Kool April Nites. Once a year, the air in this city is permeated with the smell of exhaust. The sounds of varied engines combine to produce a unique concert, including the purr of the vintage Cadillac and the throaty roar of the Mopars. On Friday night, Hilltop Drive becomes a kaleidoscope of colors as these beautiful vehicles make their way around the “cruise.” Eager spectators, having staked out a desirable spot along the route, cheer for their favorites. The older enthusiasts are transported back to their younger days when these cars were new. Remarks such as “I had one just like that!” are heard. The younger fans are awed by cars that came off the assembly line before most of them were born. The comraderie of car lovers is evident and there is no hesitation to show off their “babies.” The pride that comes with ownership is well earned.
As for myself, Kool April Nites took on a different spin about 6 years ago. My husband, Steve, and I have entered his 1970 Plymouth ‘Cuda in the show for many years. We would go on the cruise, enter some of the show and shines, and of course be in the car show on Saturday. In 2004, there was a slight change in plans …
Shortly before Kool April Nites in 2004, my husband came in our front door and told me that our indoor cat had escaped. I panicked because we live on a very busy street (plus, I tend to panic easily). As I went charging out the door and around the corner of the garage, I was confronted by the most beautiful sight in the world. Sitting in my driveway was a 1966 Chevelle SS396. Dark green. White interior. Sanderson headers. Crager mags. License plate that read 66 4DALE. And, most specially, a license plate frame that said “In memory of Dale Christopher Pehrson 6/13/45 – 11/30/67.” I sat down in the middle of my driveway and cried. It was a replica of my brother’s car.
My brother Dale graduated from Shasta High School in 1963. In late 1965, he and his best friend bought a brand new 1966 silver Chevelle SS396 and immediately had it painted green. He loved that car! In 1966, Dale enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. He couldn’t afford the payments on the car, and neither could our family, so it had to be sold. My mom was upset, but he wrote and told her not to worry, that he would get another one when he got out. In August of 1967 he shipped out to Vietnam. On November 30, 1967, Dale was killed in action near the province of Quang Tri. He was 22 years old.
I had mentioned to my husband how much Dale’s car had meant to him. Without my knowledge, Steve did some investigating and found that the original car had been totalled in a head-on collision with a big rig shortly after it had been sold. Not to be deterred, he found a Chevelle and began to turn it into a clone. He contacted Dale’s best friend and got information on color, interior, engine specifics, etc., etc., etc. … He wanted it to be as close as possible to the actual car. (Now, to be honest, Dale’s car did not have Crager mags, but Steve just knew that he would have wanted them if he could afford it, so they were a long overdue gift for him!)
So, now, thanks to my thoughtful husband, we had his-and-her cars to enter in Kool April Nites. Don’t get me wrong, I think that my car is beautiful, but the idea was not to try to win prizes. This was a tribute to Dale, a wonderful young man with a charming personality and a slightly crooked smile – a young man who gave his life in service to his country. I wrote the story of how the car came about and encased it in a frame with pictures of Dale and the original car, as well as other mementos of his life. I hung his Shasta High School tassel from the rearview mirror and we drape his letterman’s sweater over the bucket seat.
As the years have gone by, this car has become a tribute to all men and women who have given their all or are currently serving in the military. I have had many people stop and relate wartime stories of friends and family. I have had the honor of getting a single wordless nod or warm grasp of hand from Vietnam veterans, at times with tears in their eyes. At one show, a man looked at the car, read the story and turned away with a stony expression. I thought perhaps we had offended him in some way. Minutes later, he returned. He took my hand and pressed something into my palm and simply said “I want you to have this.” He walked away without another word. I looked down and saw a pin that was a replica of the bronze statue of three soldiers that stands in Washington, D.C. near the Vietnam Memorial Wall. I couldn’t seem to talk because of the huge lump in my throat.
I take the car to the Memorial Day services each year, and when the traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall came to Redding, we were there every day. It is so very important to never forget … So, if you happen to come to Kool April Nites, look us up. Stop and talk for awhile. Read the story or tell me one of your own. Let the memories flow. Oh, and don’t be surprised if you feel the presence of a young Marine with a slightly crooked smile, just taking it all in. After all, it’s his car.
Bobbi Berg was raised in Redding. She has worked as a Property/Evidence Technician with the Redding Police Department for more than 16 years. She is married, has three children and two granddaughters. She designs and makes jewelry with her best friend and is a member of Country Gold Dancers, a line dance team.