by Sherrie Norris
Bumgarner and about 552 of his fellow members of the Model T Ford Club International are in the High Country enjoying a fun-filled, weeklong annual tour.
In its 58th year of touring, the club has gone from coast to coast on its annual trek, including a visit to the Grand Canyon in Arizona.
Bumgarner, club president and tour director, decided to keep the action closer to his home this year.
Beginning early Sunday, roads leading into the High Country became packed with 239 vintage autos for the first official stop on the tour's agenda.
Bumgarner described the cars as "all originals -- from all over the United States, as well as England and Sweden, and ranging from 1909 to 1927 models."
Most of them were hauled in, he said, but quite a few have been driven in.
King Street in Boone was blocked off for the club's festivities on Sunday, which included a judged car show and fashion show, the latter of which featured about 25 club members in period attire.
The club members, Bumgarner said, joined hundreds of area spectators for a walk down memory lane during the afternoon gathering.
"What a sight," said Dan Meyer, president of the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce, in referring to King Street on Sunday. "It looked like a throwback to the '20s."
Meyer described the King Street lineup as "amazing -- in all sizes, shapes, conditions and colors of Model Ts."
"Some were incredible, prize-winning restorations, others were in original condition, and still others were an owner's project in process," Meyer said. "From a fire chief's car, to a taxi, woodies and two-seaters, to three rows of seats, family cars and Indianapolis race cars -- it was a great display."
In speaking with some of the downtown merchants about the event, Meyer said he found all to be appreciative of the surge of visitors and boost to business.
"One suggested that we close King Street more often for this type of event. There was certainly a lot of excitement downtown," he said.
"We certainly appreciate the opportunity to share our Southern hospitality and mountain atmosphere -- and we appreciate the economic stimulus that their presence brought to us," Meyer said. "Hotels were packed, restaurants were busy, and we all slowed down just a little bit in traffic to give them a wide berth. We hope they come back to Boone again soon."
Meyer began meeting with Bumgarner almost two years ago, he said, when Bumgarner first came to the chamber office.
"He had a plan to host the club's annual meeting here in Boone," Meyer said. "Close to his home, but somewhere few others had traveled to. They literally came from around the world."
"It was a real treat to see history come alive on King Street, " said Jane Parker of Boone, who with her husband, Butch, are classic car enthusiasts and belong to a local car club. "We loved the cars and loved meeting their owners. Everyone was so nice and friendly. We are very fortunate that they chose to come here for their tour."
Monday found residents of Todd and surrounding communities in awe as the Model Ts chugged their way through the rural back roads, by way of Railroad Grade Road, Castle Ford, Dell Coffey and along Roby Greene, before returning to Boone.
On Tuesday morning, the group enjoyed a relaxing ride on the Blue Ridge Parkway en route to Grandfather Mountain.
"Grandfather Mountain is thrilled to welcome the Model T Ford Club International this week," said Kellen Short, public relations specialist for the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation. "This spectacular scenery has made the mountain a longtime destination for all types of travelers, but it's rare that we get an international contingent with such an impressive array of restored vehicles."
With Grandfather Mountain known as a destination that creates a feeling of nostalgia for many visitors, Short said, "It's fitting that these vintage vehicles are stopping through. It's especially neat to see cars that predate the Mile High Swinging Bridge by 25 years or more. Early photos of the area show Model Ts passing beneath Grandfather Mountain's peaks on their way from Blowing Rock to the Eseeola Resort in Linville, so the club's visit this week has really brought things full circle. We're so pleased the club chose the High Country for their tour this year."
Gerald Huddleston, of Novasota, Texas, is among those club members who came to Boone for their tour this week.
"I have several cars and have enjoyed being a part of this organization for several years," he said. "I've been interested in and have had Model Ts since I was in high school."
It's Huddleston's first trip to Boone.
"I have really enjoyed it so far," he said. "The scenery is beautiful."
Additional plans for the vehicles and their owners for remainder of the week include shopping at the Mast General Store in Valle Crucis, enjoying meals at local eateries, touring Fort Defiance in Lenoir, exploring Linville Caverns, Linville Falls, the Blowing Rock attraction, Mystery Hill, shopping and dining in West Jefferson and Wilkesboro and more.
The entourage will wrap up its High Country weekend with an awards banquet on the campus of Appalachian State University on Friday evening before leaving Boone on Saturday.
"Everyone has really been good to work with," Bumgarner said.
Coordinating the tours since 2008, Bumgarner estimates his club's visit will have at least a $1 million economical impact to the area.
The group's 2015 tour is slated for Branson, Mo., with the Glacier National Park on the horizon, possibly for 2016.
"We're like a big family," Bumgarner said. "We enjoy getting together and making these trips, year after year."
Allison Haver contributed to this story.