Once a year for the past 36 years in the southern Indiana river town of Evansville the frogs start hoppin’ to the rumble of pre’49 hot rods, street rods and rat rods at the Frog Follies Street Rod Show. This once small rod show has exploded into one of the nation’s favorite places to cruise and hang out with other rodders just like a massive family reunion.
When we arrived at the show on Saturday we knew this would be an awesome show. Everywhere we looked and as far as the eye could see there were pre ’49 rods of every color, shape and style. As “spectators” we were thrilled it only cost us $5 to get through the gate, which explains why there were thousands of people coming out to enjoy the festivities. In fact we later learned that so many people showed up that the Follies officials had to get permission from the neighboring farmers to use a few of their fields for parking.
As we made our way through the maze, we came across the information booth where we met Jim Hamilton. Jim is one of the 4 remaining charter members of the E’ville Iron Street Rod Club which started the Frog Follies back in 1975. We asked Jim why this rod show had become so successful. He answered, “Where else can you go and get a great burger for only $1.50″? “We also have hundreds of volunteers that come back every year and we keep our entry fee as inexpensive as we can”. We also learned the Follies got it’s name from years ago when the kids would have bullfrog races during the show. Someone called it the Frog Follies and so the name just stuck.
If you needed parts, there was anything you might imagine in order to complete or build your own rod at one of the country’s largest swap meets. You need a headlight? There were plenty. If rusted patina was your thing, there was more than you can imagine. How about a project car? The vendors were on hand as well to help give you technical advice or even sell you that performance part to help get you down the road just a little faster. Jasper Engines could set you up with a complete motor and transmission or if you needed to top off your power plant, Edelbrock can make sure you have just the right set-up. Coker Tire would be sure you had the coolest rubber to keep you planted on the ground when you were cruisin’.
We were curious as to why with every other show expanding the model years to accommodate the newer model hot rods, would the Follies limit themselves to keeping it true to the original pre ’49 show. Jim’s answer was as clear as it could get, “Well that’s what the club members had when we started out and the four remaining members like it that way”. He did add the rest of the E’ville Iron club members do vote to keep it pre ’49 and hopes they will continue to after they (charter members) are gone.
There were over 4000 cars stretched across the Vanderbugh County 4-H Center we knew there would be know way we could see them all in just two days. We noticed many radically altered cars with anything possible to make them stand out. It takes vision and a whole lot of creativity to change an average car into a mean street machine that one may even consider a piece of art. If you were to ask any one of these hard core hot rodders what makes the perfect car, the answers you hear are as colorful as the many different cars you see out here.
Speaking of radical creativity, such was the case when we ran into the “Codfather of Sole” (among many other alias’) Norm Grabowski and his ’29 Nash which had some pretty radical custom additions. Norms’ history with customs goes back to the beginnings where in 1957 a Life Magazine photographer stalked him down just to get a picture of his T-Bucket, which ended up being on the cover that same year. This is how Norm earned another nickname, “The Father of the T-Bucket”. He still travels all over the country showing off and selling his radical custom made gear shifter knobs.
If you like 50′s and 60′s memorabilia, you would be in the right place. How about setting yourself up with a drive-in in your backyard? There was a guy selling drive-in speakers to do just that. John Burke who owns Classic Collectibles can set you up with anything from an original Coke-a-Cola bar and stools or a vintage gas pump to remind you of the days it only cost $1 to fill your tank. John has been collecting these rarities for over 40 years and coming to the Frog Follies over 25 years. He said one thing he has loved about this show is he has seen people children grow up over the years of coming to the Follies.
There were clubs from all over the country cruisin’ in to the show to show off their cool rides. Bob Mowry from the Adventure Cruisers told us they drove seven cars from central Illinois to the show. The Adventure Cruisers is a club without a president or rules, however they do have a leader. That leader would be whoever takes off first. Bob told us, “Who ever leads on the trip we are going on we all have to follow. If he makes a wrong turn and go the wrong way, we go the same way. That’s why we say every trip is an adventure. We never get lost, we just take the long way to get there”. He also added they have been coming to the Frog Follies for about 25 years and say it is the best show they go to because “They don’t rip you off, it’s so inexpensive to get in and they give so much to charity”.
In the words of Al Way, President of the Southern Illinois Street Rod Association, “This is the best show in the country without a doubt”. And it seemed everyone who hopped into the Frog Follies felt the same. Not only because of the $15 car entry fee or the $1 hot dogs, but mainly because of the generous hearts of the E’ville Iron. From the begining till now this club has been able to give over $1 million dollars to Easter Seals to help children with disabilities as well as several other great charities.
So the next time you are sitting at home in August and your rod is sitting in the driveway itching to get some road time, fill up the tank and hop over to the Frog Follies in Evansville for what very well could be the best pre ’49 street rod show in the country. And in the words of the E’ville Iron Street Rod Club, “Keep On Hoppin’, Ribbitt”!