As you all know I live in a van and also own a custom van. Vanfest is a custom show I am blessed to help with. We celebrated 25 years this year (2 years late but you know). This week I want to share how and why this event has gone from 55 vans attending to over 400 vans and trucks. From 10 vans in the show and shine to over 200 vans and trucks. An amazing blooming of a beautiful event.
First lets get to know the vanning community better. If you have never been to a “Truck in” with custom vans, it is a weekend filled with fun, laughter and some darn pretty vans. The event would usually start on Friday with everyone pulling in, setting up camp, packing a cooler and going “trippin”. There is usually a band on Friday and Saturday night to dance to, as well as blender parties and games to participate in. Vendors for yes you guessed it, van stuff but also arts and crafts as well as food vendors. Saturday brings the Custom Van Show where you walk through an amazing show of creativity and ingenuity of beautiful vans. I started vanning in 1986 and over 30 years later the friendships I have made and the places that vanning has taken me are memories I hold so very dear. We are a worldwide community with a common interest that has become family. I do mean world wide…Norway, Finland, Australia just to name a few. My friend Andy from England flew over and attended Vanfest a few years ago. It was so fun to hug and laugh with him in person. What a wonderful man he is.
Vanfest: The History
In 1995 my friend Kevin Lundy had a great idea. Canada needed a new event for showing our customs vans. A small group of people got together and invited their friends to their event called Vanfest. I remember the first one held at Springwater Conservation Area. I had a beautiful blue 1974 Ford Econoline and at 8 am on Saturday morning got a knock on my van with Kevin yelling “get up Stace, we need your van in the show”. Huh? I did not usually show my van. It’s a lot of work to shine and polish especially after a night of dancing and laughing and visiting with friends. But with a little “come on we will help” I put her in. I do not even remember if I won a trophy or not. Lol. I just remember the knock. My first Vanfest I was hooked. I told Kevin if he needed help with anything for the second year just let me know. 25 years later I am still here and cannot wait for Vanfest 26.
Now I have a habit of putting my hand up and volunteering for things. Oh the things I have gotten myself into. Like when I volunteered to make ballet dresses for my daughters ballet class recital. Maybe I should known how to sew before I did that. Lol! In case you are wondering, I did learn to sew and made the dresses but it was a tough leaning curve. I did not put my hand up again for that. Lol! Lesson learned. This time I will forever ever be thankful that I put my hand up. Not only did I make incredible friendships with the Vanfest staff, we became family. 25 years later most of us are still there and loving every minute of it.
The memories we have made over the years. My friend Annie and I in the early years did the gate shift late Friday nights. I will always remember the laughs we had sitting in the booth, watching a little black and white TV with a little heater while her husband John brought us warm drinks. We also learned that if you go into the woods to pee do not lean against the pine tree . It becomes a sticky situation! Lol Registering vehicles as they came through the gate was our job but it was the best night job I ever had with the best company. Back then we had a staff of about 12 people to run the event. Now there is close to 50.
Remember when I said the event would usually start on Friday? In the early years Kevin and I would get to to the park on Wednesday night to start to get things organized. We would be the only ones in the park. A quiet beginning to a very busy weekend. Now there is already 50 people in the park on Wednesday and we had to put staff on the registration gate starting Thursday for the event that starts on Friday. Lol! In 2019 we had over 250 vans and trucks through the gate by Thursday at Midnight.
In 1997 we decided to add mini trucks to the show. In came the kids. What am awesome addition. Clubs like Disorderly Conduct, Low Life Customs, and Fallen Fantasy, among others. These little and big trucks were impressive. The people that drive them absolutely wonderful and darn fun. You never know what they will come up with. One year the Stanley Cup final playoff game was on the Friday night of Vanfest. Low Life got a satellite projector and built a huge screen. Almost everyone in the park was there with lawn chairs watching the game. It was funny listening because where we would normally hear music, we heard SCORED!!! Haha. I have made some beautiful friends through these clubs and watched as they grew to wonderful young men and woman. Because yup girls drive cool toys too. I am a prime example!
Another sound we had to get used to was the scrapping. They have air bags and drop the beds and actually scrape along the ground. Sparks will fly and everything. If a van makes that noise something is broke! Lol. I remember one of the guys coming in to register and I said you are so low I almost have to get on my knees to talk to you. He pushed a button and the whole truck just lifted. That was so cool.
In the beginning years we would be excited to break 100 vehicles. There would be 20 to 40 vehicles on the show field but soon it started to grow. So did the staff we needed to keep it organized. The people that put up their hand and said we will help became family. Little did we know what a huge success it would be.
This year we had 417 vans and trucks through the gate with almost 1/2 showing. Vanfest has become one of the largest outdoor shows for custom vans and trucks in Canada. But really it’s not the number of vans and trucks but the number of people we get to hug and the wonderful people we get to meet. They come from all over. In Canada from Quebec and the maritime provinces. We have even had people from British Columbia. Our friends from the US also come. We had people from Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Georgia, Ohio just to name a few. This year Don and Becky brought their van Pirates of the Caravan all the way from Missouri. What a beautiful van owned by wonderful people. It won Best in Show this year. With 208 vans and trucks on the field thats some stiff competition!
Some of the pretty vans in the show
We cannot talk about cool vans without introducing you to Ivan Benic’s van Cosmic Cruiser. Ivan is an amazing painter. The detail in the murals that he is done will blow you away. Cosmic Cruiser is 32′ long with double axels on both the front and back. Fabulous van and a fabulous man!
I have known Ivan for many years and for whatever reason I had never gone for a ride in the Cosmic Cruizer. Well this weekend he was determined to get me in the back of the van. After many “are you coming” and “you are just scared of old men eh” I finally jumped off a golf cart and into the back of the van. It was a wonderful ride! All he promised it would be.
This year after 25 years of being event chairman Kevin is leaving for the warm waters of the gulf in Mexico. It will be strange without him at the helm, but I have no doubt that we will be in safe hands with Geoff and Andy. After all the best team of people have their backs. We do it because we love vanning and we love Vanfest and we love throwing a kick ass party and inviting all of our friends.
If you ever are driving your van somewhere and see a sign that says “Van Show this way” do yourself a favor and follow that sign. Some of the most wonderful people in the world will be on the other side. I believe vanning was instrumental in my decision to move into a van. After all if I can live in a 69 Econoline for a few weeks, a Roadtrek for a lifetime is easy peasy. Just remember when you switch vans Do NOT stand up in the short one. Lol! Ouch! I am taking the 69 Econoline to the next Vanning Event which is held by C’old School Van Club in Tweed Ontario July 8-10. Cannot wait to play with my friends!
Thanks for coming along on my Chipmunk Adventure. Check in next week when I will show you where I want to go next!