62nd Busch’s Reunion celebrates Tacoma’s rich auto history

  • A MILLENNIUM. This photo taken at Busch’s 62nd reunion is a very rare, and a first-ever, gathering of car hobby legends who represent more than 1,000 years of loving the great American auto. Each of these 26 participants have been involved in the hobby in some capacity, other than just attending rod runs and car shows for at least 50 years. Their contributions have included organizing car clubs, building cars, painting, upholstery, pin-striping, fabricating, just to name a few of the many contributions made. These are the legends of the hobby and the driving force that has made it possible for future generations to build on. (Photo by Walt Kaplin)

  • The 62nd Busch’s Reunion was held at Tacoma’s Griot’s Garage on Aug. 25, and by all counts it was a very fun day in the summer sun for everyone. (Photo by Walt Kaplin)

The 62nd Busch’s Reunion was held at Tacoma’s Griot’s Garage on Aug. 25, and by all accounts it was a very fun day in the summer sun for everyone. People came from all over to take part in this celebration of Tacoma’s place in the annals of a great American pastime – cars and cruising. Among the 190 registrants were local car enthusiasts and those from as far away as Eastern Washington and British Columbia who brought their hot rods, customs, vintage and muscle cars to Tacoma for this popular and very unique family event. Each entry received a 1951 photo of the famous Busch’s Drive In, suitable for framing, a dash plaque of what the restaurant looked like in 1936, and the history of “Cruising in Tacoma, How It All Began” on glossy card stock.

Known as the car cruising capital of the West Coast back in its heyday, Busch’s was the place to be during the 1950s and to this day it remains a beloved icon for those who lived during those carefree times. Back then, students at Lincoln High School made Busch’s their home away from home, as on any given Saturday night it was commonplace to see teens in hot rods and customs from throughout the Northwest and Canada lined up at Busch’s, the largest drive-in north of San Francisco. Many of these youngsters continued their love of the automobile as serious experts in auto detailing and restoration.

Even though this cruising hot spot at South 38th Street and South Tacoma Way is no more, and owners Bill and Thelma Busch have since passed away, their spirit and the great memories of Busch’s were honored at the 62nd reunion in numerous ways. The day began with a moment of silence in memory of those who are no longer with us, followed by the Canadian National Anthem and our own National Anthem, which the very patriotic group enjoyed immensely.

“As in our past reunions, this one also brought together the young and the old of the hobby,” said reunion organizer and host Walt Kaplin. He named those who helped make Tacoma the cruising capital of the Northwest that were in attendance for the third straight year, including: Dick Page, Gary Dinwiddie, Bob Jasper, Chuck Johnson, Jimmy Olson, Jim Walden, Junior Nelson, Harry Schaffert, Bob Davidson, Chuch Traaen, Jack Babbitt, Ken Bradford, Jack Butler, Denny Hall. They and many others shared fond memories of cruising past. There was also a first for the Northwest – 26 attendees with at least 50 years of experience in the hobby as builders, painters, pin-stripers, upholsterers, and fabricators were included in the historic group photo that accompanies this article. “All in all, the photo represents more than 1,300 years of hot rod experience,” Kaplin said.

During the event, Kaplin and wife Joanie Kaplin announced that a special meeting took place the day before at Griot’s at which those in attendance unanimously approved to launch the Pierce County Rod & Custom Car Association and the Pierce County Rod & Custom Car Hall of Fame. Details on the association’s goals and objectives will be forthcoming. In the meantime, a book is in the works with the distribution date projected to be this coming winter, 2014. “This book will accurately, and in detail, provide readers with the early history (1951-1959) of cruising in Tacoma, the formation of car clubs, the founders, the movers and shakers, along with many photos and, of course, the rich history of Busch’s,” according to Kaplin. Members of the Association and Hall of Fame are (alphabetically): Ken Bradford, Gary Dinwiddie, Bob Jasper, Chuck Johnson, Jim Olson, Walt Kaplin, Gary Kroll, Junior Nelson, Dick Page, Harry Schaffert and Jim Walden. “With more than 600 years of experience in the hobby combined among them, the membership of the Association will provide the leadership, organizational skills and integrity required to do a quality job for Tacoma and the Pacific Northwest,” Kaplin said.

Clubs and hot-rodders throughout the Pacific Northwest are invited to be part of this exciting and historical project. Anyone with stories, photos or additional information that may be used for the book is asked to write to Pierce County Rod & Custom Car Association, PO Box 1222, Gig Harbor, WA, 98332; or call Walt Kaplin at (253) 858-8739.

The reunion event ended with the cutting of three large cakes depicting the famous Busch’s restaurant and a thank you to Thelma and Bill Busch and their sons Dan and Ed.


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