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Cruising for the memories
By JAYSON JACOBY
Of the Baker City Herald
Terry Schumacher twists the key forward and the air fills with the rich odor of gasoline, the rough percussion of twin mufflers, the comfortable weight of old memories.
This last is what drives Schumacher.
Memories motivate him to comb the country for old cars like this 1958 Chevrolet Impala convertible, and for the precious parts that make them whole but sometimes seem as rare as a vein of pure gold.
It is memories, not money, that Schumacher thinks of when he pulls out his wallet to pay for the convertible pieces he found for the Impala in Wisconsin, or to rebuild the already rebuilt back seat so it will look just as it does in his daydreams of blue-sky cruising.
And it is the memory of good days now gone that reinvigorate Schumacher every year when he and a group of other volunteers put on Baker City's classic car weekend.
It's called Memory Cruise.
And really, how could it be anything else?
"That's what this is all about memories," said Schumacher, who along with Dennis Radford has organized Memory Cruise since 1993.
"People remember what the cool cars were in their high school years, they remember their first car, their first love. I would say that's what motivates them to want an old car."
Schumacher has owned several, each one contributing its own chapter to his automotive memoirs.
Long before Memory Cruise was born he belonged to a local Corvette club and owned three versions of that most American of sports cars a 1966, a '71 and a '78 Silver Anniversary model.
But the Corvette, though sleek and powerful, lacks practicality. It has just two seats.
"I got tired of no back seat," Schumacher said.
He sold the Corvettes but remained loyal to General Motors cars.
He focused on the Impala, a car never beloved by as many enthusiasts as muscle car icons such as the Corvette, Camaro and GTO.
"When the car first came out it was a very unpopular car," Schumacher said.
But he always liked the Impala, especially the clean lines of the '58, the model's first year.
"It has lots of chrome and stainless steel, and a lot of smooth lines to it," he said.
Schumacher bought his first Impala from a man in Sumpter about 1987. The car was white then, but it's jet black now.
But Schumacher always wanted a '58 convertible, too. He has one, although he actually had to buy two cars to get it.
One of the donor cars came from Wisconsin, the other from Salem.
Andy Johnson of A&D Restoration in Baker City is combining parts of both to create Schumacher's "new" car. Johnson renovated many of the original parts, and he had to fabricate a few others from scratch.
"He's quite a craftsman," Schumacher said.
Schumacher can list his Impalas' attributes with the facility of a proud parent rattling off his childrens' names and birthdays.
Both cars are powered by 348-cubic-inch V-8 engines, the same version of the big-block motor Chevrolet installed at its factory more than four decades ago.
The engines are fed by a trio of two-barrel carburetors lined up like soldiers on review a gas-guzzling set-up known "tri-power" in Chevrolet's promotional parlance of that era.
Schumacher's black hardtop sports its original eye-watering chrome trim, but it has an aftermarket air-conditioner and the taillights from a '56 Chevy, a style he prefers.
The convertible is "more of a sunny-day car," Schumacher said, and thus won't be as powerful as the hardtop.
Air-conditioning in the convertible will be supplied by Mother Nature instead of Father Freon.
But as much as Schumacher enjoys talking about steering boxes and disc brakes and the relative merits of generators versus alternators, he would rather drive his cars than memorize their parts.
"It's fun just to drive, fun to have people look at them," he said. "A lot of people don't really see cars because they don't care about them. Cars to some people are just a means of transportation.
"I look at a car, and even if it's a car I don't like, I look at the lines. I just enjoy the beauty of that man-made piece of engineering."
And to celebrate that beauty Schumacher donates his time to put on the Memory Cruise.
The event started in 1991 when Brian Parker, who owned the Little Pig Drive-In on 10th Street, invited classic car owners to gather at his '50s style diner.
Two years later, after Parker moved away, Schumacher and Radford took over and moved the event to Geiser Pollman Park.
Schumacher believes that pastoral setting helps distinguish Memory Cruise from the dozens of other similar events scheduled every summer weekend across the West.
"It's in the park, in the nice shade," Schumacher said. "Most of these (shows) are out on an asphalt parking lot. Here, people get to sit around in the grass and talk."
That casual atmosphere permeates the entire weekend, he said, from Friday's fun Cops & Rodders event, through Saturday's show-and-shine and Main Street cruise and into Sunday's races at Thunder Mountain Motor Sports Park southeast of town.
The purpose of Memory Cruise is to enjoy old cars and reminisce about the fun times they represent, Schumacher said.
Polishing a chrome fender to perfection is part of the hobby for some, but never is it a prerequisite.
"It's not about how good the car looks, it's that people like to look at old cars no matter what the condition," Schumacher said. "What could be an ugly ducking to one person to another brings back wonderful memories."