Das Awkscht Fescht

Das Awkscht Fescht

For more than 55 years, classic car enthusiasts have descended on Macungie Memorial Park to touch the history created by the combustible engine and marvel at how automobiles have evolved in design and technology.

Founded in 1964 by car enthusiast brothers George and Bob Wendling, who operated an auto repair shop near Macungie Memorial Park, and a committee of volunteers, Das Awkscht Fescht, the August Festival in Pennsylvania German, attracts between 15,000 and 20,000 people every year. They’re drawn by the nostalgia of vintage vehicles and an array of activities and entertainment beyond cars for children and families. This year’s festival is Aug. 2-4.

“We say it’s the largest car show of its kind in the country, and no one has challenged us,” says Phil Kresge, who chairs the volunteer committee that organizes Das Awkscht Fescht. “There are larger car shows, but ours is strictly antique and classic cars, no customized cars.”

“The Wendling brothers specialized in the restoration of antique cars, and they introduced the concept of having a show to help raise money for Macungie Memorial Park, and it started growing from there,” Kresge says. “It’s much more than car show now, but classic and antique cars remain the focus of the Fescht.”

Over the years, the event has added arts and crafts featuring more than 60 vendors offering high-quality homemade items and a toy town flea market at Shoemaker and Eyer Middle School in Macungie where vendors bring collectible toys for sale and display. A shuttle bus is available between the schools and the park.

There’s children’s entertainment—magicians, a juggler, and ventriloquists. Crayola sponsors an area where children can do chalk drawings and other artwork with donated supplies. “We try to keep the kids entertained. Kids don’t always have an interest in old cars,” Kresge says.

A food court situated in the middle of the park features vendors offering turkey barbeque, burgers, pizza, hot dogs, sausage, and sweets.

Daylong entertainment, featuring local band and musicians, is also a big attraction. The headliners this year are Flamin’ Dick and the Hot Rods from 7:30-10:30 pm on Aug. 2 and Craig Thatcher from 7:30-10:30 pm on Aug. 3.

Kresge is excited about a new addition to the year’s festival, a two-day human foosball tournament.

“It’s just like the tabletop foosball but with a life-sized court where eight teams will compete in a single elimination tournament,” he says. “The winning team will receive a cash prize.” Registration forms will be available on Das Awkscht Fescht’s Facebook page. Participants need to be at least 18.

Also new this year is a beer garden that will offer both beer and wine for purchase.

“You won’t go hungry or thirsty,” Kresge says.

All proceeds from the event benefit the 42-acre Macungie Memorial Park, which is marking its 75th anniversary this year. The park is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, which relies on coordinating and hosting events to support itself.

“The event has grown and shrank some in recent years, as other regional events such as Musikfest have drawn people away,” says Amy Hillegass, park manager. “One thing we are working on for the future is to bring in events to attract younger crowds. People in their 20s and 30s can’t necessarily relate to a car from 1940.”

With thousands of people coming to the festival every August, the park has benefited by more visitors throughout the year. Founded in 1944, the park was originally established as a memorial to active duty military and veterans. “We still get calls about placing a memorial for a parent or an aunt or uncle. People come to the park to enjoy the mature trees and the memorial placed beneath them,” she says.

“It’s interesting­—you can come to the park and see thousands of people,” Hillegass says. “People come back as a result of the festival. Grandchildren come back to the park because they heard stories of their grandparents who would attend the festival every August.”

While the festival continues to expand, its heart is still connected to chassis, chrome, and engines.

Visitors can expect to see up to 900 classic cars from various car clubs on the Saturday and Sunday of the festival and up to 400 on Friday, when street rods and custom cars are exhibited. “Saturday and Sunday are more for the purists,” says Matt Manwiller, the event chairman for the Ontelaunee Region of the Antique Automobile Club of America, which has historically coordinated everything related to the festival’s vehicles and the Car Corral, where visitors can purchase vintage cars.

“We generally accept vehicles that are 25 years old or older,” says Manwiller, who has a 1932 Chevy among his four-car classic car collection. The Chevy belonged to his grandparents, who were regulars at the festival along with his parents. “They have been attending as long as I can remember,” he says. “It’s a family thing, a tradition for so many people.”

Manwiller is always dazzled by the various entries over the years, everything from Stanley Steamers to Cadillacs and Ferraris.

“You never know what you’re going to see,” he adds. “Last year, we had a Tucker 48 display vehicle from the American Car Association museum.”

In keeping with tradition, a different make of car is highlighted every year. For 2019, the featured car area will showcase Chryslers, Dodges, Plymouths, and DeSotos from the 1920s through the 1980s.

Hillegass summed it up when asked what inspires people to come back to Das Awkscht Fescht every year.

“There’s an allure of vintage vehicles,” she says. “You can touch history.”

For a complete schedule of events, visit awkscht.com.

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