A Wauseon summer tradition spanning 26 years is still going full throttle, although it’s evolving with a more modern touch.
At Cruise Night each Tuesday the Model Ts and ’60s muscle cars continue lining Fulton Street, but over the past few years they have shared space with sleek models currently rolling off the assembly line. What began as a showcase for golden oldies has morphed into a venue where interesting autos, old and new, have the spotlight.
“It’s the evolution of cars and vehicles as the features change and the new technology (grows). It keeps it interesting,” said Angel Matthews, Cruise Night committee member.
The transition is being aided by Terry Henricks Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram in Archbold and McNeill Chevrolet Buick in Swanton. Matthews said both dealerships bring their latest models that include the latest in features and gadgets “people may not know about.”
The introduction of newer car models comes as the availability of the classics has begun to wane. Matthews said as time progresses some participating owners of antique cars have passed away, leaving their vehicles to younger family members who don’t share their passion for the tradition. The cars are often sold.
The decline can also be attributed to the fact that the some classic cars from over the past century are no longer around, she said. It becomes harder to find parts to maintain them.
“I think a lot of the classic cars are dying out. We hear that a lot of people who used to (display them) every week don’t have them anymore,” Matthews said.
But enough remain to keep Cruise Night in business. Owners have regularly shared restored models from as far back as the 1910s, all with unique features from the specific eras in which they were produced. All types have been showcased, from the earliest models that used wicks to illuminate headlights to sporty, souped-up ’70s versions.
Over its more than two-decade run, Cruise Night has also displayed the smaller Crosley models and an assortment of antique motorcycles. On a given Cruise Night from June to August, visitors can, depending on weather conditions, view up to 75 automobiles from owners across Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana.
“We get random cars every week,” Matthews said. “It’s been well-known, mostly word of mouth. It brings people downtown, gives them something to do during the summer. It also gives local businesses a chance to come out and mingle.”
This year’s seasonal vendor is the Delta 109 Tavern and Eatery. And during Super Cruise Night events, held the third Tuesday of each month, several food vendors hawk their wares, some local restaurants offer specials, there is live music, and up to 500 vehicles are on display. The June 20 event will feature the Sweet Time Band.
Super Cruise Night has been popular enough that Matthews recalls a couple from Pennsylvania who attended about three years ago while driving to Chicago. They scheduled their trip around the event.
Begun in 1991, Cruise Night originally featured classic autos from the the 1920s to 1960s. “Now, if you’re proud of it, bring it up,” Matthews said.
The event’s committee relies entirely upon donations from about 100 area sponsors to keep it running. Attendance has decreased slightly, but Matthews attributes the loss to busier lifestyles. She said Cruise Night still has a loyal following.
“With everything else, styles change, people change. You just have to keep up,” she said. “It’s our history, our legacy, and we want to keep them. We have no plans of letting Cruise Night go any time soon.”
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.
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