By John L. Baeke

One of the many reasons our valley is such a charming place to live and visit are the many vineyards and wine-tasting rooms. Guests are drawn to these upscale imbiberies not just because of the mastery of the vintner’s product, but because of the ambience created by the Mediterranean architecture and manicured fields of California grapes.

In some parts of the country, pink flamingos, little jockeys, glass globes, wagon wheels and sundials are the yard art of choice. Such is not the case in the Santa Ynez Valley, at least not with some local vineyards.

A few of these establishments have seemingly perfected a trend, of sorts, showcasing old rusty vehicles as yard art. These rather odd objets d’ art have actually become signature monuments welcoming their guests with a most unique and whimsical greeting. They also seem to have the effect of attracting the curious.

Possibly the unintended originator of this art form was the late valley resident Ray Kroc (1902-1984), founder of McDonald’s restaurants and one-time owner of the San Diego Padres baseball team.

Kroc’s farm, on the north side of busy Mission Drive, commands no attention unless you notice tucked between the massive pines and palms a forlorn 1936 Ford truck. Says long-time neighbor Pat Roberts of Flag Is Up Farms, “Today the property is owned by Ray’s heirs. That truck has been sitting there as long as I remember.” Sort of like the old dog waiting for his master to return, I replied.

1930 Ford “dualie” of Saarloos & Sons Vineyard

Larry Saarloos, proprietor of Saarloos & Sons Vineyard, elevated such yard art to an art form. No drive through Ballard Canyon can possibly miss it. Framed by old pepper trees and acres of Syrah grapes is a 1930 Ford dualie flatbed truck. There it rests, wearing the vintner’s label.

Said Saarloos, “About fifty years ago, some old guy drove this truck through our vineyard and simply ran out of gas … right where she sits today, and that’s the story.” Or legend.

1930 Ford Model AA flatbed truck beside the massive oaks of Blackjack Vineyards.

Next notable is Roger Wisted. When he acquired the Blackjack Vineyards & Winery in 1996, apparently an unexpected treasure hidden in the ranch barn was a 1930 Ford truck, by coincidence, the same year and make as his friend’s, Saarloos. Wisted too found a proper place for this proud old gal, dusted her off, and today she is sitting among the rows of chardonnay grapes wearing the logo of Blackjack Vineyard.

Wisted says, “Never a day goes by that someone doesn’t pull over on Alamo Pintado Road to admire and take a photo.”

1942 Farmall tractor of Firestone Vineyards

Recently the vintner’s yard art craze has expanded to tractors as well. Adam Firestone with Firestone Vineyard rescued a 1942 Model-A Farmall tractor from a ranch in Salinas. It now proudly welcomes customers at their Barrelworks restaurant in Buellton.

Further down Highway 246, Foley Estates Vineyards has standing sentry at their entrance a similar old-time Farmall tractor once owned by Mrs. Foley’s father.

Foley Estates Vineyard and its vintage Farmall tractor.

To qualify as proper automotive (or truck or tractor) yard art, these vehicles have to be untouched by the restorer’s hand. Vehicles like this in such raw condition is what gives them character. In this the era of highbrow concours car shows, finding a relic with just the proper amount of abuse and neglect is much more difficult than simply driving to your local junk yard or taking a Sunday afternoon drive in the desert.

At least within the fraternity of Santa Ynez Valley winemakers, the preferred formula for the proper taste of vintage yard art is one with a robust full-body flavor of rust with the bouquet of vintage leather and just a hint of patina.

So as you drive by one of these establishments in your shiny new Escalade, don’t raise an eyebrow. Rather turn a smile and say “Cheers” for preserving just a bit of American motoring history.