1997 National Convention, Waukesha, Wisconsin

July 23-27, 1997

Text and photos by Rich Schatz and Mark Sitko

Down in the books she goes! A super, super convention of the International Thunderbird Club! The 4th annual get-together, hosted by our Classic Thunderbird Club of Wisconsin chapter, proved that you can go from start to finish without even one hitch! The affair was under the able and experienced direction of Tom Widule, Jim Morris, and CTCW president Jim Rugg with his able-bodied staff. Florida style humidity didn't dampen the 60 plus ITC club members who descended on the host facility, the Country Inn Hotel near Waukesha, The hotel was pristine, glamorous, fully optioned, and pleasantly rural. The convention was a jam-packed 4 days of nuthin' but fun and nuthin' but T'bird.

We "east Gangers" arrived Waukesha on Wednesday afternoon with our caravan just in time to register, shower, change clothes, help Bob and Roxie Cravets change a tire. Bob and Roxie, with their lovely '59 real red ragtop, had just motored in from Western Ontario, and they were just as hungry as the rest of us!

We started our convention experience with a visit to Jim & Diane Rugg's home, about twenty minutes from the hotel, with a cookout/picnic/eat your brains out. To say that the evening with the Ruggs was great is an understatement. There was more food, more kinds, more people, more nifty garages, and more 'birds than anyone could want! Thanks to all the CTCW-ers who brought scrumtious food along, and thanks to Jim, Diane, and Pam for all the rest, and for their most gracious hospitality.

Museums & The Nifty Fifties
Thursday found everyone rarin' to go toward the fun. After a great breakfast we eased around 'til council meeting time. As usual, the meeting was smoothly operated with general participation from all. Everyone was primed and ready for the day's activities - going to the Hartford Museum and supper afterwards at Kittle's Fifties' Drive-In.

More Wagon Trains?
Our Eastern Gang Caravan had plenty of competition from the "Waukee" (Waukesha) group with caravans! We left the hotel with a 27 Thunderbird train and travelled about an hour to the museum in the small town of Hartford. With CTCW's radio control front 2 middles, and a rear of the train, we rolled smoother than the Rock Island Line and the New Jersey Central put together! Arriving in good time at the museum, we were treated to a most wondrous exhibit. The exhibits ranged from domestic to farm to utility to cars. These items were grouped and cleverly set in a most pleasant rotation to appeal to the customer. There were antique sewing machines, typewriters, kitchen and shop tools, metal signs, tractors, trucks, even a room for the Nash automobile. The curator, Richard Anderson, and I had a very nice talk after the bulk of the tour. A several year constant project, he personally saw to the funding and the procurement of the building, and to the consigned entries within. Richard finally secured donation of the idle building from the original owners where they had done industrial canning for many years. The facility draws thousands to the delightful displays.

Now properly hungry, our entourage departed in stately Thunderbird fashion on down the modest byway to a cross in the road; off to the right a half mile, and... there it is - Kittle's Drive-In, built in the late forties and kept up to spotless standards to the moment! With an already busy complement of cars in the lot, our twenty-seven 'birds caused the operators and workers to know they were busy. With some additional 10 cars from our show which did not go to the museum showing up, the pretty cheerleader-dressed gals did some might fast moving to provide chow for all.

After all the food settled, we then pointed south and headed back to the hotel under a glorious Wisconsin sunset. Tomorrow was another nifty convention day ...

Friday held schedule for the big city tour of "Mawaukee" (Only outlanders say "Milwaukee"), including the famous Milwaukee Botanical Domes, followed by a scientific examination of the Coors Brewery. This was the matinee feature to be followed by the fabulous convention picnic back at the Hotel Gazebo building. The famous Milwaukee Botanical Domes, a super high spot of the city tour, gave perfect reproduction of conditions for plants and animals living in the respective environmental conditions, such as desert and tropical. The evening produced one of the most memorable events of any convention thus far - the picnic buffet-style dinner in the Country Inn Hotel's Gazebo. Hundreds of people were treated to Wisconsin style food, topped off with a DJ for the whole evening who "knew what we liked".

Play It Like It Is, Sam (er, Dennis)
Mr. Dennis Schultz, Dee-Jay extraordinaire, and his wife, gave us a cool Friday evening of 50's and 60's music. I got to speak to him quite a bit through the evening, and we became fast friends. One thing - he knew that "It's My Party", and we all wanted this "Picnic" to be "Moovin' and Groovin'". With the "Rhythm of the Rain" now saying "It's Over", we didn't have to travel "Forty Miles of Bad Road" to be" At the Hop", just "Crazy" enough to "Walk on the Wild Side" "Tonight" at this "Picnic", and catch all the "Moonglow" we could!

Dennis, a musician himself, and obviously an aficionado of same, began collecting records and albums from about his sixteenth birthday. Now possessing over 8,000 song titles, he carries a minimum of 1500 with him to the shows he DJ's! Dennis also has many first labels, and other memorabilia of first run and never published material. Thanks to the Schultzes for putting the gilt on the edges of very high quality evening!

I always thought that the humidity in Northeast Pennsylvania was the pits! I now have a new understanding of same. Whether it was an oddity, or whether it is standard, we experienced so much sticky weather out in "Waukee" that our trousers were two inches longer at night than they were in the day! Having said that, I was glad to see the rain come up just after the Gazebo affair that evening, to allay some of that infernal wet air!

It's That Time . . .
What? - What time? Time to get those cars and owners who are interested, to have the famous and ITC singular Concours or Special Interest Judging. This is followed by the gala Awards' Banquet that same evening.

The day was almost too good - meaning that HOT and HUMID does not cover the description of the weather that day! It is far more desirable than rain and cold, for sure. Wisconsin provided its infamous muggy day (ask the poor judges) for the intensive inspection of the cars registered for judging. While this chore was being exacted, all the attendants were applying their thoughts to the cars which were placed in the Showcase, or Presentation Class. These vehicles were chosen by ballot for possible awards.

With Concours Chairpeople Martin and Carol Brugmans in the Judging Room (and outside, in case of problems or questions), along with Amy and yours truly at the computer consoles, the "games began".

We of the ITC were graced by John Gunnell's response to join us at the Convention. John, my friend, Chief Editor of OLD CARS WEEKLY, and author of the famous and superior book, "T-Bird: 40 Years of Thunder", accepted our offer to become a part of the Convention. He graciously travelled the showgrounds, taking pictures, meeting T-birders, and generally having a good time. There were some 75 registrations and 63 cars on the show field, along with some late arrivals that same day.

All the while the Vendor Room was buzzin', as it had from Thursday on. There were many vendors as well as some private folk selling the odd hobby parts, such as Mark Sitko from Detroit, Ken Gardener from Chicago, Dale Peck from Wisconsin with models, and a fine fellow with gorgeous artwork from Wisconsin. Sir John Draxler of Thunderbird Ranch, Jewell Meetz from Jewell's Body Shop, Pete Zierden of Zierco's Exhaust Systems, and the ITC with all our goodies to name most of them!

The Piece de Resistance
What else? The Awards' Banquet with all its accoutrements, of course! The CTCW was more than prepared for this, to be sure. With multi amounts of gorgeous door prizes from many of our Script vendors and other gratis items from the club members, our scrumptious meal was served. I had the pleasure of one of the finest filet mignons ever crossing my palate; everyone else was gastronomically delighted as well.

After words from several ITC and CTCW representatives, and a surprise birthday call for a "Moose" (Jim O's 40th), introduced by none other than our Script Representative and resident comedian Frank Starkes, our guest speaker took the stand. He announced that there was an ungulate liberated in the urban area (Moose loose in Waukesha)! We all then had a round of Happy Birthday for our Script Photographer and good friend Jim Osowski!

John Gunnell, our guest speaker from OLD CARS WEEKLY very cleverly entertained us with comments related to the show field, cars, club members and attendees. He cited their attributes and foibles, their long and shortcomings, all in good fun and delight to everyone. John then gave us some food for thought on the future of the hobby. We need to do just what the ITC is doing - get and keep the young folks interested in the antique car hobby. There is much constructivity in this focus, and the crux of social latitude. He pointed out that some factions or groups do not urge or stimulate young people sufficiently in this arena, thus giving way for a lackluster attitude and a subsequent unknowledgeable rejection.

This is and has been a goal of the ITC - family orientation of the hobby for the cars and the people, to stimulate an interest in knowledge while focusing on family participation.

This while encouraging the preservation and use of the fine, marvellous -- Thunderbird!

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