Car Cruising

After World War II, the railroad relied on its own architect and assistant chief engineer John Quincy Barlow and his team to design the depot. Construction began 12 July 1915, and the depot opened for service at 4 pm, 11 December 1915. Southern Pacific Railroad used the depot until 1971 when it ended passenger service to Modesto. In 1992, the depot was converted into a transportation center for city and regional bus service. Plans are to renovate the depot 2020 for passengers using the ACE Train service to San Jose and Merced.

After World War II, the road opened up. Gas was plentiful, rubber and metal were no longer rationed and people could drive, sometimes for no reason at all. Along with the open road came the drive in. All along the busy highways across the USA, carhops served hungry motorists burgers, fries and shakes and in the case of Modesto’s Burge’s Drive In on Highway 99, chicken was the specialty.

This is the birth of cruising; having time, gas, a car, a place to hang out and of course having a date, or the process of getting one. People that grew up in Modesto during the late 50s and early 60s say that Modesto native George Lucas really got it right in his landmark 1973 film American Graffiti. It was a fun innocent time and even the police officers of the day remember most of the action was pretty tame. Of course, it was all about seeing and being seen. The slow crawl of the cars was a spectacle and whether you were parked or driving, it was a ritual for many.

The Cruise was a simpler time. The police officers on the beat would write multitudes of tickets for illegal turns, lowered cars and excessive speeds for “dragging 10th”. The cruise from Burge’s Drive-In was underway in 1947 and cruisers, frequented Al’s, Felix and Warren’s drive ins and drag raced from light to light, pranks were pulled everywhere with oil slicks and smoke shows but most of all, it was about hanging out for some harmless fun, going on dates and showing off your car. You could dance to Kent Witt and the Downbeats with Rockabilly legend Roddy Jackson at the California Ballroom or the Fable Room. Whether you had a Gene Winfield Candy Apple paint job, your car was lowered and chopped, or you even drove the family car, downtown Modesto was the place to be. If you were in the Faro’s, Road Rebels, or Century Toppers or one of the fraternities, or sororities or just enjoyed the night with your date, most cruisers agree that George Lucas got it right and the cruise in Modesto was just like the movie.

American Graffiti made a legend out of one of the many car clubs in Modesto. The Pharaohs, stylized for the movie, were originally the Faros. There were many car clubs before the Faros that included numerous Cruise Legends. Many of the clubs in town started as high school “Athletic” clubs, such as the 36’ers and the Regs. The first real racing car club was the Century Toppers founded by Gene Winfield along with Bart Bartoni and Pete Hischier. There were a variety of clubs in Modesto; some were more social and some were filled with car enthusiasts, like the Modesto Mill Jockeys, Road Rebels and the club that Lucas belonged to, Ecurie AWOLs. All of these clubs had special logos, jackets, patches and items to help show club unity.

The cruise evolved over time, from a 2-way 10th St, to a loop of 10th and 11th and then ultimately out McHenry, the music, the cars, the fun and the connections are an important part of our culture. Even though the days of cruising are no longer, our love of classic cars, chrome and rock and roll shines bright and it comes to life each June during Graffiti Summer.

Modesto has memorialized the cruising years featured in American Graffiti with a statue of two cruisers in Downtown Modesto. Classic Community Murals has Classic Graffiti themed murals throughout the city celebrating the era. 10th and 11th Streets in downtown Modesto have been named the Modesto Historic Cruise Route and features a 25-kiosk walking tour and a Walk of Fame with special sidewalk markers featuring the Legends of the Cruise in 10th St Place. George Lucas, stars from the film, Gene Winfield, Modesto car clubs and others are featured and each June, a new round of inductees are added. There is much more in the works to welcome and celebrate our Graffiti heritage. Thanks to Modesto Graffiti USA there are even a line of retro souvenirs and the annual Graffiti Summer celebration grows each year.

So take some time, stroll the Modesto Historic Cruise Route and the Walk of Fame, check out the murals and get an overview of our history and share it with someone you know. Show your kids a classic ’57 T bird and play some Rockabilly or Roddy Jackson music on your record player.

2020 will see the creation of a museum celebrating our Classic Graffiti Culture. The Graffiti USA Museum will be an immersive trip back to 1962, showcasing our cars, the clubs, the music, the legends in a recreation of downtown Modesto on a night of the cruise.

This is our history, our culture, our soul and our brand. Around the world, there is only one Modesto USA, a Classic American City. See you on the Cruise Route.