Entries by Amanda Demo

Explore Your Local Heritage: Passport Programs and Beyond

Explore Your Local Heritage: Passport Programs and Beyond

When it comes to exploring the richness of our world, it’s easy to overlook the hidden gems in our own backyard. Luckily, there are passport programs that encourage us to become tourists in our local area, fostering a deeper appreciation for the heritage and history around us. Let’s delve into three remarkable passport programs that offer unique adventures for those keen on exploring and learning more about the past.

1. National Park Stamps Program: A Journey Through American Heritage

Since its establishment in 1986, the National Park Stamps Program has been a gateway to a treasure trove of experiences within the United States. The program serves as a log, documenting the unique encounters one has at national parks, landmarks, and heritage areas across the country. The prized National Park Stamps, acquired for free at participating sites, serve as a testament to each visit, preserving memories of exploration.

To partake in this adventure, all you need is a Passport book, readily available at National Park Service’s or local National Parks and National Heritage Areas (NHA) visitor centers/gift shops. Not only does this allow you to record your journey, but 100% of the proceeds from purchases support education and preservation efforts at America’s National Parks, further contributing to the conservation of our natural and historical wonders.

Becky and Matt Ellis have been participating in the program since 2011. While they were driving to the Poconos to visit another site, the Delaware Water Gap National Recreational Area, I was able to ask them a few questions about their experiences over the phone.

Ellis at Sotterley Plantation.
Becky and Matt Ellis at Sotterley Plantation, located in Hollywood, Maryland.

Amanda: What prompted you to get into such a hobby?

Becky: We were in North Carolina and went to where the Wright brothers took off. The gift shop had information on the Stamps Program. Matt was always more of a history buff than I was, until we actually started doing this. It’s kind of neat. It gets us out and allows us to learn a little bit more about American history.

Amanda: How many states and sites have you visited so far?

Matt: We’ve done probably about a dozen states. I mean, some of them have been in most of the states. Like Kansas, we did the entire state. South Carolina, I think we did most of the state. Michigan and some other states are just too big or just too spread out for us to visit each site.

Becky: So what we typically do when we go on vacation, it’s first based around whatever NASCAR race we go to that year. Then we do the majority, if not all, of the national parks in that state during that week. It can be a lot of driving. We used to live in Waldorf, Maryland, which was like a 20 minute drive to DC. So we’ve done a lot of DC. I think we only have eight more sites to hit DC.

2. MotorCities National Heritage Passport Program: Uncover the Automotive Legacy

One of the 39 National Heritage Areas are in our own backyard. Established in 1998, the MotorCities National Heritage Passport Program invites you to discover the fascinating story of how southeast and central Michigan “Put the World on Wheels.” This program seamlessly links an array of cultural and labor organizations, museums, archives, factories, auto collections, and events to preserve the narrative of how tinkerers became titans. This transformational journey illuminates the role of the automotive industry and labor in shaping the middle class and impacting global manufacturing.

The MotorCities NHA spans 16 counties, encompassing over 100 locations, including the iconic Packard Proving Grounds Historic Site. It offers a unique lens through which to view the evolution of the automotive industry, inviting enthusiasts and novices alike to delve into Michigan’s automotive heritage.

When asked about their experience visiting the MotorCities NHAs, Becky and Matt each had a lot to share.

Becky: When we came to Detroit for one of the NASCAR races, all of the sites we went to were in and around Detroit. I think there were 35 stamps. There was a lot of driving.

Becky: And I think there were only two out of those 35 we didn’t get because they were out of the way or not open that day. It can take a lot of pre planning to work everything out.

Matt: It was very diverse. Even though it’s called the “MotorCities NHA” it’s a collective of automotive and music history, even a Firehouse Museum. When you think Motor City, you’re thinking more just automotive history, not necessarily just Detroit in general. So we were able to get a little bit of history from different angles of the area.

Becky and Matt made a stop at the Packard Proving Grounds Historic Site during their tour of the MotorCities NHA. Unfortunately, their visit had to be cut short because of a wedding but they were able to pack a lot into the small window of time they had.

Becky: These were supposed to be testing grounds and they had these gorgeous buildings. We wish we would have been able to stay a little longer, but we didn’t want to be wedding crashers.

Matt: Because Packard is no longer around, it was a unique experience. Allowing us to actually see remnants of its past, where instead of having to go on a computer and look for photos and read from former workers and such, you could still see the building. You could still smell the oil and the grease. And they still had some of the cars there. So you still were able to see and to a degree, experience it through your senses.

Photo of the Packard Proving Grounds Historic Site, taken by Becky and Matt Ellis.

3. Macomb County Heritage Alliance: Unveiling Local History

Macomb County Heritage Alliance Logo

For those yearning to explore their community’s unique heritage, the Macomb County Heritage Alliance is a great starting point. A collaborative organization dedicated to preserving and promoting the heritage and history of Macomb County, Michigan, it typically consists of various historical societies, museums, and cultural institutions in the county. 

The alliance works to protect and showcase the historical, cultural, and natural assets of Macomb County. Debbie Remer, the current President of the MCHA, works diligently alongside organizations like the Packard Proving Grounds, adding depth and vibrancy to the local historical narrative. As one of the local organizations involved in preserving and promoting the heritage within the MotorCities National Heritage Area, their participation is linked to the Passport Program, as well.

Passport Programs and Beyond: Your Adventure Awaits

The introduction of the Landmark National Heritage Area Act in 2023 is set to further elevate the significance of passport programs. By providing financial and technical assistance to NHAs, this legislation paves the way for a renewed focus on preserving and celebrating our nation’s diverse historical and cultural tapestry.

Additionally, State Historical Markers play a crucial role in acknowledging and commemorating sites of historical importance. The inclusion of the Packard Proving Grounds as a registered site and its recognition on the National Register of Historic Places showcase its deep-rooted significance within Michigan’s history.

As we embrace the allure of passport programs and delve into the historical tapestry of our localities, we embark on a journey that not only educates but also fosters a profound appreciation for the heritage that surrounds us. So, grab your passport, be a tourist in your own backyard, and let the adventure begin.

Packard cormorant
Packard cormorant. Photo taken by Becky and Matt Ellis.

The Road to Pebble Beach

The Road to Pebble Beach

In the world of automotive elegance and heritage, few events rival the prestige of the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. This year, I had the privilege of speaking with Mark Smucker, the president of the Packard Motor Car Foundation, who achieved an impressive 3rd place in his class at this renowned competition.

Over the years, Mark Smucker has built quite the collection of Packards, all of which required many hours of painstaking, hands-on restoration. When asked about his collection, Mark proudly listed off his models – 1956 Packard 400, a lovely green 1953 Caribbean, a 1949 Convertible Victoria and four 1931 Model Three Customs by Packard. Owning four of the five known makes of the Model Three, he is far and away considered an expert on the car. It would only make sense that the car which placed 3rd in class in the American Classic Closed would be one of these timeless automobiles. 

Smucker’s Individual Custom by Packard Model Three -All Weather Town Car Landaulet, placing 3rd in the American Classic Closed class at this year’s Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.

Amanda: First Mark, let me congratulate you on placing third in class! Could you share how you received the invitation to Pebble Beach and what your initial reaction was, being given such a prestigious opportunity?

Mark took me back to 2015, when he was attending The Red Barns in Hickory Corners for a car show. At the time, he owned two restored individual customs and one that most certainly, was not.

Mark: Some guy walks up to me and says, “have you ever thought about presenting these at Pebble Beach?”

I said, “Well, yeah, but nobody has ever asked.”

He says, “Well, I’m asking you.”

“So which one would you be interested in?”

“You choose.”


He said, “Yeah, just go ahead, and I’ll get an invitation sent to you. You decide which one and put it in.”

Unfortunately for Mark, the custom he brought to the 2016 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance didn’t even place, but he held onto that gentleman’s contact information. Fast forward to 2023 and Mark was ready to throw his hat into the ring, once more.

Mark: I called up the guy that had invited us before and I said, “I got another one.” And so he actually said, “well, you know, we need that class. We don’t have enough in it. And if you went into that particular class, we could really use you.” So that’s why I applied.

As it turned out, this gentleman was none other than Chris Bock, the chief judge of Pebble Beach since 2013.

When asked who went with him to this year’s event, it seemed he brought an entourage, which had its own interesting background.

Mark: My wife, Vicki, two restorers and their wives and Jeff Stump, a former owner of this car. I invited him to be at Pebble Beach because he always wanted to see this car restored. He sold it to a guy he thought would restore it, but that guy took it apart along with six other Packards at the same time, all in the same building.

Unfortunately, the man passed away before he was able to put any of the cars back together, leaving his wife with a pile of car parts. Worried that car enthusiasts would come in and low-ball her with offers to take the parts off her hands, she hired two experts from the Peterson Auto Museum in California. For several weeks they lived on her farm, sorting the parts into various piles.

Mark: We went in and bought a pile of car parts. The way this car looked, it was an incredible wreck. And after five years of pretty much continuous work, it’s where it is now.

Amanda: Tell me more about the restoration process that went into this particular custom. 

Mark: Basically, we had nothing but a rolling chassis with no engine and many boxes of parts.

The Custom by Packard and its pile of parts being loaded from the previous owners’ property.

Mark: From there, using the original factory photographs of this very car and our experience in building 840s – we have a number of them and the company that I work with has restored another half a dozen or more of them – So because of our experience with the Packard model 840 1931, we knew how to put it together. We had a lot of parts or knew what the parts should be to find them.

At times, Mark and his crew had to get creative and think outside the box. 

Mark: We knew how the wood should be shaped. I used pieces out of other cars when I didn’t have the wood that we needed to make for patterns. But we had all those kinds of patterns and many blueprints that we got and still have to be sure that everything was done according to the way Packard prescribed. So it was done painstakingly.

Mark: Unfortunately, that also means no expense spared. But that’s what people do, and they do it because of lots of different motivations. I guess, for me, getting it right historically is just really important.

“What I’ve been doing nearly full time for several months,” says Smucker. Smoking and vanity cases, which went on opposite sides of the Custom’s interior. The blueprints were found in the pile of car parts Mark bought from a previous owner.

Back in 2023, after seeking the opinion from someone on the Pebble Beach Senior Leadership Team, he decided to provide a brief story of the car, along with a handful of photos, for the judges. He believes his love for the cars’ history contributed to his success.

Mark: There is literally nothing on this car that I can’t prove. We had factory turntable photos and made high resolution scans. You can’t look at them from every angle, but you sure can blow up this section and that section and the other section.

Mark: They were asking, “Are there really snaps here on the car?” And I said, “There sure are.” So I picked up a picture of that. They did ask some of those kinds of questions, and I could prove that everything was correct on the car.

Mark: The judging was incredibly fair, I thought, and incredibly perceptive. They noticed stuff in this car that I had noticed. Some that my restorers had noticed and not talked to me about, but even some stuff that we hadn’t noticed. The one thing about it, we were going to make the car even more perfect coming out of here. And they actually came around, unasked for and said, “Just so you know, there’s where you lost points.”

All of this attention to detail paid off. By the end of the competition, Mark’s Custom would take 3rd in the American Classic Closed Class with a score of 94.5, just 1.5 points behind Best in Class.

The finished product, after five years of painstaking restoration. Location – Pebble Beach, California.

Mark: The one thing that got the biggest ding was the stripe that we put on, which took the striper two tries before he got it. And they were so  critical of the way the stripe was put on, it lost me more points than anything else. And then other little things that they dinged me on. I think one of them is, frankly, not repairable. The fit of the door is good, but not great. I’d have to take that door off and build a brand new one and put it on. And whether you want to do that or not, at this stage, it’s hard. 

Mark: And so I missed being second by maybe a half a point and first by a point and a half. Well, they told me they took a point and a half off because they didn’t like – and they’re correct – they didn’t like the stripe we put on. They told me why they didn’t like it, and that’s the same reason we don’t like it. But we couldn’t change it at the last minute. Once it was on, we were stuck with it. But had I gotten a better stripe, I might have gotten first. Well, who knows?

Interior, complete with the vanity/smoking case Mark reconstructed.

Amanda: I know an iconic part of the event is the Tour d’Elegance, which celebrated its 25th anniversary this year. Tell me about your experience.

Mark: The 17 miles drive was closed because of the heavy rains earlier in the year which washed out the road. The road is virtually abandoned right now, except for Pebble Beach itself.

Instead, participants went from driving what was supposed to be 17 miles, to roughly 60 miles round trip for the Tour. This led to an unexpected “stress test” of sorts for some of the classic cars and their owners. Mark and his Packard were no exception but he still managed to find a silver lining throughout the ordeal.

Mark: On the way back, the fuel pump that I rebuilt failed and we ran out of gas. But it wasn’t that we were out of gas, it’s that we had no fuel pump. And so the car got hauled in on a flatbed, which is sort of a successful tour. And the car looks stunning, even up on one on the back.

Thankfully, Mark and his team were able to make it possible for the Packard to drive up the winner’s ramp.

Amanda: So I do have one last question before I let you go. If you were given the chance to return to Pebble Beach in 2024, which of your Packards would you hope to take with you and why?

Mark: The 1931 Cabriolet Sedan-Limousine, Style #3004. We would use what we learned this time around and change a few things. I would spend a couple of months, not restoring, but fixing things to make sure everything was to spec. I would take that one if I were invited.”

As we ended our call, I couldn’t help but feel energized and inspired to learn more about the 1931 Individual Customs, myself. Mark’s passion is contagious, I spent the next hour reading up on the history of these unique and timeless automobiles.

Mark is getting the stripe fixed on his Custom by Packard, by the way, but not for the sake of future competitions. A true lover of vintage cars and the history behind them, what stuck out most to me during our call was his ability to not get lost in the competition. For him, it’s not about the points or the placing. It’s about the story of each car and the work that went into restoring them. 

Mark: The cars are what I’m interested in. I’m interested in getting it right, but I don’t care if I get a prize. I’ve got a whole shelf full of stuff from my cars and after a while I can think, “Which car won this or which won that?” A bunch of trophies on a shelf just doesn’t do it for me. What does it for me are these cars. That’s the deal.

That’s the deal.

Vicki and Mark Smucker, in front of his Packard, at the Concours d’Elegance in Pebble Beach.