34 years ago, Skip Knowles decided it was high time to drive some attention to his adopted home of Vicksburg. And I do mean "drive."
"I've always had old cars and attended shows, and you know Vicksburg's kind of a unique little town that's not on the way to anywhere," says Knowles. "I decided we needed something to bring people to town to see what we had down there. So I thought, ’Well we’ll do a car show.’"
The first show had less than 80 antique and vintage cars lined up on Main Street and took place on a rainy Saturday in June. But now, The Vicksburg Old Car Festival has become a pretty big deal. Last year the event had over 1,000 vehicles on display, and over 10,000 attendees.
"I get up on a scaffolding about Noon or 1:00 that day on Saturday, and I look up and down the street and we
have are cars on both sides, and you can't roll a ball down the street - that's how many people are walking down the middle of the street - looking at the cars, having conversations, and going to and from," says Knowles of the crowds.
Knowles has expanded the festival's focus into having a day of good old fashioned fun: In addition to cars and an auto part swap meet, guests can get a hearty start at the South County Fire Station's pancake breakfast, browse the arts and crafts show in Clark Park, and grab some pie and ice cream at the Vicksburg Methodist Church social. You could even get your license renewed at the mobile Secretary of State's office that will be set up.
Visitors can vote on their favorite vehicle, and prizes in categories like best two-seater and best street machine are handed out at the end of the day. Car restorers and aficionados have come from as far as New York to show off their wheels, with some models dating back to the nineteen-teens.
"I always enjoy hearing someone sit there and say 'I never knew cards had gas lights, not electricity, but it was before there were electric lights on cars. Those brass era cars didn't have electric starters on them - you had to crank 'em," he says.
Among the Mustangs, the GTO's and the Corvettes will be a display of vintage motor homes from a group called the Tin Can Tourists. Coordinator Forest Bone will be traveling down from Gregory, MI in his 1948 Spartan Manor.
He says he enjoys the opportunity to educate visitors about the resilience of the older vehicles:
"The interiors of the older trailers - so many of them are birchwood interior and it really gives you a camp kind of feel for them. And I think that there's some of the nostalgia - some fond memories and people cherish them and enjoyed the time that they had with either their parents or their grandparents while on vacation."
No matter how many cars - or traveling trainers show up, Knowles is looking forward to a day of fun and fellowship - with the weather on his side.
"That was the last day it rained was the first year. We kind of checked with the Weather Service years ago and found out that the driest Saturday in June was always the second Saturday in June, but I’m getting a little nervous. After 33 years the odds are not in my favor," he says with a laugh.