What a long, strange trip it's been. It has been 10 years since the National T-Bucket Alliance (NTBA) first held its national event for T-buckets (and other T models, too), but as anyone who has been around for a while will tell you, the T-bucket has been the backbone of the street rodding hobby for more than 40 years.

Most T-based car clubs are pretty fanatical about their rides, so when you gather a group of those clubs together into one national organization, you have a great base to work from. It must be working for the NTBA, as there are currently more than 25 chapters of the Alliance spread all over the United States (plus a couple foreign clubs). Each of the states that have a chapter regularly visit other clubs in nearby states for mini-Nats or some sort of fun run, but they all try and get together for this once-a-year event.

Past Nationals have been held in Texas, Arizona, Arkansas, Kansas, and Missouri and this year's event was held mid-country in Springfield, Illinois. But, for those who may have forgotten what was going on only a few months ago, there were some record rainfall amounts during the event's time frame and there were more than a few levee breaks on the nearby Mississippi River to make people nervous about attending a car show. Plus, tack on the $4.50-per-gallon gas, and you've got less-than-ideal circumstances to throw a party, especially with those big motors in those buckets-they ain't sippin' that gasoline!

But, more than 100 T-buckets with their owners, friends, and families braved the weather and the Big Oil companies to descend on a hotel parking lot in the southern part of the historic city with three full days of planned and unplanned festivities.

Folks started showing up days in advance of the actual event, and the unofficial fun began to unfold with impromptu cruises in and around the city as more Ts pulled into town. Wednesday night saw the NTBA's New Mexico Chapter put together a tamale throw-down in the hotel parking lot. Once they figured out how to reheat the homemade tamales, which were frozen for the cross-country trip, everyone dove in, with only a few brave enough to try the massive six-inch Hatch chili peppers that came alongside. (The Hatch chili only comes from the town of Hatch, New Mexico, and is well-known for its length and taste).

The next morning, the Bucketheads gathered in the hotel parking lot for a cruise to a secret location. They were told to gas up, though a gas station would be available halfway, and the drive would be about 80 miles. For many T owners, 80 miles is a tiny trip, as this group of hot rodders seem to drive their rides more often, and often farther, than any other type of rod owner. Sailing down the interstate with 50-plus cars in line is something to behold, and it really gives you a sense of belonging, even if you're riding in the passenger seat.

Street Rodder was lucky enough to ride shotgun in Dale Wiersma's purple T on this cruise, and it proved to be insightful, too, as Dale is the current vice president of the NTBA and has been around since the early days of the club.

At the end of the drive, we arrived en masse to the tiny town of Barry, Illinois, population of about 1,400. Incorporated in 1872, downtown Barry was almost completely destroyed by fire just before the turn of the century, then rebuilt by the early 1900s. What no one knew, except NTBA President Bill Darr, was the city had made special arrangements for the T owners to pull into the downtown square and have private, T-only parking available at the intersection of Main and Bainbridge, right across from a large city park where the Bucketheads could relax and have some specially prepared food.

Even the mayor, Pat Syrcle, was on hand to greet everyone as they drove into his town, but he also had another function this day, too. Barry wasn't a small town just picked out of thin air by Darr; it is the home to the NTBA's first president, Richard "Punkun" Johnson, who was surprised as anybody at where the cruise ended up. After lunch, a special presentation was made by both the mayor and Darr to Punkun for his years of service to the NTBA, as well as for social efforts in his hometown.

Though the threat of rain was severe in other parts of the state, the fluffy white clouds overhead during the drive back to the hotel only confirmed that the weather gods were with the Bucketheads this entire weekend. Later in the day, an organized run to a lake-front house at nearby Lake Springfield gathered everyone up for some more food, music, and bench racing.

Friday morning saw some rodders head up to Charlie Parker's, a restaurant specializing in 16-inch pancakes (the same size as an extra-large pizza!). They advertise "For the hungry only" and, if you can finish a short stack of four 16-inch pancakes by yourself, they'll pay. We didn't hear about any of the Bucketheads getting a free meal.

Some folks decided to go out on their own or with a small group, visiting local attractions-including the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum and tomb, Frank Lloyd Wright's Dana Thomas House, and Shea's Gas Station Museum-while others took part in a Cash Fun Run (akin to a poker run). By 6 p.m., T owners lined up at the host hotel for a police-escorted parade into downtown Springfield. Where some cruises only have cops at the front and end of the procession, each intersection along the three-mile parade route was blocked off by city police while the T owners rumbled by (quite a surreal feeling, having police officers wave and smile as you drive by).

The city cordoned off an area right behind the Statehouse where Abraham Lincoln wrote his famous "House Divided" speech-history was everywhere in this city. While some took in the sights, others opted for a visit to a Stone Cold Creamery for ice cream or dinner in area restaurants. The drive back to the hotel was as-you-please, and eventually everyone returned to the parking lot for comparisons of the day's events.

Saturday was reserved for a Show-N-Shine, along with the finals of the valve cover racing program. "Uncle Larry" Green, in from New Mexico, built and transported the long, wooden dual-ramp racing track and was competitive in the racing, too. The hotel provided the food this day, and the awards presentation was underway inside the facility by 3 p.m. Not content with basic trophies, awards were instead given out to Oldest T Owner in Attendance (75 years old), Best Sunburn, and other unique categories. Prize money was also handed out ($50 to the first person to personally greet NTBA VP Dale Wiersma that morning), and two entrants were subjected to a Hula Hoop contest when they found themselves tied for a prize-the last one "hulaing" won. By the end of the ceremony, two dedicated persons were inducted into the NTBA's Hall of Fame, and the announcement was made of the location for next year's event in Lenoir, North Carolina (check the NTBA Web site at www.nationaltbucketalliance.com for more information).

With another T-bucket National behind us, we can only look forward to next year's event. It would be hard to find a better group of people who are willing to extend a hand or be any friendlier with someone they've never met, which is why hanging out with the National T-Bucket Alliance is such a good thing.