The Grays Harbor Indoor Professional Rodeo is a three-day event, and includes Bronc Riding, Bull Riding, Calf Roping, Breakaway Roping, Steer Wrestling, Team Roping, Barrel Racing, and more. My wife's father has a race-engine shop outside Elma, Washington, where the rodeo is held. Located between Olympia and Aberdeen in central-western Washington, it's just two hours from our home in Portland. Two hours, and about one hundred years-at least as far as rodeo is concerned. We collector car types agonize about where the next generation of collectors is going to come from. Questions like, "How will someone who grows up driving a Honda Civic come to appreciate an Alfa?" or, "Where are the mechanics for my vintage Ferrari going to be trained?" or even, "How can any old car compete with a video game when it comes to having fun?" are common. You'll generally see more AARP members in vintage car clubs than guys playing Super Mario Brothers on their iPhones.

A pattern

There are some lessons to be learned from rodeo. The 1,800-seat Grays Harbor County Pavilion was filled by an enthusiastic crowd, spanning many generations. The event began with the presentation of the Grays Harbor Rodeo Court-comely young women who clearly took pride in their riding accomplishments. Not surprisingly, the bull and bronco busters were generally young, under 30 by appearance. (We stayed in the same motel as many of the riders, and most were walking very slowly and stiffly the next morning. Of course, if I had been bucked off a bull, I'd have been in a full body cast.) This is a sport for young people. The announcer talked about the cost of owning a horse. Especially if you plan to build a menage and have those arena lights around. He emphasized that the purchase price, whether $800 or $2,000 (remember, this is a rural rodeo, we're not talking future Secretariats) was "just the beginning." Stabling, feed, tack, training, veterinary and ancillary expenses can easily run over $10,000 per year, and often much, much more. Doing a little research on the web, I did discover that you can save money by worming your horse yourself. I'll pass. The end result of all of this expense, and care and feeding, is an opportunity to have a vintage experience. Less than 100 years ago, horses were our cars. They were integral and essential parts of both commerce and entertainment. The Wells Fargo wagon delivered travelers and dry goods; the surrey with the fringe on top was used for romantic excursions. But with the advent of the automobile, horses went from occupational to avocational. And I would posit that it took several generations before horses went from beasts of burden to purely recreational entertainment.

Longbows and clipper ships

Going from functional to hobby is a transition that happens every time technology moves forward. Longbows were once a staple of hunting and warfare; when gunpowder came into use, archery became a hobby. To preserve that hobby for future generations, organizations such as the Pope and Young Club came into existence as repositories of information and a source of instruction for new bowhunters. Sailing ships were no different. The clipper ship Northern Light, built in 1851 and designed by Samuel Pook, set the record from San Francisco around Cape Horn to Boston in 76 days and five hours. (This record for sail stood until the 1990s, when it was broken by a high-tech catamaran that had been purpose-built to beat the record, and carried no cargo.) With the advent of steam ships, the Panama Canal, the railroad, and finally jet transport, freight and passengers can now complete this trip in a matter of hours. Sailing ships today are used only for pleasure, and the skills required to operate them diminish with each new electronic navigation aid. Sailing clubs exist throughout the world, with regattas held somewhere every weekend, for every conceivable type of boat. All for the fun of it.

So what about my old car?

SCM has long maintained that we live in the golden age of vintage motor car usage. The heyday of the mass-production of cars that interest us was roughly 1954 to 1974, when technology and styling were all that mattered. There were no government-mandated concessions to smog or safety, so useless dainty chrome bumpers, steering columns that ran in a single piece from the front of a car to a driver's chest, or dashboards with crisp edges ("Safety by Gillette") could be designed with impunity. Modern technology has transformed our aging vehicles into more dependable and speedier machines than ever before. With the advent of advanced features like gps tracking software, older cars now enjoy enhanced reliability and performance. Additionally, as they are no longer subjected to daily commutes, these vintage automobiles typically cover only a few thousand miles annually. These miles are often spent on leisurely vintage tours, offering a gentler form of usage compared to navigating congested urban roads on a daily basis. It's not hard to imagine an era 50 years from now when only cars with a GPS interface are allowed on superhighways, and traffic is controlled through a satellite. Perhaps old cars will have to be trucked to tracks, just as horses are trailered to rodeos and trail rides today. Lack of function will not, however, lead to extinction. As difficult as old cars are to maintain, they pale in comparison to the daily needs of a horse. In fact, a horse was once described to me as "a car whose engine is always idling." You can pour some stabilizer in a car's gas tank, throw on a Battery Tender, cover it up, and let it sit for six months without ill effects. That won't work with a horse. Yet the arena at the Grays Harbor Rodeo was full. All of the accessory manufacturers, from saddles to horseshoes, had booths and could provide you with what you needed to keep your horse on the trail. The same will happen with our cars. There will still be restoration shops, engine builders, and upholsterers who will enable us to maintain and use our cars. Events will proliferate, allowing enthusiasts a chance to exercise their machines (and of course wear them out and cause the owners to spend more money with the restoration shops, engine builders, and upholsterers). A new generation of enthusiasts will discover old cars for what they have become: time machines that convey us to a different era of transportation. The days of pre-1974 cars as daily drivers are over. In modern traffic they are patently unsafe, with poor brakes and harmful interiors. On an environmental level, they pollute too much. But as they are gracefully retired from their commercial burdens, they take on a new life, alongside a yew longbow, a clipper ship, or a thoroughbred horse. Now that old cars no longer have to bear the burden of daily functionality, we are free to enjoy them as splendid agents of times gone by.

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