A VAN-Tastic Weekend!

TFT111311 010On Saturday November 12th, Cruisin’ Photography headed out on I-84 West to the CoCo Key Resort in Waterbury, CT. Todd Vaillancourt and Mary Odom had invited Dave and me to the New England Van Council meeting, hosted by Just Us Vanners from Watertown, as their guests. That was an offer we couldn’t refuse.

Before the meeting, we spent time chatting with Todd and Mary. We inquired about “Vanformer” and how “The Machine” was progressing. In all, 25 van clubs were represented, so we got to meet a lot of new faces. Dave and I were formally recognized by the Council and thanked for our work in the promotion of vanning. After the meeting, we had the opportunity to catch up with Rooster Kenney and Trish Morrell, John Ostrander, Roger Moyles, Pat Doolan and Pete Guthrie.

Rooster owns the gorgeous “Neverending Story” van. The passenger side is an homage to the first film, while the driver’s side depicts the second Neverending Story movie. The 1979 Ford Econoline 150 Supervan features full length oak running boards and a hand-cut oak grille. Trish’s show van – a 2000 Chevy Express called “Emerald City” – is equally eye-catching.

Johnny O began vanning in 1982 after graduating from high school. “I was always interested in custom vehicles, and this is my third customized van.” After owning 1971 and 1976 Ford vans, he bought the 1973 Dodge B100 short body seven years ago, and did the interior and motor work on it. The color is not to be missed – white with sunset pearl (a striking orange) over it.

Roger did the welding, basic bodywork and the interior on his 1965 Chevy G10 van, called “Sinsational,” which features a custom-made bed frame and custom lights. “I’ve owned 41 vans that were built between 1964 and 1971, mostly for parts. I bought this van in 2001 and it sat for seven years before I did a swap of the body.”

Bristol resident Pat, from Altruck.com, has been a vanner since 1982 and owns a couple of vans. He’s the organizer of the “Super Somer” event held at the Four Town Fairgrounds every August.

Pete’s “Golden Voyager” – always a showstopper – drew heavy traffic on the rooftop at the Fourth of July Mohegan Sun Car Show. He bought the 1972 Ford E200 van back in 1981 and has done all of the work on it except for the paint and artwork.

Dave and I are looking forward to the new series of “Cruising New England” with Paul Mennett, which start on January 8th. Paul made the trip to Ellington for “Super Somer” and got some great footage and interviews. We can’t wait to see the vanning episode, especially when Pete turns the tables on Paul and interviews him.

Before we left Waterbury, Todd and Mary reminded us that they were hosting their annual Truckin’ for Tots fundraising event the following day, for the fifth-straight year at Walsh’s IGA in Wolcott. We had heard a rumor that VANta Claus would be there, and since I’ve driven up Route 322 many times and knew right where Walsh’s was located, we quickly said we would be there.

While there were no reindeers pulling VANta’s sleigh, “Golden Voyager” was festively decked out for the upcoming holiday. As we approached the driveway, VANta gave us a hearty wave and a “Ho!Ho!Ho!” This was the only time I’ve seen Pete without his trademark red, white and blue bandana. A pillow helped fill out his VANta suit and he was surely in the holiday spirit. VANta had draped the sleigh in garland and had put out his Christmas Village. Holiday music played from the sound system.

Todd quickly came over to welcome us and showed us all of the toys they had already collected. Armand Mazzetti and Steve Magnani, owners of The Hobby Gallery next door, had brought over some Melissa and Doug toys. Dave decided we needed to check out The Hobby Gallery, and we just couldn’t leave the Richard Petty Plymouth Superbird scale model behind.

Erin and Maryann Farrell, local residents who have been long-time supporters of this eVANt, had donated a fine array of toys sure to make more than a few children smile. Elaine Angiolillo came by to drop off a game and was agreeable to my photo request.

Mary and Lori Harold were stationed by the store exit and collected donations from shoppers. VANta stood close to the street and waved at passersby. Todd took VANta, Dave and me inside to meet Bobby Walsh, the store owner, who just happens to be Todd’s uncle. Bobby was straightening a display when we entered. He explained that Walsh’s has been a part of the Wolcott community since 1949 and has been in its present location since 1970.

Helping Lori were her husband, Mark and their energetic daughter Ashley. When an out-of-state van pulled into the parking lot, Todd and Mark loudly greeted Justin Desroches, who had made the trip from Southbridge, MA, to lend his support. The Harolds got into vanning in 2008. Mark explained that their van “is in progress and should look a lot different in 2012” when he gave Dave and me a tour. Justin and a buddy of his were surprised to learn that they had each gone out and purchased vans. “I enjoy road trips and camping. I looked up vanning online, and decided to go to Vanning for Animal Rescue as my first event in early June.”

Happy but tired, the vanners packed up more than 50 toys and over $350 thanks to a generous local community as the afternoon air grew chilly and the light waned. The bounty will be presented to a grateful Marine Corps Toys for Tots Campaign in West Greenwich, RI, on December 3rd, ensuring a very Merry Christmas.

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