By Karl Klooster • Staff Writer • 

Four wheels under me

Submitted photoDragging the gut back in the day was every bit as much fun as this photo from the mid-1970s suggests.
Submitted photoThird Street in the late 1960s was bright at night with no trees to soften the effect.
Submitted photoMcMinnville native Will Vinton, the creator of claymation, will be Grand Marshal for the 2013 Dragging the Gut Cruise-in.

More than any other symbol of this uniquely U.S. era, cruising the gut is its most enduring icon. So much so that upwards of half a century later, today’s kids still dig it.

And those who lived it? Nothing short of nostalgic immersion. Fond recollections of fleeting youth. A yearning to relive those thrilling days of yesteryear. Yes, including The Lone Ranger.

Such self indulgence might morph into a satire of itself. But those involved couldn’t care less. They’re having way too much fun.

A cherry-red ‘32 Ford “little deuce coupe” approaches with flickering yellow, white and orange flames spreading over the hood. No, not real ones. Painted flames — a simultaneously hot and cool statement.

A gleaming-white, showroom-condition ‘57 Chevy Bel Air two-door hardtop rumbles by, its 283 V8 emitting a sweet, mellow sound. Bobby sox babes swoon at the sight.

A canary-yellow ‘74 Cuda slinks on down the street. Three two-barrel carbs gulp high-octane, leaded gas into eight cylinders encompassing 440 cubes. Dual exhausts expel the throaty throb of 390 horsepower.

These three cars stand as singular symbols of an era that began shortly after World War II, heated up to a fever pitch in the ‘50s and didn’t cool down until the mid-’70s.

But in the minds of many people born between 1935 and 1965, it never ended. It became an enduring recollection, a central focus in a lifelong search for self.

That is the essence of why McMinnville’s newest annual summer event, the Dragging the Gut Festival, won’t be going away any time soon. The fever is infectious, and a core of younger infectees are helping carry it forward.

This year marks the fourth straight for the local phenomenon, which Ruben Contreras Jr. sparked in January 2010 when he posted a Facebook page titled “I dragged the gut in downtown McMinnville.”

The response was nearly instantaneous. Within days, more than a thousand people had visited the site and, in essence, signed up for a wild ride.

Contreras discovered he had a tiger by the tailpipe, and he was not about to let go. As a result, he’s become the main man of our own, homegrown, rolling car show.

Next week, this year’s Dragging the Gut Festival, routinely referred to simply as “GutFest” these days, once again hits the streets of downtown McMInnville.

At high noon on Saturday, Aug. 24, it’s anyone’s guess how many vintage vehicles — and people, vintage or not — will show up to participate. 

This cruise-in could well be the biggest ever. But just how big would that be?

To date, there have been no official counts, only rough estimates.

Contreras said the event has grown larger with each passing year. “In a way, this is like a stampede,” he said, “and my job is to keep the herd from overrunning the town.”

But how large has the stampede been, and how much larger will it be this year than last year? Inquiring factoid fans need to know.

Perhaps we should line up a group of volunteer car counters. Maybe we could go for a Guinness Book World Record!

An online search found no Guinness classification for a mixed-make vintage car parade. If nothing like it exists, we would have to convince Guinness to create a new category.

Some other record-setting events could be used for comparison purposes.

In September 2012, Ferrari gathered 964 of its Italian beauties at Silverstone in the United Kingdom. Not to be outdone, Porsche assembled a huge collection of its sleek 911s this July 29 — 1,200 of them in all — for the Silverstone Classic. And 332 Subarus recently drove a 4.2 mile route through Itasca, Ill.

Those are impressive numbers, to be sure. But they’re certainly not out of reach for the likes of GutFest.

It’s probably too late for Contreras to master the logistics for accurately recording license plates this year, but it could well happen in 2014. Right, Ruben?

Increasing the cachet of the cruise-in event, McMinnville’s Third Street can lay claim to being the place where cruising was born. At least, it was home to the first documented instance in the Pacific Northwest.

It happened in the spring of 1903, when banker Ralph Wortman cruised Third in his 1901 Stanley Stanhope Model 1 Locomobile, accompanied by a pair of young ladies.

The scion of one of McMinnville’s most prominent families had bought the car in Portland the year before, but area roads had remained impassable over the winter. His Locomobile is now on permanent display at the Third Street offices of Key Bank, successor to the Wortman family’s McMinnville National Bank.

So what’s in store for this year?

The grand marshal will be Will Vinton, a famed animator with deep local roots. Best known for his iconic California Raisins commercials, closely followed by the animated M&Ms, Vinton was the creator of Claymation, a stunning 3-D technique he copyrighted for his Will Vinton Studios in Portland.

A member of McMinnville High’s Class of 1966, he has produced numerous feature films and TV series, as well as dozens of short subjects. He’s won an Oscar, an Emmy and more than 100 animated film awards.

In honor of that first-ever gutdragger, the Ralph Wortman Trophy will go to the “coolest car.” The criteria will be at the discretion of some very hip judges.

The Ezra Koch Car Show is slated to run noon to 5 p.m. at St. James School. And it promises to be better than ever with classics and hot rods from around the Northwest.

Dragging the gut itself will begin at 5 p.m. and continue until midnight. Registration is not required, but adherence to all local traffic regulations is.

Live bands will perform from noon to 10 p.m. at the US Bank Plaza. And for the first time this year, a post-drag party will be held at Golden Valley Brewery from 10 p.m. to closing, for all gut-draggers 21 and over.

Don’t forget the entire good time is on behalf of a good cause. Non-perishable footstuffs are being collected for the food bank, so stop by a grocery store on your way or bring cash to contribute.

As Contreras pointed out, “The more this grows, the more food we’ll gather to help our neighbors in need. Every dollar given, I’m told, equals four pounds of food.”

Participants don’t even need to get out of their cars. They can simply hand their donations to members of the McMinnville High Dance Team, who will be standing by.

Karl Klooster can be reached by e-mail at or by phone at 503-687-1227.


Judy Williamson

That is my daughter Kimberly Williamson driving her Red MGB and her friend Lee Kwiatkowski in the passenger seat. This photo was taken in 1987 not the mid-seventies. They had so much fun cruising the Gut in McMinnville. Thank you for printing the photo.

Kind regards, Judy Williamson

Karl Klooster

Dear Judy -

II'l have to get after Ruben about this date ID. However, 1987 makes this Dragging the Gut photo all the more timely since the anti-cruising ordinance went into effect in 1988.

Thanks for your interest and input.
Karl Klooster

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