By Bill Hogue

The year was 1973.  The hobby of hot rodding was changing.  Drag racing was becoming too expensive for the common car enthusiast and “muscle cars”, which had replaced the traditional hot rod in the 60’s, were dying out due to smog requirements and insurance costs.  Old cars were making a comeback and were now called street rods to distinguish them from their racing predecessors.  Street Rodder and Rod Action magazines had been created and Rod & Custom was reborn a year earlier.  The newly formed National Street Rod Association had staged several events (one had almost 2,000 cars in attendance!) and was chartering car clubs across the country.

In Southern California the growing street rod scene pretty much consisted of a few well organized clubs (LA Roadsters, SD Prowlers, Early Times, 40 Fords Ltd, Pick-Ups Ltd, etc.) and a lot of “Lone Wolves”.  Most activities centered on club sponsored events and if you were not part of a club you were kind of left out.  If a lone wolf did attend an event he/she was often excluded from such activities as volleyball, tug-of-war, relay races, and so on.  This problem was compounded by the strict enrollment requirements of most of the established clubs (i.e., certain make of car, the vehicle must be finished and approved by the club, sponsorship required, high dues, no female members, etc.).  Many independent minded rodders did not feel like following all the rules, but still wanted to be part of a like- minded group.  Out of this was born the Over the Hill Gang.

One of the biggest local rod runs in 1973 was the Colorado River Run staged in the spring by the Early Times Club.  It was at this event that a group of rodders, led by Tom “Pappy” Sterkel from San Bernardino, got together and decided on a regional club with loose rules and a family orientation.  This concept evolved into a club with three independent chapters in San Bernardino, Pomona, and San Diego.  The club would be named “The Over the Hill Gang Southern California Street Rod Association” and I have an original club plaque to prove it.  Craig Lake brought the idea back to San Diego and hooked up with local rodders including John Pickle, Paul ‘Kip” Dunne, Mike Closser and Doug Clark.  Flyers were printed advertising the first meeting and spread around the town.  Kip Dunne left one of those flyers on the windshield of my ’40 Ford coupe at the auto parts store I worked at in Clairmont.  The organizational meeting was conducted at John Pickle’s office on July 18th and the San Diego Chapter was launched that evening with 30 members.  The following Sunday a run was staged to Live Oak Park in Fallbrook.  Member of the other two chapters met us there and the club was officially established.  As it happened, within a couple of years the Pomona chapter merged into the San Bernardino chapter, but many other chapters have been created in the past 50 years.

As I said earlier, the San Diego Over the Hill Gang was formed as a family oriented club.  Most of the members were married and probably half had families with children.  Wives and girlfriends were welcome at the weekly club meetings, went on the runs, drove the hot rods, took part in the contests and games at the runs and generally did everything the guys did.  As I recall, Joann Shade (a Charter Member with her husband Chris) was the first woman with her own hot rod in 1975.  Close behind her was my wife Patti with her ’30 Ford Hi-boy roadster in 1977.

For about the first 20 years the club meeting were held weekly.  After out growing John Pickle’s office we moved to Mike Closser’s tire store in El Cajon.  For several years we actually had a “club house”, a rather decrepit old house in Lemon Grove that Craig Lake let us use.  When he rented that building out we moved to a long succession of restaurants, pizza places, night clubs, an ice cream store and even a church!  For almost 20 years now we’ve been meeting at the McAlister Institute in El Cajon on the first Wednesday of every month. 

The San Diego Over the Hill Gang has enjoyed many triumphs over the years.  We hosted the very first NSRA event on the west coast (the Western Nationals in 1975) and have since hosted the Goodguys’ Del Mar Nationals for the past 22 years.  The club has produced the OTHG STREAK for almost 50 years and given over $150,000 in proceeds to very deserving charities including an ongoing scholarship program with local community colleges.  When the War on Terror erupted in 2002 and wounded/injured veterans began coming home we shifted a lot of our donations and attentions to them and continue to.  We’re honored that our partnership with the Warrior Foundation Freedom Station goes back many years.     

While the goal of the Over the Hill Gang has always been “Fun with cars”, what has made the club one of the oldest and largest in California is the friendship, camaraderie, and helpful nature of the members.  The club has always “been there” for its members, in all kinds of situations.  My own wedding was a club affair many years ago with the reception held at a member’s house and the use of two club cars for the ceremony.  I’ve attended many other hot rod weddings, birthday parties, holiday parties, and (too many) club funerals.  No matter what the event, happy or sad, good or bad, Gang members have always been there for their friends and community.