TOGUS — When Dennis Tellier was drafted into the Navy in 1968, he had a 1957 Chevrolet convertible and a beautiful 1958 Ford with a retractable hardtop; and though he no longer has either of those cars, he still does have a convertible, a 1999 Mazda Miata.

The 71-year-old patient at VA Maine Healthcare System-Togus said his son may end up with his latest convertible, the Mazda, but he is still fond of it.

“I don’t want to get rid of it. I feel like a million bucks in it,” said Tellier, one of dozens of patients at the veterans facility to come outside to check out the many classic and hot-rodded cars there for a picnic and a car, truck and motorcycle cruise-in Saturday at Togus. “Put the top down and go to the beach. Let the sun shine down on me. And it gets more than 30 miles to the gallon.”

The 18th annual cruise-in is meant to give veterans at the hospital a chance to get outside and see some cool cars, and perhaps reminisce about their favorite cars from the past. It also raises money for an activities account for veterans at Togus, with participants in the cruise-in donating money and buying 50/50 raffle tickets.

The event was started by the former local car club Rusty Nuts, and this year it was overseen by Deb Desjardins, of Auburn, secretary of the Knuckle Busters car club.

Larry Lavallee, one of the event’s founders as a former member of the Rusty Nuts, came back to the event for the first time in a decade or so Saturday, because he now lives and works in Australia. He checked out the cars with his son, Chris, granddaughter Madison, 10, and her friend London Wallace, 7.

The event is smaller now than it was during its peak years, when, Lavallee said, cars owners would drive into Togus as patients lined the streets to watch them parade in. He said one year a patient who hadn’t been out of his hospital room in six years came out to check out the cars.

But he said he appreciates that it is still taking place and still connecting car owners with veterans through vehicles many of them may remember from their younger days.

Many of the car owners are military veterans themselves.

Bill Flanders, of West Gardiner, who displayed his gleaming 1957 Chevrolet, served in Vietnam and was in the Navy from 1965 to 1972.

Sitting prominently in front of Flanders’ car was a tribute to his late friend “Hubcap Jack” Haines, including a photo of Haines, who died in May this year, at the wheel of his 1995 Ford Mustang GT.

The two buddies met at a car show. Sometimes Flanders would help his fellow Vietnam veteran Haines, who had lost his legs below his knees, get into and out of his Mustang, which was equipped with hand controls. Haines had displayed his car, for what turned out to be the final time, at the Togus cruise-in just last year, getting there early so he’d a get a good spot, in the shade.

Stan and Cheryl Page, of Windham, brought their classic Chevrolet Camaro, named “Bad Blue,” which has traveled at least 340,000 miles, about 170,000 of which they put on the car themselves since buying it in 1989.

Stan Page, a Vietnam veteran who was in the Army, said the car has won more than 300 trophies. It started life with an only six-cylinder engine, which was later replaced with a fuel injected V-8 engine as the car was updated to a clone of an SS model.

He said they’ve driven the car in 38 states and drove it down the famous former U.S. Route 66. He said he’s done all the work on the hot ride himself, other than paint and body work.

Page also lets kids who look interested in the Camaro sit in it to check it out, though he warns those kids not to assume other car owners also will allow them to touch the cars many of them have put thousands of hours into restoring.

David Watts, also of Windham, who served in the Army and the Navy and two stints in Vietnam, walked around checking out the sporty cars and trucks Saturday. He said he doesn’t currently have a car like the ones on display, but he did, when he was just out of high school, once own a 1954 Ford Custom with a 406 cubic inch V-8 engine “that used to scare me half to death.”

A local Boy Scout troop presented the colors at the event, and volunteers including Elks Club members from Skowhegan and Madison served veterans and car owners freshly grilled burgers and hot dogs.

Walter Dupont, 83, of Gardiner, sat in front of his customized 1931 Model A, a coupe with a rumble seat in the back, a car he built 14 or 15 years ago. He said it cruises nicely at 55 to 60 mph. He said he brings a car to the Togus cruise-in every year.

Dupont, a retired automotive machinist, said he’s been working on cars since he was 14 years old, before he even had a license. He rebuilds Model A engines and has such a reputation for his work that people contact him from around the country to get him to rebuild their engines. He still works on them, he said, but “I’m just slower than I used to be.”

Ken Way, 76, of Richmond, said he still does some, but not all, of the work on his older vehicles, including the shiny red 1940 Ford he’s owned for three years.

He said he came to the event “for the vets. They did so much for us.”

Desjardins said the event is a wonderful way for people to come together for veterans and a way to give veterans at Togus “a day that was different than the day before.”

 

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