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In with the old

A big man, swarthy and muscled -- a hard-working farmer, maybe, or a big-rig mechanic -- walked out of the 28th annual Prime Steel Car Show at the Alerus Center on Saturday. His eyes shone like polished chrome.

042010.N.GFH.Prime Steel Car Show
Terry Estad of Grafton, Minn., peers through the window of a 1951 Mercury Meteor on Saturday morning at the Prime Steel Car Show at the Alerus Center. Herald photo by Sarah Kolberg.

A big man, swarthy and muscled -- a hard-working farmer, maybe, or a big-rig mechanic -- walked out of the 28th annual Prime Steel Car Show at the Alerus Center on Saturday. His eyes shone like polished chrome.

"You're leaving?" another man asked.

"Yep," the big man said. "I'm all out of drool."

If you grew up dreaming about classic cars, drooling over them, working two or three jobs to make payments on one and keep it in gas, oil and tires ... well, there's nothing like a classic car show to bring it all back.

Booths ringed the arena, hawkers offering custom decals, sunglasses, toy cars, paintings of cars. A bulletin board listed classic cars for sale (and for slightly less money, Shih Tzu puppies).

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The Hatton (N.D.) Men's Club sold chances on a 2010 Harley Davidson 1200 custom Sportster, and down the line, Mike Boelter and other promoters of Tabor (Minn.) Czech Days (June 19-20) sold tickets on a four-wheeler -- the seventh four-wheeler they've raffled over the years to build a pavilion.

"We just keep building as we get the money," Boelter said. "We've got it shelled in, and we put the Sheetrock and insulation and furnace in."

It may take two more years, two more four-wheelers, to finish the building, he said, but some things won't wait.

"We've got three weddings coming up."

Revving for Christ

The car show continues from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. today, but don't fret about missing church because Skip Arnold, chaplain at Interstate Raceways in Sabin, Minn., is on duty.

He's a regional leader of Racers for Christ.

"It was started by one man in Southern California in 1978," Arnold said. "Racing events always fell on a Sunday. He'd prefer to be in church on a Sunday, but he didn't want to miss the racing. So, he brought church to the track."

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Does the chaplain practice where he preaches?

"Won the track championship with this car in 1966," he said, beaming and pointing to a photo of a 1970 Chevelle drag car.

"And in 2008," said a young fellow sitting at the Racers for Christ booth.

"That's right," Chaplain Arnold said. "My grandson here won in 2008, in the same car."

A modern classic

Kenny and the Classics were on stage, a Grand Forks bunch singing spot-on versions of "Blueberry Hill" and "Runaround Sue" and "Do You Wanna Dance." You look around for Fats or Dion or the Beach Boys as you stroll down the lines of parked chrome and steel and gawk in homage to the 1970 Pontiac GTO, the '66 Plymouth Barracuda, the '67 Mustang ... the 1932 Ford Roadster, the 1914 Ford Model T town car ... the 1954 Chevrolet Bel-Air, the '51 Mercury Meteor and oh, my, the '57 Ford Thunderbird.

"I bought this car 10 years ago at an auction," said Gary Garske of Devils Lake, who stood admiring it with a friend, Arlynn Hefta.

"Guess who the auctioneer was," Hefta said.

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"I don't remember," Garske said.

"I was," Hefta said.

Garske paid $22,000 for the

T-Bird "and all the appropriate taxes," he said, stealing a glance at his friend. He let it sit for a few years, then spent a good deal more on a "semi-custom job" to make it the pretty thing it was, sitting there on a corner and drawing many admirers, some of whom drooled, but not on the car.

"What color is it?" someone asked. "Wild cherry?" No, Garske said, but he said he forgot the color named on the paint can.

"It's the same as your shirt," Hefta said, reaching around and tugging at the tag in back, thinking the tag might say, but it didn't.

"It's this color, with Clear-Coat," he offered, still examining his friend's shirt.

Another T-Bird

Garske said he didn't go for a total restoration, instead putting a modern engine, steering, suspension and other parts into his car.

"I wanted a car that drives like a modern car," he said. "But the '57 Thunderbird was the car I dreamt about when I was young and never thought I'd ever own one."

His eyes twinkled.

"There's another one over there," he said, pointing and then leading the way down a row of classic cars and trucks, past the bulletin board -- chrome yellow '62 Chevrolet two-door hardtop for sale, $25,000; wanted: '68-'72 Olds Cutlass for parts -- to where David Stadstad from Montgomery, Minn., stood, bragging on his '57 Ford Thunderbird, F-model, super-charged.

"For 30 years, I knew the owner of this car," Stadstad said. "Five years ago, I met the owner at a car show in Omaha. He didn't have it with him, but he remembered me and asked, 'You still want that old car?' "

He did. He took it home and "did a total, frame-off restoration," he said. "Everything."

The T-Bird came off the line in 1957 at $3,800, Stadstad said. He didn't mention how much he paid or how much he put into the restoration, but he said he wouldn't let it go now for less than $250,000, and probably not for that.

"It was judged high on authenticity at a car show in Tulsa, Okla.," he said. "I'm taking it to nationals this year in Dayton, Ohio.

"There were 211 of these built. Probably no more than 100 still exist, and this is one of the most authentic there is."

He wasn't drooling. He probably ran out of drool long ago.

Reach Haga at (701) 780-1102; (800) 477-6572, ext. 102; or send e-mail to chaga@gfherald.com .

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