On the freeway, it's about 65 miles from Temecula to El Cajon, California. On the Ranch Run, it's closer to 100, and a whole lot more fun. It's only taken one year for the Ranch Run, organized by Jim and Carrie Benitez from San Diego, to evolve from a first-time event into a tradition.

We got to the meeting place (a public parking lot in Temecula's Old Town district) early, and there were already a couple dozen rods ready to go. The event is open to '54-and-earlier iron, and it was mostly traditional-style stuff--a bunch of early Fords, an assortment of customs, and a lot of variety. By the time we got rolling, there were probably 50 cars in the pack, led by Mike Van Zetten in his red '52 Chevy. Jim and Carrie had driven the route a few weeks earlier. It was about twice as long as the '02 Ranch Run and took us through the winding mountain roads of San Diego County. Robert Ianello, owner of Midnite Motors Web site (www.midnitemotors.com), was in town from Detroit, delivering a body to Jim, and came along on the Run. Good thing. His truck and trailer came in handy a couple of times along the way.

The first half of the Run was a long climb around a series of hairpin switchbacks. We stopped for breakfast at a cafe near Palomar Mountain, up around 5,000 feet. From there it was down the hill through Santa Ysabel, Ramona, Lakeside, and on to El Cajon, east of San Diego, where Rudi Van Zetten (Mike's dad) hosted a barbecue.

Before the day was over, Jim and Carrie were already making plans for Ranch Run '04. The route will be a little different (and maybe a little shorter) but every bit as much fun.