Pig & Ford. Going hog-wild on the race track

Why doesn't the champ wear dust goggles like all the others? ``I don't need 'em out front,'' drawls Ken Salo, winner of the last three Pig & Ford annual championships here at the Tillamook County Fair.

When it comes to a world championship in this 61-year-old racing classic, Tillamook is the place to be.

The recipe for success? Mix one dozen squealing pigs (none over 60 pounds, please -- Polish China breed preferred) with ten spluttering Model-Ts (exact vintage not critical), and then add (for total bedlam), a couple thousand foot-stomping, cheering farmers and loggers, and you have what has to be a unique event in the annals of racing.

The rules are simple: Drivers warm up their stripped-down rigs, drive them to the starting line, and cut the spark (the equivalent of turning off the ignition in a modern car). Basically, all they have to do is complete three laps around a half-mile track -- with a pig in hand. As if that weren't challenging enough, they must also exchange pigs twice during the race, and, of course, the engines must be stopped and restarted with each exchange. Ready?

At the starting gun, the contestants dash to the pens to pick up their partners.

Assuming no one has really carried out the occasional threat to lubricate the pigs with vegetable oil, the first challenge comes when each driver attempts to hand crank the engine without loosing Porky.

This accomplished, the drivers sprint to the wheel and lurch their Fords into first. High is engaged by flipping a hand lever forward. Then comes the real grind, keeping driver, pig, and car all together until they finish as a unit.

The winning technique usually amounts to grasping the snooty friend by one front leg and holding it hard against one's side to keep the nose out of the steering wheel and the hind legs free and clear of anything to push against.

The racing stretches over three days, with two heats of five cars each daily.

Legend has it that the race originated about the same time as good fences. Swine were known to run alongside horseless carriages before any distinctions were made between pastures and roadways. As fences came to be used to define the boundaries, drivers noticed that the run-alongs were falling off. Dogs tried to fill the role, but not to the satisfaction of those who really appreciated things as they had been. Dogs have just never really gotten the hang of it, lamented one otherwise undistinguished poli tician.

Had it not been for the Model-T Association of Tillamook County, this chapter of Americana might have been lost. The association wisely decided that this was one tradition they couldn't let die.

The association currently boasts 35 members, with 10 racing franchises and ten cars. A recent franchise transfer brought $1,800. Each vehicle began as a production model, but in the 1940s the club decided to remove the bodies in order to maintain better what was left -- namely the wheels, frame, engine, and steering.

A good thing, says Ken Salo, who came in first again with the help of his partner -- taking the race by a nose.

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