This summer, Stones Throw co-owner Jack signed up for Oregon’s Gambler 500.
Here’s the beginning to his crazy weekend driving around the Oregon backroads
picking up trash in a rebuilt rally car!
It all started after a dear old friend called and asked I had any interest in a rally seeing how far we could take a cheap car off-road in Central Oregon. My friend, Joel, is the kind of guy who makes cars go – if he can’t fix it, it’s gone for good. Knowing this, the idea of being lost in the middle of Oregon with a broken-down junker sounded like just the adventure we could enjoy. It would be a throwback to our adolescence where the only difference would be that we were in Oregon, not rural Wisconsin, and we’d be doing it for fun and not just driving to school for the day.
The real selling point though is that the Oregon Gambler 500 is also an environmental effort to pluck litter and trash from the landscape. Upon learning this I was really motivated to join this group of resourceful and considerate car folk. Historically the rally had just begun 4-years earlier with 14 cars and 28 friends and expected over 1400 cars this year. Our search for a car began. Where else but Craigslist?
For a few months Joel and I would share posts that looked interesting, all valued at $500 or less. We were looking for something memorable for its unique qualities, a misfit for off-road, yet mechanically superior to the options available. Categorically we agreed that a small engine and manual transmission would be more fun to operate in the large western expanse. So we kept looking at some real choice creations, largely from the 90s – but nothing biting. Then, off-line, a discovery was made.
I was driving on Pacific Street in Bellingham and this little sedan caught my eye. The Police Dept. had left a neat sticker on the windshield, ‘Will Tow Unless Moved in 24 hours’ -- opportunity was knocking! I quickly turned around and saw the front tire was dead-flat. I parked and took a closer look – an Isuzu car? Looking inside I could see it was a manual transmission – cool. After walking around the back the nameplate said ‘diesel’ – WHAT? I was infatuated. I wanted to know more about this car. So I left a note with my contact information under the wiper blade and waited. A few days later I got a call and all of a sudden I had myself a car for $500.
Mechanically it still needed a little work. The brakes cost less than $10 to replace and were easy but installing the alternator ended up becoming a pain. Due to a bad pulley I had to do it twice. Fortunately the new glow plugs and an electrical relay were relatively simple to repair. Then after installing a new thermostat, the car was back on the road. Now I could add on. Craigslist provided a proven [worn] roof rack for a few bucks. I attached a section of hog-wire salvaged from some unused brewery material and then had rack I could attach garbage onto and fit for the rally. I still needed a spare tire, or two for the car. I had been storing a spare tire from my pickup that I loaded up and headed to a used tire shop to see if I could find something to fit the Isuzu. I jumped in my heap and on my way I stopped by the dump on errand to the brewery and what did I find but two winter tires in good shape that someone had left for dead. So I picked them up and ended up trading my lot for two solid spares, mounted and balanced, for the rally car – what a deal!
I spent my what free time I had during days before the rally feverishly assembling and securing all my gear into the large trunk of this small automobile. Camping gear, stove, first-aid, fire-extinguisher, garbage bags – the big ones, a jack and jack-stands, spare belts, tools, fit into the trunk.; I was amazed of the carrying capacity this car had. In preparation for the worst, I brought 10-gallons of water which fit nicely in the backseat and a shovel which could only fit on the roof. The machine was almost ready – all we needed was a number. I spent some time on the computer and sent what I had down to Andrew and Carlos at Stickers for Days. After a quick measure, graphics were printed and artfully applied – and the car was transformed.
Driving a car that’s nearly forty years old is one thing. Driving a car that was built to be efficient forty years ago is another. Wind affects which direction you are headed, and the tired steering system makes for a modern sport. Coupled with the fact that this car had just over 50 horsepower in 1981, climbing hills and keeping pace with everyone else in their near cars with 4 to 5 times more power made this a full-on experience. But I love it. Just as immersion in nature can be soothing, this was an exciting immersion into the freeway traffic of I-5.
As I was beginning my gambler weekend, I stopped at the Sandy river with some friends from Portland and brought a garbage bag and a pair of gloves with me as we hiked down to the water. Have you ever been stunned by what you see once you start looking for something particular? I was able to pull about 3-4 pounds of trash from the river after just a short ¼ mile hike along it; I was amazed. A bottle here, a can there, multiple food wrappers and even a forgotten teddy bear were the beginning of what lie ahead. I had yet to even start the rally, but had already found plenty of trash to take care of.
Straying from the main roads I found it much easier to stop for trash from the lower travel speeds. It wasn’t just physically stopping the car, but psychologically it was easier to divert my focus and stop forward motion. There’s something to this perceived progress that I couldn’t stop thinking about. By picking up trash I was productive, but physically moving toward the rally course couldn’t be ignored either. I became obsessed with this duality and started qualifying the litter I encountered; passing a bag of chips and stopping for a large box of unexpected contents. I’d found a relative gold mine on a blind corner that switched through a wooded wash. It was a tire, then two, and a stream of trash that seemed to be originating from the corner itself. While loading my prize a local stopped to thank me for my efforts, admiring someone who could spend time as he would on his own picking up after others. This encounter left me warm and with my purpose renewed. Almost at the rally, it was time to really start Gambling.