Edward Zarth’s Island Garage, 1927 (Norman Edson Photo/Courtesy Vashon-Maury Island Heritage Museum).

Edward Zarth’s Island Garage, 1927 (Norman Edson Photo/Courtesy Vashon-Maury Island Heritage Museum).

Souped-up: a history of the island’s auto clubs

  • Wednesday, November 13, 2019 12:52pm
  • News

The Vashon Island Automobile Club was started in 1914 by Oliver Van Olinda, Therkel Hansen and Fred Sherman.

They designed a badge with a star in a circle — Vashon Island printed on the circle and the initials AC in the center of the star. In 1921, The Commercial Club, the era’s version of the Chamber of Commerce, developed a special license plate with “Vashon Island” printed in the island’s two colors — red and white. The red standing for our big red berries, and the white for our quarter of a million leghorn chickens.

Vashon has always been an attractive destination for car clubs to visit, as well as drive the scenic byways and twisting roads of the island. In 1927, this tradition got off to a resounding start with a visit by Willys-Knight and Whippet owners.

In 1927, Ed Zarth, who built the Island Garage on the site of what is now the Vashon Center for the Arts, became the Willys-Knight Overland and Whippet dealer for Vashon when he received a shipment of new cars direct from the factory in Toledo, Ohio. He received a second shipment of new cars in June. Then, on July 10, 1927, he staged a big beach picnic and strawberry feed at Ellisport for the owners of the cars he sold.

The celebration started with a parade of island-owned and visitors’ cars to the Zarth Island Garage, where the cars were lined up and can be seen in the photograph by island photographer Norman Edson (Ed is in the right-center of the photo with a white shirt, his typical jaunty pose, and his ever-present fedora hat). The assembled cars were then driven to Ellisport for the celebration at the picnic grounds, what we know today as KVI Beach.

In 2008, 81 years later, Peter Larsen, the retired roaster at Vashon Coffee Company and an avid owner of two Italian-made Innocenti Minis, persuaded Larry Allen, an island photographer, to take a photo of that year’s Seattle Area Mini Owners Association rally on Vashon (Larsen, on the left with his white Mini-Cooper, was photoshopped into this photograph by the photographer). Seventeen Minis participated that year. After lining up at the Roasterie for coffee and the photograph, they then cruised the island and ended at The Rock Island Pizza to celebrate.

Over the years, there have been a variety of automobile clubs on the island. In the 1950s, island “hot rod” clubs proposed creating a drag strip at the Vashon Airport. In the 1970s a Jeep Club was formed, and what would become the Island Flywheelers, a club for cars, tractors and donkey engines, began to meet. Currently, on the island, Wagons of Steel celebrate Dodge station wagons, the Tom Stewart Memorial Car Parade takes place each year at Strawberry Festival, Engles Garage on Maury Island holds their annual Engles Car Show, and there is a Facebook group Vashon Classic Cars and Trucks.

Automobiles hold a special place for Americans and on the island. Like other places all over the country, car clubs continue to celebrate our fascination with automobiles.

— Bruce Haulman is an island historian.

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