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Bethel, Alaska, may not have roads going in or out, but it has a new car show


In Bethel, Alaska, it is not easy to be a car enthusiast. The town is off the road system, meaning you can't drive there. Cars and parts have to be shipped in by barge or plane. But as KYUK's Sunni Bean reports, that has not stopped residents from putting together a new event, the Tundra Motor Show.

SUNNI BEAN, BYLINE: On a summer afternoon, outside Bethel's only car parts store, a line of vehicles sits in the gravel lot as people mill around eating hot dogs and hamburgers.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Whew, we're cooking now.

BEAN: A few hundred people have shown up out of this town of roughly 6,000 to see this car show. The collection of entries is pretty small, only 12 vehicles. There are a few vintage cars, but a lot of others, too - a muddy '06 Jeep SUV, an '09 Chevy truck, a Vespa, even a Bobcat outfitted with a six-foot wide snowblower, owned by Don Roberts.

DON ROBERTS: There's numerous attachments. You can put grass cutters on here, post hole diggers, backhoes.

BEAN: The idea for this event came from Bethel resident Zack Huckstep, who says he wanted to give car lovers in this remote town an opportunity to connect. And he wanted to create a space where people could show off the cars they usually keep out of view. Bethel isn't just a hard place to get cars, too, it's hard on cars. Most of the roads are unpaved and full of potholes. In the summer, there's dust. In the winter, there's ice and salt.

ZACK HUCKSTEP: When I started seeing more unique vehicles out and about, stowed away in people's garages or backyards, it made me want to have a car show.

BEAN: Huckstep brought his own Land Cruiser from the '70s to display. He had it flown in from Anchorage a few years ago and has spent a lot of time working on it since.

HUCKSTEP: There's a certain amount of yourself that goes into one of these cars. So putting all that work and effort into a car makes you, I think, naturally kind of want to show it off and have others appreciate it as much as you appreciate it.

BEAN: Because this part of Alaska is so remote and it's more expensive to get parts to, car owners sometimes have to be creative to keep up with maintenance, like Gary Baldwin, who's owned his teal 1953 Willys pickup truck since the '90s.

GARY BALDWIN: There's a lot of parts from different vehicles from the dump in here. This air cleaner is out of a Toyota. The cable for the throttle is a Subaru cable. The gas pedal is a Chevy truck.

BEAN: Throughout the afternoon, community members get to peer into the vehicles and ask owners questions about them. They also vote for their favorites. Nine-year-old Ava Blihovde voted for a sun-yellow 1942 Ford truck in perfect condition.

AVA BLIHOVDE: The reason why I like it is because it's, like, almost impossible to keep it clean. I wonder how they even got here without getting it dirty.

BEAN: When all of the votes are tallied, that yellow truck won best in show. The prize is a bucket of car supplies for owner Jimmy Guinn.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: All right. And...


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: So don't run away too far, Jimmy.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: You also ended up with the people's choice and first place.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: How many buckets you got there?

BEAN: Guinn attributed his win to all the elbow grease put in by friends and family to make his truck shine. And he praised the other entries, even the ones caked in mud.

JIMMY GUINN: All these cars have just lots of love in them. Doesn't matter if they're beat-up or if they're brand-new or whatever - the owners really love every one of them.

BEAN: By popular demand, the organizers confirmed the car show will have another unique lineup next summer.

For NPR News, I'm Sunni Bean in Bethel, Alaska. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Sunni Bean