Cruzin’ to Colby a trip down memory lane

EVERETT — Gas is four bucks a gallon, top speed is 5 miles per hour, and forget about drag racing.

Still, for a few hours Sunday, the young-at-heart cruised downtown Everett like it was 1961.

Hundreds of classic cars growled through downtown streets as part of the annual Cruzin’ to Colby event, a homage to a golden time long gone.

On Monday, the public can check out more hot rides at a car show and shine from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. downtown.

Cruising got its start after World War II, when people had a little money in their pockets and the automobile was king.

By the ’50s and’60s, Colby Avenue in Everett had become the place to see and be seen.

Clarence Steineke of Marysville, 63, is still driving the 1956 Chevrolet Delray 210 he used to cruise Everett streets with in the late 60s.

He’s improved the Delray since he bought it at age 18 with money earned from hauling hay and working on his parents’ strawberry farm.

Then it was unpainted and had no motor.

Today, it’s Porsche guard red with chrome trim. The upholstery is black velour and the dash trim is adorned with Chevy bow ties.

When Steineke parked for a moment Sunday afternoon on Colby Avenue and lifted the hood, everyone in the vicinity was temporarily blinded by the pristine chrome 502 injected motor.

“Now, that’s nice,” said a passerby, taking in an engine so clean Martha Stewart could bake tartlets on it.

As Steineke drove the circuit Sunday, the Delray’s powerful motor thrummed, a hot metal beast ready to pounce.

As a teenager, downtown Everett was the place Steineke met with his friends. Sometimes, he’d gun the motor and race for a block. Mostly, it was about socializing and checking out each other’s rides.

“This brings back memories, lots of memories,” he said Sunday.

Every Friday and Saturday night, cars packed the four-lane avenue between 32nd and 24th streets, said Jack O’Donnell, an Everett historian who lived along Colby Avenue in the 1950s and ’60s.

Back then, downtown Everett was a scene straight out of the movie “American Graffiti.”

Colby Avenue sliced through a thriving downtown, passing right by Everett High School.

O’Donnell owned a 1956 Chevy Bel Air convertible, painted root beer brown and cream. Gas was 25 cents a gallon and nobody thought about conserving it.

Young people would meet up with friends and circle over to Herfey’s Burgers on Broadway.

Or, they might pile into one car, slowly tool down Colby under a dark sky lit by neon, or punch the gas for an impromptu drag race.

Kids from towns north and east were drawn to downtown Everett.

“In many ways, it put Everett on the map,” O’Donnell said.

Over time, city leaders made changes that curtailed cruising: no parking in front of the high school and no U-turns on Colby, for instance.

Cruising eventually shifted to Evergreen Way. A no-cruising ordinance in 1987 put a stop to any cruising in Everett.

Steineke still drives his Delray, but only on nice days.

The young people he encounters don’t pay much attention to his car. But people his age: They take notice, often giving him a smile or a thumbs up.

Maybe they remember when cars growled and downtown Everett came alive on Friday and Saturday nights.

“It was just hanging out for us,” Steineke said. “It was something to do, to show off your stuff.”

Debra Smith: 425-339-3197; dsmith@heraldnet.com.

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