If you visit Downtown Elizabethton on a Saturday evening during the summer, you may think that you have taken a step back in time. As you stroll down the middle of Elk Avenue you will witness some of the most well preserved and maintained vintage vehicles that you can find anywhere. From '57 Chevy's to big block Fords, there is always something unique to see at the weekly "Cruise-in" sponsored by the Carter County Car Club.
The event is free to the public and participants travel from many miles away to showcase their chrome beauties. Hundreds of spectators show up each week to literally "Walk down memory lane". It is not uncommon to see a couple stop and point at an old piece of history and reminisce of the good ole days when they cruised the town area.
You never know what you will see on the side of the road since there are new participants each week. Of course, there are always the die hard enthusiasts that almost never miss a week.
Participants start rolling into Eilzabethton in the early afternoon. Folks shine up their chrome chariots and head for downtown. Most of them have favorite parking spots that they lobby for. The cars back in to the slots at an angle which is reminiscant of the "50's and 60's when anyone with a car would head downtown on Saturday morning to park and watch the people go by. Usually a quick trip to Eagles or maybe Kresses would produce a bag of candy or maybe some peanuts. For lunch someone would make a trip to the "Hole in the Wall" for a sack of Sammon's hot-dogs and maybe visit the Toy Fair. There may even be a trip across the street to visit Western Auto and walk across the creaky wooden floor to see all of the bicycles. After lunch there might be a trip to M & N News to pick up a local paper and maybe a good magazine. Mom may head to Tate's to look at a new dress and dad may take the boys to Harrison's shoes for some new Buster Browns. There would always be the boy on the bicycle that would peddle up to your window and ask you if you wanted to by a "Grit". And sometime during the day the old white three wheeled motorcycle would come by and the "Meter Maid" would check to see if you had put a few pennies in your parking meter. One of the highlights of the day would be when the train would roll through town. There would usually be a boy or two that would put a penny on the track to get squished. The track would run between Eagle's and Fred Moore's Man Shop.
These stories and many more like them usually surface during the evening chats. As the participants get parked, they unload their lawn chairs and coolers of RC Cola and sit in the shade under the awning that was installed in the late 1970's as part of the Urban Renewal project. As folks pass by and stop to look at their car, the owners beam with pride. Sometimes old friends reunite and stories about the "good ole days" feel the air. A few of the owners bought their car new back in their younger days . Others have found junkers and have restored them to a "better than new" state. Either way, the cars are almost like a child is to a parent. Most are considered family treasures.
Many vehicles have the hood raised and the engines shine like a new nickel. Folks are welcome to stick their head under the hood or maybe take a peek inside the driver side window as they remember the old rust bucket that they had half a century ago that, in their mind, looked as good as these show cars. You may see a rumble seat or fuzzy dice. You may even catch a glimpse of an 8 track tape player.
The car owners are usually just a few steps away and are eager to answer any questions you have. Many have "before & after" photos and love to talk about the restoration process. For some, it was a life long project that took more time and money than they ever dreamed it would. But few have any regrets. Their pay back is when an elderly couple stops and grins and reminisces about their first car date or that night at the Drive-in.
The Cruise-In is sponsored by the Carter County Car Club which was formed as a result of a car show that was held at the Elizabethton High School track in 1982. The event was sponsored by McDonald's and was called "Happy Days". An article ran in the Elizabethton Star asking people to call the paper if interested in showing their 50's and 60's cars. There were only eight people that initially showed up for the first meeting that was held at a local steak house.
The first event was a moderate success but stirred enough interest to have another one the next year. In the late 80's the car show would move from the track to the student parking lot of the Elizabethton High School. The Carter County Car Club that had been formed by the eight initial charter members began meeting at the Carter County Rescue Squad building and proceeds to the annual event were donated to the Rescue Squad which was an entirely volunteer organization at that time.
For some participants, once a year was not enough so every Saturday night some of the car owners started driving down to the "Ingle's" parking lot to just hang out and show their cars. Since there was a large area of the parking lot that was not being used, this was the ideal place to park and watch the traffic go by on West Elk Avenue. But in a very short time, interest in the old cars grew and many people would park near by and take a stroll by the cars. Within a few years, the amount of cars and people in the once vacant lot became so numerous that the store owners began to complain that there were no places for their customers to park, and they were right. It was hard to find a place to park and for most, they were not there to shop. Everyone was there to see the cars.
Eventually the CCCC would reach an agreement with the City of Elizabethton and the weekly car show would move to its new home in the downtown area. This has worked well and every Saturday Evening in the summer months the sidewalks are full of patrons and car enthusiasts.
Each week the Carter County Car Club provides "Cruise-in" shirts for purchase as well as information about their club. There are also local food vendors that set up near the "Elizabethton War Memorial" that provide burgers, hot-dogs, ice cream, drinks, and other items for purchase. There are also a few store owners that extend their hours on Saturday evenings during the summer to allow patrons the opportunity to take a break from the heat and step inside to shop the old antique stores which just adds to the vintage experience.
The Cruise-in has received national recognition more than once. The first time was when and episode of "My Classic Car" with Dennis Gage was filmed on location in Downtown Elizabethton back in 2006. That week there were more than 800 cars that showed up. Dennis and his crew walked the streets and featured several cars on his show. (Season 11, Episode 7) The city was also visited by the Food Network Channel in 2010 when part of an episode of "The Great Food Truck Race" was filmed on location during a Saturday Cruise-in.
For more information about the Saturday Cruise-in or the Carter County Car Club and its mission, values, and charities, please visit their official website by clicking on the link below.