A great many things go viral in our society, amplified by social media and an Internet that places all kinds of information (and misinformation) literally at our fingertips.
Some of those things are harmful, most are innocuous, and every so often, a viral craze is very good. The Gambler 500 Rally is one of the best viral ideas to gain traction in the last few years.
The Gambler, as it’s called by aficionados, is an open-source, non-competitive kind of automotive event that blends equal parts creativity, outrageousness and environmental stewardship. The core of the event is to drive a vehicle, usually something that looks like an escapee from a junkyard, out into public wilderness land to clean up illegal trash dump sites, using the vehicle to bring the trash back to a central location for disposal.
The Gambler idea was hatched in 2014 by Tate Morgan and some of his friends in Southern Oregon. They just wanted to do some good in the beautiful deserts of central Oregon while having some fun in cheap, junky cars before those vehicles limped to the recycler.
Word of mouth spread the idea and people just started showing up. Today, the central Oregon Gambler 500 attracts hundreds of vehicles of all kinds and thousands of people.
TheDetroitBureau.com was on hand at this year’s OG, with Executive Editor Jeff Zurschmeide participating in his traditional Volkswagen-derived dune buggy. Working with a friend, noted industrial designer Austen Angell, the team hauled several loads of trash out of the Crooked River National Grasslands. They also assisted other Gamblers in loading dumped appliances and other debris into larger vehicles for proper disposal.
“It’s a blast to drive my buggy around, bouncing along the trails through this area,” Zurschmeide said, “but it’s far better to combine that experience with the chance to do some good for my home state.”
Don’t be a dick
There are very few rules that govern a Gambler rally. The first and most important, “Don’t be a dick,” is followed by a reminder that all the normal laws and regulations that govern driving on-road and off-road still apply during the event. Apart from that, participants are free to let their freak flag fly.
As a result, the Gambler has become one of the most popular alternative automotive events in Oregon. This year, people brought cars ranging from doorless minivans to a brand-new Rivian R1T and turned up ready for the weekend-long cleanup effort. The base camp, known as Gamblertown, featured live music, hot dogs, a visit from Smokey Bear, and camping space.
The National Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management turn out in support of the Gambler’s goals. Illegal trash dumps and homeless camps are a huge problem for agencies with very few rangers to cover thousands of square miles of wilderness. The official land managers for the region are on hand at Gamblertown and roaming the target regions to help identify sites in need of cleanup, and to hand out educational and promotional materials.
This year’s Gambler event was better prepared than in years past. Just last year, participants overflowed the 600 cubic yards of dumpster space provided by organizers before the first day of the event was over. A back parking lot of the county fairgrounds became a mountain of trash that was hauled off after the weekend.
In all, Gamblers removed more than 1,000 cubic yards of trash, along with dozens of abandoned cars, RVs, boats and appliances, from nearby wilderness areas and brought it all to Gamblertown for proper disposal.
At this year’s event, there were more dumpsters provided and volunteers helped Gamblers sort through the recyclable tires and appliances from the general trash. Abandoned vehicles were delivered straight to a local junkyard. At the end of the weekend, the county’s solid waste trucks hauled the dumpsters off for disposal or recycling.
Open-source public service
The annual event in central Oregon is now known as “The OG” for Original Gambler.
However, another key fact about the Gambler 500 is that you don’t have to go to Oregon to participate. In fact, anyone is welcome to start their own Gambler Rally in their own local area. You can use the Gambler 500 name and everything. All the organizers ask is that you don’t charge people to participate and that the primary mission of your event must be to clean up public land.
“The original event in Oregon is the global meetup for what Gambler has evolved into as a brand, encouraging people across the world to go have adventures using Gambler 500 as a call sign,” said the organization’s website. “We allow people to use the term ‘Gambler’ as long as it’s free and participants embrace the ideals of stewardship while having cheap fun in the outdoors.”
If the Gambler sounds like your kind of event, look on Facebook for information about Gambler rallies in your area. There are established events all over the United States, Canada and Mexico. If there’s no Gambler event yet in your part of the world, just visit Gambler500.com and you’ll learn how to start one of your own.