AUBURN — Daniel Stutzman isn’t what you’d call a car guy. Not by a long stretch.
Even so, this was his 10th consecutive year attending the annual Auburn Cord Duesenberg Festival, an extravaganza that literally places classic cars on pedestals.
But Stutzman wasn’t fazed Saturday by the hoopla.
“We’re here to make ice cream,” he said as he baby-sat two five-gallon ice cream freezers in the afternoon heat, adding ice as needed while a John Deere engine powered the cranks that churned his secret recipe.
Stutzman’s Family Ice Cream, where a bowl of peach or black raspberry sells for $5, is one of dozens of small businesses that gravitate to DeKalb County on Labor Day weekend each year. The events, including the Auctions America classic car auction held in conjunction with the ACD Festival, attract tens of thousands every year.
And that means tens of thousands of stomachs to be filled with lemonade, pizza, loaded sweet potatoes, chicken tenders, rib tips, corn dogs, turkey legs and elephant ears.
But it’s not all about food.
Dan Kirchner, owner of Dan Kirchner Automotive Literature, has been attending the event since it was held, in part, at the high school, he said, estimating that was the mid- to late-1970s.
The Dearborn, Michigan, man’s tent and trailer are packed with plastic milk crates full of car owner’s manuals, sales brochures, repair manuals and parts books. These are meant for the hard-core gear heads.
So are the hubcaps and car parts sold in other vendor tents on the Auctions America Auction Park grounds just east of I-69.
“The person here is a person who is interested in cars,” Kirchner said, adding that it doesn’t necessarily mean that the typical visitor is knowledgeable about the fine points of specific vehicles.
Many attend, he said, just to have a good time.
Kirchner declined to estimate how much of his annual sales are made each year in Auburn. But he allowed that the percentage is significant. So did Tom Petty, owner of Vintage Neon out of Brighton, Michigan.
And, yes, that’s his real name.
Petty has been attending the ACD Festival for more than 30 years as a car collector and a vendor. Years ago, he was buying neon signs for his own use. Then he decided he could do a better job selling neon and vintage porcelain signs – dating back to the 1930s – than the guys he was dealing with.
Now, Petty travels the country, hawking nostalgic signs that advertise Coca-Cola, Ford, John Deere and many defunct brands. He estimated his sales are up 30 percent this year compared with last year.
“I do eight of the biggest (car) shows in the country,” he said. “This one is getting better all the time.”
Petty and Kirchner both praised the staff of Auctions America, which bought the auction park in 2010 from Dean Kruse, who had filed for bankruptcy.
Kirchner called the Auctions America staff friendlier and more helpful than the Kruse crew, which Kirchner said once implied that Kirchner and other vendors were undesirables, not classy enough for the image Kruse was trying to project.
“This is a breath of fresh air,” Petty said of dealing with the new auction group. “These people are Canadian. They’re honest. They care about everybody. This is a well-run ship.”
In case you were wondering, Stutzman, the ice cream maker, is shirttail relation to that other Stutzman, U.S. Rep. Marlin, R-3rd. He estimated that his children might be sixth cousins to the congressman, “if there is such a thing.”