Kingsmen Car Club’s annual swap meet benefits a unique local mentoring program
Every Thursday night, the whine of a sandblaster hums from inside the bus barn behind Twin Lakes Church, where a group of high school students gathers around a piece of living history.
Well, almost living. They are the young apprentices of the church’s Kingsmen Car Club, which started its mentoring program a year or so after it formed in 2005, and their current labor of love is the restoration of a two-door 1930 Model A Ford.
The night I visit the bus barn, the club is anticipating their April 11 Swap Meet fundraiser—now in its third year—followed by their 9th annual Hot Rods on the Green car show on June 27-28. Zach Fortune, 20, is re-attaching the Model A’s original headlights, which needed to be rewired before they could once again throw off the gentle 48-candle-power beams that illuminated the roads of yesteryear.
A 1961-62 Santa Cruz High parking sticker graces one dusty window, hinting at the car’s glory days, when its faded mossy green coat of paint (which probably dates back to those same high school days) was at its most vibrant.
“For me it’s like restoring history, that’s what I like to see, that we can make something run that was running 70 years ago,” says Jeff Walls, 54, car enthusiast and assistant director of the apprenticeship program. “We did a lot of research online to see how things went together and how they came apart. It’s been a huge project, a lot more than I thought. But I like the challenge. It’s like a big puzzle.”
The car has been completely disassembled, right down to the bare frame, says Brent Durst, 45, a hot rod enthusiast and director of the program for the past three years. “We sandblasted and repainted all of the parts, tore the engine completely apart and machined and rebuilt the engine.”
Jim Stevens—an original member of the car club formed in the 1950s by high school boys who called themselves the “King’s Men”—donated the model A to the apprentice program five years ago, after his grandson was killed in a tragic accident one year into restoring it. His only caveat was that the club never sell it.
Since then, five different groups of students—both boys and girls—have cycled through the apprenticeship program, helping to breathe the life back into the beloved car and future mascot, learning as they go. Now they’re on the home stretch: with the exception of a complete paint job, Durst estimates that the model A will be fully restored by the end of the year.
Fortune points to the car’s cloth-wrapped wires, cork gaskets and wooden frame, a testament to the automobile’s evolution from covered wagons. “It was the ’30s, you know, they built with what they could. It was the middle of the Depression, so they were pushed out of the factory as fast as they could and made as cheaply as they could, because people couldn’t afford cars. I mean, they could barely afford food,” says Fortune, who sports the club jacket awarded to apprentices who have put in 40 hours of work. Fortune is one of several graduates who still drop by on Thursday nights, drawn not only by their passion for old cars but to the relationships they formed there.
“I enjoy mentoring these guys, and just being here for them every week. It’s fun for us, we have a good time,” says Durst. “And we try to, when they’re going through tough times, just sit down and talk to them.”
Aside from “keeping them out of trouble on Thursday nights,” as Walls jokes, the club offers a refuge for a few young men with special needs, like Brett Wright and Nicolai Dubinsky, who spend a lot of time at the Monterey Bay Horsemanship and Therapeutic Center in Seaside.
“We get kind of a break from the monotony of being at the horse ranch,” says Alex Robledo, 27, a community integration trainer at the ranch. “When they’re there, they get used to a flow of things, a schedule, horse stuff all the time, and so when we come here they get to learn other things. And like the horse riding, it definitely boosts their confidence. For Nicolai, just right there working on the sandblaster, that actually puts him in a really nice mental state. When he’s here, it’s like his escape, he can just come here and relax.”
The Kings Men Car Club fizzled out around 1965, but when car-loving church members resurrected it as as the Kingsmen Car Club 10 years ago, it came back full force.
“The original club, girls were not allowed. Or maybe they weren’t interested, but they just weren’t a part of it. Now it’s really a family club,” says Monica Arias, 46, who met her husband in the car club and still has her dad’s first car—a 1932 Ford. “We took all of the family vacations and road trips in it. It’s a part of the family history. My parents had their first date in that car, my dad drove me to the prom in that car,” she says.
Arias came up with the idea for a Swap Meet fundraiser after her dad passed away and left her with not only his old cars, but also a shop full of car parts her mom had no idea what to do with. With support from the church, the fundraiser proved successful, attracting car lovers from surrounding counties as well as local ones—like the Caffeine Cruisers, who get together every Saturday morning at Starbucks on 41st avenue to show off their latest projects and talk cars.
“I got a late start in life working on cars. I always wanted to,” says Arias, whose father didn’t want her hanging around the shop too much with all the boys. The apprentice program has helped get her up to speed. “It’s really been a learning process since he’s been gone. I maintain them and I clean them and I detail them, and so I’ve learned a lot. And I do like to work on cars.”
The Kingsmen Car Club’s 3rd annual Swap Meet is Saturday, April 11 from 8 a.m.-3 p.m. at the Twin Lakes Church campus in Aptos. tlc.org/ministries/kingsmen. PHOTO: Brett Wright works on a 1930 Ford Model A with the Kingsmen Car Club High School Apprenticeship Program. KEANA PARKER