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Oct-11-2010 14:10printcommentsVideo

Dragging the Gut Drives Crowds to Relive The Good Ole Days in McMinnville

Live music, free movies and a sock hop were the precursor for a night of cruising reminiscent of years gone by...

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Friends collected from far and near to relive their nights dragging the gut. Video by Tim King. Photos by Dexter Phoenix

(MCMINNVILLE, Ore.) - McMinnville, Oregon had a real blast from the past over the weekend. A cruising event known locally as dragging the gut that's been banned since 1989, was reborn with a vital resurgence.

Hundreds to thousands descended on this semi rural city Saturday night while scores of local cars, many put away in garages since the 1989 police cruising ban, rolled out under the lights of this traditional nighttime motor route; cars that have been sleeping for decades.

"Half these hot rods have been parked for years. All these guys don't dare take 'em out, the cops would have them written up or whatever," commented Larry Collver, while enjoying the event.

Here, cruising has always been called "Dragging the Gut" a name fairly - though not totally - unique to McMinnville, Oregon. It’s a term most towns didn’t use. But where they did, dragging the gut was well-known for nothing less than a really good time.

For over 40 years, young people would collect in downtown McMinnville, or Mac, on Friday and Saturday nights and do little else than drive back and forth on Third Street.

Dragging the Gut meant driving far too slow while revving engines, hanging out their car windows, shouting to their friends, playing loud music and inevitably creating memories to carry on, decade after decade.

Many relationships created on the Gut years ago are still standing strong, "I met my wife. It worked out really well, we have three kids; we've been together for 25 years, it worked out well!" Bob Landry shared.

I asked Ruben Contreras, event coordinator and facebook group administrator if the huge turnout was a response to a need that people have been missing here for over 20 years.

He said, "Yeah, you know there is a lot of pent-up remembrance of people coming down and being part of something. This was a place where you didn't have to be a cool kid, you didn't have to know somebody, you didn't have to be invited, you didn't need money. If you could get gas in your mom's station wagon, you could come down here."

Those weekend nights long ago were nearly festive, with “the Gut” every driver’s destination after the game, the dance, the movies, or just as a standalone gathering place for friends from far and wide, even for those without their own vehicles. It was the place to "be".

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And on this Saturday night in October, it was again the place to be.

"I have no idea how many people are here," Contreras said. "It was backed up all the way to Lafayette Avenue; the original highway, and I really just have no idea. For a rainy day it is surprising. But leading up to this, everywhere I went in McMinnville, just random people would strike up a conversation; they already knew about it. this is phenomenal to me just the way communication has changed."

The facebook group "I dragged the Gut in McMinnville" was the spearhead for the event. Over 2,000 participants in the social networking group instantly received the much-anticipated word that a date had been set, and people from all ages, auto interests and areas throughout the country began making plans to attend the first ever "Drag the Gut" festival.

"It's a real phenomena, it is really amazing," Contreras said.

"You hear about social media being something that separates people; keeps them at home away from their friends. I think we've shows that it's an avenue to bring people together. We've gained a lot, a lot of food's been given today. So people come out to do some good, reliving their youth, pretty constructively."

Terry MacGowan, with the YCAP foodbank said he was surprised at the turnout. "About three times what I expected, from what I can see, really; it's a great spectacle. I'm only hoping we get as much food for the food bank, as we have cars here."

The traditional loop considered “the gut” was up and down Third Street, where on Saturday night, people lined the sidewalks, spending money in local establishments, and enjoying a real show.

"It's wonderful to me because I've driven most of these cars at one time or another in my lifetime. Coming from the 1950's, we had a lot of these cars around," Terry MacGowan said.

"It's in your blood, once it's there it's always there."

That sure is the story for many here. Cruising is an American tradition; a rite of passage, a way of pridefully showing the world that you have a driver’s license, and showing off your automotive prowess.

Dragging the Gut was a social activity that contributed to the development of personality and character for a vast many people- good, bad or otherwise for generations. That’s un-debatable.

It looks like McMinnville's historic cruise route has new life. Car events are popular, it could be very good for the local economy.

"It would happen if we could, it came in on the Internet you know from what I understand. So that's got a great population and I think you'll even have a bigger crowd next year. If it keeps growing and growing; the Detroit Autorama is like 7,000 cars, and that's incredible for an event, a car event, you can't even see them all in a week, it's pretty great," said MacGowan.

The most well-known cruiser movie is American Graffiti. Set in the 1960’s, director George Lucas made his hometown of Modesto, California’s main drag famous by depicting it in the film. They still cruise there, and the city hosts an annual "Graffiti Night" in the film's honor.

The powers-that-be never much liked cruisers however, and eventually frustration with clogged traffic and use of police energies and funds took their toll, with cruisers seen as a menace by merchants and local residents in cities and states across the country.

"Cruising was never a bad deal, we used to do it up in Portland up 6th down Broadway for years, until they stopped all of that after my generation. But, it was a good thing, the guys didn't get into trouble, they weren't doing bad things, just good things really. A lot of friendships were made at that time that are lasting until now you know," said MacGowan.

Local Bob Landry agreed, "It's way cool, when I was in my early 20's I used to do this every Friday and Saturday night and then they cut it off and followed through with Portland. It's nice to see this thing happen again."

There is no doubt that 'dragging the gut' crosses all generations.

"Yeah I've explained it all to my son and he just couldn't get it, but he's got a real nice Jeep; he's been cruising up and down and kind of got introduced to it," Landry added.

"We'd like to see it happen a little more. It's good fun. There's no fights, there are no riots or problems, it's just everybody enjoying the cars."

MacGowan affirmed the longlasting meaning behind the activity, "It is in your blood, it's in your heart, I'd stay here all night if there was just one car running. It's a great thing, it's beautiful. Love the automobiles."

"This is a place where everybody could come and congregate, and it brought everybody together. And I think we're seeing a lot of that too. Everybody can come, everybody's welcome," Contreras said.

After years of non-activity and conflict, progress for cruisers around the country has been made, slowly but surely. From motivated auto enthusiasts to civil rights activists, many found the 'curb on cruising' distasteful, and outside the bounds of basic American freedom of choice. Now, Vay Nuys Blvd in Southern California, Modesto, California, and McMinnville, Oregon are back in the cruising generation.

"Hopefully they'll let us do this every year, it would be great," said Larry Collver. "A couple of times during the summer would be great too. We ran this thing all the time on our bikes. Park down here, there are lots of outdoor restaurants and stuff. I mean you look at all the people it brought out, everybody's been after this for a long time I think, it brings the whole community together I think."

Ruben Contreras thinks the festival had a positive impact and the future may hold more such gatherings. "I think we've collected a lot of food, and have brought people together, and it just seems like you've got to continue this, if nothing else for the benefit of the food Bank. There are a lot of happy people, this is a tough economic time and there is a lot of joy here.

"Maybe that explains some of it, I don't know, but I just know that people are pretty happy, getting a lot of hugs."

Dragging the Gut in McMinnville, Oregon is a deeply rooted, well-loved, small town tradition, and though there are negatives in allowing such an activity, the positives that we heard on Third street and that were reflected on the pages of their facebook group far outweigh them. And those stories are just the tip of the iceberg.

At this time, there is no agreement to allow dragging the Gut in Mac on a regular basis, but this first Dragging the Gut Festival was a great opportunity to come together in unison, supporting the movement to lawfully cruise.

To join the facebook page, Click here: "I dragged the Gut in McMinnville"


Video shot & Produced by Tim King,

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Tim King is a former U.S. Marine with twenty years of experience on the west coast as a television news producer, photojournalist, reporter and assignment editor. In addition to his role as a war correspondent, this Los Angeles native serves as's Executive News Editor. Tim spent the winter of 2006/07 covering the war in Afghanistan, and he was in Iraq over the summer of 2008, reporting from the war while embedded with both the U.S. Army and the Marines.

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Bob Berkey February 5, 2011 1:13 pm (Pacific time)

Wow! This sure brings back great memories!I went to McMinnville High and was friends with Ruban!I remember Cruising the Gut in my 66 Impala,and picking up chicks!I was born in Mac,and grew up in Sheridan,Dayton and Mac.I now live in Georgia ,but often think on those good old days of Fonzy,the Gut,foose ball and school dances! Loved your story,and I hope they keep cruising the Gut!! Bob Berkey

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