Janet McAllister stopped driving “Big Red” – her red 1973 Cadillac Eldorado convertible – in the Lebanon Christmas Parade several years ago.
“I knew Jack was watching me and wanting me to (drive it in parades),” she recalled, referring to her late husband, Dr. Jack McAllister, who loved that Caddy. “But I couldn’t see over the hood!”
Janet and Big Red will be back in a parade in a prominent role on Saturday, June 16. The Lebanon-Laclede County Route 66 Society has selected her as grand marshal of the 2018 Lebanon Route 66 Festival parade.
“She was selected because her husband orchestrated the car show that we had at Bennett Spring as part of Hillbilly Days every year,” explained Leland Townsend, parade coordinator and a Route 66 Society board member.
Janet reminisced about Jack McAllister’s love of cars after posing by Big Red on a recent afternoon.
“We moved here in 1968,” she said. The Lebanon Antique Car Club started soon after, and Jack was one of the 15 charter members. But unlike the other members, Jack, fresh out of optometry school, couldn’t afford an antique car.
One day he saw an ad in the Kansas City newspaper for a Model A truck. “It was a price Jack could afford,” Janet said. The McAllisters pulled a flatbed trailer to Kansas City to pick it up, only to discover that the truck was in pieces.
“We brought the truck back in buckets and baskets on top of the trailer,” Janet said with a laugh. Jake Farrington, also a charter member of the car club, put the truck back together for him.
“It had no top on it,” Janet said. “But we like convertibles.” A photo of the McAllisters posing in the truck was used on the family’s Christmas card one year.
Once Jack started buying antique and classic cars, he couldn’t stop. At first, he bought those that needed work and paid someone to fix them up. Later, as in the case of the 1973 Cadillac, he bought cars that already were in good shape.
Janet estimated Jack easily owned a dozen or two collectible cars at various times.
She rattled off a list of Jack’s cars, mostly convertibles, that included two 1956 Thunderbirds, a pink and white 1956 Oldsmobile, a 1958 Corvette, a 1948 Ford, a 1934 Ford and a 1947 Cadillac. “He loved that car -- it came out of a museum (in Kansas City),” she said about the Cadillac. Jack was told that George Brett rode in the car in the Kansas City Royals’ 1985 World Series parade.
“He’s had some nice cars. He loved anything transportation,” including boats and planes. Jack also was a licensed pilot.
Another car Jack purchased out of a museum, this one in Michigan, was a yellow 1948 Plymouth convertible, which he bought toward the end of his life. “Jack fell in love with the car,” Janet said. Unfortunately, it took longer than expected for the Plymouth to be delivered. Unknown to Jack, “the guy who delivered it dropped it off at Marshfield.” Jack wound up paying months of storage fees when he discovered where the missing car was.
“We could tell many Jack stories,” Janet said with another laugh.
For example, the 1947 Cadillac needed a part, and Jack ordered and paid for it after seeing an ad in Hemmings Motor News, a respected publication for collectors. But the part never came. Eventually, Jack discovered that the ad had been placed by a prisoner who was scamming car collectors.
“I like little convertibles, so he bought the T-birds,” Janet recalled. “That was my car. I drove it around town. I drove it to Ronnie’s Market.”
But Jack wasn’t as fond of the Thunderbords. At 6-foot-3, he couldn’t fit into them when he wore his cowboy hat with the top up.
When Jack died unexpectedly in 2004 at age 64 – he had retired in 2002 – he had two MGs, an unfinished project, in the barn. He had bought an extra one for parts.
Because he didn’t have a car when he joined the Lebanon Antique Car Club – later renamed the Lebanon Antique and Classic Car Club – Jack took on other club projects, such as the car show for Hillbilly Days.
One year there was a complaint that the porta potties at the car show weren’t clean, Janet said. “Jack said, ‘I’ll do it!’” Jack armed himself in hip boots, rubber gloves and a long-handled brush and kept the toilets clean.
“They were the cleanest all around,” recalled Loretta Young, whose dad, Bob Russell, also was a charter member of the club.
Janet offered a slogan for Jack’s dirty job: “Local optometrist, he’ll examine your eyes and clean your porta potty!”
After Jack began buying cars, he always drove in the Lebanon Christmas Parade. “We usually had two cars (in the parade),” Janet said. Once, Jack drove Miss Missouri in his 1934 Ford Roadster, another of his favorite cars.
Fourteen years after Jack’s death, all the collectible cars are gone except the 1973 Cadillac, with 50,329 miles on the odometer. “When he died suddenly, the kids wouldn’t let me sell the Caddy,” Janet said.
She expects that her daughter, Nancy Winfrey, will drive her in Big Red for the Route 66 parade, and that Cade Winfrey and Grady McAllister, two of her four grandsons, will ride along.
“All four boys want that car,” she said with a smile.
Big Red doesn’t get on the road often these days, although Janet fittingly uses it for Red Hat Society events.
“The Red Hats ride in it with the top down,” she explained. “We go to eat; we go wherever we want to go.
“I hope Jack likes that. He’s probably laughing.”