BELLEFONTE — “Back in the ’60s and ’70s, people used to cruise town,” said Patrick McCool on Friday night at the start of the 26th annual Bellefonte Cruise. “I was right in at the tail end of it, and what it amounted to was that if you wanted to meet a girl, you would go and lap the town. That’s what it was all about.”
McCool, chairman of the Bellefonte Historic Cruise Committee, recalled that in those days, Bellefonte was much like the famous movie “American Graffiti.”
“If your buddies didn’t have cars, you would come in and hang out as a kid,” he said. “The younger teenagers who were just not cool enough to ride with big brother would come in and watch the cars go by or they would go to the gas station and the older boys would pick on them. That was another thing. There used to be four or five gas stations here in town at that time.”
Honoring the era of driving laps around town was what the Friday night was about, he said. The evening cruise around town brought in a large number of spectators who endured a passing storm just before the start of the event at 6 p.m., with the cruise concluding at 8 p.m. Spectators watched as cars from all eras motored throughout the streets of Bellefonte.
People like Jim and Cindy Steere, of Julian, came to watch the cars as they drove past the courthouse on Allegheny Street.
“We come every year and sit around and watch the cars,” Jim said. “We like the models from the ’50s and ’60s.”
“We like this and the music afterwards,” Cindy Steere added, noting that she liked to attend the sock hop that starts immediately after the cruise.
The parade of cars officially kicked off activities with the organizers expecting a large turnout this year.
“Preregistration is almost double,” McCool said. “And the weather seems to be favoring us.”
Organizers predict more than 10,000 visitors will participate in activities and walk among the vehicles that include everything from antiques cars and trucks made in the beginning of the 20th century, to modern cars and trucks, motorcycles and military equipment. Represented throughout the weekend will be 33 classes of cars and trucks and 13 classes of motorcycles.
“We have some new activities this year,” McCool said. “We have some indoor seminars, and we have the Jennerstown Speedway stock car simulator.”
Throughout the day Saturday, there will be seminars held on historic car restoration, how cars are judged, and various car and motorcycle clubs at the site of the former Shaeffer hardware store at 121 N. Allegheny St. The video simulator, set up in an actual stock car, will be located at the Diamond across from the courthouse, he said.
Activities for children include balloon-tying and face-painting. On Sunday, “Riding for a Wish,” an event to benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation, will be hosted by the Fraternal Order of Eagle Riders 4320. Registration is between 10 a.m. and noon at Talleyrand Park.
Seeing people watching the cars go by brought a smile to McCool’s face.
“Our joy and the best thing we like to see is to see what we are beginning to see here right now — the people lining the streets,” McCool said. “We like to provide a well-organized show, the best judging that we can offer and an all-around good event. The second best thing is the fact that knowing all of the things in the community that we support.”
Every year, proceeds from the Cruise go to assist community organizations, and organizers named Bellefonte Area High School and borough police as the 2014 beneficiaries. Past beneficiaries have included the Youth Service Bureau, Union Cemetery Association, and various borough facilities, municipalities and organizations.
“This year, we found out that the police department’s budget for going into the schools was cut,” McCool said. “So, we are going to get them a little bit of subsidy to buy the coloring books and things like that. That’s what we are looking to do.”