It was a love of classic cars that got the Gold Dust Chapter of the Veteran Car Club of America rolling in 1984. Thirty years later, road trips and friendships continue to fuel this Rapid City car club’s success.
This month, the Gold Dust Chapter marked its 30th anniversary with a celebration for its members. The chapter is part of the Veteran Motor Car Club of America (VMCCA), a national organization that focuses on touring.
Club members’ cars aren’t just for show. Every year, local, regional and national tours give club members opportunities to travel in and share their “blast from the past” cars and trucks.
Sharing memories of their tours and travels was a big part of the Gold Dust chapter’s anniversary celebration. Thirty-nine members gathered, with scrapbooks, photos and even table decorations of maps charting past tours, to celebrate their milestone.
“This is a great club,” president Louis Manus said. “It is welcoming, friendly, a lot of fun and just a great bunch of people who enjoy cars, driving their old cars and getting together.”
The Gold Dust chapter welcomes anyone who owns or loves classic cars. Jack Markitan, 85, who founded the chapter in 1984, owned a 1929 Chandler and a 1939 Packard at the time. A sketch of his 1929 Chandler still serves as the club’s logo.
An avid enthusiast of all kinds of vintage vehicles, Markitan merely laughs and says, “Oh boy!” when trying to recall how many classic cars he’s owned since the club began (his closest estimate is 15). That number doesn’t include the half-dozen restored vintage tractors and combines he owns that still make appearances in Hill City parades.
To date, Gold Dust chapter members own vehicles than span more than a century, ranging from cars dating to the 1920s to club president Manus’ 1977 Mercury Marquis, which he recently purchased from the car’s original owner. Manus also owns a 1955 two-door, brilliant-blue Packard. Many club members own more than one classic vehicle, plus modern cars they drive to club events when the weather is bad.
When the club members take to the road, their cars never fail to attract appreciative waves and honks from other drivers. Over the past 30 years, club members and their cars have appeared in local and regional parades and car shows, and they have toured in several states.
For many club members, a highlight of the club’s history was the AAA/Glidden Tour, which the Gold Dust Chapter hosted in Rapid City in 2006. The tour, themed Rally Round Rushmore, invited cars made in 1942 or earlier to participate; the oldest entry was a 1911 Oakland. The event attracted 198 entries from 36 states and two Canadian provinces to the Black Hills.
Gold Dust Chapter members organized the tour and, among other activities, planned visits to Custer, Deadwood, the Mammoth Site in Hot Springs, Crazy Horse, Sylvan Lake and the 1880 Train.
It’s a tour that club members including Bill and Thomasetta Kuhl remember fondly. The Kuhls are charter members of the Gold Dust Chapter and they've owned five classic cars during their tenure in the club.
“Visitors really liked the tour,” Thomasetta Kuhl said. “They said it was a terrific part of the country. We had a very positive response. When we went on other tours afterward and we met people who’d been here, people mention that it was a wonderful tour.”
Throughout the year, Gold Dust members take turns hosting local tours through the Black Hills and the surrounding region, sometimes even planning overnight trips of two days or more. The tours typically include a destination of some sort, such as touring a museum. Or the tours follow a scenic route, such as the Needles Highway or a drive through the Badlands.
Every summer, club members hit the road for longer tours organized by other VMCCA chapters in the western United States — and have stories to tell for years afterward. Longtime members Roger and Helen Spitzer, who currently own a 1964 Thunderbird, recall a tour to Kansas made memorable by its hot, windy weather and air filled with wheat because of combining — and no air conditioning in their classic car.
John and Joan Lemer, owners of a 1959 Thunderbird and a 1976 Pontiac Grand Prix, remember a tour in which participants were given directions from an out-of-date map, so finding their way to their destination turned into an unexpected adventure.
“It’s been a wonderful experience,” Bill Kuhl said of being part of the club and its tours.
As the club starts its 31st year, Manus said he hopes it will be more active in local events such as Rapid City’s Cruise In, and will have more and longer tours.
Through all the tours and activities, club members have built a camaraderie that has kept the Gold Dust Chapter going for 30 years.
“We were impressed by the club’s members,” said Judy Johnson. "We enjoy the people." She and her husband, Jim, own a 1927 Ford and a 1953 GMC.
“Getting together is great,” Helen Spitzer said. “It’s such a good group. Everybody gets along so well.”
And between the classic cars and the friends, the group is never dull.
“I think car nuts are real interesting kind of people,” Thomasetta Kuhl said. “They love their hobby. They’re pleased with it and when they talk about it, they’re always interested and excited about it. I just like them. We’ve made a lot of friends.”