Mendon Dust Off Draws Car Fans

Sturgis residents Robert Dutka and Fay Hart check out a 1966 Mustang during the May 3 Mendon Dust Off old car show. Generally regarded as the first car show of the season, the Mendon event will be followed by the Vicksburg’s in June.

By Jef Rietsma

Mendon’s 51st Dust Off recently drew more than 500 owners of classic, vintage and muscle cars, kicking off what is considered the official start of car-show season.

As always, participants seemed to get as much pleasure out of seeing the old cars as much as they do their long-time friends.

Colon resident Billy Schemmel said he sees the Dust-Off as the end of a hibernation.

“Just like bears coming out of their den from a long winter,” he said. “The Dust-Off is always an exciting time and cars are like people; no two are alike … and some give you more trouble than others.”

Schemmel said his anticipation of Dust-Off was fueled when he fired up his 1988 Chevy S10 that he compares to Frankenstein, since it was reworked to feature a transplanted V-8 engine, a 9-inch Ford rear end and a modified chassis.

“I lit the fuse, it started and nothing fell out of the bottom,” he said. “From that moment on, I’ve been ready for the Dust-Off.”

Mendon resident Brian Koetje brought his 1987 Ford Thunderbird Turbo Coupe, a vehicle that he said has provided some joyful rides through the years.

“I’ve owned it since it was new and it only has 46,000 miles on it,” he said. “It runs like a scalded dog. That turbo charger really makes her sing.”

Koetje said he attends the Mendon Dust-Off annually because it draws so many cars and owners. There is no charge for car owners to participate – a rarity in the world of car shows, he said, and there is no pressure to compete or vie for prizes.

The only problem he has with the Dust-Off and other car shows is people leaving early. Early departures aren’t fair to spectators who can’t make it in the first two or three hours of the show, he said.

“I got here at 6 this morning to get the spot where I like to be, but also to watch all the cars coming in,” Koetje said. “If you’re a spectator and you decide to come early afternoon, you’ve already missed maybe 20 percent of the participants because they’ve left already to go take a drive.”

Sturgis resident Ed McNew and his son, Brad, brought their 1980 and 1984 Chevy El Caminos to the Dust-Off. Brad said he purchased his from a man in White Pigeon who sold it at a price too good to pass up.

Ed, who attends three to four car shows a year, enjoys not only the cars but also checking out how owners have personalized their vehicles with accessories and engine add-ons.

His favorite car show is the Dust-Off, but he also looks forward to the Coldwater gathering, which always takes place Mother’s Day weekend.

Jim Weiderman of Sturgis was a popular figure at the show. Not only did he have an authentic 1970s Volkswagen van, but he brought along a battery-powered VW van replica, towing an even smaller VW remote-controlled van, all matching in color and design.

He said at least half the people who talk to him ask if there’s an even smaller van – in a manner similar to Russian nesting dolls –inside the remote-controlled piece.

“It’s a great conversation-starter,” he said. “We’ve been in quite a few parades through the years, in Sturgis and White Pigeon, but we take the van camping with the grandkids and it’s always a fun time.”

The four children profiled on the side of the battery-powered van he was driving are his grandkids, he said.

Weiderman attends car shows every weekend from May through August and never gets tired of the hobby.

“You realize how much you enjoy coming out to the shows especially after such a hard winter,” he said. “It’s pretty cool and quite windy right now, but it’s not snowing and the sun is out, so better days for lovers of car shows are ahead.”

Vicksburg’s Old Car Show is coming up in June and the Schoolcraft gathering, as always, is on the Fourth of July.

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