A(wesome) & W(onderful) vehicles gather for centennial car show

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A customized 1957 Ford station wagon is among the cars on display at the A&W Centennial Car Show in Boulder City, Nevada | Larry Edsall photos

Luana Fritz grew up in Wisconsin and had fond memories of visits to the local A&W root beer stand. Even after she moved to Illinois, she made sure her children were exposed to the same experience.

Fast forward and Fritz and her son, Roy, are living in the Las Vegas area where he works in commercial real estate and where they also operated a pizza restaurant.

But a little more than a year ago, Roy learned that the A&W restaurant location in Boulder City, just south of Las Vegas, was for sale, and the Fritzes purchased the building and the franchise.

Almost immediately, they invited local car clubs to stage a car show in the restaurant parking lot. The turnout was overwhelming — quite literally — overflowing the restaurant’s own parking lot and spilling into those of adjacent businesses.

Another show was held seven months later, this time with better parking control to keep the neighbors happy.

This past Sunday, the Boulder City location hosted an A&W Centennial car show, with even better preparation. The show was staged on Sunday when some neighboring businesses are closed and were willing to let their parking lots be filled with custom and classic cars. The Centennial show also included live music.

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Sitting at the counter in a restaurant as packed inside as its parking lot was outside, Luana Fritz said she had no hesitation leaving pizza for burgers and fries and root beer.

“I grew up with A&W,” she said, adding that the car shows have helped the restaurant post double-digit improvements on its financial books.

A&W was founded by Roy Allen in June 1919 in Lodi, California, the first mug of its root beer served at a homecoming parade for World War I veterans. The company became known as A&W when Frank Wright, an employee, became Allen’s business partner in 1922 and they opened a drive-in outlet in Sacramento.

It is the first American restaurant chain to enter its second century and has nearly 600 stand-alone facilities in the U.S., and another 100 in gas and convenience stores.

The 454cid V8 under the hood of this 4-speed Chevrolet Chevelle draws interest

A&W is older than Boulder City itself. The community was founded by the federal Bureau of Reclamation to house laborers working to build Hoover (nee Boulder) Dam in nearby Boulder Canyon on the Colorado River in the early 1930s. Sitting on a hillside above Lake Mead, the official city wasn’t incorporated until 1959 after the government relinquished its control.

Boulder City was dry until 1969 and remains one of only two communities in Nevada that bans public gambling, but it has casinos at both sides of town, one on private land within the Lake Mead National Recreation Area and the other at Railroad Pass in Henderson, Nevada.

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The community retains much of its historic appeal and provides a delightful destination for a day-trip from Las Vegas.

A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

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