by Vincent Matthew Franco
photography by Jashelle Ranson
They come painted in all different colors of the rainbow and even add some new ones that sound like flavors straight out of a skittles bag. These Chevys, Fords, Model A’s and T’s do not beg for your attention, but claim it, with their candy apple, cherry red, royal purple, bright yellows and greens. Some even go beyond solid colors by adding custom tiger paint, intricate pin stripes and flames.
You rarely see these thoroughbred, last of the breed type cars driving on the street. If you do, you’ll remember them and point them out to everyone in your car. Like a flock of brightly colored parrots, they gather twice a year in La Verne for the semi-annual car shows.
On any other day, the cross sections of Third and D street are full of pedestrians and University of La Verne students rushing to get to class. But from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Nov.19, this intersection was the location of the 28th annual Cruisin’ La Verne Holiday Car show.
As an acclaim to vintage cars and the culture that surrounds it in Southern California, the adjacent streets were decked out with chrome plated, candy painted prime ranflas parked so low, it is hard to imagine how they would make it over any La Verne bump in the road.
This is a car rally, so there are extras. The smell of kettle corn and exhaust mixes and bombards the nostrils, while the essential sounds of oldies and classic rock and roll tunes make their way into the ears of the hundreds of guests. And then there are the unmistakable sounds of muscle cars revving up, turning heads with sound wave vibrations raging through people’s chests. Folks walk around, enjoying the sight, smells and sounds of these sentimental vehicles amidst the slightly tamed Santa Ana winds. “It’s really a family fellowship type thing,” event organizer Craig L. Hoelzel says. “I mean, the cars bring us all together, but it’s the people, you know, they love it. They come from all walks of life, all economic angles, and so it’s just kind of a fun event to get people out and enjoy a day in the sun.”
Inland Valley Car Culture
The Inland Empire is a hotbed for car culture, and the huge family party vibe that comes along with it. The La Verne Cruise is the same, but its ambiance is a bit more calm as compared to other car shows. Police officers made rounds while Mr. and Mrs. Claus sat up front to take pictures with children as a California Highway Patrol toy drive took place right behind them.
Keen observers could spot some folks sneakingly pouring beers into coffee cups; other car owners, meanwhile, seemingly dozed off on their lawn chairs next to their cars or carried on with gusto animated conversations with old friends who met up one more time. In the crowd were families with young children, with mothers telling their children, “Your grandmother drove this car,” to an elderly man unapologetically and proudly displaying his swastika tattoo. There was a vendor dedicated to selling Donald Trump merchandise, vendors selling classic CDs, and the NHRA Museum selling racing memorabilia. In combination, the sense of the whole event was nothing but good vibes, allowing for the city to celebrate its sense of being a tight knit community.
Why do they come, and what is important? “Well, ‘what’ isn’t important; you know, there’s some nostalgia to it, and I think what it is, is most of these people—they have their car because there’s a history,” Hesperia manufacturing plant owner and car show participant James Nelson says. Planted in his fold out chair next to his 1929 Chevrolet, Nelson excitedly talks about all the fun times he’s had in it after owning it for more than 60 years. Both he, his relatives and all his friends have all had the pleasure of riding this car to and from their weddings, giving a prime example of all the possible memories that these cars possess as practical members of their families.
Many of the participants found here are retired and are having no problem enjoying the fruits of their labor—those fruits being the extra time to work on their cars that maybe only feel actual asphalt once or twice a month.
John Robert Young, a retired salesman and owner of a light blue 1967 Corvette, first laid eyes on his car as a young 24 year old, fresh out of the military. He first spotted it as two people failed to steal it from a grocery store parking lot. It was not until a couple years later that he saw that exact car in a used car lot and bought it. Forty plus years later, it is still looking as original as ever. His company always supplied another car for him to drive on the job, so through the years he was able to keep the mileage low. “It keeps the history alive,” Young says. “I mean, these kids now, they don’t care about cars, because they’re all the same, you know?”
As 4 p.m. crept up, and the sun slowly began to set into the Puddingstone hills, Hoelzel announced it was time for the awards ceremony. Contestants and attendees gathered around a banner and showgirl with whom winners would take their photos while proudly holding their plaques. The awards given out were 35 best of show awards, a mayor’s choice award and a downtown owners group award.
The winner of the Downtown Owners Group was Bill Holden and his 1968 Pontiac Firebird. And for the Mayor’s Award, a more peculiar vehicle was chosen instead of one of the classic cars. City of La Verne Mayor Tim Hepburn selected a green 2018 Jeep Rubicon that had a trailer with camping equipment attached to it.
With the award ceremony marking the end of the car show, attendees packed up their ice chests and folding chairs. They loudly revved their cars engines in salute to an era gone by and cruised their way into the night.
The Inman Conety International
When attending a car show, folks can always expect to see some old Chevrolet Chevelles, Impalas, Corvettes and Cadillacs. But making this show a little bit different, and that much more special to the city of La Verne was the 1938 International D-35 truck on display as a part of the La Verne Historical Society booth.
Sherry Best, La Verne Historical Society President and long-time La Verne resident, was in that booth providing information on just how significant this huge faded green packing truck is to the city. She told booth visitors how it was once owned by Wesley Inman Conety, former president of the La Verne Historical Society, who, after buying the truck in 1938, drove it straight down to La Verne from Pennsylvania with his newly wedded wife. Conety drove more than 900,000 miles for the Swift Chemical Company delivering fertilizer before retiring. His next move was opening La Verne’s very first recycling center, using some of the profits made to fund activities for the La Verne Historical Society.
The amount of time, effort and money invested into bringing back this colossal vehicle is worth every penny according to Best, who laughs loudly as she talks about all the checks she has been signing off on for needed parts. “This truck, we think, is like the beating heart of the symbol of what the city was about,” Best says. “It’s orange grove heritage.”
When the truck is not in parades on a flatbed tow truck or on display, it can be found in the Bonita High School car garage where Automotive Teacher Rob Zamboni and his advanced automotive students are working tirelessly to fix it up. “It’s definitely unique on a lot of levels, considering how old it is, and its ties to the community,” Zamobi says. “Somebody actually used it as his work truck for decades, and now we get to bring it back to life and reshare it with the community.” Bonita High School Sophomore Joshua Morales is one of the students in his class and claims that it has been a struggle working on such a vehicle. He has it to thank for teaching him something new after every class—like heating up stuck and rusted-on bolts, until they are cherry red and can be knocked right off.
Due to only having two classes a semester to work on it, Zamboni expects this car to be up and running safely with its original rusted green look in a couple years. Then the city will be able to lay its eyes on this full functioning beauty at car shows or driving on its own accord along a parade route.