MARQUETTE - The sight of one Model A Ford traveling down an Upper Peninsula road is enough to make you stop and smile. The sight of more than 300 together is another thing all together.
This week, Marquette County and the Superior A's chapter of the Model A Ford Club of America will play host to the MAFCA national convention, bringing close to 1,000 people and 335 cars to the Upper Peninsula, a place automaker Henry Ford considered his playground.
Marquette will be the smallest community the convention has ever been hosted by and the MAFCA members - and more importantly, their cars - should be drawing quite a bit of local attention.
This 1930 Ford Model A was bought new at Sundblad Motors in Ishpeming by Heltze Oysti, who owned the car until selling it to Seth Johnson Sr. in 1936. The Model A was put in storage in 1960 by Seth Johnson Jr. and remained there until it was taken out 50 years later in 2010 by Daniel Johnson. (Dick Lutey photo)
"This convention is usually in a big city. When they have it there, they're hardly even noticed," said Steve Pellinen, president of the Superior A's.
"When you guys come here, you're going to be celebrities," Pellinen's wife Diane, who has been heading up organizational and planning efforts for the convention, said of her advice to attendees.
Attendees at the convention will represent 37 states, as well as Canada. A contingent of MAFCA members from New Zealand will also be attending.
"We're ahead of what Vancouver had a few years ago. There's a lot coming from the Midwest who haven't been to a convention in a long time," Diane Pellinen said.
For local hotels and restaurants, the weeklong convention is a big boost.
"It's a huge boost for June," said Pat Black of the Marquette County Convention and Visitors Bureau. "Usually the big tourism starts later in the month."
Black said with the attendees and their families concentrated in a number of hotels in Marquette Township, as well as others around the city and some in Ishpeming and Negaunee, several area hotels are full.
Black said the small-town setting would also be an unusual experience for MAFCA members.
Local excitement over the national convention has meant everything from a resolution from the Marquette County Board officially welcoming MAFCA members to the community to art projects in Marquette and Ishpeming that placed decorated cutouts of Model A's along city streets.
The convention kicks off Monday and runs through Friday. Events for the convention attendees include tours of local Henry Ford historical sites - such as Alberta, Pequaming and Iron Mountain - seminars, car judging and fashion judging, as well as social events, dinners and tours to other U.P. destinations, such as Mackinac Island and the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
As a special event, Edsel Ford II, the great grandson of Henry Ford, will be speaking at the convention's farewell banquet, marking the first time a member of the Ford family has attended one of the national conventions. Edsel Ford began working for the Ford Motor Company in 1974 and is a member of the company's board of directors.
"It's a big deal to have him here," Diane Pellinen said.
Ford Motor Company historian Bob Kreipke will also be speaking at the convention.
Because it is a national convention for MAFCA members, most of the convention is not open to the public. With the local interest in Model A's and Ford history, however, the local club decided to work in several events that are open to the public, all scheduled for Thursday.
"You can't have 350 Model A's in Marquette and not allow anyone to come see them," Diane Pellinen said.
Beginning at 1 p.m. at UpFront and Co., the Marquette Beautification Committee and the Marquette Downtown Development Authority are sponsoring a fashion show called "Henry and Clara," showcasing fashions typical of the late 1920s and early 1930s when the Model A was produced. Tickets are $25 per person.
Thursday evening, the public is invited to the convention's car parade through Ishpeming and Negaunee, which about 155 of the Model A's will be participating in. The parade begins at 5:30 p.m. at the Cliffs Shaft Mine Museum in Ishpeming, traveling to Hematite Drive and then to Business Route 28 where it will make a circuit through downtown Negaunee and then travel back to Ishpeming. Leading the parade will be the 20 millionth Ford, a milestone car made by the Ford Motor Company to boost sales during the Great Depression.
The public events will conclude with a showing of 32 Model A's that participated in the convention's judged competition at the Superior Dome from 7-9 p.m. The showing is free to the public and will also include displays of other famous vehicles, including the 20 millionth Ford and the Pequaming fire truck, as well as others.
During the convention, members of the public are asked to be aware of the antique vehicles that will be sharing the roads with them.
"These cars are going to be on the roads. They go slower than modern cars," Diane Pellinen said. "These cars are peoples' babies. They put a lot of time and money into restoring them."
Questions about the convention can be directed to the Marquette County Convention and Visitors Bureau at 1-800-544-4321.
Johanna Boyle can be reached at 906-486-4401. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.