Take a ride to Fort Gratiot on ‘Cruise Night’

A Crobra cruises south on Military Street during Cruise Night in downtown Port Huron. Classics and customs made up the line of chrome and rubber that stretched from Pine Grove Park south to Oak Street. (Wendy Torello | Times Herald)

A Crobra cruises south on Military Street during Cruise Night in downtown Port Huron. Classics and customs made up the line of chrome and rubber that stretched from Pine Grove Park south to Oak Street. (Wendy Torello | Times Herald)

By Tony Wittkowski | Local Government Reporter | The Times Herald

Jamie Cameron has been to every Cruise Night since it first flooded the streets of downtown Port Huron in 1984.

The Port Huron resident can still remember when his father used to let him sit in the bed of his 1934 Ford hotrod and drive at a turtle’s pace from Port Huron to Fort Gratiot.

Thirty years later, Cameron plans on driving the same hotrod in what has become Blue Water Cruise Weekend.

“Our whole family will be bringing at least four cars out there, including my dad’s Ford,” Cameron said. “You go there to see the people to catch up with. The cars and the people are the main attractions.”

The cruise begins on the last Friday of June along M-25 in Fort Gratiot and the north end of Port Huron.

With estimated crowds at more than 50,000, Fort Gratiot is expecting a prolonged stay this summer.

The Keith Peterson Memorial Car Show was moved to the Saturday after the cruise, with fireworks being lit Saturday night. The pivotal car show will keep its time and location from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. in the Carson’s parking lot of the Birchwood Mall.

A couple years ago when Port Huron turned the event over to its neighbor to the north, the Fort Gratiot Business Association joined with township officials in an effort to bolster Blue Water Cruise.

As the Fort Gratiot community development coordinator, Kristy Jones has been meeting with the association to change what was normally a one-day event into a weekend festival.

Jones said it was a way to keep the crowd in the eastern portion of St. Clair County for a prolonged period of time.

“It didn’t make sense to have the car show on a Sunday when everyone left on Friday,” she said. “By moving it to Saturday and adding fireworks, the attendees stay here longer.”

However, it’s Friday night that proves to be one of the most festive atmospheres for the Blue Water Area in June.

Businesses along the Pine Grove strip that turns into 24th Avenue welcome cars and spectators with live music at Cheap Charlie’s and DJs at Big Boy and Chili’s.

“There are a lot of car clubs that converge on that one area for viewing and a chance for some live music,” Jones said. “It’s a very festive atmosphere.”

Those same businesses erect customer appreciation tents in their parking lots, while pizza is sold along the sidewalks as the cars line up for miles.

Port Huron Township resident Ron Steward has been on the event’s committee for nearly a decade. He joined their ranks to ensure the event retains its main intent.

“It’s an event that the community loves,” Steward said. “Everyone has an old car back in their memories. A lot of people will say, ‘I wish I had that car back.’ This event brings those type of vehicles back in physical form.”

The annual cruise has come a long way since it began with just eight vintage vehicles owned by Blue Water Auto Restorers Club members.

The car show alone averages 150 vehicles a year.

“I’ve been a big fan of the cruise for years now. Plus, we have a community that truly embraces the event,” Steward said.

The event doesn’t just bring out the local cruisers.

Steward said he has seen car owners from the Detroit area, Canada and some from the west side of the state.

The different regions have produced a larger array of cars for viewing.

“I love seeing what other people have done with their projects,” Steward said. “I have a 1968 Cheville that I redid in 1996. We’ve taken it to a few car shows, but I just prefer the driving aspect as opposed to letting it sit for people to look at.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at (810) 989-6270 or twittkowsk@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on March 28, 2015)

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