The cruising excitement of past years continues to be an integral part of Manteca’s history as three longtime members of the community recalled where they were in the 1940s to the 1960s and what they were doing.
Marion Elliott, Skip Sadler and Joe Freitas met this week in front of the 100-foot-long “Cruising Mural” located on the side of Accent Carpet in the 100 block of North Main Street. The faces of the individuals in the mural are the actual likenesses of the students who gunned their cars and trucks down the street.
In an accepted tradition they would drive west on Yosemite for a couple miles to the Foster Freeze at Walnut Avenue, turn around and drive back eastward to Lincoln School.
Elliott, who had been MHS student body president and would later serve as principal of Lincoln Elementary School, remembered they would often bypass the Yosemite Avenue campus and continue a hundred yards to the eastern city limits of the community before again turning around. All three men noted that the cruising was mostly done on the weekends with Elliott adding, “There was homework to be done on the week nights.”
He added that curfew was still in force with the fire department siren sounding at 9 p.m. to remind kids it was time to be home for the day and off the streets. Elliott noted that the real fun was to cruise Pacific Avenue on Friday and Saturday nights and hang out with friends curious to see how many guys and gals would show up.
Elliott said Foster Freeze in Manteca wasn’t really a drive-in that would send someone out to the cars to take your orders and then bring the burgers and milkshakes to you. He and three others boys once pooled their money and bought a flat head 1931 straight eight sedan that gulped down a quart of oil every time they drove it into Stockton and back.
That group of four friends included Elliott, John Bowers, now living in Hawaii; Jack Williamson, living today in Washington State; and Gene Biddle, deceased. Marion’s car of choice while at Manteca High was his black 1932 Ford coupe cherishing a model of that car in his home office.
The dress of the day for the guys was Levis – never to be washed – and white T-shirts. Elliott was finally able to buy a 1942 Ford – the last built for the public sale because of World War II steel limitations.
Skip Sadler remembered many of those years when a single stop light hung from cables over the main downtown intersection where Highway 99 once ran north and south.
“Cruising after the football games and the dances was the big thing back then as were the football games. If you didn’t get to the field by the middle of the B game, you wouldn’t get a seat,” he said.
Sadler remembers having a Model A Ford when he and Joe Campbell one night were driving to Foster Freeze for a drink with a train bearing down on them. He said he was going too fast trying to beat the train and his Ford got stuck on the tracks, coming nose to nose with the engine – finally able to bounce the car off the rails with little time to spare.
Sadler said his two uncles, Curly and Francis Dowhower, decided to race from Manteca to Lathrop on two separate routes. One went west on Yosemite and the other took North Main to Louise. They both got to Lathrop at exactly the same time, he said, and crashed into each other.
Chuckling, he added that it was all good clean fun as much as it was enjoying the camaraderie at the guys’ hangout inside Mal’s Billiards in the 200 block of East Yosemite Avenue – few girls ever allowed. Sadler said many of the cruisers also hung out at his gas station that was much of a central location for the cars filled with students spreading out along the street. It was the wall behind his station that served as a backdrop for the names of the veterans who served and died in the war.
Mal wouldn’t put up with any problems between the guys and was very strict in his business as it filled up with students – there was no bad activity allowed within the walls of his pool hall, he said.
He said he well remembers Larry Costa in his 1942 Ford, along with Eddie Smith, Chris Crom and Larry Nascimento along with Herby Rawlins who would park his 1932 Ford outside the front door. Sadler said most of them had Pontiacs from black to burgundy and all Grand Prix as he recalls. There were usually 50 kids in a couple dozen cars in the cruising parade, he added.
Joe Freitas said he couldn’t afford to a car and cruising was out of the question. He went to work at Leo’s Grocery Store on the northeast corner of Yosemite Avenue and Main Street at 17 where he worked for a year before going into the Navy. Freitas watched other cruise but he was tired from working long hours at the market and besides he had a girl friend, he added. He was discharged from the nave at 20 years old when the war ended in 1945.
“Leo was always good to me and offered a job. I did all the produce buying and managed the produce Department. I think he hired every kid in Manteca at one time or another,” he said.
After a year back in Manteca after the war, Freitas, 20, was offered the manager position of the popular market in the downtown. “I thought, I didn’t want to manage someone else’s store, I wanted to run my own store,” he said.
He said he knew everybody in town after working at Leo’s and they felt sorry for him being just a kid and venturing into his own business and traded with him causing his store to take off when he opened the doors.
Freitas with the help of his wife Elsie opened Joe’s Food Center on East Yosemite Avenue just outside of town. They would operate that store for 23 years before he joined a small group of Mantecans who would be the first board of directors of Delta Bank.
Joe still makes a stop at the bank every morning and chats with the manager Warren Midgley. He is also a regular at their board meetings.
Elliott served throughout his adult life as a much respected regional commissioner for regional Babe Ruth League activities and later honored in its Hall of Fame. He said his days of high school cruising saw him and his close friends gathered together.
“I got along with everybody,” he quipped, “even with my brother who was a year behind me and had a different set of friends.”
With a gentle smile on his lips, he said, “Even though we slept in the same bed, we had a completely different set of friends. He passed away some eight years ago, Elliott added.
The MHS principal was Joe Bisig when he was a freshman followed by Joe Blanchard who was a Marine Reserve Colonel who left for the Korean War. In his last year the principal was B. E. Claypool, he noted.