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Takes a club to put a car show together

Since the days of Henry Ford, automobiles have been manufactured on an assembly line.

With assembly line-like precision, members of the Beldenville Old Car Club make their annual car show happen. The 31st version of the show and swap meet occurs Sunday on the Pierce County Fairgrounds in Ellsworth, rain or shine, with gates opening at 8 a.m.

"We all have the same jobs every year," Gary Gilbertson of the club said Wednesday.

"Then you know how to do 'em," added Gerald Radkey of the club.

Preparations begin shortly after the previous year's event, when new officers are elected, Gilbertson said. This year's slate has Tim Redding as president, Bill Leonard as vice president, Carol Gilbertson as secretary and Lenny McDaniel as treasurer. Board members are: Linda Leonard, Jody Sather, Marlene Parslow and Dick DeCosta.

"We've had 95% participation from our members."

Gary Gilbertson

Old Car Club member

Meetings are held year-round, Gary Gilbertson said, though club activity lessens in the winter. There are opportunities to socialize. In the fall a cruise is held to destinations like New Ulm, Minn., last year and Eau Claire the previous year. According to policy, members are required to attend half of the meetings and work at the show, helping with set-up the day before and working all day Sunday. They must be residents of Pierce County.

Planning meetings start in April. He said promoting the next show is an early job. Advertising is handled by Carol Gilbertson and John Losgaard.

Live music also has to be lined up in advance, a responsibility for Leonard. The group playing at Sunday's show is "Cactus Willie, Boxcar Bob and the Drifter."

"One of them is a nephew of Flatt and Scruggs," Leonard said, referring to well-known bluegrass musicians Earl Flatt and Lester Scruggs.

He said he first saw the Emily, Minn.-based trio at a gathering he attended up north. Then, he went down to Mission, Texas, and ran across the musicians performing there. They play all kinds of music and he was impressed.

The swap meet has become well established, Gilbertson said. Swappers come from as far as New Mexico, many setting up the day prior. Around 100 of them have been present in recent years, paying $10 for a space. Some display parts, accessories, license plates and more on tables, others use the ground. He and Losgaard handle this aspect of the preparations.

Because the show "in the shade of the lovely fairgrounds" is a three-decade-old tradition, many of the participants attend automatically. Yet, handbills, flyers and cards go out with pertinent information. Carol Gilbertson does the mailings, including a monthly newsletter to the 31 current members.

Food is another attraction available to show goers. Breakfast will be prepared by a youth group from Our Savior's Lutheran Church at that church's stand, Gary Gilbertson said. Lunch will be offered by members of the Eau Galle-Rush River Sportsmen's Club at the English Lutheran Church stand. The 4-H dairy stand will also be open.

Show cars and their drivers (admitted free) are directed at the gates to park in areas designated for their classes, he said (area Boy Scouts otherwise staff the parking lot). Many of the owners are from the Twin Cities and Eau Claire-Chippewa Falls, but some come from as far away as Iowa. There are 15 classes based on the ages and kinds of vehicles, with the ranges of years adjusted annually. The public votes for the best, turning in their ballots by 12:30 p.m. on show day in advance of a presentation at 3 p.m. involving 78 trophies. Radkey and local auctioneer Jack Hines have been announcers. The Miss Ellsworth royalty has been trophy presenters.

"We've had 95% participation from our members," Gilbertson said of worker turnout on show day.

Some of the tasks the members perform the previous day are putting up signs, fencing the grounds and distributing trash barrels, he said. Buildings have to be cleaned up, too, such as the site for the tractor show. The club invites anyone in the area to bring their tractor, whether it be an antique or collector, and these will be judged.

A farm toy show is another popular feature.

For classic vehicle owners wishing not to be part of judging, there's a "show and shine" area, he said (also for models newer than 20 years old). A car corral is created for owners wanting to sell their vehicles.

The state dictates a collector vehicle is to be at least 20 years old, can't be driven for work and is never driven in January, Gilbertson said. Collector license plates can be purchased at a higher price than regular plates, but the cost is one-time and the plates are good for life.

Admission to "northwestern Wisconsin's largest one-day show" is reasonable at $5 (ages 12 or younger, free), he said. Over the 30 years, the event has never been rained out and there have only been a couple of brushes with hail, during which additional fairgrounds buildings served as shelter.

For more information about the show, phone 273-5552 or 273-6211, or 1-800-4-Pierce, or visit