Head on out to one of the most family-friendly celebrations in San Luis Obispo County this Memorial Day weekend as the Best of the West Antique Equipment Show rolls into the Historic Santa Margarita Ranch. Hosted by the Paso Robles Pioneer Day Committee and Rossi Foundation, this not-to-be-missed annual event happens Friday through Sunday, May 24-26, and showcases the heroes and history of America with parades, activities, food, music, and more.
In addition to the historical and patriotic aspects, this popular event is just plain fun! A precursor to the now-annual show took place in 2010, according to Founder Tom Madden. It was so well-received by the community that organizers decided to make Best of the West happen yearly starting in 2015. Proceeds from the event help fund the annual Paso Robles Pioneer Day celebration.
“We have daily parades and a tremendous children’s play area, food and drink vendors, and much more,” Madden said. “This event is Americana in every sense and we want the younger generation to understand what Memorial Day truly represents.”
Military Tributes and Vehicles
Held intentionally on Memorial Day Weekend, Best of the West not only features antique tractors and equipment, planes, trains, horses, and automobiles, it is a patriotic event as well. Fallen service members are honored each day at noon with a flag salute, and there will also be speakers, music, and flyovers from Estrella Warbird pilots, present to pay tribute. Families are encouraged to arrive earlier than noon to be in place before the tributes begin.
Be sure to stop by the extensive display of military vehicles. Gary Hanes organizes this portion of Best of the West. He first became involved when Madden saw his 1941 Dodge Weapons Carrier.
“That really sparked his interest,” Hanes said. “He asked if I would be interested in riding herd on the military portion of the show and the rest is history.”
The 2019 show will include plenty of Jeeps, Weapon Carriers — all four-wheel drive, some armed and some not — and more. Most of the vehicles displayed are from the WWII era and Korea, according to Hanes.
“So much was produced in the relatively short duration between those two wars,” Hanes said. “With Vietnam, we get mostly big trucks, but a lot of the smaller stuff and armor was left in the country for our allies. Two major problems exist on getting military vehicles to a show. They either have to be driven and they are not very reliable for 300-400 mile trips, or they have to be trailered and not everybody has the equipment to haul 25 to 50 tons.”
Kids Corral, Pacific Coast Railroad and More
Volunteer and Board Member Ashely Boneso oversees the Kids’ Corral, ensuring there are plenty of activities to keep the entire family entertained and involved. Kids can try their hand at roping, participate in pedal tractor races, bob for apples, and enjoy cotton candy. They might like the John Deere teeter-totter, and they can get the wiggles out while playing in the giant sand pile and tire-climbing gym or participating in a scavenger hunt.
“You can quite literally spend the entire day at Kids’ Corral,” Boneso said. “Bring your kids out and let them be a cowboy or cowgirl for the day; it’s like taking a step back in time. We are located right next to the barbecue area, so it’s convenient for families to have lunch nearby and let their kids explore.”
Bring the youngsters to experience gold panning, a Farmers’ Market stocked full of fresh, local fruit and veggies, and self-paced stations showcasing vintage water pumps, grain buckets, butter making, and more. In addition, a local train club sets up tables filled with model trains and tracks — always fun for kids of all ages.
The steam-powered Pacific Coast Railroad is another favorite at Best of the West. Following a narrow-gauge loop around the Santa Margarita Ranch headquarters, it allows for wide-open views of the surrounding meadows and mountains. There are three engines and four 5/8 scale passenger coaches from the Santa Fe and Disneyland Railroad, dating back to the 1950s.
Exhibits, Displays & School Field Trip
“We are really ramping up the blacksmith display, grain threshing, hay booming, and showcasing more of the old-time farming techniques,” Madden said. “A big portion of the show is the school field trips that happen on Friday. We set up various stations and the kids get to see history in the making. It allows them to see just how the crops are grown and harvested that later end up in stores as the foods they eat. It’s fascinating for these kids and they love bringing their parents back to the show on Saturday and Sunday to experience it as well.”
Displays and exhibits over the years have included tractors, vintage farming equipment, steam and gas engines, fire trucks, and classic automobiles and motorcycles. In addition, see antique trucks and trailers from the farming, ranching, logging, and construction industries. Always popular with the younger crowd, the “original tractors” — horses and mules — are often accompanied by wagons, carts, and plows.
Find information about volunteering, forms for exhibitors, vendors, RV & camping registration, dinner tickets, golf cart rentals, and dog rules at bestofthewestshow.com.