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Devil’s Darlin’s and Rick Dunham

When pummeled with a dozen lemons, there’s no choice but to make some sweet lemonade.

So, when this year’s thrilling and time-honored Sonoma 4th of July fireworks extravaganza was canceled, some car aficionados decided they would originate their own “Sonoma Valley Fourth of July Driving Cruise of Old and Antique Cars.”

A local car club, the Devil’s Darlin’s -- one of the oldest car clubs in the Valley having started in 1951 -- has planned a “patriotic classic car cruise through the Sonoma Valley” for Saturday, July 4. The cruise of a hundred or more cherry-red roadsters, two-tone Chevys, cool syncopated low-riders, and mostly pre-1975 vestiges-of-the past, will start at 9 a.m. from the Sonoma Valley Veterans Memorial Building parking lot. From there, they will travel onto West Spain, up Highway 12 at 40 mph to Glen Ellen, back down Arnold through the heart of Glen Ellen to Verano Avenue and then disperse. Everyone with an ageless car or timeless truck is encouraged to just show up at the Vets Building on Saturday by 8:30 a.m. and join the journey.

After several attempts to organize this novel event, the car club has ensured that safety will be observed, no fireworks exploded, no blazes ignited, only good ol’ communal spirit (remember that?) will be on display. Recently, these vintage-car buffs have been performing “drive-by birthdays” where a line of beautifully refurbished autos parade past a youngster’s home, cheering and waving, and in some cases, accompanied by a couple of Sheriff cars with lights flashing and sirens whooping, to make it unusual and celebrated for kids who are separated from their pals on their birthday.

Safety will be observed, no fireworks exploded, no blazes ignited, only good old’ communal spirit (remember that?) will be on display.

Glen Ellen persons are invited to ramble down to the bridge or the saloon or Sonoma Developmental Center, or line the streets anywhere along the cruise route, at 6-foot distance from each other, and blow kisses to the car people as they motor past.

One home-grown car guy is Rick Dunham. Rick will be driving his 1945 Willy’s Army jeep in the Cruise. This sturdy little number - you can picture Hap Arnold holding on for dear life as the jeep swings around a corner - with a window shield that folds forward and secret hollows under the back seats for munitions. Rick bought the jeep from Joe Gallo’s grandson and restored it from a rusty relic to the beautiful Army-green transport it is today. But that’s not all, folks. Rick restored a 1958 Chevy Carryall, a shiny orange ‘64 Chevelle, and a ‘68 Dragster, which he races at Sonoma Raceway.

The energetic Rick is a long-time collector of archaic tools, trucks, gas pumps and Coke machines. A fortune in antique tools and memorabilia were lost in the 2017 fire as it exploded up Warm Springs Road, but somehow Rick has replaced his wonderful collection, and more, since then.

Any gas and auto items older than the 1970s with a little bit of rust is exciting to the mustachioed Rick. His collection of 10 or more gas pumps is impressive. There are several of the “visible” type, where you’d hand-pump the gasoline up into the tall glass cylinder with the number lines indicating gallons, and then it drained through a hose by gravity into your Model-T Ford’s gas tank. He recalls a visible pump in front of Shone’s for years in his youth, and two old pumps at the Norrbom’s 76 Station where Marshall’s is now.

Look around Rick’s tidy yard and you’ll find dented metal Chevron signs from the 1950s, Goodrich Batteries ads, 1930s gasoline pumps, a Coca-Cola dispenser (the kind you open the bin and reach down into the coolness to grab your ice-cold glass bottle of Coke, then flick off the cap with a gadget on the side), Mug Root Beer signs, fire hydrants and more.

Rick, whose parents and grandparents all lived on this corner of Warm Springs and Henno Road, is scheduled to be the Grand Marshall of the Glen Ellen Village Fair in October. With the theme of “Good Old Days” it is precisely appropriate to have the energetic Rick as the Grand Marshall. This year’s fair will proceed according to state and county reopening guidelines, so stay tuned.

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