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Published on Tue, Jan 15, 2019

By: Doug Stokes

The Trompers of  Eagle Rock Hold Forth at Coco’s in Highland Park

STOMP ON THE GAS: Like their club name and their classic big old engineer’s boot tromping heavily on a gas pedal logo they are, by any standard that you might care to cite, fully righteous and highly worthy throwbacks to the true glory days of car clubs and, to a member, they’re darn well proud to claim the bloodline and many talk of the days of 27.9-cent per gallon gasoline and non-detergent crankcase oil like it was a few weeks, rather than a few decades ago.

MAKE NO MISTAKE – ACCEPT NO SUBSTITUTES: They are the Trompers of Eagle Rock, proudly formed in 1945 on the Glendale side of LA, and in absolutely no need of any other modifiers like, “…the original” or “…the one and only”, Trompers says it all in this part of LACar’s world.

The Trompers of Eagle Rock … every grey hair in this picture was honest-got.
The Trompers of Eagle Rock … every grey hair in this picture was honest-got.

“YOU’RE ONLY AS OLD AS …” The Trompers’ youngest members will tell you that they’re “old” and the club’s oldest members jokingly talk about their birth certificates being written in cuneiform on a rock somewhere back in the Land of Ogg.

NO TIME TO COMPLAIN: But, as I recently found out, when they’re in session at a chain restaurant on a balmy Wednesday morning here in Los Angeles, there’s no talk of the aches, pains, prescriptions, operations, and the oh-too-frequent doctor visits that one usually hears when a group of people of a certain age get together.

CAR TALK, NOT DOC TALK: We’ve all most likely been there, heard that … it all sounds like a damn medical convention sometimes. There’s none of that, not a word, hey, save the chit-chat about yer meds for a different crowd … one morning, every Wednesday, is about the cars, the fun, the people who put those cars together, the freedom of the road, the wonderful memories, and (most importantly) what’s next.

HOT ROD … TWO WORDS … MANY INTERPRETATIONS:  The Trompers drive a wide variety of a special California-born breed of automobile loosely called a hot rod that has as many forms and interpretations as there are cool cats that felt the need to build them.

WHEN JOHNNY CAME MARCHING HOME: …It was that way when the Second World War ended and all the energy that had gone into kicking the Axis’ butt came home and started fooling with cars. “Pretty” was not in the vocabulary or on the menu (unless it was about “pretty darn fast!”) yet and innovation and ingenuity (as opposed to letting one’s fingers do the shopping in a catalog or on a website as we do now) was why hot rods got hot and a lot of modern automotive technology was sussed out in the doing.

CARS ARE (STILL) COOL HERE: Today, coming up on eight decades down the road, the Trompers are still a wonderfully diverse band of friends, families, and enthusiasts who celebrate the hot rodding spirit by building, preserving, and just plain old digging cars that they’ve had a hand in making their own … faster, lower, cooler, quicker, louder, prettier, nastier and any one of a dozen or two more “ers” as well.

“Personal” is the working word.

UNIQUENESS RULES: Hot Rodders like the Trompers, built cars to reflect their own ideas and personalities: “… If you run two Stromberg 97 carburetors on your car, I’ll run three.” “…You think that’s a nice flame job on your car pal?” Wait until you get a load of the louvers and pinstripes job that we just did on my hood!”

THE GATHERING OF THE FAITHFUL: … It was like that, and still is very evident when the Trompers have their weekly Wednesday at 9AM sharp breakfast at Coco’s Restaurant on York Boulevard in Highland Park (just North of downtown LA and South Pasadena adjacent).

NEVER (REALLY) FINISHED: These guys (with their wives approving for the most part) are still, and forever, tweaking their “rides”, adding (and sometimes subtracting) details … some so small and subtle that they almost (of course you know that the car owner is NOT going to let that happen) go unnoticed, with others so blatant that some of the club members blink in disbelief … “Whoa man … this … is … (like) … YOUR … car?

HOME BASE: My neighbor four houses down the street in 91010, is a long-time Trompers member and former club president drives an example of the sort of diversity that we saw in Coco’s parking lot last Wednesday morning. It’s a 1933 Divco Helms Bakery truck. Hundreds of those “bread boxes on wheels” once prowled the streets of Los Angles bringing fresh-baked goods right to your door announced by a distinctive whistle from the driver/salesperson ( the “Helmsman” as they were called) that sort of sounded (to me anyway) like one of those ships whistles that they use to “pipe” some VIP aboard.*

… As you might expect (and surely after mentioning that he’s been a Tromper for quite a good while) Albert Reyes’ Divco is just “a little” different.

THE TERM IS: “Q-SHIP”: Oh, it’s a cute little stand-up-to-drive Helms truck alright, no doubt of that, still has the original yellow and blue paint job and logos “Helms Olympic Bread” (Helms had been the official bakery items supplier to the 1932 Olympics in Los Angles and touted that fact in the name of its products it seems until the day that it went out of business in 1969).

UHM … IS THAT WHAT I THINK IT IS?: So … from the outside indistinguishable from the Helms truck that the Petersen Museum had on display for a quarter century or so recalling its part in the LA streetscape. And … from the inside stock also/almost as a rock except for the 350 cubic inch Chevy motor (mounted almost amidships), a matching GM automatic transmission and Fat Man (that’s a modern equipment supplier) suspension and disc brakes all around.

ROLLING HISTORY LESSON: Oddly enough, and because the Helms Bakery Wagons left the scene so long ago, there’s considerably more “…What the heck is THAT?” when Reyes rolls his bread van into an event like annual Mooneyes gathering at Irwindale; than “Oh … I remember those.” I do remember them and I’ve ridden in Mister Reyes rolling homage to those days and understand that a “hot rod” does not always have to be a ’32 Deuce Coupe (although, they’re cool too, and in fair old supply with this bunch.)

SHINE SHOW: And here’s the best part …the Trompers mid-week car show runs on the parking lot of the Highland Park Coco’s every Wednesday beginning about 8:30 and vanishing about two hours later.

EVERYONE’S WELCOME: Have breakfast and hang out a few minutes until 9:45 or 10 and catch a bit of honest-to-Edelbrock quality time with half a hundred honest to Isky real deal old-school Trompers who’ll tell you stories about their cars and times … if you’re really attentive one of this very enthusiastic bunch might  even take you on a quick ride around the block in one of their concoctions.

PLEASE NOTE: These cars didn’t get here on trailers folks. This is real deal and the real peeps, that’s real reason for the show.

OFFICIAL STUFF … HEY … LISTEN UP: And then there’s the actual club “meeting”. There’s a 50/50 going on (which the young waitress who served the whole room all by herself won**) and when newly-elected club president Louie Barrera relates a bit of upcoming car show, cruises, meets, charity runs, toy drives, and other event news and then (as a public service … as this was the first meeting of the new year) relates a fairly extensive list of all the new DMV violations (and the prices for each transgression). This bunch, who always minds their street P ’s and Q ’s (at least for the most part), finds s humor in the new laws with regards some members reps for being ticket magnets. Getting ribbed here about your driving seems like a verbal merit badge.

How many 74 year-old car clubs have a 125-page book
with over 200 photographs dedicated to them? Go Trompers!

TIME MARCHES ON: There’s a bit of the inevitable march of time and members “leaving the building”, that’s quietly understood in a group that goes back 70+ years and has more than a few members hanging in there with that number of laps around the sun. The word is handled quickly, of course it’s not fun, but there’s always far more thought of what had been gained than lost. A celebration of life, with all hot rods on deck, is almost always part of the day.

GENERATION JUMP: The other note that I took was that this nutball love of hot rods looks to have, by and large, skipped a generation. Many of the members indicated (more of an admission really) that their grandkids are far more interested in hot rods now than their children were 20 or 30 years ago. It looks like they’ll be the ones to carry on and it looks to (still) be great fun. Uhm … is there an app for that?

And that’s the way that it goes at breakfast on a Wednesday with one of the oldest but most active car clubs in California.-DS

*in fact that sound of the Helms driver announcing he was on your block, is so unique and such a part of the LA culture that there are multiple examples of the sound available out there on YouTube.

**she’s worked the Tromper’s weekly breakfasts for “Oh … seven or eight years …” and her smile says they’re a fun bunch to pour coffee for.  PS: The 50/50 was not rigged (I think).

 WANT MORE?  The Tropers have a FaceBook page that really rocks … take a look!

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