Revved and ready
Walking through the shaded canopy of Frontier Park on Saturday morning with his granddaughter, Hays native Don Younger pointed to the Chevelle SS that caught his eye among the many vintage vehicles at the fourth-annual Thunder on the Plains car show.
“I had one of those,” Younger said. “Us boys, we used to race our cars on the Catherine blacktop.”
The red Chevelle wasn’t the only vehicle bringing back memories.
Mike Hertel, Hays, flipped the red bubble siren on his black and white police cruiser, making it whine.
A 1962 Ford Galaxie, it’s one of the same models that appeared in the 1960’s comedy TV series “The Andy Griffith Show.” Hertel has the squad car outfitted bumper to bumper just like Barney Fife’s, including the Sheriff - Mayberry police markings.
“It gets a lot of lookers,” said Hertel, noting the car has won many car show awards, “more than anything I own.”
Outfitted with a Barney Fife mannequin, Hertel indicates no detail is too small, like the empty bullet casings as valve stem covers.
“And if it gets scratched,” he said of the finish, “I just add another bullet hole.”
Hertel’s wasn’t the only law enforcement vehicle on display.
Chris Noe, Frontenac, brought his restored 1992 Ford Mustang LX two-door sedan, one of seven such vehicles the Kansas Highway Patrol put into service in 1992, one each in every KHP Troop in Kansas.
Purchased off of Craig’s List, Noe verified the VIN number and confirmed it was assigned to Troop A, serving the Kansas City metro area. As fate would have it, it was driven by KHP Trooper Al Ackerman, now retired and living in Hays.
“When the Kansas Highway Patrol sold them, they painted the grey all blue and took all the equipment off,” Noe explained. “This one became a county sheriff’s car in Coffey County.”
Overcoming his wife’s skepticism, Noe bought the car, and with the help of the KHP researched its history and restored it back to original, including its metro style vector light bar across the top and KHP decals on the doors.
The KHP Mustangs were a special breed, he explained.
“They call these SSP, for Special Service Package,” Noe said. “They have blue silicon hoses, a bigger alternator, transmission coolers and a solid double-layer steel floor,” as well as Mustang’s signature Fox-body.
Ackerman and the KHP have been helpful to Noe, with Ackerman donating his plate with his badge number, and some of the gear, such as bags and gas mask, that was standard when he drove it.
“He’s been very generous,” Noe said.
The Mustangs were a usual service vehicle, providing a quicker end to a car chase than their other options at the time, the Chevy Caprice and Ford Crown Victorias, Noe said. There are three of the KHP Mustangs still around.
“This is the only one left in Kansas; you’ll probably never see one again,” Noe said. “I can drive it on the road as long as I don’t turn the lights on.”
Michael Meredith and his son, Bradyn, both from Hays, stood out from the overwhelmingly shiny-finish crowd with their rusty Rat Rod, looking like it came out of Fury Road.
“It took us eight months to build,” said Michael.
They started with a 1933 Terraplane body, a car brand by Detroit’s Hudson Motor Car Co., they found abandoned in Salina wedged between two parked RVs. That’s attached to a 1936 Chevy frame from Guthrie, Okla.
To it they added a 350 motor, a T56 six-speed transmission and a Chevy Vega roof rack.
“But most of it was made,” said Bradyn, noting the radiator shroud, the visor, the grills, the bumper and the race car seats. Oh, and the seat pads, made from Stafford County’s Hudson Cream Flour bags, and door panels with Hudson Cream Flour insignia.
“This is my first car I’ve ever built,” said Michael, noting the father-son project has led to another project. Bradyn is now working on a 1929 Ford pick up.
With cars arriving all morning, it was looking like the down-sized car show because of the virus wasn’t suffering.
Organizers were hoping for more than 100 cars, said Harold Bettis, of Hays, one of the hosts with Thunder on the Plains, speaking over The Doors “Light My Fire” blasted from the Auto World-sponsored DJ trailer.
“It’s looking great. Fantastic,” Bettis said. “We’ve got over 80 cars so far and it’s not even 10 o’clock.”
Cars were coming from as far away as Colorado Springs, all over Kansas, and many entries from Hays, as well.
This year there was no registration fee, and there will be no awards, but the nonprofit still hopes to raise some money for its annual community assistance.
A free-will donation, a poker run later Saturday, a 50/50 pot raffle ticket, as well as some cash from sponsors may allow the nonprofit to distribute some funds, Bettis said.
“We’re very happy with how it’s going right now,” Bettis said.