Trompers of Eagle Rock: A Commemorative Anthology

Trompers of Eagle Rock: A Commemorative Anthology
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Words: Richard Parks

Photo: Roger Rohrdanz

There is nothing more satisfying than to see an old group get back together again, whether it is a rock band or a car club.  It brings back old memories and gets one out of the blahs and doldrums.  It is also rather rare.  We have had tens of thousands of car and social clubs in our nation’s history, most of them within the past eight decades and I would estimate that 90 percent of them disbanded after only a few years in existence.  During the Great Depression of the 1930’s it was a rite of passage to belong to a group, mostly on a territorial basis.  Your friends would meet at someone’s house or garage and eventually the group of neighborhood youths would coalesce into a club of sorts.  In some cases the club was more of a gang and over time marriage and maturity would soften the group.  No matter the reason, there was this immense desire to belong to a group, especially when all around you the country seemed to be unraveling and the family hard pressed to provide security.  Car clubs offered young men a chance to feel accepted and equal, when equality was the fact of their existence.  It was a male only environment; women stayed in the home at that time.  The car clubs served a social function though.  The guys would race on the streets or dry lakes; work on their cars or a club car, and bench race about their fondest hopes and dreams.  Yet they had obligations to girl friends and wives and that led to dances, gymkhanas, road rallies, picnics and other outings.  The car club was the cement for binding friendships that would last a lifetime.

 
World War II began the slow change in the car club culture.  Young men were exposed to a wider world and when they came home they were not quite the same as when they went to war.  By the 1950’s a new sport of drag racing grew up right before our eyes and oval track racing seemed so glamorous.  The car clubs left the dry lakes and the streets and went racing on safe, sanctioned and organized dragstrips and race tracks all over the country.  You could literally race 7 days a week, but taking 15 or 20 club members with you took a lot of effort, time and money to do.  More efficient two and three man “partnerships” were the way to go.  One guy owned the car, another was the driver, and maybe a third person did the set-up.  Clubs began to lose members and break apart.  By 1960 the neighborhood car club structure was nearly dead.  Wally Parks, who had founded the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA), felt that the car club culture still had merit and assigned Barbara Livingston Parks and Tex Smith to a division within the NHRA.  This entity was called the ICCA and it worked with tremendous zeal to organize the remaining neighborhood and school car clubs into a strong organization.  For a time it worked, but the car club culture had passed its heyday and eventually the NHRA realized they could not bring back the past.
 
There is something very reassuring and comfortable about looking back to the Great Depression and World War II eras.  We do so at the risk of grave error.  In today’s world with constant wars, mass murders, cutting off the heads of innocents, terrorism and the threat of new diseases and nuclear war, it is comforting to think of a simpler and kinder age when people treated each other with respect and love.  But it really wasn’t like we imagine it to be.  It was a tough and desperate time in the 1930’s and ‘40’s too.  The Trompers of Eagle Rock and the book that they created to herald their history brings back this feeling of connection to the past and they do it brilliantly.  Perhaps it is our desire to relive the past that makes their club history and book so appealing.  The TROMPERS OF EAGLE ROCK; COMMEMORATIVE ANTHOLOGY is their effort to chronicle the history of a car club that like most car clubs, rose up, fell apart and then decades later found a reason to reunite and live in a modern era.
 
TROMPERS OF EAGLE ROCK; COMMEMORATIVE ANTHOLOGY is a paperback book, measuring 8 ¾ by 11 inches, with over 200 black and white photos (one color plate) in 128 pages.  The backing is glued, not cloth bound and there is no dust cover jacket.  The paper quality is very good and the pictures adequate to very good.  The book has a prologue, introduction, but no indexing.  Some of the photographs are captioned, but many are not, nor were the photographers mentioned, so it is difficult for the serious historian to do a great deal of research from this book.  That is not a problem for the typical hot rodder or car fan and it is an easy read, though the text is sparse.  The cost of the book is $20 and you can pick up a book from a Tromper’s member, from the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum, presented by the Automobile Club of Southern California, or at Autobooks/Aerobooks in Burbank, California.  The book is divided roughly into chapters, though they blend into one another.  I miss an index, wish the rest of the photos were captioned and if the club ever goes into a third reprinting, I hope they will add more historical text.  Most of the text is accurate, but some of it has mistakes, easily made from so far into the past.  Since one of their current members is Jim Miller, President of the Society of Land Speed Racing Historian and also the director of the American Hot Rod Foundation, I hope a new edition will be forthcoming that can correct a few of the mistakes in the book.
 
Overall it is a fine book.  The Trompers hung around loosely as friends until they finally organized in 1946, joined the Southern California Timing Association (SCTA) and thrived around the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, but by 1952 they had largely broken up and moved on, much like all the other car clubs had.  Many of the early members kept in touch and in the late 1990’s they were impressed by the interest that young men expressed in the post WWII era and in 2003 the club reformed.  The older men became the stewards of the history and the younger men providing the leadership and energy that all clubs need to survive.  The original members of the Trompers included John Gunderson (president), Chuck Rounds, Terry “Moe” Wilcox, Dave “The Toad” Bennett, Jim Ford, Bill Harnett, and Don “The Admiral” Zabel.  It was never a large club, preferring to remain small and manageable and their best showing in the SCTA was a 14th place finish in club points, which was very respectable considering that the other clubs were much larger.  During the seven years of their existence from 1945 to 1951 they managed to attract numerous members.  Some of their members from this period included; Hub Anderson, Bob Ellsworth, Ted Colley, Jerome Fortman, Larry Shinoda, Phil Weiand, Ruy Whiting, Pat Hodge, Kay Speierman, Lolly Wiweke, Tom Condon, Freeman Hall, Bob Grider, Don Hammer, Tom Gregory, Phil Miller, John Adams, Arthur Killian, Burdette Sanders, Byron Shoop, Bob Ashline, Marvin Whiteman, Dale Naef, Merritt Tritch, Jack Karnes, Bill “Red” Hostetter, Robert Clark, John de Brauwere, Cal Drake, Ed Parsons, and Homer Albertsen.  
 
The present club formed after 2003 has over 60 members and they hold a wide ranging number of social events.  This is a book that I thoroughly enjoyed reading.  It has a few errors, such as stating that Wally Parks brought out HOT ROD Magazine in 1948, whereas that honor goes to Robert “Pete” Petersen and Bob Lindsay, though I could say that Wally Parks did have a lot to do with the creation of the magazine.  In 1947 Wally Parks was the General Manager of the SCTA and Pete Petersen was looking to find a client.  Petersen was one of many publicists in the movie industry who were laid off after the end of World War II and these men formed a public relations company.  Parks, always on the lookout for ways to establish a professional look for the SCTA, hired Petersen and Hollywood Publicity Associates.  Petersen and Bob Lindsay created advertising for the SCTA Hot Rod Exposition in Los Angeles, and found a great groundswell of support for a “hot rodding” magazine.  Parks even supplied articles and photographs for the fledgling magazine and then went to work for Petersen Publishing as the first full-time, professional editor in 1949.  I recommend TROMPERS OF EAGLE ROCK; COMMEMORATIVE ANTHOLOGY, and suggest that you add it to your library.  
Gone Racin’ is at [email protected].