combine demolition derby

[repost from 2008]

Last weekend we headed out to Lind, WA (near Moses Lake) to see the Combine Demolition Derby. Our friends Heather and Chris knew the folks who own the Devore Motel, where a bunch of people were crashing. We had no idea what to expect.

Tater Salad - combine demolition derby Lind, WA

It was an incredible time, burned into my memory… sweet, surreal, dangerous, dusty. Not wanting to impose (no open rooms at the Devore, but there was a school bus that might have extra space), we instead stayed at a little motel in Ritzville, a town about 15 minutes away from Lind, and rolled in Friday night. We knew we were off to a good start when we saw all the Harleys parked next to our room and the magic fingers machine next to the bed.

Saturday morning we awoke to brilliant sun. We headed to Lind, windows down, warm desert air blowing through our hair. The Devore Motel in Lind was home base. It has a main building on one side of the street, and a little ranch-style row of rooms on the other side of the street, ringing an empty lot with a bunch of living room furniture, a fully equipped sound stage, a school bus (extra beds), a cinderblock barbeque, and an old yellow lab named Jake. That morning people were just getting up after a long night of partying. Potatoes were sizzling in bacon fat on the outdoor griddle. We were offered hot cups of espresso, and encouraged to fry up whatever we wanted. Rick Klu was riding his bike around, as other friends emerged from their rooms, blinking, holding out empty cups to be filled with bloody marys.

breakfast of champions

A few words about the rooms at the Devore Motel. The motel is run down. It lays fallow for most of the year, and is seemingly used for the occasional visiting guest. So it feels like you’re in a Lynch film, out in the desert, staying at this liminal, bleached out motel in disrepair, but not without life. The surreal thing is that the rooms surrounding the empty lot are themed—with décor, props, and colors of another time and place. Heather and Chris stayed in “Pretty Pretty,” a pepto-bismol pink suite with kitchenette, living room, and bedroom that featured vintage Mantovani and Jackie Gleason album covers on the wall, a guitar, 50’s style lamps and TV. Erin and Kaleb stayed in “The Portal,” which was like being in a 9 year-old boy’s bedroom from 1983. Lots of ET, Litebrite, space toys, and bright blue walls. You get the idea. There were other rooms I didn’t see, but I’m sure are just as cool.

pretty pretty

As the morning progressed we sat around, rode bikes, wandered, tapped the keg, checked out Ben’s Volvo he had run in the derby the night before (and he did well—it still ran!), went to the corner store, and then settled down to watch the parade. Of course, a parade! People had gathered along the main street; a few bleachers were set up under a tree. The parade opened with the Lind high school marching band playing “Paint it Black.” The procession included rodeo princesses on horseback, veterans, and floats with themes as random as the Devore motel rooms: A Touch of the Orient, Jungle Princess, It’s All About the 50’s, old Vikings from Paulsbo… and then came the combines. The giant harvesters belched their way down the street, piled with farmers and pit crews, some with gashes and dents from previous derbies. They had names like American Spirit, Hillbilly Deluxe, Jail Break, Jaws, Tater Salad, Purple People Eater.

We got Ben’s Volvo (Devore Motel) rolling, and a bunch of us hopped on top, representing the weird Seattle contingent. Islamic calls to prayer blared over the Volvo’s loud speaker (clashing nicely with the Republicans’ truck ahead of us), and we made our way slowly down the main drag, waving. We got a lot of mystified looks, but fortunately no threats. Paula coached us on the elbow-elbow wrist-wrist waving technique.

Later in the afternoon, after more trips to the corner store, barbequed meat, cocktails, Frisbee, and various costume changes, we went down to the track where the demolition derby was held. There were 500 or more people there, filling the stands and beer garden, all in high spirits. We squished next to friends and took in the carnage. The photos and video speak for themselves… suffice to say we were covered in dust and sunburned by the end. Only once did a 200 lb tire careen through the air towards us. A highlight was during one of the wheat truck races, when my favorite truck, Death Proof, overturned while taking a corner. About 15 guys ran onto the track (which was really a rodeo ring) and with effort righted the truck. The driver pulled himself out, they popped the hood, and as flames were curling out of the engine, they threw in handfuls of dirt from the track. Flames apparently snuffed, about 7 guys put their heads under the hood, tinkered, and in a couple of minutes the driver got in and fired it up again. The race resumed and Death Proof did a few more circuits before it was passed and out of the race. Amazing.

Ed and I walked back to town into the sunset. The rest of the evening we spent next to a blazing fire in the lot of the Devore Motel, listening to awesome live music (Michael Vermillion and Ben Blankenship), while Faster Pussycat Kill Kill played on a screen next to the band under the stars. We ate homemade cherry pie.

michael vermillion


Video footage of the derby
Photos on flickr from Janet
Lind, WA website