Cruisin’ to the Woods
35th annual event boasts a recreation from Lampoon movie
The yellow tag in the window of the 1989 Ford LTD station wagon parked in the corner of the lot at the Crossroads Mall Sunday afternoon identified the car’s owner as Clark Griswold.
Mr. Griswold, on vacation with his family, decided that parking it there would be an excellent way to attend the 35th annual Webster City Cruiser’s Cruise to the Woods.
The station wagon, built to resemble the Wagon Queen Family Truckster from the film “National Lampoon’s Vacation,” is the work of Eric Wildman, of Des Moines, and his friends John Larson and Jon Benz.
So the show card might be wrong; the owner’s name might not be Clark Griswold.
“I wish it was,” Wildman said.
The car build was inspired by his love of the film and the urging of his co-builders.
“They said we should build that.” Wildman said. “I said, ‘Why not.'”
Once they located the correct station wagon, it took off from there.
“It took us two years working on the weekends,” he said.
The dog collar and leash are where they infamously would be in the film — behind the car.
“I just put it out when the car is stopped.” he said.
The rest of the distinctive features are permanent.
“I leave the luggage on and Aunt Edna on,” he said.
While there is no actual Aunt Edna in the Aunt Edna display, the luggage is authentic.
“It’s actual Samsonite,” he said. “I found it on eBay and Craig’s List. It’s exactly like the movie.”
Wildman said he frequently has motorists flag him down. He pulls over and lets them look at the car and take pictures, but other drivers and passengers, who shouldn’t do so, often take pictures while they’re driving along besides him.
He’s not sure if that’s ever resulted in anyone crashing the gate of closed amusement parks.
“I have no clue,” he said.
Tom Jackson, of Boone, drove his 1948 Chrysler Windsor to the cruise. It’s in the category of what car enthusiasts call a rat rod.
That means that the mechanics on the car are safe and up to par. The finish however, is left in the state the car was in when it was taken out of the barn.
“You put the car together with whatever you have,” he said. “It’s got a Chevy motor since I just happened to have a Chevy 350 and a transmission.”
It started out as a restoration project.
“I was going to make it shiny like the rest of them,” he said.
That means there’s big splotches of missing paint, cracked windows and a serious collection of horse damage to the trunk and one door.
Yes. Horse damage.
“I found it in a barn lot,” he said. “The horse didn’t like it and he would kick it. The back door was open too and he would lean on it.”
Yes. The dents in the back are a good fit for a horseshoe and the sprung door, easily done by a large animal that for some reason, didn’t take a liking to the Chrysler.
Some essential systems still work on the car. Sunday’s weather included some rain, and the wipers do indeed work.
“They’re still on the old vacuum system,” he said. “The windshield does leak. I don’t plan on fixing it though.”
Jackson even carries a special bottle of Rat Rod Car Wash to keep the finish looking, well, ratty.
Most of the cars that make the cruise are hot rods or restorations of vintage vehicles.
Some, like Kirk Garbett’s 1962 Cadillac are a mix of both.
It sports a beautiful coat of green paint over original mechanics.
“The motor and interior are original,” he said. “It’s got 61,000 miles on it and all the options still work.”
Garbett was busy drying off the car. He said he prefers not to drive it in the rain, but not because of the car itself.
“It’s these gosh-darned whitewalls,” he said. “They just pick up everything.”
Bob and Donna Shirbroun, of Sheldon, drove a 1973 Camaro to the show. They brought along their dog, Pita, who enjoyed a few fries as they toured the show.
The rain was no big deal, even though the car actually doesn’t have working wipers.
“The arms aren’t even on that,” he said.
How did they see?
“We have a chemical repellent on the window,” he said.
The cruise part of the show starts in Stratford, and participants often take a route to Fort Dodge that takes them through Dolliver Memorial State Park.
For Keith Fehr, of Algona, parking along the road in the park and watching the cars come through made for an enjoyable morning.
“It’s been great,” he said. “We like to look at the off-the-wall ones. The crazy ones.”
He might very well have enjoyed the Family Trunxster and if they had been so inclined, would have welcomed the Griswold family to stay for lunch.
“We cooked some ribs up this morning,” he said.