Graffiti Weekend is one of Douglas County’s favorite annual events, and everyone who gets revved up about it has a group of angels to thank for its existence.
Story by Brandon Johns, Photos by Thomas Boyd
The approach of Roseburg Graffiti Weekend always brings back fond memories.
It seems like yesterday the rumble from my new motor-build — financed by my hay-bucking savings — serenaded my ears as my buddies and I drove to River Forks Park for the Show-N-Shine.
Back then, I hoped for a sighting of a super rare car from my young gearhead dreams — maybe a Plymouth Superbird, Cobra Jet Mustang or Yenko Camaro. With oldies supplying the mood music, everybody was having fun scoping out all the cool rides.
Later, we would head downtown for the big cruise. With a band rocking on the corner, chromed-out V-8s and custom paint jobs were all over the place and the town was jumping. After the cruise ended, maybe some street drags on the edge of town.
I was confident my recent engine hop-up would someday blow some doors off, but it mostly just made the doors rattle more on my own 1974 Camaro.
This all led up to one of my favorite summer nights every year — the Graffiti Cruise. So with those memories driving me, I decided to learn more about the car club that was instrumental in making all this fun happen — the Stray Angels.
I cruised to Pete’s Drive-In on Harvard Avenue looking for a blue 1939 Ford, the ride of Gordon Boyd, director of the Stray Angels. His car was easy to spot among the dozen or so cherry classics in the parking lot. I hopped out, and we started chatting.
“I joined the Stray Angels just to have fun and help some folks out,” Boyd says. “Stray Angels really pride themselves in being active in the community.”
The community involvement makes for a long list: Veterans of Foreign Wars, Meals on Wheels, VAPTSD unit, Winston community and teen center, Roseburg Senior Center, Camp Millennium, YMCA, Battered Person’s Advocacy, Bowman handicap fishing pond, UCAN Food Bank, Douglas County Special Equipment Fund, Douglas County Cancer Services, Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, Special Olympics, Muscular Dystrophy Association, American Heart Association, Rotary and Lions Club.
These programs have all benefited from the many thousands of dollars the Stray Angels have raised and contributed over the years.
Now a sweet 1948 Plymouth pulls into Pete’s, and Boyd introduces me to the owner, Don Larsen.
In 1958, a group of five young, local car lovers decided to form a club, one that didn’t require members to own a classic automobile. Simply having a passion for cars would be the only criterion for membership — plus a can-do attitude about community service.
The new club needed a name, and Larsen’s mother, unwittingly, had a say in that.
“When we were trying to choose a name for the club, I remember my mom mentioning that we were all angels,” Larsen says. “We just strayed at times.”
The Plymouth that Larsen wheels into Pete’s on this day is a reproduction of the original car he drove when the Stray Angels were founded.
Years later, in 1982, the story goes, the Stray Angels and another car club, the Umpqua Flatheads, were at Pete’s Drive-In when the idea for a cruise was hatched.
The original cruise was on Harvard Avenue between Pete’s, which the Stray Angels staked out, and the old A&W, which the Flatheads claimed. The event was such a hit that the next year Stray Angels members hosted a car show at River Forks Park.
The newly organized Show-N- Shine provided a spot for cruisers to park, show off their cars and visit. The first show drew 125 cars, a number that has grown to nearly 600.
Over time, the Show-N-Shine and Graffiti Night Cruise events combined to become Graffiti Weekend, a five-day celebration of classic cars that this year begins with the “Street Memories” show on the Fourth of July at Roseburg Veterans Hospital.
I still look forward to it every year, as do a whole lot of other Douglas County residents and out of towners. Some things never change.
For details about Roseburg’s annual Graffiti Weekend visit graffitiweekend.com