AUBURN — Just before noon on Wayne Street, outside the brick building that used to be the Auburn Automobile Co.’s headquarters, they cruise down the street slowly behind a police escort.
Dozens of relics from yesteryear. Curves of chrome and sleek steel glimmering in the sunlight, going slowly down the street as a Dixieland band strikes up a tune to welcome them back home.
This is Auburn as Labor Day weekend dawns:
Antique cars once made here coming home, pulling to a stop outside the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum after completing the Hoosier Tour – an annual event for the ACD Festival – that took drivers up to Michigan and back.
Those same drivers – and their passengers – hopping out and getting reacquainted with friends who’ve lined the street and milled about in the parking lot waiting for them.
People from all over – some from Europe and even Australia – shaking hands, sharing hugs, admiring the shine of a hood or the design of a hood ornament.
“This is an amazing town,” says Thomas Bour, who has come here with his wife, Pat, for more than 20 years.
They’ve just completed their fifth or sixth Hoosier Tour – “The best one yet,” Thomas says – in a pink ’36 Auburn.
It’s a car they came to own by trading a ’29 Cord to another man during this very weekend several years ago.
That ’29 Cord is what brought them to Auburn for the Labor Day weekend in the first place, when Thomas was trying to restore the car.
They traveled by plane from their home in Haynesville, La., that time, and fell in love with the festival and Auburn.
“The people are so friendly here,” Pat says.
It’s a town steeped in its history, which is on full display this weekend.
Several antique cars later line the parking spots on Ninth Street, right outside the Auburn Hotel, a historic site in its own right.
People are taking pictures of it on the sidewalk, and then they’re taking pictures of the Courthouse in the middle of the square and shuffling in and out of antique stores.
And there’s more history being put on display at the Auburn Auction Park just off Interstate 69. Auctions America has been running the annual Auburn Fall Auction for the past few years.
Thursday, automobile lovers were beginning to straggle into the auction park as bidding on more than 1,200 various cars began.
Inside the main building, they sat in chairs and bleachers, watching trucks and cars roll onto and off the auction block, listening to the fast lips of auctioneers and waiting for one of the many large fans to rotate toward them to give them a cool breeze.
Some sipped beer. Some snacked on chips.
Others watched the NBC Sports Network reporter and her cameraman interview car owners and buyers for the television network’s coverage of the event, which will extend through the weekend.
It’s a new wrinkle to this year’s auction – never before has there been television coverage that can potentially reach into 80 million homes.
Celebrities are scheduled, as well.
Most notably Richard Rawlings and Aaron Kaufman, stars of the Discovery Channel’s “Fast N’ Loud,” and Jessi Combs, star of “Overhauling” and “All Girls Garage.”
All three are scheduled to make appearances Saturday, something the organizers hope will increase attendance.
Still, though, there are the cars. And the history.
You can find almost any car you can think of at the auction park, from the classic to the weird.
Thursday, there was a 1981 DeLorean in line to be auctioned off. There’s also a 1957 black Austin taxi, complete with a For Hire lighted sign on the roof.
There’s even a 1986 Pulse, which looks more like a yellow rocket than a real automobile.
Then there are the cars that still turn people’s heads – the Camaros, the Corvettes, the old muscle cars, the hot rods and the Cadillacs.
And there are the ones that bring back memories.
“That’s a beautiful car,” says Roger Shields, motioning to a blue and white 1957 Studebaker.
Shields is with his wife, Annette, and both have come from South Bend, where the Studebakers were once made.
They come here frequently to take in the cars, but it’s always the Studebakers that grab Roger’s attention.
His father, Bill Shields, once made these cars, and he owned many during his life.
“He loved those old Studebakers,” Roger says of his dad.
So it’s here, in lot after lot of more than 200 acres off Interstate 69, and through the streets of a small town just north of Fort Wayne, that people come to have a sense of history through the machines once built here and around the world.
In Auburn, on Labor Day weekend.