Just before this year’s Military Vehicle Preservation Association’s convention in South Bend, Indiana, one of the club’s board members, Kevin Hess, gave me a call. He was hoping I might be able to judge WWI machine gun carts at the upcoming event — or recommend someone who could. While I was flattered by the call, I explained that I really wasn’t qualified for such a specific position. Sure, I know some basics about the subject matter, but I was certain there were much more knowledgeable experts than me. I gave him a list of candidates, wished him luck in his search, and said, “See you at the convention.”
VEHICLE JUDGING — LESSONS LEARNED
Many years ago and soon after the owner of Military Vehicles Magazine, Chet Krause, hired me, I had a frank discussion with the self-made millionaire and devoted vehicle preservationist. It went something like this:
Me: “At the next Iola Military Vehicle Show, we could judge vehicles and hand out some trophies.”
Chet: “I will tell you what I think of judging, damnit.” Drawing in a breath, he continued, “When you judge vehicles, you have the chance to make one person very happy.” I nodded my assent. “And, you stand a damned good chance of making a whole lot of people unhappy. Happy people buy magazines. Unhappy ones don’t.”
And at the end of that short response to my brilliant idea, I understood why we never judged vehicles at either the Military Vehicle Show or Chet’s other offspring, the Iola Old Car Show.
So, for years, I have followed Chet’s lesson by avoiding invitations to be a vehicle judge or to participate in judged events. Adopting his philosophy has provided me with a fine wrap of insulation from even thinking about the role judging plays in the military vehicle (and other vehicle) hobby. That is, until I attended the 2021 MVPA Convention in South Bend, Indiana — the same event for which I hastily turned down the invitation to be a vehicle judge.
RESTORATION HELP IS ON THE WAY
Anyone who has attended an MVPA Convention will know that vehicle judging is a fundamental pillar of the organization. For 20+ years, I have reported on the winners but have avoided really considering what the vehicle owners and the judges go through to produce that list.
What a lot of people (including myself) don’t realize is that the MVPA does not judge vehicles against each other. That is to say, one Jeep doesn’t receive accolades because it was the best Jeep displayed at a particular event. It (or any other vehicle judged) receives points toward a predetermined standard.
I will try to demonstrate how that works: If, for example, you enter an M37 4x4 with correct paint but an aftermarket winch on the front, you will receive points toward a 100% perfect representation for the correct paint but will lose points for the aftermarket winch. After all criteria for a correct M37 restoration is judged, the points for each are added up to determine if they meet the predetermined percentage necessary to receive an award. It doesn't matter if you entered the only M37, or if it was one of a dozen. The points of the others are not weighed agains the points of your vehicle.
And, while you might think there are a dizzying array of judging classes at an MVPA Convention, the fact is, there are only two:
Restored Class: This class is for vehicles that are restored to the “like new” appearance, either as it left the factory or as it was when issued for service. Vehicles must be at least 20 years old to be entered in the Restored Class.
Motor Pool Class: This class is for vehicles that are restored to the “in use” appearance after being issued for service by the military. Points are not deducted for correct modifications, replacement motors and installed accessories if proper to the era portrayed by the vehicle. There is no vehicle age restriction in the Motor Pool Class.
An important thing to remember, it is the restoration that is being judged, not the vehicle. If you display an ultra-rare BRC-60 prototype that is covered with bondo, rattle-can paint, and Velcro decals, chances are, you are not going to get an award — even though that BRC-60 might be the scarcest vehicle at the show.
It’s the restoration that is judged — not the vehicle.
And speaking of restoration, I had a very enlightening conversation with one MVPA Judge, Chris Doran. He had the formidable task of judging Willys MB slat grille jeeps.
Chris told me how he had judged one particular Jeep that he had judged two years earlier at the York MVPA Convention. When Chris had finished the second judging at South Bend, the slat grille owner told Chris how, after York, he used his judging results to improve his Jeep. “I spent about $200 based on the judging recommendations,” he told Chris, “and in two years, gained about 200 points!”
It was at that moment, a light bulb went off and blotted out the advice that Chet had given me years ago. Judging does serve more than just ego. In the case of the MB owner, judging provided the pathway to further perfecting his vehicle and learning more about it.
MACHINE GUN CARTS AND BEVELLED EDGES
While at the Convention, I spent a lot of time examining all of the vehicles that owners had restored and displayed. It wasn't long before I stumbled across the aforementioned WWI machine gun cart. In fact, there wasn’t just one WWI machine gun cart, but three!
Leonard Grummell had brought three carts to display and be judged. And as it turns out, no one is probably more capable of judging than Leonard! You see, of the three carts he displayed (each with varying duties within the machine gun unit), he pulled one out of the crate in which it was delivered in 1917! The other two, he restored.
We looked at the original, out-of-the-crate cart as Leonard called out original markings, leather fittings, and tiny details. Then, we walked over to the two he restored. He pointed to minuscule details that he replicated as he restored the carts.
On the front of one cart, he pointed to a 2”x2” beam across the front. “This is how you can tell a bad restoration,” he said, pointing to the edge of the beam. “The edges of the originals are slightly beveled. This is something most people miss when they restore a cart.” This guy knows his MG carts!
That is when I had my second light-bulb moment: This is what judging is all about. Leonard wasn’t going to win an award because he had the only machine gun carts at the Convention. Nor was he going to win an award because he had an “out-of-the-crate” original (though that was really, really darn cool). If he was going to win anything, it was going to be his attention to detail in restoring a cart. Leonard even made it pretty easy for the judge: He brought an unrestored, original cart to reference while the judge examined Leonard’s handiwork in replicating it.
As I walked away from the carts, I realized something pretty important: Even if I wasn’t a machine gun cart expert, I could have judged this restoration by comparing Leonard’s efforts to replicate the original cart. I could have recognized fine points that Leonard may have missed or even offer an evaluation of paint or markings. Without being an expert, I had a fresh set of eyes that could have helped Leonard — just as Judge Chris Doran had done with the MB slat grille owner.
It took a convention, several conversations, and a few personal observations for me to conclude, “Chet may have had a good point regarding judging. but, there are reasons why vehicle judging is important to our hobby: It helps owners learn about the vehicle, develops their restoration skills, and, quite frankly, it spawns economic growth for our dealers.
Remember the slat grille guy? He went home after York and decided to spend some money to improve his vehicle. That would not have happened if it was for vehicle judging.
So, after 20 some years — and all due respect to Chet — I am standing my opinion about judging on its head:
"While a trophy might make one person happy, when judging is done to help a vehicle owner, it positively impacts the entire hobby."
But that doesn’t mean I am ready to be a judge, yet!
Click here to learn more about the MVPA and its judging activities
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