Popcorn wagon is back on the road

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CAMBRIDGE, N.Y. -- A summertime fixture on Main Street for decades, the Cambridge popcorn wagon was the subject of a well-attended program at the Cambridge Historical Society on Wednesday.

Donald Buesy, of Antique Power Restoration in Ballston Spa and a Saratoga Auto Museum volunteer, presented a series of slides covering the popcorn wagon's storied past and recent refurbishment since it was acquired by the museum in 2007.

"For years and years and years, she spent the summers on the corner at the traffic light," said Buesy, who remembered driving past as a child, always hoping to catch a glimpse of the wagon at the corner of Main and Park streets.

The vehicle was first operated by Albert Rich, and then after his passing by daughter Dorothy Rich Madison.

The popcorn wagon was ordered in early 1925 by Rich as a replacement for a previous horse-drawn popcorn operation. Buesy said that Rich first had to order the bare chassis from Ford (not his first choice, as Rich wanted a Chevy) and then have the popcorn wagon body constructed atop by C. Cretors & Company in Chicago, Ill.

The chassis was a 1925 Ford Model TT, and the Cambridge popcorn wagon was one of only two built that year. Few remain in existence, and Buesy said none were as original as the local example. He illustrated his point with a photograph from the 1930s, showing a dent in a front fender -- still present to this day.

The vehicle originally ran off of "white gas" for the steam-powered popcorn popper, peanut roaster, and burger and hotdog grill. Recirculating water provided enough warmth to keep the buns warm. A cooler stored ice cream and soda.

Today, the wagon employs propane and only supplies popcorn, for lack of a food permit.

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In addition to being stationed in Cambridge, the Rich family had traveled the fair circuit during summers all along the east coast.

The wagon went into storage in 1997, where it sat for a decade before being auctioned off to the Saratoga museum.

A bid by one famous car collector -- namely Jay Leno -- was placed on the wagon at that time. Buesy said that a call to Leno alerting him of the desire to keep the vehicle local resulted in the comedian withdrawing his bid, but a member of the audience Wednesday contested that narrative and said that Leno only placed one bid and was "rather rude" over the phone.

Since the acquisition, the popcorn wagon has been refurbished in stages over the winter months at the museum, with the help of area high school students. Buesy said that work this past winter concentrated on repairing the front and rear axles.

In 2008, the wagon was transported to Florida for a 100th anniversary celebration of the introduction of the original Ford Model T.

Now returned to roadworthy condition, the popcorn wagon is scheduled to drive into Cambridge on July 16 for the Cambridge Central School alumni weekend.

The wagon will also be in operation and popping corn July 10 in Ballston Spa for the Curtis Lumber Car Show, and during the Hemmings show at the Saratoga Auto Museum on Aug. 6.

It can also be seen popping at various events throughout the year at the museum in Saratoga Springs.


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