Take a look around Baker City this week and you might notice a few special guests. They aren’t hard to spot — there’s about 90 of them. And they’re driving cars from before World War II.
Listen to those horns awooga, watch the sun glint off lacquered fenders, smell the leather and rubber of these well-loved and well-restored vehicles.
Or should we call them horseless carriages? Which isn’t to be flip or to revisit the parlance of their times — it’s the name of the group.
The Horseless Carriage Club of America says on its website that “in essence, all automobiles are Horseless Carriages, but HCCA has defined the Horseless Carriage as any pioneer gas, steam and electric motor vehicle built or manufactured prior to January 1, 1916.”
Of course, things are a little more laid back in Oregon. The HCCA’s Portland Regional Group has a 1932 cutoff.
The Portland group organized this Baker City trip, though some members drove from as far as Coos Bay, 440 miles away.
Others just crossed the Idaho border to join, like Nampa residents Chuck and Alice Steffensen.
“We offered to help put together the tour,” Alice said. “We have a lot of fun seeing the communities, the sights, and of course the roads.”
Her husband added that Baker City has been very hospitable.
“We encourage our group to buy and eat local,” Chuck said. “You can go to a Denny’s anywhere, but locals know where to get the best food.”
The Steffensens are driving their 1929 Franklin Dietrich Speedster, which they said is one of only five of its kind. The engine is air-cooled — no radiator to boil over.
“Some of these other cars overheat but we’re good,” Chuck said.
Although 32 cars pulled into the Quail Ridge Golf Course on Tuesday, four had broken down the day before.
The Steffensens pointed out how, when something goes wrong, helping hands rush to the scene, a good samaritanism that feels anachronistic.
Nostalgia pervaded Quail Ridge Golf Course Tuesday as the group’s classic American cars puttered onto the putting green and their owners, many in period dress, dismounted and mingled as though Gatsby himself might come for lunch.
According to Jim Gordon, president of the Portland Regional Chapter, the group has five cars as old as 1911. Gordon himself bought a Ford Model T in high school, which he’s owned for 55 years.
He admitted that their group may be top-heavy with retirees, though he shouted to one member, “You still work don’t you? And I don’t mean working on your Chevy.”
Gordon pointed out how car collectors and restorers are often drawn to cars seen when they were children.
“I’m just sorry for children these days who’ll want to restore a nineties car,” he said. “They’re all made of plastic, which is very difficult to replace.”
A few children in attendance brought palpable pep to the group, like Cody Dean and Jacob Nettleton, both 11, and both from Portland.
Their grandfather, Rod Folen, had the least shiny carriage of the bunch, though the black 1931 Ford Model A was perhaps the most storied.
“This one belonged to my friend Leo, an Indian near Elgin,” Folen said. “He and I used to get a half-rack of beer and drive out on gravel roads swapping lies.”
“Leo was murdered, and his son Kimber (in attendance) sold me the car. I call it Leona.”
Folen showed off the car’s modern electric distributor, the carburetor and a new top.
“Henry Ford made a good car,” Folen said. “They’re easy to repair because they still make all the parts.”
With their fine fleet of Fords, Chevys, REOs, Studebakers, Franklins, and more, the Horseless Carriage Club Members will tour many neaby sights.
Their trip, which continues through Friday, will include visits to Haines, North Powder, Durkee Valley, Keating, The Interpretive Center, the Rock Creek Power Plant, the Adler House Museum and the Crossroads Carnegie Art Center.