Word travels

By on August 20, 2014

‘Coolest’ accolade draws cruisers to Lititz

Photo by Lynn Rebuck

Photo by Lynn Rebuck

Pittsburgh-area car lover Marianne Caruso read about Lititz in a magazine after it was named the Coolest Small Town in America. Intrigued, she and her husband, Ron, decided to pay a visit from western Pennsylvania to the 2014 Lititz Fire and Ice Festival.

“There was a foot of snow or more,” recalled Ron of their arrival to town. “We couldn’t get to the hotel door.”

Nothing worthwhile is easy, right?

The couple enjoyed their stay so much that they vowed to return and bring friends with them, this time for the Lititz Lions Cruise.

On a warm Wednesday night last week, the Carusos came back to Lititz, cruising in their bright blue 1990 Chevy Camaro convertible down East Main Street followed by friends Kathy and Pete Highlands, who drove their lilac-colored 1948 Chevrolet pickup truck into the Lions’ classic car and motorcycle show.

The couples parked in front of Linden Hall, with hopes of visiting Wilbur Chocolate and Sturgis Pretzel. Unfortunately, both businesses were closed by the time they arrived. Kathy had already become a fan of Utz pretzels after attending a car show in York, and she was determined to take some local pretzels home with her.

Like other participants at last week’s event, the Carusos and the Highlands are car show aficionados who attend similar gatherings all over the country, in addition to appearing with their vehicles in local parades. The Highlands are at a show almost every weekend.

“We put about 5,000 miles on the truck this summer,” said Pete. He and his wife had already driven up to the Syracuse Nationals, and north from Florida before pulling into Lititz. But long-distance travel in an antique auto isn’t necessarily all it’s cracked up to be.

“These old pickup trucks have no storage space whatsoever,” said Pete, a teacher at a Vo Tech. In order to accommodate his wife’s shoe collection (she travels with 26 pairs), his fellow teachers and students built a wooden box for the bed of the truck. In addition, he modified the truck to make it easier to drive and more comfortable, adding air conditioning, power steering and power disc brakes.

Marianne Caruso, on the other hand, likes her vehicles all original. In addition to the factory Camaro, they own a rare 1980 Shay Model A, to which she refused to allow her husband to add storage pockets.

But its their third vehicle, and the most recent added to their collection, that has a storied past.

As the couple approached retirement, Marianne sensed something was missing, so she began to track down a car like the one the couple dated in, a 1955 Cheverolet Bel Air convertible, coral with Indian ivory paint. After a diligent online search, she found one.

The couple traveled to Vancouver, British Columbia, and purchased the car. Afterward, they learned it belonged to someone famous &tstr; comedian Cheech Marin.

The car was transported by train to Toronto, where the Carusos picked it up. As they drove up to the border crossing, they realized they had made a serious error; they failed to inspect the trunk.

“The dogs were going around sniffing the car,” said Marianne. A tense few minutes passed before the couple was allowed to cross. They were relieved to discover that the car, which reportedly appeared in the movie “Nice Dreams,” contained no contraband. The couple has been attempting to confirm the provenance of the vehicle, which reportedly was donated by Marin to a hospital in California, sold at charity auction, and eventually made its way to Canada.

It wasn’t until after the previous owner handed her a scrapbook featuring photos of Marin leaning against the car that she learned of its famous former owner.

“The owner already knew I was in love with the ‘55 coral Chevy,” she said.

The Lions’ annual fundraising event featured 240-plus classic cars, trucks and motorcycles that created a colorful streetscape along East Main, from South Broad all the way to Locust Street. More than 3,000 people attended the show, with funds earmarked for the Blind Association and other community groups supported by the Lititz Lions.

Near the end of the event, the Carusos were surprised to learn that they and their Camaro were awarded a glass trophy for having traveled the furthest to the event. They beat out their friends, the Highlands, by just seven miles.

Still, Pete Highland, who DJs car events in his hometown, enjoyed his first trip to Lititz.

“It was excellent,” he said, giving high marks to the food and entertainment, but reserving the highest praise for the Lititz Lion’s Club volunteers.

“The people were great,” he said. “The fact that it was on the street, the fact that it was so organized, that everybody drives in at once, I thought it was great.”

He and his wife so thoroughly enjoyed it that they plan to cruise in Lititz again.

“I can see us returning, he said, and we’ll probably bring some more friends with us.”

Lynn Rebuck is a freelance feature correspondent for the Record Express. You can email her at LynnRebuckRecord@yahoo.com.

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