Packard Proving Grounds’ fall open house returns

By: Sarah Wojcik | Shelby - Utica News | Published October 14, 2013

 Packard Motor Car Foundation Trustee John MacArthur offers rides in his 1948 Packard Super 8 convertible during last year’s fall open house.

Packard Motor Car Foundation Trustee John MacArthur offers rides in his 1948 Packard Super 8 convertible during last year’s fall open house.

Photo courtesy of Tom Mitchell

SHELBY TOWNSHIP — The Packard Proving Grounds’ popular fall open house will ignite the historical 14-acre landmark again from 1-5 p.m. Oct. 20, rain or shine.

Local historian and Packard Proving Grounds volunteer Hilary Davis said the site’s most family-friendly — and free — event grows every year, and thousands pass through the boulevard to marvel at the classic cars and perform self-guided tours of the historical buildings.

“It’s a cruise-in car show, no fees and no judging for the cars,” said volunteer and publicist Bruce Webster. “We’re expecting 200 show cars.”

A petting zoo and pony rides will be available for children; refreshments will include hot dogs, sausages, apple cider and doughnuts; and the Johnny Trudell Orchestra/Big Band will serenade patrons with tunes from the 1920s and ’30s in the repair garage, which now serves as a banquet hall.

“It’s kind of a retro site and so the music fits in well,” Webster said. “We’ve had (Johnny Trudell play) for four or five years.”

Another attraction will be the Miss America X, a racing boat from the 1930s that won the 1933 Harmsworth Cup and belonged to inventor, industrialist and boat builder Gar Wood.

Davis said she helps field questions during the self-guided tours and sits in the lounge as people come through to learn about the site’s history from visual aids. She and other volunteers also hand out brochures and packets of information.

The Packard Proving Grounds started as a testing site for the Packard Motor Company and encompassed about 560 acres, Webster said. It was dedicated in 1928 and active from 1928-1956. During World War II, it was an Arsenal of Democracy site because it was used for testing tanks.

“People are just excited to be there — excited about what we’ve done — and children love the building,” she said. “We get a lot of positive feedback.”

One of the new features this year, Davis said, is the continued restorative effort on the lodge. She said she enjoys watching the reactions of repeat patrons when they see the new additions.

“We’re restoring the lodge to what it looked like when the Vincent family lived there,” she said, referring to the house’s former owners. She added that the kitchen, sitting room and dining room are all almost done, replete with period furniture and appliances. She also said the group is working on rebuilding a staircase that got destroyed from water leakage.

Another convenience both Webster and Davis said they were excited about was the addition of public restrooms in the repair garage.

“We’ve been doing the Porta Potties (at the open house) for years,” Davis said. “Having working bathrooms is a dream come true.”

Tom Mitchell, the open house chairperson, said his favorite part is the chance to speak with members of the public who have no idea what the site has to offer and who appreciate the site’s historical significance and beauty.

“We’re trying to overcome that with community-based events like this,” he said. “We want the public to understand some of the depth of the history and maybe spread the word.”

The grounds are listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Mitchell said the cars built by the Packard Motor Co. are displayed centrally on the boulevard and that the foundation has nine of its own Packards.

“The grounds are perfectly suited to a car show,” he said, adding that collectors enjoy being able to station their vehicles on the grass. “The trees form an umbrella over the boulevard roads, and it’s a pretty event.”

While admission is free, donations are encouraged to defray costs of the open house. Patrons can also pick up Packard Proving Grounds T-shirts, caps, glassware and collectables at the gift shop.

For questions, call the Packard Proving Grounds at (586) 739-4800.