Nestled in the hills between Hillsboro, Wisconsin, and Richland Center, Wisconsin, you will find a town rich with Czech history, brick buildings and beautiful lawns.
On the Saturday of Labor Day weekend, this lovely place known as Yuba welcomes the past with open arms. The stars of the day arrive on four wheels from decades ranging from the 1930s to the ‘70s. They welcome the attention and occasional drips of drool from many two-footed admirers. They are in their best attire – be that shiny paint, pinstripes or a time-earned coat of rust that seems to fit them just so. There are trucks, campers, muscle cars, a lawnmower and a token flame-throwing tractor. There are those that have lived life fast, and those that prefer to be put-putted along down the backroads. The classic gems line the streets and fill the empty lots in the little town. They await the moment they get a sigh from a passerby, as the mere sight of them brings about a fond memory. The backdrop of tall brick buildings looks down upon streets once filled with similar vehicles in their heyday. There is a feeling one could travel back in time if they sat still long enough.
With this many flashy things on the street, it’s no shock their human counterparts follow suit. A pin-up contest brings about colorful dresses, high heels, tulle skirts, hairdos and makeup done with a professional flare – all fitting of the classic theme of the day. The beauties vying for a chance of being crowned Miss Firecracker range in age from their 20s up to an age where you do not ask a lady her actual age. Which, in truth, makes this pageant all the more wonderful to watch. They are judged, they are cheered on, and they are all supportive of each other within this tight knit of glamorously retro-clad contestants. The men, while they may not be judged on their appearances, are clad in their respective car club button-up shirts with their hair slicked back and styled in pompadours as was the way back in the day.
As curious and appreciative adults wander among the vehicles, there are pedal cars of the proper vintage for the kids to test. Live music playing all day keeps feet moving to the beat and lips mumbling their way through the words you swear you knew eons ago. The blacktop dance floor waits, mostly empty, for nightfall to come. Then, the floor fills with dancers now ready to give into the urges of their feet. The Yuba Fire Department keeps bellies filled, local ladies keep the sweet-tooth wishes granted, and of course, there are the options to keep your throat from getting too parched. Creative homemade trophies are given out from car club members honoring their favorite metal guest. The only reason cell phones are being pulled out is to take photos; no one is sitting still playing on those necessary evils. It is a calm gathering, but don’t mistake that for meaning quiet. There is a fair amount of engine revving, but people aren’t rushing. They are walking leisurely around, pausing to admire, and they are talking to others and enjoying their break from the race of daily life.
As the sun starts to sink below the bluffs surrounding Yuba, the spectator safety snow fence gets put up, and the vehicles that put the fire in Fire in the Hills get prepared for their time in the spotlight. Where the street was lined with classic cars in the daylight is now packed with excited humans, awaiting the first blaze to be thrown into the air. My husband makes his way into the street just in front of the fire department in case anything gets out of hand. He starts his modified V-8 Farmall M, and after a moment or two of working the throttle, the crowd is wowed with flames shooting out of the tractor’s exhaust pipes. There are hoots and howls heard from the impressed spectators as he backs off only to have them burn higher into the sky the next time. Then he exits the stage and leaves it to the cars with their flame popping exhaust systems. Louder and hotter than the tractor, the inferno is felt in the crowd and ears are covered while people back up a few paces. The flames die down and a flare is shot, signaling the start of the fire show in the sky. A firework show put on by the firemen with the help of a few of the Roosters Car Club members easily rivals that of any big city. The booms, pops and crackles echo throughout the valley for a solid 20 minutes. Much like the trick birthday candles of our youth, when you think they are done, they come back with an encore, lighting up the sky in every color imaginable.
The setting, the clothes, the good people, the marvelous vehicles and the fire show all come together like the instruments in a band to create a tune that bids farewell to summer while simultaneously serenading the fall months. There are long-haired men and even longer-haired women, teenagers and senior citizens all whom bond over mutual appreciation. There are old friends reunited and new friends just made. There are smiles shared over these relics. Those relics are the reason we all converge upon Yuba. There are queries answered about one’s pride and joy on four wheels. There are sizable donations given to the Roosters and the fire department, and all that is asked for in return is a hat. There are pictures snapped nonstop to capture all the glorious moments of this celebration that raises funds to help many in our area.
As they say, “All roads lead to Yuba.” Perhaps you will find yourself on a road headed this way next year.
Jacqui and her family milk 800 cows and run 1,200 acres of crops in the northeastern corner of Vernon County, Wisconsin. Her children, Ira (14), Dane (12), Henry (7) and Cora (4), help her on the farm while her husband, Keith, works on a grain farm. If she’s not in the barn, she’s probably in the kitchen, trailing after little ones, or sharing her passion of reading with someone. Her life is best described as organized chaos – and if it wasn’t, she’d be bored.