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Column: Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines

WORTHINGTON — We were having quite a day at Worthington one week ago. May 24. I was ready to write this column at that time. It was — what? — the second day in a row with a beaming sun, no clouds and no wind. Everyone was finding a reason to be outside.

About 3 p.m. there was a car coming from the west and turning left at the Oxford-Humiston intersection. That car nearly turned directly in the path of a car coming from the east. “Oh, oh!” I thought as I watched this unfold. The car making the turn did a fast, total brake. The front end dipped.

It was then I appreciated the car making the turn was coming from Spomer Classics Show & Shine. I didn’t get a good look; the car appeared to be a 1930s Chevy, something like one of those cars featured on “American Restoration” on the History Channel. It would not have been much of a collision. Neither car was moving fast. I think no one would have been hurt, but there would have been a driver with a sick stomach and a broken heart.

It was only a short while later. The thermometer on Rolling Hills Bank on 10th Street was flashing 83 degrees. Suddenly an automobile dream appeared, a vintage, sky blue convertible that looked like it had just rolled off a production line. I thought, “I’ll bet that guy is proud. And happy.” Then I recognized that guy was a woman, a comely lady with neatly clipped gray hair and a soft smile.

Marv and Jeanine Spomer’s Spomer Classic auto show, plus the open house at the Spomer museum, is a Worthington event. The package of Spomer cars, visiting cars and the museum collection is one of those things we describe as few and far between. The marvelous displays of neon dazzle people. Some think Las Vegas. And the cars — think millions of dollars.

Marv Spomer once had his General Motors dealership and garage in the building that now is the marvelous car museum. Lately I saw a photo of Joe Albachten, the last man who had the GM dealership downtown at the corner of Fourth Avenue and Ninth Street — that was Roy Martin Chevrolet & Buick in the long, long time ago. All this means little, but it serves to recall the excitement for automobiles that has been a part of the Worthington scene for a century. (Henry Ford introduced the world to the Model-T, the Tin Lizzie, in 1908; it’s been 106 years.)

If you have read this far I have a homework assignment for you: find the name of the auto daredevil show and the date that Roy Martin brought that show to Worthington. Was it the Jimmie Lynch show? Summer of ’37? Maybe so. Like the Spomer Classic, the daredevil exhibition on a city street was a few-and-far-between event. I doubt Worthington’s City Council would grant a permit for such a spectacle in this age.

The daredevil drivers revved their engines and warmed their white cars in front of City Hall. Great commotion. Smoke and fumes and noise that overwhelmed every other sound. I believe there was no glass in the daredevils’ cars, but they had no seat belts. No one had thought of those yet.

The cars revved up. Then they let loose ­— down the street maybe 60 mph, maybe 70 by the time they got to the side of the Chevy garage. Up a ramp, a leap toward the sky and a BANG! as the cars came down and continued another block along Ninth Street. There were a couple of intricate routines where the daredevils took turns rolling in front of one another.

Did the event draw a crowd? You betcha. There were people across the courthouse lawn, and there were people three or four deep along the Ninth Street boulevards. It probably was perilous standing at the curbside, but no one seemed uneasy about being there.

Did the event sell Chevrolets? I have no idea.

Car racing had not caught on in most of America. There were no racetracks through the local region. Demolition derbies had not been thought of. But automobile stunt driving — this drew crowds.

Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays.