The Curbside Classics Of Sisters, Oregon

Sisters Hotel

Sisters, Oregon, named for the nearby Three Sisters Volcanoes, is one of those formerly sleepy historic mountain towns that is 99% of the way to being a classic modern tourist trap destination. It’s the kind of place you take the mother-in-law when she comes to visit, so that the ladies can peruse its famous quilt store. Before you feel sorry for me, the drive there, via the McKenzie Scenic Highway, is about as fine a driving road as it gets hereabouts. And the return trip via the Metolius River and a dip in Scout Lake made the stop in Sisters well worth it. And what did I do during the half-hour they were in the quilt shop?

Actually, I wasn’t intending to shoot any cars. For one thing, I was enjoying a day away from CC after a particularly busy week; CC Burnout does happen from time to time. And secondly, I wasn’t the least bit inspired. It turns out we hit town on the Sunday afternoon of the Sisters Folk Festival, the busiest day of the year.  Well, folk music ain’t exactly what it used to be, in terms of its typical social/political roots and appeal. The kind of folks that drive to Sisters for this event, which is much more than “folk music”, arrive in a sea of very recent Lexus hybrid RX400s, Volvos, Mercedes, Acura MDXs, Subarus and so forth; in other words, affluent older folks looking for a way to spend their time (and money) on a superb late-summer Sunday. And here they are, turning the town into a sea of look-alike cars (sorry, no picture). So why would I even take the camera out of my pocket?

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Because within a few blocks of my walk around the town (to stretch my legs and get away from the absolutely jammed main drag), I started finding the cars that the musicians, vendors, retail workers and few remaining old-timer townspeople drive–and it’s all too obvious which ones they are, including this old Isuzu P’up pickup carrying a mighty big camper on its back.

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No worries; these are tough trucks, and this one had the long bed. Just don’t take the mountain curves too fast.

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Sisters has exploded since we first visited some eighteen or so years ago. Back then, Main Street, where Hwy 20 runs through town, already was mostly touristy. Now there are blocks and blocks on either side, full of recent look-alike “Westerny” retail buildings (all commercial buildings are required to look “Westerny”). But in between, a few old timers are still hanging on, at least until they get a crazy offer for their run-down cabin, I assume. And this is what just about everyone in Sisters drove twenty years ago.

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Here’s that truck in front of its home, no doubt, surrounded by the Sunday invaders.

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Here’s another straggler, probably also belonging to a worker at one of the endless retail shops. What do people buy at these places? Never mind; you’re asking the wrong person.

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No, these folks weren’t here to shop for souvenirs or overpriced anything else. And the kids and dog seem to be enjoying the open-top motoring their open-top old Blazer affords.

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No self-respecting town in Oregon doesn’t have its share of old Toyota pickups.

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This BMW 525i (E34) is straddling the fence. With the kayak racks, it’s undoubtedly owned by younger folks.

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This little boarded-up shack (on right) and its barn are one of the last of its kind, especially since it’s just a half-block back from Main Street. This time next year there will undoubtedly be an art gallery or such here. The low MGB makes the cabin look bigger than it is; the front doorway is so low, I’d have to take my head off to get in.

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Befitting a sunny summer Sunday, there were a number of “classics” out and about, but only this one caught my eye (and ear). It’s a rather rare ’63 Rambler American coupe, and the sound of its exhaust made it all-too obvious that it still had its original six; or some variation of an AMC six. Now if only it had been an IKA Torino with the souped-up OHC Tornado Willys six. Sure sounded like it could have been. Sixes are ear sex.

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As I walked away from the main retail area a few more blocks, I encountered some local residents’ houses, as this one make obviously clear. Vintage 4x4s, of different persuasions.

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In the blocks behind the main festival area, lots of campers were to be seen. The musicians’ and vendors’ home on the road, undoubtedly. The four cylinder in this Toyota motor home gets a good workout, but they’re up to it, if one’s expectations are realistic (slow).

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Lots of conversion vans too, including a slew of diesel Sprinters. Still, my beating heart…I know; they can be a bit high-maintenance, but in so many ways they’re so appealing. Mike mine a long body, high roof early version of the gen1, before they got the more complicated emission controls. And with a Sportsmobile DIY conversion kit. Thank you. Our ’77 Chinook is just getting too old (more on that another time).

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If I had to guess, this is the parking lot for a place that attracts younger/cheaper folks. Nice Saab 9000. Not so nice Malibu Classic, or whatever they were called at the end of their road.

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This is a nice display of all three of Isuzu’s main SUV products back in the day. And in red, white and blue, no less.

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This is how I remember Sisters twenty years ago. Except the car would have been way too nice back then. Now it’s just picture-perfect.

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Station wagons, old and new. Yes, the Outback “wagon” is undoubtedly the most popular new “wagon” in our part of the world. One can’t exactly say that of the ’65 Dodge Polara wagon; these were a wee bit out of the mainstream in its day. A role reversal? The Subaru mainstream; a Dodge not? What’s the world coming to?

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The Dodge Polara wagon wasn’t exactly a real outsider, but just not anywhere near as popular as a Ford or Chevy, or even the Plymouth Fury. The “mid-sized” Dodge Coronet wagon was pretty roomy too, so it undoubtedly sucked away a lot of buyers. But the charms of these extra-long-roofs is undeniable.

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This one seems to be resting mostly now, until one of those affluent tourists (almost all California ex-pats now living in Bend) knocks on its owner’s front door and offers them whatever it takes to take it off their hands. Or maybe a combination deal for the house and the Polara.

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The body is pretty straight, and I can assure there’s not a whit of rust on it. The eastern side of the Cascades is much drier, and cars here are immortal.

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It’s got that fine twin-pod Chrysler-esque dash. That alone makes this Polara worth a grand over what a comparable Fury would/should fetch.

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My old camera has dust in the lens, and shooting into the afternoon sun makes it very obvious. But this shot of a Mopar-lover’s garage can’t be thrown out on that account.

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For some reason, the juxtaposition of the Belveder’s underbite bull-dog face with the Ram’s bared-teeth front end spoke to me.

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And an open passenger-side window was an invitation not to be turned down. That’s what we need more of: yellow interiors.

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If there hadn’t been an old Subaru wagon in Sisters, it would really have meant the end is near.

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More campers, in all shapes, sizes and budgets.

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That sure looks like US Forest Service green, although it has nicer trim than I remember these trucks to have. I had a neighbor who had one like this, with a 454 and a giant cab-over camper on it. I had to drive it for her somewhere once; what a beast.

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A couple more relics from another era. There’s still quite a number of these Colt Space Wagons/Vistas/etc. around; need to do a proper write-up on them. They were very popular for a year or two, and then the Chrysler minivans showed up. Too bad for Mitsubishi.

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Aw shucks…every time I see a white ’61-’63 Beetle, I get a bit misty-eyed and think mine has returned from the great scrap yard in the sky to give me one more ride. I wish….

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I get a text: “we are checking out now”. Perfect timing; my quickie circumnavigation of Sisters is complete, and I’m just a block away from the quilt store. I wasn’t going to shoot the cars in the parking lot there, but how often do you see a yellow Crossfire convertible? Back to reality; or someone’s version of it.

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On the way out in the morning, we had encountered repeated clumps of Model As heading down Hwy 20 to Eugene, keeping right up with the flow of traffic. And on the way home, they were heading back again, over the pass, I assume, in the late light of day. No problem; these are Model As, after all.