Clutchers Car Club

This is a background story based on my novel, Blessed Unbeliever, about Sean McIntosh and Kathleen in the 1950s. It gives some background on Reggie Radcliffe, Sean’s enemy.

After he arrived at Stanton, Reggie Radcliffe single-handedly birthed the Clutchers Car Club—a coterie of church kids, all motorheads. One dark Tuesday night in spring 1959, the Clutchers gathered as usual in the barn at Jeff Adam’s Villa Park orange ranch. A dry Santa Ana wind whipped the branches, flinging oranges off the trees like projectiles. Cars pulled in and parked among the trees. As the guys walked into the barn which was swept and all alight, a small radio played Bobby Darin—“I want a dream lover, so I don’t have to dream alone. . . .”

Eight guys showed, all wearing gray jackets with “Clutchers” embroidered in white on the back. Shawn McIntosh, a year younger than most of the guys, wasn’t among them—no one had invited him. Jeff’s dad kept an old Fordson tractor in the barn, plus a harrow, a couple of plows, and a sledge with runners on it that he used for gathering rocks or transporting orange tree seedlings. In one corner sat a rusted-out 1932 Ford hot rod, the club’s perennial fix-up project. Reggie told the guys, “Push all that stuff against the wall.” Under the light in the middle of the room, he carefully set up a few evenly-spaced chairs in a perfect circle where Jeff had swept out a spot.

The guys had elected Dan Hardy president, a fact which Reggie resented. Dan, a Roy Rogers kind of a guy, friendly, approachable, with a nice smile, seemed self-conscious. “Well, I guess we’ll get started. Anybody have anything?”

Mack leaned forward in his chair. “I wanna install three two-barrels on my Chevy. I already bought the intake manifold and carbs—cost me about $75. The hard part’s getting the links adjusted so the front and back two-barrels will kick in correctly when you stomp down on the throttle.”

Everybody nodded approvingly. Dan offered, “I know a guy who can adjust the links.” A Clutcher took better care of his car than his own body—he would install twin pipes, mill the heads, chrome-plate engine accessories, nose and deck it and always, paint it with metallic paint.

Then Jeff stood up. “The lime run we’re planning . . . It’s about 50 miles long. My dad gave me five sacks of white lime chalk to divide into 50 paper bags.  We’ll drive along the route first and throw out the bags; they’ll splatter when they hit the pavement. The drivers have to try to follow the path of the lime. I figure four guys will drive and each can take a couple passengers. We’ll finish at a secret destination for dessert.” Lime runs presented a challenge; you could easily miss a turn.

After an hour they broke for soft drinks that were cooling in an ice bucket and each guy grabbed one of the glazed doughnuts Jeff’s mom had provided. Reggie carefully cut one in half with his pocketknife, and picked it up with a napkin. “You know Hillcrest Park, where some guys go with their girlfriends? Jeff and I drove up there last week and shined a flashlight into the cars. Startled a few people, but if we saw bare bottoms, we moved on.” He took a tiny bite of donut, then carefully wiped his lips. The guys smiled. Some of the guys had girlfriends but they never talked about explicit sex.

 “We’re planning a tune-up party this Saturday at my house,” Dan said. He lived out in Westminster where his father owned a huge truck garage with lots of tarmac. “Clean and gap spark plugs, set the timing, change points and condenser, stuff like that. You should do that every 5000 miles. How many can come?” He looked around and all hands went up.

Reggie grew annoyed when he saw the specks of dust that whirled like tiny stars under the bare lightbulb. He turned toward Dan. “Dan, I know we planned this but I’m sure we said next Saturday. I wrote it down. You said you’d check with your Dad.”

Reggie—outgoing, confident, a back-slapper, easy with the girls but a gaslighter consumed with his own importance. In truth, Reggie had set up a date with Kathleen, one of the Stanton Church girls, for this Saturday and wanted to postpone the tune-up party. He succeeded in getting Dan to doubt his own memory. Dan looked confused, shuffled his feet. “What? Well… I thought we’d talked about this Saturday but maybe I’m mistaken…. I guess we can do it next Saturday….  “You guys all know how to get to my house?” He sketched a crude map on the chalkboard hanging on the wall.

The meeting broke up at 9:00 p.m.

3 thoughts on “Clutchers Car Club

    1. Yes. They would burst the paper bags full of white lime chalk against the macadam to signal to the drivers where they should turn. But which way to turn?

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