In the Beginning There Was the Garage
Originally presented at the Capitol A’s 55th Anniversary Dinner
By Peggy Gill
Not surprising to most of the men here, great things really do come from the garage…it’s true! In 1923, Roy and Walt Disney started drawing their first cartoons; in 1938 William Hewlett and David Packard gave birth to the first big tech company, Hewlett-Packard; in 1964, Phil Knight, co-founder of Nike was selling running shoes out of the trunk of his green Plymouth Valiant—which was stored in his garage. Other great organizations with humble garage beginnings include Mattel, Apple, Harley Davidson, Amazon, Microsoft, Google, and the Sacramento Capitol A Club.
In December of 1958, Merlin Love, a mailman, was delivering mail to the Ray Johnston family in the Tahoe Park area of Sacramento when he noticed inside the open garage a Ford Model A station wagon and a Model T Ford. This began a daily discussion of the greatest car ever built—it turned out that Merlin Love also had a Model A—and to quote a famous movie line, “was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” Over the next couple of months, they traded parts and helpful hints, and began to form the idea of starting a club. Both men had friends who they thought might be interested in joining them, and looked through the rosters of the two national organizations to find other people in the Sacramento area. A date was set for the first organized meeting on February 14, 1959, at Merlin Love’s home, and invitations were sent to tentative members. Eleven families responded—Merlin & Pauline Love, Ray & Barbara Johnston, Jim & Ann Morris, Ray Fandri, Bob Billing, Jim Hickey, Pete Bakotich, Tony Martin, Floyd Martin, Bob Ramercy, and Mack Wilt.
At that first meeting, ideas for club activities, organization and affiliation were discussed. Among those first participants, both national groups were represented, (we are assuming MAFCA and MARC), and it was decided that letters to both groups would be sent requesting helpful information.
A Constitution Committee, including Barbara & Ray Johnston, Pauline & Merlin Love, Celia & Bob Billing, and Tony Martin was appointed to lay the groundwork for developing By-laws. Over the course of three meetings, the Constitution Committee formed our club’s constitution using the By-laws from the two national organizations as well as those from two other local non-Model A car clubs.
The second meeting of our club was held on February 28, 1959, at the home of Celia & Bob Billing. This was just two weeks after the first meeting—these members must have been roaring to go! The tentative By-laws were read and discussed, as well as affiliation plans, club names, and emblem designs. The following names were suggested for the club: Sacramento Model A Club, Capitol A Club and the A Ford Club. A vote of those present selected CAPTIOL A CLUB which had been suggested by Tony Martin.
Dues were set at $3.00 for active members, and $1.00 for family members. Officer nomination and elections were also held that evening:
President: Bob Billing
Vice President: Merlin Love
Secretary: Barbara Johnston
Treasurer: Jim Hickey
Board of Directors: Pete Bakotich, Ray Johnston, Mack Wilt
The following meeting on March 14, 1959 was held at Ann & Jim Morris’ home. June Bakotich was named Editor of the paper, and plans were discussed for an Easter Egg Hunt. Later that month, on Sunday, March 22nd, the Capitol A Club enjoyed their first outing. According to some information dug up by Jerry Bengel, records state that, “The cars met at Hiram Johnson High School.” We are assuming that the drivers and passengers also met there! All the cars were checked over by the Technical Committee Chairman, Mack Wilt. Everyone had fun playing croquet, baseball, horseshoes, and badminton. The children had swings, slides and a hill to roll down. The adults hid the beautifully colored eggs, some hand-painted, all over the park and the children were thrilled as they gathered the eggs in their Easter baskets. Four Model A’s and a 1930 Chevy were at this first outing.
The fourth meeting of the Capitol A Club was held on April 11th, 1959, at the home of Barbara and Ray Johnston. The main topic of discussion was the name for the club papers. Suggestions were: The Dashcup, The Medallian, Capitol A Relay, and The Ah-ooo-ga. The Ah-ooo-ga, suggested by Pauline Love, was selected. Incorporation proceedings were discussed. Dues were raised to $5.00 for Active and Associate members, $1.00 for Family members, and a $2.00 initiation fee. At this meeting they also watched old-time movies, and the women enjoyed trying on period costumes that belonged to Barbara Johnston’s collection.
On May 15, 1959, the Capitol A Club was officially chartered by MAFCA. After those first few meetings, the club has met continuously at the Veteran’s Hall in Carmichael Park. We are the 2nd oldest active Model A Ford car club in California and the 6th oldest in the United States.
Today, our membership sits at 99 families, and we continue to grow. There is an abundance of knowledge among our members in restoration and maintenance of these cars and their history—something we love to share. We have cars in every condition from national show winners, to daily drivers, to piles of parts in a garage waiting to be reassembled. We are an active club with numerous opportunities for everyone to participate. Our current activities range from monthly tours and seminars, show ‘n tell and technical presentations, potlucks, crafts, era clothing workshops, participation in local parades, festivals, car shows, the state fair, and weekend outings. Keeping our Model A Fords on the road in a safe and reliable condition and building lasting friendships is what we are about. It has been a great 55+ years!
Special thanks to Jerry Bengel, Ken Green, and past club historians for their contributions for this information!