The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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April 8, 2013

Andra Bryan Stefanoni: Cruise Night brings out the car lover in all of us

PITTSBURG, Kan. — At one point in my childhood, I dreamed of owning a classic car. My top two choices: a Ford Mustang and a Chevy Corvette. (I also was going to race in the Daytona 500, but that obviously didn’t pan out.)

My car enthusiasm was fueled by my uncle, Robert Atterbury, a plumber and machinist who made magic in his basement in Duquesne and his shop on Iowa Street. He turned pieces of metal into some of the coolest cars I’ve ever seen.

One was a dune buggy in which my little brother and I both learned to drive — stick shift on eight rolling Missouri acres with the wind in our hair. Another, a 1929 coupe, my uncle raced but sadly sold before my time.

A third he crafted for race car driver and Springfield, Mo., native Larry Phillips, which wound up being featured in a racing magazine.

So on summer afternoons and winter weekends of my youth, I sat at my uncle’s table and assembled model classic car kits and just kept dreaming. And then I grew up.

In 2004, my uncle died at age 61 of an inoperable brain tumor. During his six-month battle with it, the coupe’s new owner, Terry Hall, showed up to take him — and us — on some rides through the streets of Duquesne.

When the engine roared to life, we all smiled.

At the funeral, Hall parked that coupe near the entrance alongside the dune buggy, and other friends showed up in their sweet rides. It was our own personal Cruise Night.

That’s why the story I wrote for Saturday’s Globe touched a nerve: A group of individuals, members of a classic car club and some Southeast Kansas businesses teamed up to restore cancer patient Bill Smith’s 1968 Camaro — one he’d never gotten around to finishing himself.

The group unveiled the newly finished car Saturday night in Pittsburg at the first Rollin’ Nostalgia Car Club Cruise Night of the season. I wouldn’t have missed seeing it for the world.

Walking among some really neat guys and about 100 really neat cars, I marveled at the craftsmanship, the body styles, the bold paint choices. A few of the guys who helped with Smith’s project proudly shared stories of their own cars.

Jack Simon showed off his red ’55 Chevy 210 two-door post. His wife, Mary Lou, surprised him with it as a Christmas present in their 13th year of marriage. That was 34 years ago, and he still cherishes both it and her.

Ira Reikin showed off his black ’47 Chevy Sedan Delivery, complete with flame kit, fuzzy dice and a surfboard in back. He found it about six years ago in Spring Hill, Kan., but didn’t tell his wife he’d bought it until it was too late. They’re still happily married and will celebrate their 41st anniversary in May.

Brad Hill let us sit in his red ’58 Willys Jeep that we’ve been drooling over for some time — we see it every morning on our way to school and Hill’s way to work. He found it in a field in 2005 when he went looking for a pickup for his wife, Tammy.

And Bill and Roseanne Smith, who after receiving their keys were given Rollin’ Nostalgia Car Club jackets, didn’t quit smiling the entire evening. But then, neither did anybody else.

I probably won’t ever own a classic car, and that’s OK. I’ll just keep driving my Honda Pilot, which is practical for two boys and their friends, a dog, groceries, recycling, fishing poles and camping gear. But when Cruise Night rolls around each month, you can bet I’ll show up. It’s a great place to dream.

FOLLOW ANDRA STEFANONI on Facebook at facebook.com/andrajournalist and on Twitter @AndraStefanoni.

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