Motor memories

Philip and Gwen Randolph, of Coventry, stand with their 1938 Packard. 


COVENTRY — The RIConn Historic Airfield was a sea of nostalgia Saturday, as vehicles spanning more than a century sat on display during the second annual Wheels of Wonder transportation show.

“It’s a wonderful family event,” West Warwick resident Michael Bell said, standing beside his granddaughter Alanna, who held tightly to a plaque declaring their 1969 Oldsmobile 442 as an honorable mention in the “people’s choice” contest.

Held for the first time last year, the Wheels of Wonder transportation show is an opportunity to have a little fun while raising awareness and money for the Rhode Island Community Food Bank, said Jean Congdon, who helped organize the event and whose family owns the airfield.

“Everyone thinks of the food bank at Thanksgiving and Christmas, but in the summer months the kids are out of school and there’s a greater need for food,” Congdon said, as around her people sat in lawn chairs beside all sorts of old vehicles, their hoods popped to show off the engines beneath. 

With concessions by the Coventry West Greenwich Lions Club and entertainment by DJ Cruisin’ Bruce, Saturday’s event featured a display of 115 vehicles, driven to the airfield from all over New England. 

Congdon speculated that the weekend’s ideal weather combined with the airplane rides that were offered and the ever-popular “candy drop” could have had something to do with the great turnout. 

“It’s really just a great day,” she said, adding that last year’s event saw just 50 vehicles displayed.

Among the collection of Fords and Buicks and Chevrolets, an ivory-white sedan owned by a couple from Coventry harked back more than 80 years.

“We kind of drive it everywhere,” Philip Randolph said of the 1938 Packard, which he and his wife Gwen purchased around seven years ago. “We have a lot of fun with it.”

The Randolphs have owned a number of antique cars over the years. Today they’re down to just three, but it was clear Saturday that the Packard holds a special place for the Randolphs. 

“It’s a Packard,” Philip Randolph said of the luxury American-made marquee, as though he needn’t elaborate in his explanation of its significance. 

The airfield was packed Saturday with vehicles, most of which were antiques: shiny red LeSabres, vintage Impalas and decades-old Mustangs.

But it wasn’t just cars that were included in the show. Classic farming tractors sat side-by-side with vintage motorcycles; weathered aircraft donning rusted propellers and chipped paint beckoned the attention of passersby. 

Visitors moseyed around the airfield, peering into Model As, chatting about Corvettes. Children stood on tiptoes to steal glimpses of the engines on display. 

A few vehicles down from the Randolphs’ Packard, AJ Medeiros, a patrolman with the Coventry Police Department, stood in uniform beside the department’s restored 1993 military surplus Humvee. 

“It was a little Christmas present to the colonel,” Medeiros said of the vehicle. “He was just mind blown.” 

The department received the Humvee three years ago through a federal donation program, and with help from Two Guys Auto Repair, Cartronics, West Warwick Auto Body and the Coventry Department of Public Works it was converted into the useful tool it is today.

“With some sweat from local vendors from in town, they were able to put this together for us, and we use it a lot,” Medeiros said.

Originally painted in a camouflage pattern with soft top and doors, the Humvee was repainted with grant money and restored using various parts from two other donated Humvees. The lights were replaced by those from retired police vehicles. 

The vehicle is used frequently by the department in emergency situations, like snow storms and floods, Madeiros said, adding that its powerful lights also come in handy at accident scenes. 

But the vehicle is useful for community engagement, as well — Medeiros said he enjoys bringing it to car wash fundraisers, for example. For him, events like car washes and Wheels of Wonder are opportunities to “change people’s perception of what they think a police officer is.”

“I’m a third generation police officer — it’s literally something I was born and bred to do,” Medeiros said. “I just love to interact with people.”

For the Randolphs, meanwhile, events like Wheels of Wonder offer a chance to connect with other antique car enthusiasts, some of whom they’ve known for years through participating in various cruise nights and the annual seven-city Hot Rod Power Tour. 

“We have been all over the country in another car,” Gwen Randolph said, as “Ramblin’ Man” echoed across the field. 

“We still talk to people that we met in the 2000s — they’re friends,” she continued. “Car people are good people.”

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