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From the Publisher's Desk – Many reflections in shine of show (June 10, 2015 issue)

Erwin came through shining once again Saturday as the 55th annual Southeastern Autorama rolled back into town. Even though the event is as old as I am, I can’t say that I’ve been to everyone. However, I can say this was one of the most impressive I have seen in a long time.
With 121 entries, the Unicoi County High School track was full around the outer ring and many along the inner field. I stopped by the check in booth and looked through the entry forms. There was one from Florida, several from Virginia, Sevierville, all over North Carolina, Erwin and many from the areas surrounding Erwin.
Various clubs participated, with members bringing several automobiles. There were cars, trucks, motorcycles, firetrucks, a hearse and other rare classics. Add to that a continuous live music stage and several food vendors, and you have the makings a legendary event billed as Tennessee’s longest running car show.
The Autorama changed this year from two days to one, at the request of many entry participants. They also did a survey this year where they gained some other great ideas they can implement in the future. Obviously, the show just keeps getting better.
I remember Conrad Beam and Jim Hobbs who started the event back in 1960. It truly is a tribute to their memory by keeping the show strong over the years and carrying on their vision. On thing that has changed is the date it’s held. It was originally later in the year. There was always a little hidden saying among locals that “it was sure to rain because the Autorama was coming to town.” Luckily this year’s weather was perfect. The warm sunshine helped show off the pristine paint and chrome appearances.
I did notice that the event holds a charm for all ages and visitors. For some it is the nostalgia of reflecting back on cars of their times or a model they may have owned as well. For some it is the rare chance to view part of history. For those like me, it is a chance to admire the beauty and art of the automobile.
Whether it is an older home or an older car, I appreciate seeing things restored back to their grandeur. I look at these cars and think of the many, many hours that have been put into finding authentic parts, re-chroming bumpers, repainting. rebuilding engines and restoring bodies. At one time those cars rolled off the lot as new and beautiful to proud owners. They carried someone to work day after day, carried a sweetheart on a date, went on family vacations, hauled the groceries home from the store, visited family and went to church on Sundays. It is only fitting that they are once more the pride of their owners.
One of my fondest Autorama visits was several years ago when I went with an uncle, the late Lawrence Whitson. He was a loyal Ford man and seemed to trade for a new one every few years, sometimes every year. Those who knew him knew his care for cars. He never closed a door with force. He usually “clicked” it shut. He washed his cars every week, regardless of whether they were dirty or not. They were always pristine and seemed in better shape when he traded them than when he bought them. People would make requests for his vehicles before he was ready to trade, knowing that he would soon and that the used car would be in “like new” condition.
He was one of those who knew many people but regardless, waved at everyone he passed. His hand was continually going up as we drove down the road. I would sometimes ask “Who was that?”. Often he didn’t know or couldn’t think of their name, but knew them by their automobile.
I must also say that the year I went to the Autorama with him was probably one of the longest times spent going around that UCHS track. He had stories to tell me about each car entered. Whether it was the mechanics of it, who he knew that owned one, a story of fast driving, dating, wrecking or just admiring, he was a book of knowledge. Add to that trait the acquaintances with most of Unicoi County, and you can understand why we were there for hours.
Every time I attend the event now, I think of him. I just stroll around and admire on a different level. I wonder about the stories he might have told me and I miss seeing the enthusiasm in his face and hearing the excitement in his voice for each one I come to.
For many, the Autorama brings a good chance to reflect, dream, admire and wish. At the end of the event, trophies were given out but it was obvious the owners were driving home in the greatest rewards of them all.