Cars, drivers and stories visit Homewood during Drivin' the Dixie tour

Jeff Heilman's 1936 Buick was one of the first cars to 
arrive in Homewood during the Drivin' the Dixie 
road rally Saturday.
(Photo by Eric Crump/Hf Chronicle)

The 1936 Buick has been part of Jeff Heilman's life — his whole life. His family brought him home from the hospital in that car after he was born.

"Every car has a story," he said. "This one's kind of unique."

Jeff Heilman opens the hood 
of his all-original 1936 
(Photo by Eric Crump/
HF Chronicle)

Heilman and his Buick were parked in front of the former Savoia's T'Go take-out restaurant at the corner of Dixie Highway and Hickory Road in Homewood to help direct traffic for the Drivin' the Dixie car show and tour Saturday, June 20.

He is the second owner of the car. His grandmother bought it new in New York. 

"In those days, you just used it to run over to Jersey once a week to buy chickens," he said. 

The car has been well-tended during its 79 years. It still has its original paint, upholstery and straight-eight engine. 

This year was Heilman's eighth Drivin' the Dixie. He said he loves to drive the old car and takes it out about once a week during warm months, going to auto shows and rallies. 

Dominic Ruffalo with his 
mother, Shirley, and his 
1964 Corvair.
(Photo by 
Eric Crump/HF Chronicle)

Another car with a story was Dominic Ruffalo's bright red Corvair parked in the St. Paul Community Church parking lot surrounded by other classic cars. 

Ruffalo's mother, Shirley, a long-time Homewood resident and member of the Homewood Historical Society, told about how her son acquired the car in 1981. 

"He wanted to get a motorcycle," she said. But her husband discovered the Corvair for sale at a local Texaco station and directed his son's attention toward the car. 

"I didn't get the motorcycle. I got a Corvair," Ruffalo said. But he harbors no ill-will about the ploy. "It was my dad's way of looking out for me. I love that car. I have a lot of memories from it."

Heilman and Ruffalo own two of a stream of classic automobiles that wound their way through Homewood's Ravisloe neighborhood and found their way downtown for a brief respite before heading south to Momence.

Drivin' the Dixie starts each year in Blue Island and includes stops in a number of villages along the way. This year, 12 villages participated, and for A's are Us Model A Ford Club member Allan Ekstrom, that's what makes the event special.

His 1928 Ford was parked adjacent to Heilman's Buick, and it attracted a number of admirers.

"What I like is the camaraderie," he said. "And it's exciting to see all the villages work together on this."

Jim Wright, president of Homewood Historical Society and treasurer of A's R Us, said the club is donating half the cost to each village that puts up a new Dixie Highway history sign. Homewood's was temporarily installed recently near the Dixie Highway historical marker in Independence Park but will eventually have a permanent home in the village.*

Homewood Heritage 
Commission Chairwoman 
Elaine Egdorf, left, talks with 
Shirley Ruffalo during the 
Drivin' the Dixie event 
(Photo by Eric 
Crump/HF Chronicle)

Elaine Egdorf, Homewood Heritage Commission chairwoman, explained the role villages take in supporting the event when she addresssed the Homewood Board of Trustees Tuesday, June 9.

"Some do little. Some do much," she said. "The idea is to promote the history of the town and road."

The event began in 2002 with a tour sponsored by the A's R Us club, but villages and chambers of commerce started getting involved when they saw the marketing potential, according to Egdorf.

Participants stop in each host village to get their passports stamped. Each passport stamp earns a participant a free raffle ticket. 

At the passport station in Homewood, village Events Manager Allisa Opyd and Trustee Jay Heiferman were greeting tour participants. Heiferman said a number of people inquired about Homewood's Farmers Market, which was open a few blocks away. 

And Clara Bernardi of Hebron, Indiana, on the tour in a 1965 Mustang, told Opyd she was impressed with the village.

"The homes are so beautiful," she said. "We're going to have to come back and look around some more."

* The first version of this story mentioned a specific dollar amount for the club's donation toward the signs.

Contact Eric Crump at [email protected]

Related story:
Classic cars return as Drivin’ the Dixie marks highway’s centennial (HF Chronicle, June 18, 2015)

More information:
Drivin' the Dixie


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