MONROE, CT — Police officers helped direct a steady flow of traffic through the former Stevenson Lumber property Saturday, when thousands came to see the Barnum Festival’s Car Show.
Classic cars and trucks were on display on the grounds and there was a ferris wheel, merry-go-round and other rides for kids, music, food trucks with everything from fried dough and burgers to Thai food, a food court and venders.
The industrial property lay dormant for many years, but the town has worked with developer John Kimball and his family to revitalize it with new businesses, including Zwally Hauling, whose owner, George Zwally, decided to host the car show.
First Selectman Ken Kellogg, who attended the event, took in all of the activity around him.
“I’m so proud and excited that we got the presence of the Barnum Festival in Monroe,” he said. “We’re talking about the revitalization of some of our commercial sites and here’s the proof. We’re getting new businesses here and this is probably the biggest community event we’ve had at Stevenson in a long time.”
The Barnum Festival was first held in 1948 in honor of the late Bridgeport mayor and master showman P.T. Barnum and in support of local businesses. Kellogg said Saturday’s car show exemplified Barnum’s promotion of community spirit and a reinvigoration of the local economy.
‘The Texas Chainsaw’
Among the vintage vehicles on display was a 1952 Ford F1 pickup truck nicknamed “The Texas Chainsaw.”
Steer horns and chainsaws were affixed to the front of the pickup truck and some coverings made to resemble stitched together human skin with first names like “Benny” written on the pieces were above the wheels.
“Sawyer Family Slaughterhouse: We cut up the competition” was painted on the doors of the red truck. The decor included skeletal bones and body parts like a human hand.
Sam Gentile, of New Milford, brought the truck, which he has owned for five years, to the show.
“It’s great,” he said of the Barnum Festival’s Car Show. “I hope it becomes an annual thing. I will come back again for sure.”
‘Starsky & Hutch’
Salvadore Rodriguez of Bridgeport, a retired New Haven patrolman, brought his red and white 1975 Gran Turino, modeled after the popular 1970s TV show “Starsky & Hutch”, to Saturday’s car show.
“It’s great,” he said. “I’ve been to a few shows and this is probably the biggest one I’ve been to.”
Rodriguez was a big fan of the police show “Starsky & Hutch” and of the car driven by Det. Dave Starsky (Paul Michael Glaser) and Det. Ken “Hutch” Hutchinson (David Soul).
“I tried buying one a little over 10 years ago,” Rodriguez said of the Gran Turino. “My girlfriend, who would become my wife, said, ‘I wouldn’t be caught dead in that car.'”
But three years ago, when Rodriguez was serving his last year as a police officer, the opportunity arose again. “I told my wife, ‘it’s my retirement. This is going to be my present,'” Rodriguez recalled.
A retired police chief in North Carolina offered to sell the car for $11,500, but Rodriguez countered at $10,500 because he would have to bring the car to Connecticut.
“He said, ‘you’re a fellow officer, I’ll give it to you for $10,500,'” Rodriguez said.
The car has been in the hands of law enforcement officers for a long time. The police chief who sold the Gran Turino to Rodriguez had bought it from a retired North Carolina sheriff.
“I drove it to special duty jobs and people loved it,” Rodriguez said of his car.
The biggest car show
Frank Gennarini, of Milford, ringmaster of this year’s Barnum Festival, wore the red jacket and black top hat on Saturday.
“It’s fantastic,” he said of the car show. “The town has been great to us and welcomed us with open arms. I was chairman of the car show for years, and I can tell you this is the largest car show we had.”
Gennarini said he could see the show coming back to Monroe every year.
“Absolutely,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it.”
“That’s what we’re hoping for,” Kellogg added.
Rob Capone, who co-chaired the event with Greg Gnandt, said they had “phenomenal help” from Gnandt’s wife, Peggi.
The car show had several thousands of attendees by 1 p.m. and people were still arriving in droves, according to Capone, “this is outstanding turnout,” he said.
The car show began 10 years ago and Capone said Saturday’s was the first one with food trucks and rides for children.
“I’m just very happy and humbled,” Gnandt said of the turnout. “Monroe has been incredible and George and Paula Zwally are the most generous hosts.”