By VIRGINIA STILL
A car club, fraternity, or just a group of guys who wanted to hang out, whatever way you want to remember them, they will always be known as Faros. Cruising, dragging, looking for girls, beer, parties, community activities all were part of the experience of being a Faro back in the day.
Although the “American Graffiti” movie gave the club some fame and was based on the actual Faros club in Modesto, the name of the club in the movie was Pharaohs. They were depicted as bad boys in the movie and some members believe the movie to be spot on with a few others not so much.
Some of the remaining club members shared their thoughts and memories with 209 Magazine.
Club member Joe Wylie said that there were two beginnings of the Faros. In 1957, Modesto High School students John Husband, Chuck Billington and a few others discussed the idea of a car club, creating the name Faros, the FRS crest and membership cards. Lasting about two weeks, the Dean of Boys at the school heard about this plan and nullified it with the warning that if they continued they would be expelled.
Three years later in August 1960, seven guys collaborated on Edgebrook Drive in Modesto to make the original idea of the Faros a reality. The seven guys were: Wylie, Dennis Billington, Harry James, Larry Baker, brothers Chris and Wayne Ludvickson, and Ron Goncalves. Billington informed the group that he had the 1957 membership cards with the name Faros on them so they decided to stay with that name and save a few bucks. They had weekly meetings with about 20 to 25 guys in attendance in the early days.
The club grew quickly with members added like Darrell Bailey, Daryl Weitl, Larry Landis, Larry Williams, Al Schaeffer, Harold Bowen, Jerry Jackman, Don Podesto, John VanNostrand, Jay Salter, Don Bradley, Rick Hudson, Adolf Mauksch, Steve Roberts, Johnny Mercer, Ron Pippin, Steve Martin, Bill Fliflet, and Bruce Schafer.
To become a Faro, members had to vote you in and they had to go through an initiation that varied over the years.
“Several early members soon went off to honor our country in Vietnam, some went away to college, and others married and started families,” said Wylie. “Membership required a 100 percent vote and on occasion, someone was not allowed membership by just one ‘no’ vote of a current Faro.”
“In 1961 we had ‘FAROS MODESTO’ car plaques made and that started our transition from a fraternity to a car club,” added Bailey. “Most of us had cars and we didn’t do anything different but the plaques gave us a lot of notoriety.”
“Cruising was a fun evening activity enjoyed by many when gasoline was less than 50 cents a gallon,” said Weitl. “We were just a bunch of teenagers who hung out together and did typical teen things.”
Joining the Faros in the late ‘60s, Jackman was blackballed during his first attempt to join the club.
“I was fascinated with the evolving engines and transmissions of the new cars and loved hot rods,” said Jackman. “I read all the car magazines each month as they arrived at our family grocery store, Paradise Market. However, my folks discouraged my felt need for speed by buying a 40 horsepower 1960 VW beetle for me to drive to MJC. It had four on the floor so I perfected the speed shift. I have actually never owned a custom car, other than the 1962 Austin Healey which I’ve owned since 1969. It is my garage queen.”
Jackman provided a rebuilt Chrysler hemi engine for the club’s project car that never got completed. He was club president in 1963 and he did not know George Lucas but he had an economics class with him at MJC in 1963.
Mercer joined the group in 1965 and was a president for part of a term in ‘65 and a full term in ‘66. He had a street rod at age 15 and a 40 Ford Delux coupe since 1976.
“Got about 10 of my best car friends into the club,” said Mercer. “We are the muscle car generation. We drove ‘em new.”
Bradley joined in 1967 and had a 1968 Oldsmobile 442 black and red stripe car.
Roberts joined the group in 1964 and drove a ’57 Chevy down 10th and 11th streets in Modesto and later down McHenry Avenue.
Bowen joined the Faros during the summer of 1960 and then joined the Marine Corps a few years later. Hudson joined the Faros while he was attending MJC in ‘68-‘69 with a 67 Mustang Fastback.
Mauksch was an active member in 1962 and then went off to serve in the military in 1965. He drove a ’61 Impala back in the ‘60s and currently has a 1940 Chevy street rod. Mauksch shared that Gary Second, who passed a few months ago, was a classmate and good friend to George Lucas at Downey High.
“In fact when George was in Modesto to be Grand Marshal of our Graffiti Parade, he came down from the podium when he saw Gary in the crowd and gave him a big hug,” said Mauksch. “That was a very big moment for Gary and it made the rest of the Faros proud and, I think, a little in awe of Gary. My wife, Diana and I rode in the parade with Gary that year, in his beautiful ’57 Chevy, and he glowed so much the rest of the evening, I kept asking if his dome light was on. We enjoyed as he reminisced and we were happy for him. As I said, he will be very much missed.”
“Gary is probably the reason that George Lucas put the Faros in the movie, even though he changed the spelling,” said Bailey. “He was a special guy and we will dearly miss him.”
Schafer enlisted in the United States Air Force in 1968 and was stationed in Turkey, Texas and DaNang, Vietnam.
Bailey was the president from 1961 to 1962 and recalls dragging and racing similar to what is depicted in the movie as well as downtown Modesto being the social center of the Valley for teenagers in the ‘60s.
“My initiation took place on a cold, foggy, damp winter night,” said Martin. “Everyone knows how friggin’ cold the foggy winter nights can be in Motown. That said, a few of us initiates jumped into the back of a pickup truck and were driven from the Faros meeting place to Del Rio. We sneaked onto the golf course and found one of the waterholes. Stripped down to our skivvies and dived for golf balls. Once we found one, we navigated back to the truck, jumped in and headed back … soaking wet. Even as cold as it was, it was a fun night.”
“When I was initiated, I had to swim for golf balls at nighttime and had a mud bath in Dry Creek,” said Schafer. “Cruising and racing from light to light on 10th and 11th streets was great fun. I can remember going to Delta Blood Bank on a Friday afternoon to give blood. At that time they paid $5 per pint. That was enough to almost fill my ‘57 Chevy to cruise the weekend.”
“They (initiations) were quite funny but tame for the most part,” added Pippin. “Modesto was a small town even back in the early ‘70s; chances are if you got pulled over the officer knew your parents. If you got caught with beer in the car at times the officer would follow you home and let your parents know. When this happened you knew you were not cruising for at least a couple of weeks.”
Fliflet was president from 1969 to 1970 and drove a 1955 Chevy two door wagon. He participated in the Poker Run in 1968 as well as annual hayrides and remembers cruising on 10th and 11th streets and later on McHenry Avenue.
Remembering the McHenry cruise, Pippin explained that they would cruise from Five Points to the McHenry Village and at times “stack’m up” which meant having two cars in both lanes cruising about five miles per hour stacking up traffic for blocks.
“Funny thing is everybody loved it for the most part,” added Pippin. “You could visit with the car next to you while cruising. Our place to race was the east side mosquito abatement runway. We would position a car at Parker Road and one at Milnes Road; if the sheriff came they would flash their lights and we would scatter.”
The group would help people in the community whether it was to assist someone that was out of gas, stranded, or had a dead battery and they would hand out a card that stated, “You have been assisted by a member of the Faros Car Club.” They would also collect food for charity.
They hosted a seat belt installation at John Lenz Union 76 Gas Station according to Wylie where they installed seat belts in many cars since only the late model vehicles had seat belts in them already.
At a 50-year reunion a few of the club members reunited and talked about reviving the club. Weitl, Billington, Schaeffer, Jackman, James and Bailey met up a few months later in Tahoe for a weekend and decided to get the Faros back together. They came up with a list of club members and started adding in more names as time went along.
According to Bailey, in early 2012 they wanted to be a part of the American Graffiti parade which eventually led organizers to them. That year they were the lead in the parade and have been every year since.
The Faros Car Club was inducted into the Cruising Walk of Fame in June 2016. They were given a framed certificate and a plaque with their name that was placed in the sidewalk on 10th Street between J and K streets in Modesto, which was very close to where the guys hung out back in their prime.
“The inclusion into the Cruising Walk of Fame was a definite highlight to Faros membership,” added Wylie. “There were many ‘car clubs’ in the 1950 to 1980 time period and the Faros were the recipient of just plain “good luck” that George Lucas picked them for his famous movie. The presentation ceremony was amazing and I will never forget it.”
“We were all very proud to be honored along with the most famous car people of all time in the area,” added Schafer.
He also explained that there are still 15 club members in the local area that have show cars and through the years several members attend car shows and the graffiti celebration as a group.
“My Faros plaque was always displayed inside my locker on the top shelf,” said Schafer. “I now display the plaque in my GTO.”
Currently there are 157 members on the Faros roster and 28 members have passed away. There have been no new members since 1973 when the club disbanded with about 155 members. Approximately five years ago some of the members began to get together for lunch and since then several members, about 18 to 24, meet once a month for lunch.
“I will cruise and be a Faro all my life,” said Mercer. “I love every Faro. Past and present.”
“We were close, and for me, the Faros were my brothers,” expressed Martin. “The love for those in the club remains to this day.”
“It is a great honor to be part of a group of guys that hold dear the legacy of the Faros,” said Pippin. “We are called upon by the chamber [Modesto Chamber of Commerce] to show up with our cars at multiple events in and around Modesto each year. Modesto is home to some really historic car clubs, the Faros being one of the more recognizable, mostly because of the American Graffiti movie, that being said it has brought notoriety to the Faros and the car culture in the Valley.”
“Whether it remains a ‘Last Man Standing’ Club, or we can develop a way for its perpetuity, I hope we can keep the spirit alive,” said Hudson.
“At this time we are not a formal club; we are just a group of guys who were in the Faros back in the ‘60s,” expressed Bailey. “We like to say ‘once a Faro, always a Faro’.”