for years. Then Tawnya and Jesse applied “lots of elbow grease” and restored the original paint — Rangoon red and Wimbledon white — to a good-as-new shine.
With speed on their minds, some entrants in the show had hot rods sporting little tanks of nitrous oxide tucked on the floor boards or elsewhere out of the way.
Mike Wallenberg, Milford, sells miniature die cast cars of the full-size classics at the show. His most expensive one is $160, a 1933 gasser dragster on display at his Treasures & Stuff booth, which he owns with his wife, Karen. The miniature is complete with nitrous bottles.
“If you get three or four shots, you can almost triple your horsepower,” said Wallenberg, explaining the driver pushes a button, sending nitrous directly through lines that run into the motor. “It’ll lay you back in the seat.”
Karen Wallgren, Hays, said she recognized a lot of the cars, which brought back memories. She graduated from Logan High School in 1956 and she and her late husband moved to Denver until they returned in 1995.
“If Bob or I didn’t own it or drive it, we know somebody who did,” she said of the cars she saw Saturday. This was the first car show she’s ever attended, but that wouldn’t surprise Bob, she said.
“I’m sure he’s up there smiling down,” she smiled.
Harold Bettis, a volunteer organizer for the event, said that by noon they had about 189 entry vehicles registered in the show.
On Saturday he was making sure things flowed smoothly, but he did take a minute to confirm that next year, for 2019, the show will again be held in Frontier Park East, with the tall shady trees, and plenty of room to view the entries.
Wes and Jeannette Bencken drove their 1932 five-window Ford coupe 100 miles from their home in Rexford. Despite temperatures in the high ‘80s on Saturday and no air conditioning, Jeannette said the ride was pleasant with the vent windows open. She credits her husband for the coupe’s pristine body and smooth operation.
“It rides real nice,” she said. “He found it in the northwest corner of Kansas. It was just a body — a piece of rust — and he built it all.”