Hot Rods and Hatters Car Show and Me

 Posted by on Feb 10, 2017 at 8:28 PM
Feb 102017
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Shumard Oak, Maple, and Pecan trees stood naked against the southern winter backdrop. In contrast, the eternally green Live Oaks looked as if they were wearing party dresses to a wake. The sky hung heavy in shades of fresh erased chalkboard, threatening rain. But for the moment, only a northern wind sent a chill through the small Texas town. The day for Hot Rods and Hatters had arrived.

Hot Rod and Hatters Vintage next to car

What to Wear a Hot Rods and Hatters Show

I pulled out my best vintage rayon dress only to find it not a good choice for the inclement weather. I had so wanted to do 1940s fashion for the Hot Rods and Hatters show to help promote the new release of Hops the Atlantic–the sequel to The Girl in the Jitterbug Dress, but the lightweight rayon would not do and my anything 1940s appropriate for the weather had turned too tight on my BBQ and beer body.

I opted for a 1950s cotton knit sleeveless dress with a turtleneck, my wool two-tone coat in white and turquoise, matching tights, pale blue gloves, and bakelite Scottie dog pin. After trying all my hats, I found they clashed with my outfit and donned a sheer scarf tied back to hold my curls. I hoped my hair would hold up and the rain would hold back, at least for a couple of hours, enough to peruse the best of Hot Rods and Hatters.

Bakelite Scottie Dog Pin 1940s 1950s

Our friends parked at our house, and we walked en masse to the antique automobiles, Hot Rods and Hatters Show. The solid thump of a stand-up bass beckoned us to the first row of vintage cars. The small stage vibrated with a three-piece band, pounding out a rockabilly rhythm. I was already itching to dance, but knew my husband wanted to grab some grub and look at cars before hitting the dance floor.

Hot Rod and Hatters Red and Blue Car 1940s 1950s

Random Acts of Kindness

Sexy cars with curvy hips, slickly painted in shiny nail polish hues, rusty cars mottled with weathered patina, and muscle cars trimmed in mirrored chrome, sat side by side. Sticky sweet cotton candy, greasy deep-fried onion ring, and roasted meats wafted through the crowded street. It was hard to believe that my small town boasted such an event.

We eschewed the fried food in lieu of Loop & Lil’s brick oven pizza, a new joint just a year old. Once we had our fill of gourmet Italian pie and micro-brew beer, we had to make one more stop, for the kiddos of course, to Flash Candy shop, so our son could stock up of Dr. Pepper Hubba Bubba and other unusual and nostalgic candies. He bounced out of the sugar shack with a glee of a boy much younger than fifteen. I loved to see it. He was growing up too fast and before I knew my baby boy would be a man.

1930s 1940s Hot Rods and Hatters jalopy

He thoughtfully handed me a pastel package filled with giant chewy sweet tarts. I bit into a hard disc, slowly chomping it into glutinous goo. It was delicious and just what I needed. We said hellos to many familiar friends, running into Cat and her German mum, Ruth. I adored her accent and loved her style of bobbed hair with bangs. She sported a turquoise beret that I admired, commenting on how it would match my outfit and how I must buy one. She promptly took the hat of her head and insisted I take it. I tried three times to refuse, but she would not be deterred. I finally accepted her gesture of kindness and fitted the hat to my head. It matched my vintage get-up perfectly.

1930s 1940s truck Hot Rod and Hatters

I remembered the lessons I had learned as a young adult. First, when people offered a gift, I automatically accepted it, never suspecting that their upbringing compelled them to offer when they might not whole-heartedly want to. I learned to refuse politely and accept gifts with grace. Today, I was thankful for the lesson in deep gratitude and understood that her gift was sincerely given, all the more meaningful.

Swing Time

The sounds of The Octanes blasted across the square, summoning me stage-side. The first song was lightning-fast and my tired limbs couldn’t fathom keeping the beat. They slowed it down slightly and I beseeched my man to dance. He liked to dance and was good at it. Our courtship had been a series of old movies, dance lessons, and big band music, but he didn’t have the burning passion to dance like I did. Sometime I felt like a beggar, and although he almost always acquiesced, I often wished he shared the dance fire that burned inside of me.

Octanes at Hot Rods and Hatters

I shed my wool jacket on a sawhorse barricade, pawning my purse off on my son. My husband and I started out with Balboa-swing, finally transitioning into the swish of Lindy, only to find the asphalt unforgiving and unconducive to proper a proper glide. We transitioned to Collegiate Shag and let our legs fly like cartoon characters making a bridge with our torsos. Other couples and random children took to the dance space, but my eyes were only for the man at the end of my arm. It had been too long since we danced. The music and rhythm washed over me, sending a river of happiness through my limbs. It was enough.

I caught up with the instigator of this wonderful amalgamation of vintage cars, music, food, and fashion and was able to pry some insightful information about the event’s impetus and Joel’s inspirations in a short interview.

Hot Rods and Hatters Joel at the mic

A Quick Interview with Joel Gammage

At what age did you become interested in vintage?

Since childhood. Growing up in four generations of Hatters craftsmen you have to appreciate vintage. Vintage to me implies things that are made by hand with delicate time, consideration, and precision with attention to detail often overlooked nowadays.

How did you develop your love of hot rods?

My Grandfather always tinkered with unique projects, like putting bull “cow” horns on the hood of his cars or painting camo on his favorite hunting truck.

Our neighbor, Steve Riley, was my childhood best friend’s father who worked on race cars for the Kyle Texas Speedway and others Derby racers. His daughter, Victoria Riley, and I used to play around all the cars and engine parts that her dad worked on. I never knew Mister Riley not have a little grease under his fingernail.

Hot Rods and Hatters rusty 1930s 1940s car

Through my grandfather, my mother was passed down what became my 1977 El Camino Super Sport which was cherry red with the original striping down the sides of the body. It had a 350 big block Chevy engine.

When I was a kid, the Speedway Races were the place to go after school. Since I was mom’s only child at the time, I wasn’t allowed to race in the Junior tracks like I’d wanted to. (Too concerned I’d get hurt) but Victoria’s dad used to let her race when she hit age. I was so jealous back then.

But when I hit seventeen, I was finally allowed to drive. I spent a lot of time practicing in my grandparents pasture, hot-wheeling, doing donuts, and burnouts on the gravel. I loved that El Camino so much.

cream colored vintage hot rod car

But before the El Camino was handed down to me, I collected many memories. When I was six years old my grandparents took me from Buda Texas all the way to California in the El Camino. Most of the trip I was either laying across the bench seat and looking up at the stars in the evenings or listening to the hum of the engine rumbling beneath the seat.

The nostalgia burns bright and mixes with my yearning for my grandfather who passed away when I was eight. I tried my first cigarette in that car but decided after coughing up a lung it wasn’t a “cool” habit as much as my grandfather had made it look.

I’d lay out across the bench seat listening to the crickets chirp in the water over the river dam flow. And lose all track of time, just lay there lost in my head. It always brought me back to the time when my grandfather and grandmother were alive.

Hot rod and Hatters Vintage Fashion turquoise

What part does music, dance, and fashion play in your life.

My grandmother, mom, and aunt used to make all our clothing when we were kids, or they’d sew up goodwill clothes that looked name brand so I wouldn’t get picked on, living in a trailer with my mom. Plus I was about the skinniest kid in school, too. So wanting things that didn’t look like I was emaciated was near to impossible for “off the rack” clothes.

Mrs. Riley also used to work sewing hats alongside my grandmother at Texas Hatter’s when I was a kid. When things were too busy at the hat shop, my mom would take me over to Mrs. Riley’s house to babysit me.

Babysitting with Mrs. Riley wasn’t sitting around watching TV or playing with toys most of the time it was spent being taught how to sew she used to give me sewing lessons and teach me how to use Singer sewing machines and stitch patterns and cross stitch and hatch stitch.

And when I wasn’t doing that I was learning the art of recycling from Grandpa Arthur Victorious grandfather Mr. Riley Sr. Who always had amazing habit of recycling the most unique things.

1960s vintage car hot rods and hatters 

What’s your fave song to dance to?

“Honky Tonk Man”

Why do you think H&H has been such a big success?

In an article, my grandfather is quoted as saying “didn’t do it for success or fame, but for the love and the friendships he made. Like his hats.”

That’s how I view our success. It’s not about money or fame of any kind it’s about the unique synergy created by the relationships that have been built throughout my life. Established by the mutual goals and sense of the community created by the relationships we hold

Vintage 1940s 1950s retro sunglasses

What advice would you have for others pursuing their passion as a main form of income?

If you have a passion, it should never be about “income or money.” Money does not equal the substance of a person. Success is defined by the lives we touch and the expression pursuing our heart. That’s what is gratifying, not income or money.

Life wouldn’t be joyful if it we spent pursuing money instead of happiness.


Did you go to the Hot Rods and Hatters Car Show? What’s your fave part of a car show? If you could have any vintage car, what would be your dream car? How do you incorporated fashion when going to a show like Hot Rods and Hatters? Are you inspired to check it out? Do you agree with Joel about pursuing your passions?

Tam Francis, authorTam Francis is a writer, blogger, swing dance teacher, avid vintage collector, and seamstress. She  shares her love of this genre through her novels, blog, and short stories. She enjoys hearing from you, sharing ideas, forging friendships, and exchanging guest blogs. For all the Girl in the Jitterbug Dress news, give-aways, events, and excitement, make sure to join her list and like her FB page! Join my list ~ Facebook page

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  5 Responses to “Hot Rods and Hatters Car Show and Me”

Comments (5)
  1. Swell peepers!

  2. Well done.

  3. You look really great, Tam! Good post. Would have loved to have seen you dance, but we were out of town. Good interview with Joel.

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