A tree-canopied gravel road leads to Valley View Recreation Club's swinging metal gate, just 30 miles north of Janesville, Wisconsin, where a handful of club members clutching clipboards await visitors to the club's annual car show. They collect $35 from each guest and give them ballots for selecting their favorite cars. The guests then check their courage and their clothing at the door.
Considering the unpopularity of skin on sun-scorched interiors, a nudist club wouldn't seem to be a fitting locale for a car show. But for both car buffs and buff buffs the two seem to mix. Such shows take place across the country, from Union City, Michigan, to Kissimmee, Florida. And at six years old, Valley View has the oldest one going.
About 20 of the club's 55 acres are reserved for activities and dual 17-acre plots of soybean fields and woods buffer the naked from the clothed--or, as they call it at Valley View, "textile"--community. In 1948 a farmer named Herman Olson donated the land to the club. His will stipulates that if Valley View moves or disbands, the property must revert to his heirs. Down to about 30 members just three years ago, this seemed a possibility. But Valley View has managed to double its membership since then, and 700 visitors drop by at least once a year for a try at the total tan.
The increased membership is due in part to the nude car show, the brainchild of former Valley View vice president Jim Salnick and former member Larry Neath. "We needed something to draw people out here," said Don Radke, Valley View president. "If you grab your yellow pages and look up "nudist camps,' you don't even find a listing."
Some auto enthusiasts drive several hundred miles in their classic cars for the chance to show off their wheels during the weekend-long event. Last year 57 cars competed for prizes in categories ranging from "pre-1950 stock" to "ladies' choice." (First-time guests qualify for a Cottontail Award, given to the man and woman with the least-tanned butt on the lot).
While some nudist clubs are clothing-optional, Valley View is not. "Why would you go to a clothing-optional club?" Radke said. "If you go there and take your clothes off, you've got to be an exhibitionist. If you go there and don't take your clothes off, you're a voyeur. What's the point?"
According to Radke, Valley View members--who are typically late middle-aged and politically conservative--aren't interested in glorifying the human anatomy.
"After all," said Christine, a self-described "secure woman" of about 45 who sported a massive hickey on her neck and a rose tattoo on her right breast, "We weren't born with clothing. And so what does it matter about age and shapes and sizes and all the different aspects of nudity and naturism? The biggest thing is the relaxation: the freedom from clothing. When you're talking to a person, you're talking eye contact--there's nothing fake or distracting. Lots of people say, "Oh, I don't think I could ever do that, my body's not perfect.' Nobody cares. We're looking at the whole person and what's actually between your ears."
Concentrating on anything else is a quick way to get bounced from Valley View. In an attempt to prevent it from becoming a meat market, singles are prohibited from the club except on car-show weekend.
No one warranted ejection at last year's car show. The most risque spectacle was the Saturday-night dance. It took a while for a Madison-based hard-rock quintet called Johnny Law to defrost the largely Tony Bennett-era audience with its repertoire of "Hair of the Dog," "Mississippi Queen," and "Tie Your Mother Down." But once properly thawed, the dancers flailed away.
During the days, when people weren't in the pool or eating barbecued pork sandwiches and baked beans, they sat on lawn chairs alongside their cars and trailers or walked around examining the cars on display.
On Sunday afternoon, after the ballots were tallied, the winning cars were announced. The owners drove to the makeshift award stand near the concession area, where they were honored with a plaque and a photo of them with their car.
One owner, a used-car salesman from Galesburg, logged more than 5,000 miles on his midnight blue 1949 Frazier sedan attending shows in 1994, including his first at Valley View, where his car took honors in the "pre-1950 stock" category. In '95 it only took second. "I'm not a trophy hound," he said. "To me, the thing about the show is just getting in the car and driving and enjoying it."
His wife, who said she goes without clothes at home too, agreed that winning isn't everything. "We don't really care. We just go to the car show to have fun."
A retired cop has been coming to Valley View with his 1962 Ford T-Bird Sports Roadster for four years. He won the convertible category.
A professional photographer from near Cedar Rapids, Iowa, won the ladies' choice award with his replica of a 1936 Mercedes. "Evidently," his wife said, "the ladies like the car. I hope that's it."
After the awards ceremony guests jumped behind the wheel of a Cordoba or Skylark or Jeep, waved good-bye, and drove off into the unsuspecting "textile" community.
Valley View is officially open from May to October but holds dances, holiday parties, and monthly breakfasts throughout the year. The club can be reached at PO box 605, Cambridge, WI 53523, or 608-423-3060.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/J.B. Spector.