There are plenty of summer events around the state that offer entertainment that is, well, exotic from a Seattle standpoint.
If you’re looking for off-beat and off-the-beaten-track entertainment, you might be drawn to events like the McCleary Bear Fest in Gray’s Harbor County which features a giant communal pot of bear meat stew (July 6-8).
For those who want something more dramatic and dangerous, you can trek up to Omak for the annual Stampede and Suicide Race, a rodeo that also features a dramatic race of riders and horses plunging down a steep hillside and into a river below. The riders are required to wear life jackets and horses entered must prove they can swim. It’s been criticized for the number of horses that have been killed over the years, but it’s an event with deep roots in both the Native American and “cowboy” communities on and adjacent to the Colville Reservation.
One of my favorites, in which no bears or horses die, is the Combine Demolition Derby in Lind. For Seattleites, Lind is off the beaten path in Eastern Washington (the fast way to get there is take I-90 east for about three hours, and before you get to Ritzville turn south on Highway 21). Lind is tucked in the Channeled Scablands, a tidy wheat farming community that every June for the last three decades has put on a ritual of mechanized destruction that is one of the most entertaining competitions you’ll ever see.
I’ve been a couple of times now, and have not been disappointed. The main event is on Saturday afternoon when an arena on the edge of town is turned into a race course for old pick-up trucks, grain trucks and, finally, a “sumo” style demolition derby of old wheat harvester combines that smash into one another until only one remains mobile. It’s like watching slow-moving behemoths go at it as the slow-moving vehicles are maneuvered to wreak havoc on their rivals.
Why beat up old farm machinery? Farmers I’ve talked to say these old combines have outlived their usefulness for work and spare parts. Some are already limping. And there must be something cathartic about making the big machines bash into each other after the years they’ve spent as workhorses in the fields—kind of helping them go out with a bang. Plus, the drivers show their skill by strategically controlling the most unwieldy looking mounts. The combines are painted different colors and come from farms all over the Northwest.
From a spectator’s standpoint, I suggest sitting down close to the action. Netting is put up to protect the audience from flying debris—mostly rocks and dirt—but it’s fun being close so you can feel the grit and power of the spinning vehicles. They rumble, they vibrate, parts fall off. Sometimes the truck turn over, wheels fly off. It’s truly exhilarating, partly because it’s kind of taboo to witness such destruction.
But the old combines and beater trucks in the various races have done their jobs and combines today are much more high tech with computers and navigational systems. These are machines are not yet antique but largely obsolete as wheat harvesting is in a new era of technology. In another 30 years, we’ll probably see today’s state of the art combines bashing each other robot-style, without human drivers. They do have robot camel races in the Middle East, but the human diver’s skill and daring is a big reason this event it so much fun to watch.
And even though it’s in dry, hot country, it beats Seafair’s hydro races for entertainment by a mile.