Piston Poppers’ provide eye candy in Ponoka


Every vehicle in the Piston Poppers Show ‘N Shine had a story of its own. Pictured: Dale Johnston

Every vehicle in the Piston Poppers Show ‘N Shine had a story of its own. Pictured: Dale Johnston

By Dale Cory

Chrome just seems to bring out the beauty in any vehicle.

On July 16, beauty came in the form of vintage automobiles containing a whole lot of chrome, as the Ponoka Piston Poppers staged its annual Show n’ Shine at the Stampede Grounds.

The event is officially known as Ponoka Piston Poppers Hog Root Rod Run.

Ogling these classics was far easier than attempting to say the name of the event.

After a hot rod run on the Friday evening, about 35 vehicles were on display for a few hours Saturday at Stampede Park, ranging from a 1929 Ford Model A to a sharp sky blue ’70s El Camino.

Just saying ‘El Camino’ seems to add a touch of class to the vehicle.

And there was a lot of class, and classics at this auto show.

“(I see) Lots of dollars,” responded Piston Poppers member Dale Holben with a laugh when asked what he saw when gazing at the row of vehicles. “Because I know what it takes, and what goes into some of them.”

Holben had his blue 1940 Master 85 Chev on display. He’s had the car on the road since 1981 and can often be seen driving around Ponoka.

“It’s very reliable,” insisted Holben. “It was sort of a family deal. We put it on the road for a lot less dollars than some people do. It was a volunteer effort amongst family members.”

Holben’s younger brother began the restoration process, but lost interest during the rebuild.

“He decided he didn’t want it anymore. I had done a lot of work on it, he come over and says, ‘You want her, she’s yours’.”

It was an opportunity Holben was certainly not going to pass up on. He has changed the front suspension and added a few other things along the way.

“It’s still, as far as I’m concerned, a work in progress,” added Holben, who estimates he has clocked 130,00 miles on the Chevy since he first felt the rush of piston-pumping power with his right foot. “We originally put it on the road in less than a year. But she was burning the midnight oil.”

These days Holben, who admits he’s lost track of the hours spent working on his prized possession, does a lot of driving around Ponoka, and even hauls the family trailer behind the 71-year-old blue car.

“I like working with the old stuff,” answered Holben without hesitation when asked why he does all this. “I spent a lot of hours welding repair patches to the body. And I had to make pieces fit.”

“The big thing is — do a lot of research to find out what will work and what won’t work.”

Which hasn’t been easy for Holben, considering Chevrolet made only 11,000 of the Master 85 cars, the lowest production of any vehicle in Chevy’s repertoire, and produced more than 20,000 of the next model up from his.

Just a few thousand produced, a majority of which are unlikely to be found anywhere but in a junkyard.

Still, Holben says there four in Ponoka.

Piston Poppers going strong

The hot rod club began in 1957, when many of the cars on display were fresh out of the showroom, and while many more were still in the concept stage. With about 18 current members, the Piston Poppers now consider themselves more of a “garage-meeting-bunch-of-guys”.

It’s not a serious club, admits president Bobby Kraft.

“Basically at the meetings, you talk about what you’re working on, what you want to do, and how you’re going to do it. Sometimes guys may have good advice for you, or a tip on how to get a hold of some parts. It’s more of a buddy club,” offered Kraft, a club member since 1984. “This event gives members of the hot rod club the chance to come out and spend the weekend with other hot rodders.”

Kraft had his 1947 Ford truck on display. The bright red truck was a combination of many vehicles, and included a 1947 Ford cab and a 1986 Chevy box. It’s based on a 1975 Nova rear end, compete with a 350 cubic inch motor, allowing for some get-up-and-go once the pedal touches metal.

“It’s a good driver. It’s not a pretty tuck. It looks good from a distance, but if you get close, it’s got a few blemishes. It’s an active machine,” says Kraft.

“It sounds like a hot rod, and it goes OK,” added Kraft while containing a bit of a mischievous smile.

One gets the feeling Kraft likes to blow out a little carbon when he takes his ’47 Ford on the road.

The ‘old girl’ in this group of classics was a 1929 Model A Ford. The black vehicle had a four cylinder, 40 horsepower motor.

“It’s all original except that in place of the generator it has a six-volt alternator. Other than that, it’s pretty much the way it came off the assembly line at Henry’s plant,” explained owner Dale Johnston of Ponoka. “Henry Ford had 35 plants, and in 1929, he produced pretty near two million of those vehicles.”

There were four doors, two doors, phaetons, coupes, convertibles and pick-up trucks.

“It’s a driver. I drive it quite often. I love to drive it. Top speed is probably 50-55 miles per hour. But I drive it 45 miles per hour,” said Johnston, admitting an 82-year-old vehicle does have its share of issues to deal with. “Well, it vibrates pretty bad. I took the motor out of it a year ago and balanced the crankshaft and balanced the flywheel. That helped a little. We got it completely rebuilt and the engine is 100 per cent now. “

Johnston has owned the Model A for about two years, long after he knew in his heart he had to have one.

“When I was a kid I had the same thing — a 1929 Coach. I just always loved that car and always regretted selling it. That’s the way it is with most of us. We’re regressing to our youth.”

Just how big are these show’n’shine events?

The 2011 Northwest Cruise Calendar, considered by most vehicle enthusiasts as the ultimate summer planning tool, listed no fewer than 50 events for the July 15 to 17 weekend, encompassing an area stretching from Tacoma, Wash., to Russell, Man., to 100 Mile House, B.C.