GARDINER — Ken Way remembers the very first car he ever owned growing up on his family’s Connecticut farm.

On Thursday, sitting in a folding chair behind his 1940 Ford pickup at the edge of Ainslie’s Market’s parking lot on Brunswick Avenue, Way talked about an early chapter in the chronicle of his lifelong love of cars.

Around him, longtime friends settled in with their own vintage and antique cars and their own stories at the start of Gardiner’s Thursday Night Cruise-In.For 25 years, vintage and antique car enthusiasts have been gathering in Gardiner once a week from May through September, first at Ainslie’s Market, then at the Waterfront Park in downtown Gardiner.

Ken Way poses beside his 1940 Ford pickup truck Thursday at Ainslie’s Market. Gardiner’s Thursday Night Cruise-In returned to its former location because the Gardiner Landing is still being cleaned up from recent flood damage. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

That first car of Way’s was a 1932 Ford Model B cut down that belonged to a friend of his father, who knew the younger Way longed for the car.

“Every time I saw Mr. Morrisey I said, ‘If you’re going to sell it I want it,'” Way said.

One day, Morrisey told Way that if his father said it was OK, he could have it. They dragged it home because the engine didn’t work and set it aside.


“My father figured we’d never get it running again,” Way said. “About three days later we took it for a ride down the road. I was 13, probably.”

Every week from early May through September, Way is one of the first car buffs to arrive at the cruise-in. While it doesn’t start until 5 p.m., drivers start gathering as early as 3 p.m.

Jason Everett is seen during Gardiner’s Thursday Night Cruise-In earlier this week. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

This year, the cruise-in got off to bumpy start. For the last several years, the event has been at Gardiner’s Waterfront Park, but the May 1 storm and the flooding on the Kennebec River that followed caused the first outing to be canceled. That landing area is still being cleaned up of debris following the flooding.

Jason Everett, who runs the free event and spins classic tunes to set the mood, said after that first week, Jay Ainslie reached out to invite the cruise-in back to his market, where it had been for a number of years.

There are, Everett said, two kinds of people who come to the events: those who like to look at the cars and those who like to show off the work they’ve invested in their cars. Along with the individual car owners like Way and his friends, Denis Patenaude and his 1970 American Motors Rebel Machine from Belgrade and Willy Veilleux and his 1954 Willys Wagon from Augusta, different special interest car clubs will also take part.

And they come from all over. Some regulars travel two or so hours from Millinocket and others travel from Belfast, the Rumford-Mexico area and from southern Maine.


“Anybody can come to the car show as long as the vehicle is what I call a special interest, whether it’s a classic car or a muscle car,” he said, “anything that somebody’s done something to make it cool.”

Everett, who is a DJ, considers himself more of an events guy than a car guy. His involvement started when he signed on to play music every week. But when the show was on the verge of moving out of Gardiner, and maybe to a smaller space, some of the regulars appealed to him for help to keep the show going as they knew it.

“They said, ‘You have to do something to help us. You can’t let this die. We look forward to this every week. It gives us purpose,'” he said.

It weighed heavily on him, but he opted to carry on and keep the tradition alive and continues to do so with the assistance of volunteers who help participants park and sponsors like Ainslie’s and NAPA Auto Parts, Steve McGee Construction and Gosline Retirement Planning, who help defray the costs of the free event.

“A lot of the originals aren’t around anymore,” he said. “Those people who were in their 70s would be in their 90s now and they aren’t around.”

First they’d drive themselves, then others would drive them, he said. And eventually, they’d stop coming.


Willy Veilleux poses with his 1954 Willys Overland wood paneled wagon Thursday at Ainslie’s Market. Gardiner’s Thursday Night Cruise-In returned to its old home because the Gardiner Landing is still being cleaned up from recent flood damage. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“Every time your car show gets mentioned in an obituary, you realize how much it meant to them,” he said.

The ones that come now are like Patenaude, who used to stop by the event on his way into the night shift at Associated Grocers. His Rebel Machine spent years in his garage in pieces, until it was eventually rebuilt. Or they’re like Veilleux, who said when he bought his Jeep, it had trees growing through the floor.

And they’re not all men. April Alderson, who owns four Camaros including her first — 1981 Z28 — was at Thursday’s cruise-in. She works part time at Percy Bailey Auto Sales in Gardiner, one of the event’s sponsors.

“Most people tend to get cars that remind them of their youth,” Alderson said. “A lot of it is nostalgia and a lot of it is the camaraderie you have with other people who feel the same way.”

And some people come for the food, provided by a food truck run by the First Baptist Church of Gardiner.

Way’s Model B is long gone as are the string of cars he had after that, but as he grew up and made his way in the world, his love of cars turned into a life’s work, at gas stations, car dealerships and finally as a mechanic for the Connecticut State Police. He retired from there 23 years ago and moved to Maine because his wife wanted to move to a log cabin in the woods.


Another classic car cruises into the parking lot Thursday at Ainslie’s Market in Gardiner. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Even in his retirement, his interested in cars continues.

“I’ve never watched an inning of baseball, or a down of football or any of that,” he said.

He brought his 1940 Ford pickup, with a flathead V-8 and a three-speed transmission. It probably wasn’t originally the bright, bold red it is today. But now that it is, he calls it his patriotic truck, pointing to the American flag he has mounted in the bed.

Way said he’s had the red pickup for six years and he’s put nearly 50,000 miles on it, traveling to car shows in New York state and Connecticut. He has collected stickers from the shows he’s attended that are stuck to the inside of the toy chest he refinished and installed in the bed of his pickup.

Everett said he expects the event will return to Waterfront Park next week, if the silt dropped by the river has been cleaned up.

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