BELLEFONTE — Paul Frankhouser was stuck in a traffic jam, and he couldn’t have been happier about it.
The Lemont native leaned back in the driver’s seat of his 2001 Chrysler Prowler hot rod and soaked up the festive scene along Allegheny Street on Friday as the 24th annual Bellefonte Cruise began.
Vintage muscle cars and their modern versions paraded bumper to bumper past the Centre County Courthouse where media trucks had been parked a day before for the Jerry Sandusky trial. Spectators, many in lawn chairs, lined the street, and a band kicked out the first riffs for the night’s sock hop.
Frankhouser, an ultra Penn State fan who dubbed his blue car the “Nittany Prowler,” wore a wide grin under his shades.
“This is a great relief from all the craziness this week,” he said.
Friday brought a recess in the trial, which is set to resume Monday. Frankhouser, who had been looking forward especially to this year’s cruise, said he thought the packed sidewalks and party atmosphere showed the town needed another kind of break.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a crowd like this on Friday night,” he said, thinking back to 10 years of cruises.
Jason and Kelli Eckley, lifelong Bellefonte residents, joined the throngs, taking in the Camaros and Corvettes from curbside seats. They never miss a cruise.
“We just do this every year,” Jason Eckley said. “It’s kind of a family night, just watching the cars and seeing the sights.”
His wife said she was glad the trial didn’t cancel the cruise and sock hop, a town tradition.
“We like that it brings everybody out,” she said.
First-time visitors Rob and Melissa Steingrabe, of State College, came at a friend’s suggestion. They graduated from Penn State in 2002 but returned to the area a year ago.
In front of the Diamond, they watched sparkling paint jobs and chrome roll slowly past. Melissa Steingrabe said her previous town had a traditional car show — everyone parked with hoods up — but nothing like a cavalcade of cars.
“This is nice here that they drive by,” she said. “This is different.”
The event continues from noon to 5 p.m. today, with a static car show in downtown Bellefonte before another evening cruise.
But on Friday, Rob Steingrabe enjoyed a retro sound of summer — the throaty rumbles of big-block engines.
“This is a little nicer than just walking around and looking at them,” he said. “They drive by and you get to hear them. Sounds nice.”