McNeil's parade car has nearly 60-year history with Brussels Fall Fair
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
One of the most consistent aspects of a Brussels Fall Fair since 1959 has been an appearance by Don McNeil’s famous parade car. And while there won’t be a Brussels Fall Fair this year, there will be a parade, giving McNeil another opportunity to show off his ever-changing creation.
In over 60 years, McNeil’s creation has appeared in well over 300 parades, including the 2013 Oktoberfest parade in Kitchener. However, it all began in 1959 with its first parade, which was that September’s Brussels Fall Fair.
The car, a 1928 Model A Ford, belonged to his father, J.C., a mechanic in the Royal Canadian Air Force. That is the first year the famous Model A was made.
McNeil, however, admits that the car’s story doesn’t get too interesting until 1959, when the car appeared in its first parade. It was the Brussels Fall Fair parade and McNeil drove it through the streets of Brussels and in the parade after talking his parents into letting him do it.
McNeil was permitted by his parents to take time off of school to appear in the parade. He adorned the car with decorations from his father’s Shell gas station at the north end of the village and was the talk of the parade.
Over the years that would follow, McNeil would begin to attend dozens of parades a year. Over the last 60 years, he has driven the car in over 300 parades all over Ontario.
His “decorating” of the car began with simple Shell station adornments, but soon he would add items that lit up, made noise and even produced smoke.
At some parades, McNeil says, if there is little, or no wind, he has been able to make the car “disappear” into the smoke if the timing is right and Mother Nature co-operates.
Very much like his extensive collector museum in his old shop, the former location of the service station, he says the car is built to put a smile on the face of those who see it, because the reality of it is that life is serious enough as it is.
“We all need a little comedy in our lives,” McNeil says.
When he thinks of the comedy that has gone on over the decades, he says he can remember friends of his who had attended parades with him, driving the car, sometimes attending two parades in one day.
Currently the Model A is so fully-equipped that even a drum set has been added to make sure everyone knows it’s coming.
McNeil says he has tried to add something to the vehicle for every parade he has attended. It may be a subtle addition, or it may be very obvious, but over the years he has attempted to maintain that tradition of adding something for every parade so it looks just a little different every time he takes it out of the garage.
In a history of the car McNeil wrote for The Citizen in 2012, ahead of the Brussels Homecoming celebration, he said the Ford didn’t get much attention on a year-to-year basis.
“It just sat outside my dad’s old Shell garage waiting to be started each year in the spring when it would be loaded with old mufflers, oil cans, tail pipes, filters and all kinds of other discarded parts from vehicles my dad worked on in the 1940s and 1950s,” he wrote.
He said the car used to belong to Cliff Marks in the 1940s, housed at his farm just outside of Brussels. The car was eventually given to one of the family’s farmhands as partial payment for his work on the farm.
After the car changed hands, it would change hands again when a number of repairs were made on the car at the McNeils’ shop. When the owner couldn’t pay, an arrangement was eventually reached and the family took ownership of the car, making it the shop’s unofficial work truck.
McNeil said it was that Ford that taught him everything he needed to know about fixing cars through his father.
“My dad used that car to teach me how to keep a car running and in good shape,” McNeil wrote in The Citizen. “If it stopped for some reason, I had to fix it or park it for good.”
In 1959, McNeil talked his parents into allowing him to drive the car in the Brussels Fall Fair parade, bringing along a neighbour to ride with him.
“When fall fair time rolled around, away we’d go, dressed up and driving down the Main Street honking the horn, gradually adding more horns, sirens, hanging cans and trees for Santa Claus parades and even in the Brussels centennial year parade,” McNeil wrote.
Over the years, McNeil has had many friends both new and old on the car with him. He has travelled with Citizen of the Year Award winners, brides, seniors, young people, dignitaries and even a veteran Member of Parliament.