About a month ago, I started to notice them on the street. Muscle cars, Model Ts, a ’55 Chevy, a ’65 Mustang (it couldn’t have been a ’64, could it?), some sort of custom hotrod, even a Hudson. Yep, I thought, the car show is getting close.
Wait no more, car fanatics. Kool April Nites week – an event so big that it lasts for nine days – is officially here. You’ll find “show and shine” gatherings all around town this week leading up to the parade on Friday evening, the gigantic and music-filled show at the Redding Convention Center on Saturday, and the pancake breakfast and awards ceremony Sunday morning at the convention center.
If 2,000 cars and what can seem like 100,000 people is a little much for you, I strongly recommend stopping by one of the show and shine events. No, you won’t see nearly as many fancy vehicles, but the show and shines are free, not so crowded and provide a great opportunity to talk with car owners. The annual downtown Park-N-Shine from about 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday at the Market Street Promenade is one of my favorites.
Of course, Friday evening’s closed-course cruise on Hilltop, Dana, Churn Creek and East Cypress is one gigantic party, especially if the weather is nice. It’s not uncommon for people to stake out the best viewing positions hours before cars start rolling at 6:30 p.m.
I couldn’t wait for things to get started, so I stopped by Saturday’s Kool April Nites gathering in the parking lot at C.R. Gibbs on Hilltop Drive. I was quickly reminded what Kool April Nites is really about: guys and more than a few gals talking about cars. I saw everything from a ’32 Ford pickup to custom rods to a fantastic Impala to a vintage Pinto (a vintage Pinto?!).
Howard House’s ’57 Studebaker really caught my eye. A Redding native, House rebuilt the car from the frame up. He still has some touching up to do, but the shiny black car with sparkly highlights is a beaut. It will be the fourth year at Kool April Nites for House’s Studebaker.
“I drive it all the time, as much as possible,” House said when I inquired.
I got the same response from Al Worley, who brought his ’54 Chevy down from the Vancouver, Washington area for Kool April Nites and the April 24 Hot-O-Rama at the Shasta District Fairgrounds. “I drive it every chance I get,” he said.
It seems like everybody wants a ’55, ’56 or ’57 Chevy. But Worley said the ’54 – with suicide doors – has always been his dream car. He’s had the car for nine years, and, he said with a laugh, “It took about 8 1/2 years to get it done.” He calls the custom color “raspberry frost.”
“Oh, it gets the attention. Women love this color,” he said.
And so it went on Saturday as hundreds of people gathered to trade stories about cars they have now, cars they used to drive, and cars they’d like to work on.
But while Kool April Nites is all about cars and having a good time, this year’s event is a touch somber. That’s because it will be the first Kool April Nites without Duane Tomei, one of the event’s founders and the longtime president. Tomei died last summer after battling cancer.
“It’s a little hard,” said Cook, who stepped in as president prior to the 2009 show. Last year, she could still consult Tomei by telephone, but this year the connection is long distance.
I covered Kool April Nites for the Record Searchlight back in the late 1990s, and having the car show without Tomei is almost unimaginable. He clearly loved the car show, and he seemed to be involved in absolutely every aspect.
“He trained us well,” Cook said. “We will be able to carry this on for him for a long time.”
To honor Tomei, organizers will present the first “Spirit of Kool April Nites Award” to one participant. “That’s what Duane was to us, the spirit of Kool April Nites,” Cook said.
The full event schedule and the answers to many questions are available on the Kool April Nites website: www.koolaprilnites.com.
Paul Shigley is senior editor of California Planning & Development Report, a frequent contributor to Planning magazine and loves classic American iron. He lives in Centerville. Paul Shigley may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.