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Mississippi Mayhem

Words and Photos: John "Gunner" Gunnell

Five years ago, Hot Rod Hotline ran into a lady who goes by the name “Fanny Freckles” at a James Dean Mercury meet in Stevens Point, Wis. She handed us a flyer for an event called “Mississippi Mayhem.” We asked if she knew mayhem meant chaos. “Well, we are a little car crazy,” she answered.

Last fall we finally got a chance to get to this event, held in West Salem, Wis. The Sept. 8-9 event packed the La Crosse Interstate Fairgrounds with hundreds of cars and trucks and, as you will see in the accompanying photos, many fit into our theme of “hot rods that ain’t Fords or Chevys.”

Cars like a Coral Pink Mercury wagon caught our eye as they rolled into the show. The number of vehicles eventually outgrew the original space set aside for show car parking, so an extra parking area had to be opened to accommodate them. Some participants thought that the car count was a record.

An assortment of stick pins on maps set up in the main building indicated that visitors to Mississippi Mayhem came from as far away as Las Vegas, Pennsylvania, Maine and Florida. A couple from Germany was overheard talking about why they had come to a show that focuses on nostalgia. One neat non-Ford/Chevy car was a 1937 Nash Lafayette humpback sedan from Iowa.

Bicycles, pin-up girls, vintage clothing and street drags at the racetrack next door (separate admission of $7) were big parts of this show. There was a good selection of reasonably priced food and $2 beer. The food lines were not long and the weather was very conducive to a show; it was beautiful both days.

About 40 vendors set up a swap meet offering genuine old parts and books. An additional 30 or so vendors were selling vintage clothing and related goods and services in the Retro Market and in a second fairground building. The services included a barber offering '50s style haircuts and a tattoo artist.

Entertainment was another big attraction at Mississippi Mayhem. It was provided by flame throwing exhibitions, valve cover racing, vintage bicycle relay races, rockabilly bands, pin-up contests for adults and kids, burlesque bingo, burnout demonstrations, a dance contest and more.

Several Studebakers, Mercurys and Plymouths, a Nash Metropolitan, a Volkswagen or two and a Nash LaFayette sedan with a Carson style top were among other entries. And naturally, there were plenty of Fords and Chevys, too. It’s a great show that tries hard to capture the past with the fashions, fads and fun times of the ‘50s.  Best of all, the show has room to keep on growing over the next five years, which will make it even better. Fannie Freckles has really put the dot known as West Salem on the national map!