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Wapato Showdown rolls into Gaston for 20th year

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NEWS-TIMES/HILLSBORO TRIBUNE FILE PHOTOS - Souped-up cars are popular with the young crowd.Nearly 20 years ago, a group of men gathered in Gaston to settle an issue that plagues the small town to this very day. The Knights of Pythias agreed that something needed to be done to raise more money for the town and their organization if both were to thrive in the future.

Ideas were tossed around, and after a bit of debate, some suggested putting on a car show.

“No, that’s crazy,” Don Allen, a member of the Knights, recalled saying. “That won’t work.”

But after a successful first year, the Wapato Showdown lived on, and has become an annual staple for both the Knights and the Gaston community.

The show features around 400 cars every year, from Volkswagens to Cadillacs to Mercedes and more. In recent years, vintage trailers and campers have shown up as well. Anywhere from 3,500 to 5,000 people make their way to the western Washington County town to see the different kinds of vehicles, according to Allen, who is now the vice grand chancellor of the Knights’ Oregon chapter and the chairman of the car show.

The Knights are a nonprofit fraternal organization — the group was founded in in 1864 in Washington, D.C. by Justus H. Rathbone. Rathbone was inspired by a play by the Irish poet John Banim about the legend of Damon and Pythias. In Greek historic writings, Pythias is accused and charged of creating a plot against the tyrannical Dionysius I of Syracuse. Pythias makes a request that he be allowed to settle his affairs on the condition that he leaves his friend, Damon, as a hostage. if Pythias doesn’t return, Damon will be executed. Eventually, Pythias returns to face execution to the amazement of Dionysius, who, because of the sincere trust and love of their friendship, lest both Damon and Pythias go free.

The Oregon chapter of the Knights was founded in 1886 in Portland. Around that time, the organization was made up of nearly 100,000 members, with the number dwindling to 500 in recent years. The Knights in Gaston put on other events to raise money that goes to helping children in Gaston — Boy Scouts, scholarships for Gaston High School students and more. Gaston’s population is about 800, so the with the crowd comes good business.

NEWS-TIMES/HILLSBORO TRIBUNE FILE PHOTOS - Car owners from far and wide bring their vehicles to show at annual Wapato Showdown. This year the show celebrates its 20th year.“This car show is good for the town. We’re a poor community, and it brings in a lot of money,” said Allen. “It’s the Gaston Market’s busiest day, and the owner himself is a Knight.”

Sixty-five members that are very active in the group put on the car show every year, but not without some help. Different classes and groups from the high school also get involved in helping to organize the event and set up games and activities. But every year, the road to the Wapato Showdown is a long one.

“After August, we take September off, and when we get back a month later, we start organizing for next year’s show,” said Allen.

On the eve of the car show, Gaston holds a Good Ol’ Days Parade with around 85 entries featuring local groups and organizations. The parade follows a route along Old Highway 47, eventually cutting over to Oregon 47 and returns to its point of origin. This year’s parade theme is “Back to the Fifties.” NEWS-TIMES/HILLSBORO TRIBUNE FILE PHOTOS - Car enthusiasts can view a wide range of newer and vintage vehicles during the Wapato Showdown.

In addition to cars, the showdown also boasts contests, food booths, family activities and live demonstrations. The Best Pipes Contest is a highlight for fans of loud cars and motorcycles — it pits souped-up engines against one another in a battle of the decibels, with the loudest engine in each of four classes named the winner.

Live music and a beer garden open the day of the show.

“It’s a really fun event ... one of the biggest around, and it keeps getting bigger all the time,” said Fred Black, who handles the website, pictures and trophies for the event. “Most car shows don’t last that long, but we keep on going.”

The 20th annual Wapato Showdown is set for Saturday, Aug. 27. Show cars are usually parked on the ballfields near the intersection of Main Street and Onion Lane by noon. The Good Ol’ Days Parade will start promptly at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 26.

IF YOU GO:

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  • Friday, Aug. 26: Gaston Good Ol’ Days Parade, 6:30 p.m. followed by a steak feed hosted by the Gaston Boosters Club.

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  • Saturday, Aug. 27: Firefighters’ Pancake Breakfast, 6:30 to 10:30 a.m. at the Gaston Rural Fire District building, 102 E. Main St. Cost is $8 for adults and $5 for children age 8 and under. At 11 a.m. the fire department will dedicate its new building and host tours.

    After the breakfast the Wapato Showdown car show gets under way at Brown Park, with the Best Pipes Contest set for 1 p.m.