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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Harrington hairdresser continues her father’s legacy through annual car show at the Studebaker Garage

HARRINGTON, Wash. – Allen Barth bought a dilapidated building on Harrington’s main drag about 13 years ago, a former Ford dealership from the early 1900s. He needed a home for his lifelong hobby – a place to store and showcase his collection of Studebakers and memorabilia.

He also cared about revitalizing the little Lincoln County town that was his new home.

What became the Studebaker Garage hosted a car show – a grand event that put Harrington, a wheat town an hour’s drive west of Spokane, on the map.

Barth died of cancer in 2017. But his daughter, Jill Barth, continues his legacy by maintaining the garage as a museum and keeping the car show alive.

The 12th annual show Saturday will feature about 250 cars. And not just Studebakers – all kinds of vehicles, from classics to modern hot rods competing for 22 award categories. Even Jeeps have won trophies.

Before he died, Allen told Jill and her siblings to sell everything.

“I think he thought we couldn’t financially keep it going,” Jill said. “I told him if it was important to him, it was important to me.”

This year, the show will have gone more years without him than with him.

“When someone dies, people don’t usually talk about them much after a few years,” Jill said. “This is a way to keep his name out there.”

Allen worked as a gas station mechanic when he was teenager in Arkansas. He loved working with his hands and preferred vehicles he could fix himself.

Studebakers fascinated him because of their classic style and their scarcity, since they are no longer produced.

Originally a wagon manufacturer in the mid-1800s, Studebaker automobiles peaked in popularity during Allen’s childhood, before the brand went defunct in 1967.

His favorite was a pale 1950 Champion Starlight coupe made the year he was born. It is still on display in the garage.

But his contributions to the town go beyond the classic cars.

As president of the Harrington Public Development Authority, Allen secured a grant to build fiber-optic cable to bring high-speed internet to town years before other rural communities. He encouraged others to preserve the town’s empty historic buildings and open new businesses.

A coffee shop and co-working space called Post & Office opened in the former post office. A couple that is restoring the 1902 Hotel Lincoln down the street has opened a storefront boutique gift shop called The Mercantile, which is supporting the rest of the project.

Jay Gossett, Jill’s partner, restored two buildings that now have thriving businesses: Harrington Haus tavern and a home goods store called Home & Makers.

“He inspired me,” Gossett said. “I love to drive through town and see shops open and cars parked.”

For several years, Allen ran the garage as part of his auto restoration business.

When he died, Jill moved her hair salon into the garage’s front show room. Today, it functions as her office where she works remotely for a telecommunications company while she continues to cut hair on the side.

Located at 9 N. Third Street, the museum is open to visitors by appointment. The shop has a handful of Studebakers, including a 1922 touring car.

Antique car parts, vintage signs and classic toys fill the rest of the space. The walls of the front corridor are covered with Allen’s license plate collection and historic photos.

Nothing is for sale, though many offers have been made. The collection should stay together, Jill said.

Along with pennant streamers and neon beer signs, the rafters above the shop hold a few relics from Jill’s childhood that are also a piece of Spokane history. Suspended above the room are a horse, a rocket ship and a donkey from a swing set from Natatorium Park, a former amusement park in Spokane where the Looff Carrousel was first located. Allen bought some of the park’s playground equipment from an auction.

“This is his dream,” Jill said. “We try to keep it going so it still exists, so he is not forgotten.”

Held the third Saturday of May, the car show is a big deal for Harrington. The businesses say it is their biggest sales day of the year.

From 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, the street will close and fill with classic cars, vendors and live music, while the Harrington Opera House will host a quilt show and rummage sale.

There is no entry deadline. Cars can register at the show for a $20 fee.

James Hanlon's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.