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YOU Get a Prize, and YOU Get a Prize…

Did you read my title in an Oprah-like voice? That’s how I intended it.

I know I am turning into an old fogey, because too many of my blogs begin with either, “When I was a kid…” or “Kids these days…” Lately, though, I have been mixing it up a bit by adding to my repertoire of introductions, “People these days…” And that is the impetus for my Oprah impersonation.


Giving everyone a “participation award” is a common theme among people complaining about the problems with kids these days. I suspect the practice peaked in the late 1990s, or maybe that is just when I had to attend a whole bunch of soccer matches, swimming events, and junior baseball games. You know the scene: EVERYONE got a blue ribbon, whether they swam in the last place, struck out at every up-to-bat, or even kicked a “goal” into their own team’s net. Ribbons and trophies were handed out regardless of success or achievement. The “awards” were a way of acknowledging the effort to show up.

Hey, but it’s not a phenomenon limited to kids’ events. Just take a close look at the vehicles at your next car show, tractor gathering, or, yes, historic military vehicle rally. “Participation plaques” are a thing of pride for both promoters and exhibitors. Often made of metal or hard plastic, you will see these plaques bolted to dashes, wooden plaques, or door frames. Heck, I even have a few of these tacked up above my workbench to remind me of my rally racing days in the Sports Car Club of America. And I don’t see a darn thing wrong with these.

These plaques serve as an endorsement for anyone who has gone through the effort of restoring a vehicle, caring for it, and then hauling or driving it to a show or rally to share with others. They deserve a little bit of recognition. The plaques help to chronicle our commitment to the hobby. They do not, however, reflect any endorsement of the quality of restoration or value of a particular vehicle. There are just like the blue ribbons handed out to those 8-year-old “participants.”


Chet Krause, the former owner of Military Vehicles Magazine and the guy who hired me so many years ago to edit the magazine, told me why the Iola Military Vehicle Show (or the Iola Old Car Show, for that matter) never handed out trophies. “When you hand out a trophy,” the business mogul began, “You make ONE person happy. You also make a whole LOT of people unhappy. We are in the business of making people happy, so we are going to avoid those bad percentages by not handing out trophies at our shows.” For the 25 years of the Iola Military Show, we never handed out a single trophy. Regardless, we had thousands of people who loved to attend the show, year after year.

The Central Wisconsin Military Show picked up the reigns after the Iola Show shut down operation. In a gesture of having fun and just making people feel good, I worked with the organizer to hand out dozens of “fun awards” like “Most Likely to Sink,” “Could Use a Few Gallons of Paint,” and “Most Likely Not to Get Stuck.” None of the awards were too serious, and we handed out a lot of them. But, regardless of the intent of just having some fun, I had a couple of guys ask me after the show, “Did everyone get an award — because I didn’t.” It had never occurred to me that everyone had to get recognition. I should have recalled to Chet’s advice from so long before — “When you hand out a trophy…you make a lot of people unhappy!”

Recently, Mark Sigrist authored an article for Military Vehicles Magazine titled, “The Field Class” (no. 195, June 2018, pp 44-47 -- CLICK HERE) in which he suggests that judged (“juried”) shows add categories for people who use — and even modify —their historic military vehicles. Mark argued “…to broaden the appeal and hereby increase our memberships, perhaps we need to reevaluate our historical mindset and our traditional parameters…” as he made a case for the Military Vehicle Preservation Association (MVPA) to consider adding classes to the judging that would embrace more vehicle owners and drivers.

While I agree with Mark that we need to acknowledge that there are more ways to enjoy military vehicles other than restoring them to levels never even seen on the original factory lines, I can’t help but think that adding more classes to the MVPA’s judging system might compound the existing problem. Sure, a few more folks would be acknowledged at the MVPA’s annual convention, but based on Chet’s advice, that will only multiply the number of people who leave unhappy with the judges’ decisions. While more trophies will be handed out to the joy of more recipients, they will also create more unhappy participants. Therefore, I don’t think adding more classes to the hobby’s judging system will create more participation — but could even drive more away from it.

With all that said, I am not advocating for the elimination of judging at historic military vehicle events. Quite the opposite, in fact. The old car hobby has demonstrated the necessity for establishing a set of vehicle grading standards for the purposes of valuation, selling, and insuring. While everybody who has restored a vehicle thinks they own a “Number 1,” in fact, very few actually attain that level—as set by the many judging criteria throughout the car hobby.

The historic military vehicle hobby is still in its infancy, but the MVPA has made great strides in establishing it as a legitimate facet of the automotive hobby. By producing strict judging guidelines for many vehicle types, it is determining a grading system for sellers, buyers, appraisers, and insurers to utilize.

But the growth of judging standards can be slow. While there are very detailed criteria available to Jeep judges, the same level of inquiry is not yet available for a variety of HMVs, though the MVPA is working to produce judging guidelines for the most commonly collected. For our hobby to first sustain itself and then to grow, these efforts to establish criteria for judging are essential and must be encouraged.


Okay, so there you have it. Although my mentor, Chet Krause, discouraged the awarding of trophies, I actually support the idea of judging within our hobby. It establishes the criteria for the hobby to move forward. Once we have done that, we can branch into a variety of activities that celebrate the preservation, restoration, and driving of historic military vehicles.

In the meantime, however, it is to our advantage to remember that not everyone who buys and drives a historic military vehicle is doing it for the same reason as you or the next guy. Our hobby is about preserving, restoring, and driving … there is no rule that says someone has to be at the same place in the hobby as you or me. The MVPA has its own set of evaluating vehicles, and those who attend the conventions are probably aware of the criteria.

Other events have their own criteria for participation, and quite possibly, some MVPA members may not agree with those. Just consider the opinions we hear about “bobbed deuces” or M37s with disc brakes and replaced engines! Accepting them all under our hobby umbrella is what is important. When we can embrace all the facets of our olive drab hobby, we will have the strength in numbers and longevity that we seek. As my Grandmother used to remind me, “To each his own, said the lady as she kissed the cow.”

So where to go from here? I suggest that we continue to encourage the MVPA to create and apply judging standards for HMVs. These standards will come to be recognized in the hobby and marketplace. I also join with Mark Sigrist in suggesting we explore and tap the segment of historic military vehicle owners who refuse to join/participate in formal judging activities and find ways to celebrate their passion and joy in owning and driving OD machines. Who knows? That guy who received a participant’s plaque for his hot-rodded M37 yesterday might become tomorrow’s Master Class restorer. After all, our hobby embraces anyone who is dedicated to preserving, restoring, and driving historic military vehicles — no matter how they choose to do it.

Keep em rolling,

John Adams-Graf

Editor, Military Vehicles Magazine and

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