It’s been 45 years since the movie opened in theaters, but Smokey is still trying to catch the Bandit.
At high noon Friday, it was Helen police officers who were the latest to be outmatched by “a black Trans Am”.
The exhibition Smokey and the Bandit chase on Edelweiss Strasse, done with the blessing of Police Chief Aletha Barrett and city leaders, was a highlight for participants in the Bandit Run 2022 and lunchtime visitors to Helen.
Some 75 Trans Ams, patrol cars, and other vehicles arrived in Helen Thursday and participated in activities Friday and Saturday, including photo opportunities with a Trans Am at the Kissing Bridge at Anna Ruby Falls.
For some local residents, Smokey and the Bandit is more than just entertainment. It’s their history.
A couple of the most memorable scenes were filmed in the Robertstown and Helen area of White County.
Berlin Wikle’s small-town claim to fame was in 1977 when the Cleveland man was the "star" of Smokey and The Bandit, playing himself – the tow truck driver, pulling wrecked patrol cars out of the river.
Wike died in 2018 at age 90, but his wife and daughter remember how the movie affected his life.
Bobbie Wike says in addition to his starring roles in the family, he was so proud of his few seconds of screen time in Smokey and the Bandit.
“I watch it every time I see it,” Wike said. “Just so I can see him, because he enjoyed it so much. He really had a good time. He didn't get paid a lot, but he enjoyed it and it was good what he got.”
Similarly, the Wikes’ daughter, Michelle Waters, fondly recalls what the movie meant to her father and still means to the family – especially since her father didn’t go to movies.
“He went and saw that movie – seven times,” Waters said. “My dad was a preacher and didn't believe in going to the movies and stuff like that. But whenever that movie came out, he went seven times.”
Berlin Wike not only operated that well-known red wrecker, but also sold cars and operated a grocery store near Truett McConnell in Cleveland.
Helen City Clerk Marilyn Chastain also has fond memories of the filming in White County.
“A friend of mine and I went just about every day to watch them film and one day we were standing in front of this gentleman, and it happened to be Jackie Gleason sitting right there in arm’s length of us,” Chastain said. “It was really fun. And we watched the scenes where they went into the river, jumped the cars, and the Unicoi scene with the kissing scene with Burt and Sally. It was quite an ordeal for the area at the time.”