The Yellowstone Rod Run, which takes place in West Yellowstone, Montana, has been going on for 40 years. Now, 40 years is a long time for any show, let alone one that is as remotely located as this one. But without fail, year after year since 1970, folks have been making the pilgrimage to this little town located at the west gate of America’s oldest National Park.
I personally love Yellowstone and have been there at least ten times which is pretty good for a boy from the Midwest. So when this show finally lined up with an opening in my production schedule, I pounced on it!
We flew into Bozeman, MT which is a beautiful and surprisingly trendy town that’s also home to Montana State University, and then drove the 90 miles south to West Yellowstone paralleling the Gallatin River which must be loaded with trout because it was certainly loaded with fly fisherman (and women).
The car show was on a Saturday, but we came in early enough to take part in some of the pre-show festivities which included a cruise into the park to Old Faithful Lodge on Friday morning and run up to 320 Guest Ranch for a cookout that evening. The sight of over 100 rods, customs, and classics rollin’ thru the West Gate of Yellowstone National Park was something I think I’ll always remember.
The weather on Thursday had been rainy, but Friday and Saturday were picture perfect. Saturday’s show was held in West Yellowstone’s City Park and somehow they managed to shoehorn in over 500 cars and a few thousand people.
I can rarely point to a favorite car at a show, but this time was an exception. That car was a yellow ’64 Buick Wildcat with white interior and a black vinyl top. This car was showroom perfect and drop-dead gorgeous. It also had the dual-quad Super Wildcat 465 engine. Typical of Buick at that time, that number referred to the amount of torque that engine could develop (i.e. 465 ft-lbs) rather than the cubic displacement, which actually was “only” 425 cui.
Sure, it was a beautiful car, but it had special significance to me. Growing up on a small family farm in Illinois, we didn’t take many family vacations. But somehow in 1965 my dad had managed to talk a local car dealer into letting him test drive a brand new Wildcat, and we test drove it to Yellowstone and back!?! I was 12, and I remember sitting in the back seat with my younger sister and brother and looking over my dad’s shoulder to see the speedometer hit 120 mph as we rocketed down a ridiculously long, straight stretch of road somewhere in Nebraska. That was also the first time I saw Yellowstone and Rocky Mountain National Parks, and they made a lasting impression on me.
Other cars that stood out to me at the show included an interesting ’36 Ford 3-window coupe that had a satin black body but bright gloss red fenders. It was formerly owned by a VP at Hot Wheels. Its polished flat head and radiant red interior really made it pop.
An extremely built ‘69 Chevelle in Lamborghini Orange which was in about its fourth incarnation over its 30+ year association with its owner.
A really cool ’40 Ford convertible whose two-tone purple exterior was achieved by simply adding different amounts of pearl to the same purple paint. Wood grain dash and pumpkin leather interior gave it a really elegant look.
And lastly, a C5 Vette that had an unbelievable carbon fiber ‘61 body mod. Unlike the ’53 kits and the “’57-’58-’59 in one” kits (which are a little weird), I had never seen one of these. From a styling standpoint, the ’61 Vette was half C1 and half C2, but when executed on a C5 platform, it all added up to “C This!”.
Of course, I never pass up the opportunity to do some hiking or backpacking when I’m out in this neck of the woods. On Monday the producer, Ben, and I did a day hike up to Beehive Basin in the Lee Metcalf Wilderness near Big Sky. It was another beautiful day and much of the trail wound thru alpine meadows in full bloom.
Unfortunately tho for Ben, either a breakfast that didn’t agree with him, or a touch of altitude sickness at 9,000 feet, or a combination of both led to some, shall we say, lower GI distress.
We made it the five miles up to the lake at the lower basin, but Ben chose to hang out there and attempt to regroup a bit while I went on to the upper basin.
By the time I got back down, Ben had rallied to a degree and we strode the five miles out with intent.
We still had another day to kill before flying home, and I spent it motoring around that area where Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho all come together including the place where the massive 1959 earthquake which caused 28 fatalities and significantly rearranged the geography. Ben spent the day convalescing at the hotel, but was OK to fly the following day.
Many thanks to the West Yellowstone Chamber of Commerce as well as to the show organizers, twin brothers Terry and Jerry Oksa for all their support and help; and for an absolutely killer event. Also to Dick Thompson who was instrumental in getting us to this show and who conned me into doing more while I was there than I typically do at five shows!
Next we head to Canada for Auto Expo 2010 in Hawkesbury, Ontario. It’s right on the Ontario/Quebec border and more French is spoken there than English which could make it a bit challenging. I’m up for it tho. So until then, au revoir.