By Sue Moore
For 36 years, Skip and Carol Knowles have headed up the Vicksburg Old Car Festival. Both profess to have a love of cars and their community. The festival addresses both.
Skip conceived the idea when he was a new insurance salesman on Main Street. He pitched it to the newly formed Vicksburg Community Association, which gave him the green light to try something new.
In picking a date, Knowles was aware that aficionados of antique cars would not drive them anyplace in the rain or even what threatened to be rain. He consulted Kalamazoo’s master weatherman, Ray Hackman, to determine one weekend in the year when it was least likely to rain. That, Hackman predicted, would be the second Saturday in June.
Yet on Saturday, June 14, 1980, it rained. Fortunately, it didn’t rain again until 2015, when a downpour dampened the muscle cars that came into the village for Friday’s Cruise Night. But it didn’t rain on Saturday; Hackman’s prediction is pretty close to being accurate.
The Old Car Festival has evolved from that wet beginning in part because Skip is acquainted with almost everyone in this area with a penchant for restoring old cars and showcasing them around the state. The Gilmore Car Museum has been helpful through the years, Knowles acknowledged.
Over the first 35 years, the number of cars on display has grown from the 100-plus in the rain to nearly 1,000, thus attracting almost 10,000 visitors to Vicksburg. Besides the cars, Carol felt the spouses wanted to shop too. She organized a craft show in Clark Park that has become popular with the ladies in particular.
They also added favorite bands, especially the high school jazz band led by Ben Rosier. Back this year are members of a band from Indiana that has been popular with the crowd since first appearing two years ago: Dr Jones and The Remedy from Indiana, playing classic rock from 60s to early 80s. Two of the members are from the King Pins who performed at the festival in 2014.
Since the event’s birth, the Knowles family has been all in with sons Ryan and Chad helping since day one. Some volunteers have come a distance to help out. Bill and Marg Gray returned each year from Florida, where he held a banking job after leaving the Vicksburg branch of what is now PNC. Now, the couple drive in from south of Vicksburg where they have a retirement home. Mike and Kay Wunderlin have participated every year and included their two daughters, Betsy Breitenbach and Kate Wunderlin, in counting ballots, running errands and doing mailings.
Add to this array of people, it takes a small army of volunteers to set up barricades and guide the incoming cars to the right slot in the downtown for their vintage vehicles very early on Saturday morning. Sometimes Skip and his sons have to wait until the Hide-A-Way closes just to get the streets cleared and ready for the incoming cars by 7 a.m.
By 4 p.m. on Festival Saturday, the people and cars are gone. Main Street suddenly resembles a ghost town when shortly before it was a lively mix of music, people, cars, food vendors and lots of pets.