Automotive history rolls into Walla Walla for a weekend bash

The annual Wheelin’ Walla Walla Weekend hit Main Street as cars, motorcycles, trucks, and pedestrian traffic took in offerings in 2006.

The annual Wheelin’ Walla Walla Weekend hit Main Street as cars, motorcycles, trucks, and pedestrian traffic took in offerings in 2006. Photo by Jeff Horner.

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Just when government reports proclaim that America’s love affair with driving is nearing an end, along comes something to rekindle those flames.

In the Valley this weekend, the embers will be hundreds of vintage, classic, custom and muscle cars and motorcycles on display downtown and rolling through neighborhoods.

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A map of the cruise route for Wheelin' Walla Walla Weekend.

The event is the 18th annual Wheelin’ Walla Walla Weekend, organized with help from a truck full of local business sponsors by the Walla Walla Cruisers and the Downtown Walla Walla Foundation.

Since it started in 1995, the event over the years has more than doubled the number of vehicles on display, the foundation said in a release.

This year it expected that nearly 400 car and motorcycle owners from all over the Northwest will come to show off their wheels. Last year the event attracted more than 350 vehicles.

The event’s growth comes despite government findings released last week that indicate America’s “driving boom” is going bust.

“Like drivers in almost every state, Washingtonians are driving less,” said Chris Esh, Program Associate for the WashPIRG Education Fund.

In Washington, driving per person peaked in 1999 and has since fallen nearly 9 percent, the equivalent of drivers leaving their cars parked for more than a month per year, WashPIRG reported. Forty-five other states also have seen reduced per-person driving since the middle of the last decade.

The boom started after World War II. Spurred by the growth of the suburbs, low gas prices and rising auto ownership, the love affair lasted 60 years but now is amid an eight-year decline based on the average number of miles Americans drive.

Declines in driving can’t simply be attributed to the recession, since they started well before the economic downturn in 2008, the report said. Other factors — from high gas prices to cultural shifts among generations are contributors.

Nevertheless, Wheelin’ Walla Walla Weekend has enjoyed staying power as a kind of interactive history of generations of automobiles.

It hits the streets with Friday evening, when participants gather at the Walla Walla County Fairgrounds for the 6 p.m. start of the Classic Cruise.

As in past years, the cruise — described as the only parade in town where the action is brought to residents’ doorsteps — will wind through historic neighborhoods. This year’s route covers parts of Third Avenue, Yakima Street, Second Avenue, Stone, Center and Clay streets, Fern and Bryant avenues, Division and Whitman streets, Pioneer Park, Alder and Division streets, Boyer Avenue, Main Street, Second Avenue, Morton Street, Third Avenue and back to Orchard Street.

On Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., several blocks of Main Street will be turned into an outdoor showroom for the Show ‘n’ Shine. The street will become a multicolored mosaic of metal — much of it Detroit steel. Parked along the street will be a visible evolution of American automotive experience in rolling stock ranging in years from the early 1900s through 2000 and newer.

Following a 4 p.m. awards ceremony, Main Street will undergo another transformation — into a block-long dance hall between Colville and Spokane Streets, with Heritage Park as a family picnic grounds.

The 5-11 p.m. community street dance will feature three local bands, Money For Nothing, country; The Slooches, rockabilly; and Shanks Pony, country and rock. A beer garden will be open 7-11 p.m. for those with proper identification.

The weekend event is free. For more information, call 509-529-8755.

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