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Veteran antique car run participant passes on the tradition

Making their way from New London to New Brighton, drivers have been putting their early 1900s vehicles to the test for 25 years -- but for some, it may be time to hand over the keys.

The 120-mile Antique Car Run, which replicates the England-based car run from London to Brighton, started in 1987 with 13 cars. The run now attracts an average of 60 vehicles from across the United States for three days of pre-tours and a day-long run Saturday.

"People have such a good time when they come up here," said Ed Walhof of Spicer, executive officio of Antique Car Run Inc. "When you see people have a good time, you just want to entertain them."

Walhof organized the pre-tours this year, which include a stop at Duininck Inc.'s construction company to weigh the vehicles Wednesday, a meet-up with the Airstream Club Thursday and a tour around the lakes Friday. Each pre-tour is 35 miles long and includes a stop for food.

The pre-tours give drivers time to recognize any problems and fix them before the run Saturday.

"Most of (the drivers) are pretty good mechanics," said Wimpy Nelson of New London. "They fix some pretty serious things overnight. They even fix transmissions sometimes."

Nelson has participated in the run for 23 years and has finished all but two. He drives a 1911 Maxwell, which he sold to Dave Mickelson of Spicer about four years ago.

"The reason he bought the car is because his son is named Maxwell," Nelson said with a laugh. "I think it's kind of neat that they thought that much of the car to give it to their son. That's pretty great."

Mickelson has always been interested in antique cars.

"I bought one when I was a kid," Mickelson said. "I dragged one out of my grandpa's woods and I've been fixing them up ever since."

Mickelson owns 10 to 12 other old cars, but they aren't quite old enough for the run.

"One leaker's enough for me," he said.

Before buying the 1911 Maxwell, Mickelson would sit at the end of his driveway to watch the cars every year.

"We're kind of on a hill, so it's kind of neat to watch them come up the hill. Some of them barely make it," Mickelson said. "(Nelson's) car blew up in front of our house one year, so I got to talking to him and I've always kind of bugged Wimpy to sell it to us if he ever wanted to sell."

About 20 years later, Mickelson finally caught Nelson on a good day and bought the car from him.

"I could have sold it to a guy in Georgia, but I never wanted it to leave town because I wanted to see it in the run," Nelson said. "And it's nice to see someone local have it."

But as the owner of Willmar Forklift, Mickelson is usually tied up during the week, so Nelson offered to drive the car along with Mickelson's son Maxwell Mickelson, 17.

"It works great for them," Dave said. "They can do the runs during the week, and I join them on Saturday."

Nelson and Maxwell take the car from New London to Kingston. Then, Dave and his daughter Samantha drive it to Buffalo, where Nelson and Maxwell take over to drive it across the finish line in New Brighton.

"Wimpy was going to retire on the 25th anniversary last year, but they finished first, so they were pretty excited," Dave said. "If Wimpy ever retires, I'll probably take his spot, but he will probably do it for many years yet."

But, that day may be sooner than Dave thinks. Nelson said this will be his last year.

"I keep saying that, but I think this definitely will be my last year," Nelson said.

Nelson is confident that Maxwell will continue to participate in the run.

"He knows how to start it and check it over, and he's pretty well oriented in how to run the car and how to take care of it," he said. "I think he'll stick with it."

This may be the last run for Nelson, but his 1911 Maxwell will continue to make the run.

Nelson isn't the only one handing over the keys. He said, many of the original participants have already retired or passed away. But the next generation is stepping up and carrying on the tradition.