For about 15 years now the Swindlers car club in Skagit County, Washington has hosted a time-honored event: a poker run. Events like it actually date back to the reliability runs of the late 1940s and early 1950s where rodders redeemed themselves from their image as hooligans and their cars as dangerous crates. By participating within the letter of the law and finishing a run without mechanical tribulation car enthusiasts would enjoy better publicity. Or so they thought anyway….
Though popular, reliability runs lost favor through the late ’50s as information and investment made hot rods and custom cars better. And they all but died in the 1960s as showroom hot rods and custom cars prevailed.
But something curious happened in the 1970s: hot rods and custom cars reappeared. And with them came a renewed interest in the runs of yore. But they didn’t come back exactly the same way.
A few enterprising individuals figured out that, if given a little incentive, rodders would follow like a donkey follows a carrot on a stick. So would-be promoters turned the old reliability runs into a luck-of-the-draw sport - the poker run.
The premise is simple. Participants feed a pool with their fee and get a printed sheet in exchange. At the start, and at each stop along the route, they fish one of 52 cards in film canisters from a bucket. The hosting club notes the suit and number on the sheet and at the end of the run the “player” with the best poker “hand” wins. Think of it as glorified bingo.
Though incentivized, the run is really just an excuse to get out of the house for the day and enjoy the company of your pals and each others’ cars. The Swindlers’ car club courses, while never the same year to year, usually run about 100 miles. And by dint of Skagit Valley’s diversity the runs cover farmland, hills, valleys, and waterfront, each pretty spectacular in its own right. At the very least it’s a great reason to see the countryside one last time before the leaves and rain start falling. In fact, some years the rain falls during the run. And we all seem to trundle onward, our unfendered tires shooting roostertails along the way.
No rain dampened spirits this year but a metaphorical cloud threatens the run. Though informal, the event consumes a fair bit of energy and planning (this despite foregoing the maps and catered lunch the Swindlers offered in years past). And its popularity is also its burden; though promoted only by word of mouth and technically limited to traditionally styled pre-’65 cars, the run seems to grow annually. This year more than 60 cars and their owners from as far south as Portland, east as Spokane, and north as Calgary participated making it one of if not the club’s biggest events so far.
I’m not exactly worried about the future of the Swindlers Poker Run though; the club members grumble like this every year. They also grumble about the rain, but since nobody’s moved away yet I have faith that we’ll all gather next fall to celebrate our last outing for the year.