|The Poker Run of the Woodstock Motor Club starts with coffee cake and ends with sheet cake. In between are checkpoints, playing cards, bathroom breaks, grilled burgers and a whole lot of car talk, scenic roads and good cheer. The event runs on sugar, caffeine and gasoline — and this year, in part, on battery power.
Setting off Sunday morning from the Hudson Valley Senior Residence in Kingston, 42 participants in about 20 cars turned right onto Washington Avenue (to avoid a locally famous sinkhole) and began to follow clues (“pass Henry Ford on billboard”) along a mostly back-road, 60-mile, two-hour meander through Ulster and Greene Counties. At each of the four additional checkpoints, a playing card was drawn and recorded by volunteers. By the time a final card was selected at the ultimate destination, the group’s clubhouse in the woods, each participant had drawn a poker hand. Cash prizes went to those with the winningest cards.
My hand, like my poker skills, was an also-ran, consisting of two deuces, two jacks and a king. I had arrived, however, with a trump card: the Fisker Karma plug-in hybrid, which I was test-driving. By the time of the Poker Run I had grown accustomed to the stares, comments, questions and photo ops that the car’s sexy sheet metal generates. Or perhaps onlookers had mistaken me for Justin Bieber, who has been known to drive a Karma covered in chrome.
My friend John Voelcker, editor of GreenCarReports.com, had alerted me to the Poker Run and the charmingly eccentric club that has staged it for 17 years (or perhaps 18; there is some disagreement). Like me, John is a longtime part-time resident of the area, and as the owner of an unrestored 1961 Morris Minor 1000 Traveller, he’s active in the local vintage-car scene.
Given the forecast of rain, which mostly stayed at bay, John decided to leave his old English woodie at home and join me in the Karma, which announced its presence at the checkpoints with the sci-fi whirring sound it emits to alert pedestrians. Otherwise it runs silently in electric mode.
The Karma was a hit, drawing a crowd outside the clubhouse, where participants gathered for a barbecue and prize ceremony at the end of the Poker Run. But parked in a row with the likes of a glistening 1946 Buick Super, a 1959 Chevy Impala “flattop” four-door hardtop and a 1965 Thunderbird convertible, it was hardly the only interesting car on hand. Another plug-in hybrid, a red Chevy Volt being tested by Mr. Voelcker, also was in attendance, providing two 21st-century bookends to the golden oldies.
The Woodstock Motor Club has around 100 members, and it is not the sort of organization in which members try to one-up their friends with deals for million-dollar Ferraris. Annual dues amount to $10, and any car, or no car, is welcome.
“This is a car-nuts and gearheads organization,” Nigel Redman, the president, said after the last door prizes — useful items like stereo speakers, shop towels and carnauba wax — were passed out.
Amid concerns that the next generation is not as interested in old mechanical marvels, he added, “We’re just trying to keep it going.” The club gives scholarships, awarding $1,000 this year to a young woman from Saugerties who wants to be a diesel mechanic.
“I learned everything from being around these guys,” added Mr. Redman, who said he’d known little about old cars when he joined 16 years ago. He considers Jolyon Hofsted, a renowned artist and avid car collector who died in 2004, as his mentor. Mr. Redman now owns seven cars, from a 1953 MG-TD to a 1995 Hummer H1.
The treasurer, Craig Gardner, practically grew up in the club; his late father, Jerry, was one of the founders in the early ’50s. The club’s legacy includes the clubhouse and a garage-cum-shop on roughly five acres that the club has long owned outright — no small asset in a town where property values have jumped in recent decades.
Another of the club’s assets is less pastoral, and louder: a Model T Ford wearing flamboyant orange paint. Like the Cadillac of Johnny Cash’s “One Piece at a Time,” the car is said to have been created from parts of various vintages that were donated by club members in the ’70s, starting with an old frame.
“So what model year is it?” I asked Arthur Vogel of Willow Automotive, a genial bearded man who comes across as a shaggy mad scientist of auto restoration, particularly when giving thrill rides through the woods in the cacophonous open car, which lacks anything resembling a modern safety feature. “Somewhere between a ’23 and a ’25,” he replied. “Mostly.”
Several club members recounted the provenance of the Model T’s wooden dashboard, a story that long ago passed into legend. As the jumble of donated parts began to take the form of a complete car, a need was seen for a nice dashboard plate into which the rudimentary gauges could be set. Don Rothrock, a since-deceased club member, is said to have come to the rescue, producing a leaf from the family’s dining table and warning club members to zip their lips. His frequent refrain, “Don’t tell Millie!” is still widely recalled.
The donated leaf was fashioned into a suitably appealing dashboard, and for the rest of his and his wife’s days Mr. Rothrock is said to have continually repeated his warning to the co-conspirators. It is generally believed that Mrs. Rothrock never found out, no matter how hard she might have searched, what became of the missing piece of her table.