On Aug. 8, Jim T’s Cruise Nights at The Pavilion at Hartman’s Heritage Center in Independence hummed along like any other Saturday during the spring, summer and fall for the last 5½ years.
Several hundred cars and various other vehicles from all eras filled the parking lot. Loyal cruisers found their favorite spots, gathering with friends. Others milled around, looking at all the unique cars. Some people snapped pictures.
Throughout the evening, music was played on a loud speaker by a DJ, helping to create a festive mood.
Every week, said cruise organizer Jim Tormena, he sees 10 to 15 cars he has never seen before.
The cruisers come from Independence, Blue Springs, Grain Valley, Pleasant Hill and points around the Kansas City area.
“We get people here from Mission, Overland Park,” said longtime cruise attendee Danny Brown of Grain Valley.
From May to the end of October, for four or five hours every Saturday evening, Jim T’s Cruise Nights at Hartman’s Heritage Center has grown into the place to be for car enthusiasts in Kansas City.
“It is just a lot of nice people, nice atmosphere,” said Ken Vaughan of Independence.
Those two reasons are why the cruisers are soaking up as many memories as possible the final few Saturdays in August. They learned at the start of August that the final Jim T’s Cruise Nights at Hartman Heritage Center will be Aug. 29.
“I am just ready to cry,” said Marian Schaaf, who brought her 2006 Cadillac CTS-V to the cruise. “I told the guys, we are like a bunch of kids whose parents are getting a divorce. It is how we feel right now.
“We are going to have as much fun as we can.”
While many of the regulars are sad by the recent development, they are not bitter, said Brown.
Nobody really knows why the cruise is coming to an end. Some thought the increasing number of businesses at the Hartman’s Heritage Center was a contributing factor.
“We all knew it was going to end one day,” said Brown, noting the growth of stores and restaurants at the center.
“The guy who owns (Hartman’s Heritage Center) we owe a lot of gratitude. Without him, we wouldn’t have had this. It is a disappointment, but this guy has paid for everything.”
And that included paying for liability insurance. The cost of liability insurance, said Tormena, is one of the big stumbling blocks preventing him from finding a new location for the cruise.
“The owner funds this 100 percent,” Tormena said. “When we have T-shirt night, he buys 300 T-shirts. He is fabulous. I couldn’t ask for a better guy to work for.”
When the first cruise took place in early May of 2010, Tormena never imagined it would grow to the point of having 200 to 300 cars weekly and even 900 cars for last year’s Trunk and Treat Halloween event.
The first cruise was supposed to have been in late May, but the owner of the property came to Tormena and asked if he could put on a car cruise earlier because some investors were in town.
The temperatures hovered in the low 30s. Tormena brought in a live band, and the musicians played in parkas.
And there were 12 cars for the cruise.
“The owner was here and he said, ‘You did good enough,’” Tormena said.
Andy Burton and Tim Ward, both of Blue Springs, were there for the first one and have remained loyal to the cruise.
“We have older people coming up here reminiscing about cars,” Ward said. “This is a family atmosphere. It is a good place. You can bring anybody up and not have to worry about anything. There is no drinking, no bad stuff. It is self-regulated.”
Tormena and Denver Brison, who helps Tormena with organizing the cruise each week, said it is the people that have allowed the cruise to grow over the years.
“They share their stories about their cars,” Brison said. “It is a typical car atmosphere.”
The growth of the cruise didn’t happen overnight, Brown said.
After the first cruise, they averaged about 15 cars per week until July 4th. That was OK with Tormena. He wasn’t looking to put on a car cruise that took people away from other Saturday cruises around the city.
“You go to Belton, you go to Blue Springs, visit with your friends, have a burger up there and come back and see us on the way home and enjoy some music and the rest of the night with us,” Tormena said.
He never thought they would go over 50 cars for their cruise. On July 4th, 2010, it all changed. They went over a 100 cars for the first time.
“And we never looked back,” Tormena said.
Tormena and Brison play a key role in the event’s success. They visit with as many people as possible and know a lot of the car cruisers by name. Tormena also works with the businesses, ensuring there is plenty of parking for the customers who come to shop.
When Tormena looked at all the car cruisers in the parking lot on Aug. 8 and then thought back to the very first show, he was nearly speechless describing what the car cruisers have created in Independence.
“It is humbling – very, very humbling,” Tormena said. “I attribute every bit of the success of this cruise night to the people out there in the parking lot. They are loyal, a fabulous group of people.”
It is understandable why the car cruisers didn’t want to dwell too much on the fact that the final Jim T’s Cruise Nights will take place on Aug. 29.
“This is my family,” Schaaf said. “I bring my little grill almost every weekend. We bring desserts and snacks. It is a summer picnic.”
Added David Kriz, “You meet a lot of new people, make a lot of new friends. You get to know them. It is more or less a family.”
Vaughan said he is very sad this cruise is about to end.
“I hope it does come back,” Vaughan said. “We have all been supportive of all the businesses here. My wife comes down sometimes and shops when we come to the cruise.
“There has been a lot of conversation about what happened and trying to figure out where everybody is going to go after this. But there will be nothing like this.”
For now, Tormena is thinking about the two cruises he has left at Hartman’s Heritage Center.
“It probably won’t hit me until the first week of September and I am sitting at home thinking, ‘What am I going to do?’” Tormena said.