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For the 30th year, the Historic Bellefonte Cruise celebrates a tradition that was ‘a sight to see’

by on May 31, 2018 1:46 PM

You can hear them coming from miles around. The engines roar as a parade of cars makes its way down to the old Victorian town for the Historic Bellefonte Cruise motorcycle and car show.

On the Friday evening of Father’s Day weekend for the past 29 years, people have lined up in the streets to see the cars roll in. Muscle cars, including Ford Mustangs and Chevy Corvettes, antiques from the 1920s and '30s, and motorcycles and the souped-up rides of today are all part of the fun for gearheads and families alike. Streets are open to cruising, kind of like how it used to be. 

“It really was a sight to see. Bellefonte was the place to go. In the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, Friday and Saturday nights, the cars would be lined up and cruising around the block,” Tom Davidson says. “Guys were out looking for girls and the girls were out looking for guys, and Bellefonte was the place to be in Centre County.”

Davidson has heard the stories from his parents.

“Man, the stories they would tell us. For young people, cruising was the thing to do, and Bellefonte was the place to do it. It was like Grease or American Graffiti. Drivers would stop in the middle of the street on both sides and hang out the car and have a conversation with people in the car going the other way. In the middle of street like that, blocking traffic,” says Davidson. His mom, Dorothy, was smiling and thinking back as her son relayed the story that she had told him so many times before.

“Kids from all the surrounding towns, Philipsburg, Penns Valley, Bald Eagle, they would all come to Bellefonte and cruise around and meet people,” Dorothy Davidson says. “You wanted to show off your car that you were proud of. It was just good, clean fun, but eventually they had to put a stop to it. But Cruise weekend really takes you back to it.”

Cruising eventually became illegal in Bellefonte, but there was still a group of people who wanted the tradition to continue, and the Bellefonte Cruise was born in 1988.

“They asked if we could have one weekend where we could still cruise around like we used to,” Dorothy says.

What started off as a small car show that took place in the field by the Bellefonte Area Middle School has grown into one of the premier car shows in the state and one of the bigger events in Centre County. Having moved downtown, the setting for the car show is second to none.

“You really can’t get a better atmosphere. You have all the classic cars parked in this beautiful, historic town. It just goes so well together and it makes the Cruise really stand out,” says Cruise director Pat McCool.

The party starts off with an open cruise Friday night, where anyone and everyone can line up and cruise the block. After the Friday night sock hop on the diamond in the center of town, the streets are closed off early Saturday morning, the cars park, and the judging begins.

There are 30 different vehicle categories, with prizes given in each class. And a 31st class is open again this year, reserved for children's vehicles. Entering the kids' contest is free and award winners get nice prizes. Basically, anything with wheels can be entered, McCool says with a laugh.

“This is a family event and we want to include the kids and community as much as possible,” he says. “The food concessions, the vendors, the sock hop. There is something to do for the whole family at the Bellefonte Cruise, even for those who aren’t so much into the cars.”

Along with the concessions from vendors, local businesses are encouraged to set up stands outside their storefronts. 

The sock hop on Friday night will take attendees back, David Provan says. A former teacher, Provan has been in charge of setting up the stage for the event for years, and seeing families and friends dancing to the oldies makes him smile every year.

“Some years they have these dance contests. They do The Twist, they do all those old-time dances. Sometimes they even polka. People just love it,” Provan says. “Little kids are out there dancing, like a wedding. People of all ages just having fun.”

It is no coincidence that the event takes place on Father’s Day weekend. 

“There is something special about fathers sharing the love of cars with their sons, and more and more their daughters, too, and it is great,” Provan says. “My son brings his son, my grandson, and it is cool to share it with him. To think we are passing this down, this love of cars, is pretty great.”

People tend to love the cars from their childhoods, so there are always new cars and new people coming to the Cruise, McCool says. 

Dorothy Davidson felt it was important to encourage kids to keep learning about cars, and the Cruise now provides scholarships for kids to further their educations as part of its fundraising efforts. Leaders try to get the money to students who are in vocational-technical and shop classes so they can work toward building the cars of the future, she says. 

“I would rather these kids learn about cars, work on cars, instead of getting in trouble using drugs or whatever,” she adds.

“We try to give back to the community as much as possible,” McCool says. Through the years, the Cruise has given back to numerous community groups that work to keep Bellefonte growing.

Tom and Sandy Confer have been showing their cars at the Cruise for about 12 years, ever since Tom bought Sandy a 1971 Chevy Chevelle as a birthday present. Since then, their car collection has grown to include a 1967 Camaro, a 1967 Ford Mustang (currently without an engine), a 1971 Volkswagen Beatle, and a 1967 Mercury Cougar. 

Tom Confer is glad that his wife enjoys cars as much as he does.

“It is something that we can share,” he says. “Our cars aren’t in perfect condition – you know we drive them around – but I just love it. I always did. When I jump in that car it is like I am 18 years old again. I turn the music up loud, and I am just like a kid.”

Confer says his best days are spent in his shop working on the cars.

“It is a stress-free time. I might spend four hours in my shop working on the car, and I enjoy it the whole time,” he says. “But if it was my job, I would probably hate it.”

Confer says the Bellefonte Cruise is special for all the same reasons, and being set in a historic town instead of a field is a big part of it. But, mostly, he loves the people he gets to catch up with.

“I have always loved cars, since I was a little kid. I love the Cruise because it combines that with all these people who are into the same thing. I am always glad to see them every year,” he says.

John Johnsonbough has been collecting the official shirts from the Cruise since the beginning. From the first Cruise to this year’s 30th, he hasn’t missed one yet. A Bellefonte native, he loves the town and the atmosphere of the Cruise.

“Classic cars, classic Bellefonte. I just love it all. I just started collecting the shirts, and it became kind of a thing,” Johnsonbough says.

“It is one of my favorite times of the year in Bellefonte. I just like to sit around by the cars and check out everything that is going on and talk to people. Maybe someone will come up and check out a car you are looking at and you’ll just start talking about it. It’s fun.
"You never know who you might run into. Some friends I see every year at the Cruise. It is always a good time.”

After the winners are announced on Saturday afternoon, the top cars take one last ride around the streets of the historic Victorian town, and people can get one last glimpse of what it was like when Bellefonte was the place to be for cruising.

On Father’s Day weekend, at least, it still is.

 

The 30th annual Historic Bellefonte Cruise takes place June 15-16, with soap box races on the 17th. Visit bellefontecruise.org for more information.

Vincent Corso is a staff writer for Town&Gown and The Centre County Gazette.

 



Vincent Corso is a freelance writer from State College.
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