Start your combines!
The Runnin' Elephant is on a rampage. Aaron Reimer steers hisJohn Deere 7700 turbo diesel ― CRUNCH ― into its prey,a smaller, frog green John Deere. The Elephant's header ― foryou combine novices, the toothy front part that scoops up the grain― guts the smaller machine like a T. rex finishing off ahadrosaur.
We are at the Combine Demolition Derby in tiny Lind, Washington.Here, each June, thousands of people converge to view big pieces offarm equipment smashing into each other.
America has always loved its internal-combustion vehicles. In2005 that love is especially passionate, ubiquitous, and loud. Flipthrough your cable channels and here they come: Trucks! Monster Garage! American Chopper! Pimp My Ride! Butthese are nothing compared to the live, in-your-face spectacle thatis Lind, which might be called Pimp My Combine or Mad Max Meets Old MacDonald.
"I think every farmer has wanted to drive some piece of junkmachinery off a cliff," says Bill Loomis, the farm-equipment dealerwho is the derby's founding father. "This is their chance."
If you're going to hold a combine demolition derby, it helps tohave a lot of combines around. Lind does. It sits in Adams County,in eastern Washington's wheat country. There's a place on MainStreet called the Golden Grain Cafe; its bar is the Wheat Room. Andoften, when a combine gets old, it just sits out in those rollingwheat fields. "It's the farmer mentality," demolition competitorAaron Reimer tells me. "You don't throw anything away."
To enter the derby, you find one of those unused combines― it has to be more than 25 years old ― and then beginrebuilding. You and your crew add bracing and armor, and move thegas tank to a higher, safer position. You decorate. Some combinesgo for scary animal themes: a turquoise Jaws with shark fins.Others go for gangsta flash, like favored driver Travis McKay'scombine, painted shiny black with gold lettering.
Then the derby starts. "We're all here to have a good time,"says derby president Mike Doyle to Reimer and McKay and the otherassembled drivers. "None of us wants to end up in the hospital.Make sure you got your seat belt on, and your fire extinguisherwhere you can get to it."
The combines rumble onto the dirt track five or six at a time,noisy, smoking, circling each other, looking for weaknesses. "Theidea is," Reimer has told me, "you're gunning for the rear axle.That's what you're going to take out." And what's it like when twocombines hit? "Ever been in a car wreck?" McKay asked me. "It'slike that, but with a little more mass to it."
As for the crowd, the thing about Lind is that you're up reallyclose to the spectacle, with hardly any space between you and theclashing machines. Men and women and kids eating snow cones cheerand groan as the combines smash into each other.
Reimer and McKay both do well in their first matches and rumbleonto the field for the final heat. By now the long June day isnearly over, the sky has gone from cerulean blue to sunset orangeto ink, and floodlights cast the combines in a lurid and primitiveglow.
But neither McKay nor Reimer wins. The Runnin' Elephant isvanquished, and McKay's machine sits with its giant wheels spinningin the dust. Two other combines share the $2,400 prize money: themachine painted to look like Jaws, and a school-bus-yellow combine,the Bee, that seems to have triumphed thanks to sheer size.
And yet nobody, not even the losers, seems unhappy. Drivers andcombines have done their best, nobody has ended up in the hospital.And as for us spectators ― well, it was $10 and a few hourswell spent. We file out to the parking lot, peering toward the darkwheat fields outside of town, thinking that somewhere out there isanother old machine, waiting for next June and its moment ofglory.
INFO: The Lind, Washington, Combine Demolition Derby is Jun10 ($10; www.lindwa.com or 509/677-8846)."I think every farmer has wanted to drive some piece of junkmachinery off a cliff. This is their chance"