The American Dream
We hit the road on Americruise East
From the February, 2009 issue of Rod & Custom
By Dan Kahn
Photography by Dan Kahn, Josh Dunlap, Nick Licata
Every time we turn on the TV these days, there seems to be some kind of new crisis. Wars overseas, soaring gas prices, political turmoil, and more can often make it seem like the world is in chaos, which is why it felt so darn good to pound a little pavement on the '03 Americruise East. There's nothing quite like having the wind in your hair, the sun at your back, and the sight of a few dozen gleaming rods and customs snaking around the bend to remind you how great this country truly is. After touring through six states in five days on some of prettiest backroads and turnpikes this land has to offer, we can safely say that the inaugural Eastern tour was a success.
Since 2003 marked the 10th Anniversary of Americruise, which historically has ended up in a central location like Lincoln, Nebraska, the powers that be here at R&C headquarters decided to double everyone's fun and create a second tour, which would kick off in the Lone Star State in San Antonio and head east, through the Deep South, and end up in beautiful Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania. Jack Chisenhall and Rick Love of Vintage Air agreed to lead the tour (two out of four R&C editors are directionally challenged), and more than 50 cars were originally signed up for the two-lane chingo. It seems word caught on a little faster than anticipated, however, as a flood of people showed up at the Vintage Air kickoff party on Saturday, August 9th, hoping to sign on at the last minute. Our publisher extraordinaire De Ette Crow (who helped start this crazy event in the first place) got things handled, and by the end of the evening everyone was enjoying the great tunes and cool rods that permeated the party.
The next morning things kicked off early with a pre-trip drivers' meeting, where our faithful leader Rick Love explained the route ahead before hopping in his flamed blue Ford and hitting the highway. If you somehow got the idea that this is some kind of leisurely stroll through the countryside, think again. Speeds averaged over 70 mph, with a few of the participants upping the stakes quite a bit higher. In fact, that first day on our way to the lunch stop at So-Cal Speed Shop Texas, just outside Houston, a certain blown Willys and his orange highboy driving buddy were snagged by the smokies traveling well into the triple digits.
After scoping out some super-sano rods at the newest So-Cal Speed Shop, the group continued east to Lake Charles, Louisiana, where we spent the night at the Isle of Capri hotel, situated next to a giant riverboat loaded with slot machines and gaming tables. Apparently, in Louisiana gambling is only legal on riverboats, which made for an entertaining evening. It should be noted here that yours truly was driving the recently completed Real Hot Rod, which had approximately 20 miles on it before leaving for the tour. Things went smoothly that first day, until we pulled into the hotel parking lot where the shifter came off in my hand. After half an hour of thrashing in the Louisiana heat, things were buttoned back up with the help of Jim Rizzo and famed rod builder Roy Brizio, and your now-humble tech editor learned a valuable lesson about using Loctite on everything.
We awoke on a steaming Monday morning and headed off toward our lunch stop in Baton Rouge, hitting a few serious storm cells along the way. This was the first heavy rain of the trip, but certainly not the last. At one point the route took us over an elevated highway that spanned over 50 miles of bayou marshland, and it was without question a gorgeous and eerie sight. After arriving in Baton Rouge, the entire group took a tour of the USS Kidd, a retired Fletcher class destroyer moored on the Mississippi, that is available for tours. After inspecting the small, dank quarters where many men had to spend their nights during the heat of war, all agreed that the upholstery-lined cockpit of a street rod looks downright luxurious. After scoping out the Kidd and munching down piles of gourmet Southern cookin', the group continued east on its trek toward the night stop in Meridian, Mississippi. Along the way we lost a few participants who had to get back to the realities of work and school but picked up quite a few more at each fuel and food stop. We also noticed dozens of bystanders waiting at freeway overpasses and turnouts to get a glimpse of what has become an incredibly rare sight: a mile-long snake of brightly colored hot rods screaming down the highway in a search for fun and freedom.
The next morning after the drivers' meeting, the majority of the Americruisers headed off toward Chattanooga, Tennessee, where the folks at Coker Tire were waiting with a full tour of their amazing facilities, box lunches for all, and a quick glimpse at Corky Coker's astounding collection of old iron. The "roadster gang," consisting of Jim Rizzo in the So-Cal Speed Shop roadster, Roy Brizio in the R&C 50th Anniversary Deuce, and Ray Lark in his gorgeous orange '33 roadster agreed to stay behind when the new-car gremlins cropped up once again in the form of a sticky kingpin on this author's '28 Lakes Modified. A quick trip to Wal-Mart for a grease gun and a sweaty 90 minutes later and we were on the road chasing the group and having a great time doing it. Day Three of the tour ended with a party at Lokar in Knoxville, Tennessee, where company owners Skip and Debbie Walls, along with VP Rick Craze, were gracious enough to not only put on a full spread for the Americruisers but open up their shop for quick maintenance and repairs as well.
The following day was one of the shortest driving days of the trip, with the route taking us north as well as east. After leaving Knoxville, the group headed into Virginia, where we were treated to the sight of gorgeous rolling green hills and clear skies, as well as slightly more tolerable weather for the open-air gang. That afternoon the citizens of Harrisonburg, Virginia, welcomed the group into town with a car show at the local mall, hosted by the local car club Valley Cruisers. After a great evening of Southern hospitality and cool cars, everyone hit the sack early in preparation for the final day of driving. Day Five, the home stretch, was also one of the most interesting. A quick jaunt north landed the tour in Hummelstown, Pennsylvania, where Ken "Posies" Fenical opened up the doors to his laboratory and let everyone take a gander at the latest doings in his style-conscious rod shop. Many of Posies' wild rides were on display, and after a lengthy tour the group headed over to a '50s-themed diner, called The Soda Jerk, for lunch. The final stop on the tour was just up the road in Hershey, where the Antique Automobile Club of America recently opened an enormous museum dedicated to the preservation of the rolling art form we all know and love. A few participants (myself included) also elected to head across the street to the Hershey Chocolate complex, which houses not only the factory but a complete facilities tour and chocolate-themed amusement park as well. Finally, a scenic two-hour drive north landed us in Danville, which played host to the Americruise participants while the show kicked off up the road in Bloomsburg.
The actual Americruise East show that took place in historic Bloomsburg was a load of fun for all involved, and while the focus of this event was the drive, kicking back at the lush fairgrounds was a great way to unwind after five solid days of hard driving. The people of Bloomsburg welcomed Americruisers into town as if we were celebrities, even coming out for a parade prior to the opening of the show.
All in all, the inaugural Americruise East was considered a fantastic success. Killer cars, wonderful people, and some of the most breathtaking scenery in the country helped make memories and form friendships that will last for years. If any of this sounds good to you, follow our lead and go for a road trip. Enjoy your rod or custom by wringing it out on the blacktop. Better yet, look for upcoming details on 2004's events and join us!
Things kicked off on Americruise...
Things kicked off on Americruise East 2003 with a party at Vintage Air's new digs in San Antonio, TX.
R&C Publisher and original...
R&C Publisher and original Americruiser De Ette Crow handled the logistics of getting dozens of participants signed up and prepped for the road. Goodie bags were handed out that included gifts like The Absorber, The Glosser (a really trick package of throw-away wipes that can clean an entire car in one shot), and Johnny Lightning cars.
Vintage Air founder Jack Chisenhall...
Vintage Air founder Jack Chisenhall created an award for the event, called the Bill Adams Helping Hand Award, after a Young Guns column in this magazine inspired him. The award is named after a childhood neighbor of Jack's who owned a Deuce roadster and helped him get involved with hot rods. Here you can see, from left to right, Chisenhall, Bill Adams, the author (who presented the award), and recipient Ryan Jackson, whose amazing apple green Chevy coupe is featured on this month's cover.
So-Cal Speed Shop Texas welcomed...
So-Cal Speed Shop Texas welcomed the Americruisers into town with style, putting out a full spread at their incredible Spring, TX, facility. A replica '50s gas station stands out front, and several dozen period-perfect hot rods are housed in back.
One such car is this Lakes...
One such car is this Lakes Modified, which features a full bellypan and flattie loaded with speed parts.
Coker Tire and Honest Charley...
Coker Tire and Honest Charley Speed Shop opened their doors and put out a great spread for participants. The tour included a look through their historic antebellum-era offices and a gander at the largest inventory of classic tires in the world.
The folks at Lokar Performance...
The folks at Lokar Performance Products in Knoxville, TN, really went the extra mile for Americruise participants. Not only did they host a great little car show complete with an Italian dinner, they also opened up the shop and had their employees work the kinks out of a few different injured rods. Now that's what this hobby is all about.
Mike and Jim Barillaro, who...
Mike and Jim Barillaro, who are responsible for several of the amazing cars in the Lokar stable, volunteered their time to help keep several Americruisers on the road, including yours truly.
The Valley Cruisers of Harrisonburg,...
The Valley Cruisers of Harrisonburg, VA, welcomed Americruise participants to town with a car show at the local mall. Quite a few great local cars came out for the event, along with hundreds of spectators.
Unfortunately, this was not...
Unfortunately, this was not an uncommon sight the first few days of the tour. Since the R&C Lakes Modified project car had about 20 miles on the odometer when it left for the trip, a few details had to be worked out on the road. Here a blown collector gasket gets changed somewhere in Virginia. Luckily, by Day Three the gremlins were gone and the car ran like a top.
Ken "Posies" Fenical let the...
Ken "Posies" Fenical let the entire Americruise group into his shop to take a sneak peek at the next cutting-edge ride to come from one of the country's wildest builders. Want the details on the mystery ride? Keep your eyes peeled in an upcoming issue... until then it's top secret!
The lush green fairgrounds...
The lush green fairgrounds in Bloomsburg, PA, was the site of the Americruise East show, which showcased the long-haul gang with a special section.
Jan Girton of Mifflinville,...
Jan Girton of Mifflinville, PA, not only owns this amazing '49 Merc sled, he's also the president of a bank. Imagine showing up at the local lender and seeing this bad boy in the employee parking area.
R&C Editor Jim Rizzo and his...
R&C Editor Jim Rizzo and his nephew Josh Dunlap boogied across six states in Pete Chapouris' So-Cal Speed Shop roadster, which Riz described as one of the nicest driving hot rods he's ever had the pleasure of sitting in.
Roy Brizio has always claimed...
Roy Brizio has always claimed that his hot rods are drivers, and at events like Americruise and Power Tour he proves it. The R&C 50th Anniversary Roadster never even so much as hiccupped the entire trip, and it rode like a Caddy to boot!
This Shoebox joined up at...
This Shoebox joined up at a gas stop on Day Three, and it just screamed Two Lane Blacktop. A more perfect cross-country shredder we have never seen.
The Real Hot Rods '28 Lakes...
The Real Hot Rods '28 Lakes Modified project car was finished literally a few hours before it had to leave for Americruise East, and after a few minor squeaks were ironed out, it ran like an unbridled thoroughbred. Breaking a car in on the road might not be the easiest way to dial things in, but it certainly was fun!