It was like a family reunion at the Delta County Fairgrounds last Friday when the Colorado Grand Auto Tour rolled through Hotchkiss for the 27th time.
"Hey, the tour's great," community liason Eddie O'Brien said shortly after arriving on the scene in a cherry red 1966 Shelby 427 Cobra.
O'Brien is one of the tour's Trailblazers and as a board member is allowed to drive a post-1960 vehicle. All other entrants drive pre-1960 automobiles.
"We've been in Hotchkiss for 27 years. We love it here," O'Brien said. "This was one of our very first starts."
The 2015 tour featured 133 classic automobiles from around the world that were accompanied by an equally diverse, colorful group of adventurous drivers.
The cars made multiple stops over three days all around the Western Slope. This year's route had stops in Meeker, Vail and Lake City and covered more than 1,100 miles.
Friday, Sept. 18, was the last day of this year's tour and it couldn't have gone better under picture-perfect conditions in the North Fork Valley.
The event contributes generously to many charities at each of its stops.
"This event does an incredible job of blending several things," said driver Mark Hyman, in his seventh tour. "The charity, of course, makes it really good for a lot of people."
Among the many charities receiving money from the Colorado Grand this year were the Needlerock Family Health Clinic in Crawford, Friends of the Paradise Theatre and Delta County Citizens for Animal Welfare.
The tour also gives money to yearly college scholarships for students from host towns.
"Of course the cars are great," Hyman added. "But it's not only about the cars, it's about the people. The people form an incredible group, it becomes very cohesive. You make a lot of great friends, you have a lot of fun, and you also in turn are able to give back to the communities that appreciate the fact that we do this."
Hyman was on his way to Paonia, where he drove a vintage 1931 8L Bentley in the Homecoming parade.
An antique car dealer from St. Louis and self-proclaimed car "enthusiast, fanatic and nut," Hyman had time to praise the hosts in Hotchkiss.
"The hospitality is phenomenal. The food is phenomenal. And the scenery is incredible," Hyman said. "The hospitality I like the best."
The vehicles rolled into the Delta County Fairgrounds and parked in lines for the many onlookers and picture takers that were eagerly awaiting their arrival.
Drivers were interviewed and talked with many curious picture takers. They compared stories from the road and sought out the most unique cars in the mass assemblage of fine automobiles.
It was even fun to work there. Zack's Bar-B-Q provided lunch for all of the drivers. Owner David Price donned an apron and dished out the vittles, along with many volunteers who came to feed the drivers and admire their cars.
"We've been affiliated with the tour for several years," Price said. "It's one of our favorites."
Drivers were given a free barbeque lunch and treated to music and beverages from Big B's. Local car fans and media members were assessed a reasonable fee of $8 for lunch.
The drivers milled around the fairgounds and enjoyed the exceptional early fall weather. Golden sunshine and cool breezes created a lively atmosphere of good will.
"It's a win-win for everybody," Price said. "We enjoy mingling with the crowds and looking at the cars. We just enjoy doing it."
Out in the parking lot it was a car lover's dream. Right in front was a robin's egg blue 1955 Lancia Aurelia Spider. Alfa Romeo and Porsche were well represented and there were several Aston Martins, Jaguars and Mercedez-Benz racers.
Generating a lot of discussion and admiration were the Bentleys.
"It's a car with quite a heritage," co-driver Richard Crump said of the 1929 8L Bentley, owned and driven by Hayden Groendyke. "This is the car that won at Le Mans four years in a row."
The elegant and long forest green Bentley had a classic design and harnessed quite a bit of power under the hood.
"With that 8-liter engine, it's amazingly powerful," Crump said. "It could get up to 140 miles per hour. I've only had it at 85, and that was at 2,500 rpm. Cruising speed."
Crump, who hails from Enid, Okla., echoed all of the drivers when he talked about his hosts.
"Hotchkiss is just a fun town to visit," Crump said. "I love seeing all the agriculture and everything is so fresh and nice. And there's some really good wine out here."
Driver David George might well have had the oldest ride in the bunch when he pulled into the fairgounds behind the wheel of a 1923 Alfa Romeo model RLTF.
"That's one of two existing models of that car," George said. "Only four of them were made."
George immediately went to work on the vehicle after he parked it in between two other Alfa Romeos. He took a wrench to the engine and tested the fuel level while busily describing the car to a large group of onlookers.
Co-driver Tanya Emslie handed George tools and talked about the car. The driver, who said he was in his 13th or 14th tour, finished his adjustments quickly and then shooed everyone away.
"I love Hotchkiss," George said. "Want to go listen to some of the music. Want to go eat some of the food!"
Like everyone else from the Colorado Grand, he couldn't wait to get some of that Hotchkiss hospitality.
On Tuesday, Sept. 11, the Delta County Board of Commissioners called a special meeting to consider the board's response to the Bureau of Land Management's preliminary Environmental Assessment (EA) concerning the lease parcels proposed for the December BLM sale.
Several people from the North Fork were present to provide input.