John Gambs remembers exactly when his passion for collecting rare automobiles was ignited.
When he was 8, his grandmother took him to visit her friend who lived in the country near Lancaster, Ohio. As he explored the farm, he found a forgotten old car inside a barn. It was dusty and covered with chicken excrement and hay.
“But I’d sit in that car for hours until they drug me out of it,” said Gambs of the 1914 Saxon Roadster. “I found that car 40 years later and bought it.”
The Lafayette, Ind., man is one of several vintage car collectors who will be sharing automotive history with thousands attending the second annual Festival of Machines at Conner Prairie on Sept. 12-13. Gambs will display his 1914 American Underslung 666, a rare car once manufactured in Indiana.
“Being a collector is like being an artist. An original automobile restored to its original glory is like a fine painting,” he said. “The most fun to me is finding a great car, working on it and bringing it to life again. Most of the cars in my collection had not run in more than 30 years.”
Among this year’s collectors joining Gambs and showcasing their vintage automobiles at Festival of Machines will be John Elliot of Noblesville, Ind.; Donn Wray of Carmel, Ind.; Russell Cameron of Westfield, Ind.; Richard Clapper, John Klein and Andy Wolf of Indianapolis; Steve Ortman of Kokomo, Ind.; Larry Pumphrey of Greensburg, Ind.; Dennis Sobieski of Downers Grove, Ill.; and Allen Strong of Urbana, Ill.
The collectors will be honored at an exclusive reception and media sneak peek Sept. 11hosted by the Voice of the Indianapolis 500, Paul Page.
Festival of Machines will feature hundreds of vintage machines, including steam engines, aircraft, military vehicles, rescue vehicles, tractors and more. The festival focuses on sharing how curiosity, technology, human ingenuity and innovation have shaped the evolution of transportation. Throughout the weekend, family friendly activities, including pedal and Soap Box Derby car courses for young children, hay rides, food, games and more will be popular among attendees. Attendees can also experience a ride in a two-seat Dallara IndyCar through a portion of Conner Prairie’s grounds for an additional charge.
Admission to Festival of Machines is $16 for adults, $15 for seniors age 65 and older and $11 for children ages 2-12. The festival is free for museum members. Conner Prairie is extending its Blue Star Museum program through Sept. 13 and will be granting free admission to active military members, veterans and up to five immediate family members.
Festival of Machines is sponsored by Blakley’s Flooring, Reynolds Farm Equipment, USA Funds and Hagerman Construction.