Growing Up in Alameda
Growing Up in Alameda
The Shifters Car Club, circa 1958. Photos by Dave LeMoine.
This is the way it was in the ‘50s and ‘60s in a great American city called Alameda, in a much simpler time. Where money was tight, people worked hard, and a friend could be greeted on Park Street for coffee. It was a time when Tucker’s ice cream cones were under a dollar, a waffle was always good at Ole’s and fried chicken came from Lola’s on Alameda Avenue (until it burned down).
It was a time of Lincoln and Franklin Park picnics on Sunday afternoons; of cruising South Shore in my ‘32 Ford. The biggest traffic bottleneck took place once a year, at High Street and Thompson Avenue (aka Christmas Tree Lane), with Santa in the center divide, people passing and children laughing. (Or stuck in traffic waiting for the bridge to close after the Johnny Peterson tugboat, with barge in tow, passed through for Tidewater Sand and Gravel.)
The Fourth of July parade, driving Fire Engine 1. Firemen sitting in front of old Station 1 on Webb Avenue, leaning back on the antique captain’s chairs talking with the kids, and families together in a city called Alameda, attached to a land mass called Bay Farm Island.
Here are a few years in the lives of some local teens.
1. Bay Farm Island 1957, Beyond the Dumps
Remembering our “Happy Days” experience of years ago, I’m thinking of a warm summer afternoon. This 17-year-old sits on the curb in front of Jill Jaber’s corner store at Maitland and Flower Lane, pondering life.
The roar of a Chevy pickup shatters the quiet and slams me back to reality as it slides to a stop. Who’s the nut trying to kill me? Out jumps a skinny kid.
“Hi, I’m Dean!” he says. “I just hotwired my dad’s truck and am going for a cruise. Ya wanna go?”
“Yeah!” I reply.
Fifty-three years later, there’s no pickup truck, no ‘49 Merc or Chevy, no louvered hood or moon hubcaps. There’s just Dean, Joanne, Freddy (alias the Fonz), Carl McGregor and Tom Cane – now driving their motor homes – and me in a Toyota pickup. Did I say boring?
It’s time again for a Shifters of Alameda car club reunion. So much time has passed. It doesn’t seem possible, but as I look back in my scrapbook, I am privileged beyond measure to think of the life and friends God has laid before me in a city called Alameda. Dean, Joanne, and I; Freddy and Bev; Jerry and Judy.
We are truly seniors: Red Dog is gone; Flip recently died lying under his ‘56 Chevy. Budda can’t make it to the reunion; Heater shows up with his younger brother in a nice Chevy-powered ‘47 custom.
Returning to our first meeting: I was into the seat of this now vintage pickup (I can still smell the interior). And off we went. I felt free as we drove up High Street to the Oakland Hills. Dean was full of mischief, burning rubber around corners, chasing cats, jumping curbs, and driving through a row of thoughtfully planted flowers. What fun (though I don’t condone the mischief)! Friendship, common goals, cars, and dreams.
Dean got away with being the family car thief for quite a while. The first time I heard the Johnny Cash song, “Ring of Fire” was in Dean’s front room.
Genesis of the Shifters
Dean and I met Benton Randolph the III – known as Red Dog for his flame red hair – in auto shop. Soon we were introduced to his brother, Frank; Lee Barbour, who went by the nickname Budda; and Phil Young, called Flip. Flip lived above the little store at Encinal Avenue and High Street with his father and brother.
Then there was Ken Heaton, or Heater (at more formal events, Heaterbill). Afterward came Gary Soulage; John Marlin; Lawrence Quintero, later the owner of the Acapulco, a great Mexican restaurant; and Jerry Green, who was a neighbor from BFI. Frank named me Uncle Boobs for my barrel chest. Thanks, Frank!
After completing my ‘32 Ford, powered by a supercharged ‘55 Olds engine, with 24 coats of pearlescent blue paint and candy apple red racing stripes, my name became Lead Foot. Corvettes? No problem.
We started meeting at the Randolphs’ home and then moved to our clubhouse in John Marlin’s mom’s basement on Buena Vista Avenue.
It took me all summer working for a landscaper to save $300 for a ‘49 Chevy;. I added a louvered and primed hood, gold moon hubcaps, and a P.A. system in the grill so everyone could hear “Wake up Little Suzy” as we passed. It had a left-handed column shift for faster second gear, and new seat covers.
In the meantime, Mom had just bought a red ‘56 Ford station wagon from a cattle ranch. We didn’t have the money to remove the “Action Ranch” sign, so we erroneously became the owners of a ranch.
Mom never knew what fame the “Action Ranch” drew all over Alameda. The cops knew it, the kids at Encinal High School (our rivals) knew it, and Rider’s Drive-In parking lot knew it. We used to take a set of coil springs secured from our auto wrecker, jack up the rear end, and fit them between the leaf springs. Instant super rake!
Man, I could burn rubber around corners, and destroy tires fast at Mom’s expense. Mom kept commenting about the poor grade of tires! “Sorry Mom!”
Dean had a maroon ‘49 Mercury; Red Dog had a black ‘50 Ford. He had a real talent for speed shifting second gear. His talent often extended to the destruction of that second gear, and he soon became a pro at changing the Ford transmissions, in about 30 minutes from start to finish. He kept the wreckers rebuilding boxes for $12.50 a pop.
Next: Happy Days and The Fonz