Antique ah-oo-gah horns sounded through the pouring rain, and antique engines chattered Sunday as members of the Meadowlark Model A Club took passengers on rides over the streets of Fort Omaha.
The free rides were part of the Vintage Wheels at the Fort event for autos 50 years and older. The event was a partnership between the car club and the Douglas County Historical Society, which offered free tours of the General Crook House Museum, including a World War I exhibit. Fort Omaha is in north Omaha at 30th Street and Hartman Avenue.
Unfortunately, the rain that began to fall about 10:45 a.m. canceled planned outdoor performances by the Craoi Na Tire Studio of Irish Dance, Ed Raven’s Orchestra, the First Nebraska Volunteer Brass Band and singer Kim Eames. Many people, especially those with umbrellas, still strolled the grounds inspecting the cars.
“There’s no better place than this historic fort to show off historic cars,” said Kathy Aultz of the Historical Society. “This year, we are wrapping our exhibition on the fort during World War I around the vintage cars.”
Brandon and Larissa Rolfs of the Elkhorn area brought their four children to the event. They took maximum advantage of the free rides by splitting up their group.
“We came just to see the cars,” Brandon Rolf said. “We got about halfway down here, and it started raining, but we were not going back. These rides have been great.”
David Miller, 57, of Omaha wasn’t giving rides in his 1914 Model T Touring Car, but the vehicle still had plenty of admirers. The classic 20-horsepower car has been in his wife’s family since 1964.
Miller drives the “Tin Lizzie” a few times a year, including to Sunday’s event. He is sometimes asked to drive newlyweds from the church to their reception, something he will do for his daughter later this year.
“People will ask me, ‘How the heck do you drive it?’ ” Miller said. “There are three foot pedals, but the gas is on steering wheel. When I drive a regular car, my feet don’t know where to go.”
Fuel for the Model T was easy to find, Miller said, because the cars “ran on just about anything they could find.” Now it gets by on regular unleaded, but Miller has to lift the front seat to add gas.
“I tell people that I’m sitting right on the powder keg,” he said with a laugh. “In the old days, they even used white gas (for fuel).”
Among those enjoying Model A rides were Shannon Pokorski of unincorporated Nashville, Nebraska, and her young daughter. They toured the campus in a 1931 Model A Victoria that was driven by Doug Deden, 48, of Omaha.
Deden’s car is owned by his parents, Patty and Bernie Deden of Omaha. It was purchased already restored and painted in a soft teal green with yellow trim that was not available in 1931.
“We were in a parade one day, and this little old lady was sitting on the curb, and she jumped up when she saw our car,” Patty Deden said. “She started shouting, ‘That color is illegal!’ It was really funny.”
The vintage car show is a must for Kevin and Nancy Smith of Omaha, who own a 1965 Chevrolet Corvair that stayed at home. It was their sixth or seventh visit to the show, she said.
“We like talking to the owners and hearing how they acquired their car because every car has its personal story,” she said. “It’s great to see the owners so happy and the pride they have. This a great historical location to see them.”
History buffs may also want to take in an exhibit at the Durham Museum that examines Nebraska’s contributions to World War I. “Fighting for the Good Life: Nebraskan Memories of World War I” runs through Jan. 27.
That exhibit explores stories of people like Central High School graduate and YMCA volunteer Marion Crandell, who was the first American woman killed in action, and aviator Jarvis Offutt, the namesake of Offutt Air Force Base.