By The Alter Boys Car Club
The Alter Boys Car Club is just one of the many clubs to emerge from the reappearance of traditional hot rodding in the 1990s, having evolved from an earlier club called the “Kustom Krowns” around 1999. Throughout the late 1990s, the Krowns had been attending car shows and cruise nights around New England. Tony “Flash” Dowers recalls that he discovered the Kustom Krowns when he bought a 1948 Ford Coupe, soon after moving to Boston. For some strange reason, he thought it would make great daily transportation through the crowded, narrow, pothole-laden streets of Boston (which basically evolved from cow paths). That ’48 led him to meet Pete Flaven and Torr Skoog at a local cruise night in Natick. They were the only other young guys there amongst a sea of gray hair and pastel street rods. They asked him to join the Kustom Krowns, and he did without hesitation.
At the time, the street rod thing was huge, and if you didn’t have an Easter egg colored street rod or a Happy Days themed ’50s car, then you weren’t welcome, you know the kind...’57 Chevys with a “sweaty Elvis” or Marilyn Monroe painted on the continental kit, or the obligatory pink ’37 Chevy with purple and yellow sneeze mark graphics down the side. These were all guys who appeared to be more interested in winning the 50/50 raffle rather than building or driving their cars. The Krowns couldn’t have been further away from that crowd.
They were all a lot more comfortable at Torr’s barn, a bright red but otherwise broken down carriage house in the middle of Allston, Massachusetts. It served as a de facto inner circle for the next generation of hot rodders in Boston. Torr would work on cars all night and then fall sleep in the loft, at which time the rodents and skunks would take over occupancy (that is until he eradicated them with some stolen heart medication). It seems everyone interested in hot rods or customs in the greater metro Boston area during that period eventually found themselves at Torr’s barn. Torr simply knew everybody.
And knowing everyone had its benefits. Being young and mostly broke, we had to scrounge for parts. Luckily this was a time when there were still a few junkyards around and pouring over the local ads in the paper could pay off. Pete put his Chevy Coupe together that way. Flash recalls meeting Pete at his barn in Northborough. “This was probably only the 3rd or 4th time I had hung out with him. Turns out that he had a mission to retrieve a stack of parts that was said to be a 1930 Chevy Coupe. We got there, in the dark, and could see in the glow of the flashlight a literal stack of body panels overgrown with weeds. Pete paid the man and we loaded up the loot. Later on, unloading the pile at the barn, at least a dozen mice and one large snake escaped from the rust. I thought, if this guy can turn this pile of rust into a hot rod, I’m going to learn everything I can from him and the rest of this club!” It was that car that earned Pete the nickname “East Coast Hardcore Master”. Chuck Vranas, a great hot rod journalist that we were lucky to befriend, gave it to him and it stuck.
The Kustom Krowns had a blast for a couple of years cutting up old cars and driving/pushing/kicking them down to the infamous Road Agents Rockabilly Rumble in CT. It was there that they began to see a bunch of more serious hot rods and authentic early survivor cars from the New England scene. They were a real inspiration to us, along with the book “Cool Cars Square Rollbars.”. Right around that time a few of the Kustom Krowns, who were frustrated with the direction the club was going, decided to form a new club with the purpose of building older and more period-correct hot rods and customs. Pete’s original idea was to reform the notorious and iconic Nomads club, which was active in the Fifties and Sixties around Boston. We were all huge fans of the hot rods and race cars that the Nomads had built long ago but the surviving members still wouldn’t allow it. That was the point in which Pete, Jim, and Flash formed the Alter Boys. They adopted an ax head plaque, as an homage to the Nomads, who used a similar shape as their plaque. They also liked how the ax signifies “chopping” which reinforced the “Alter” part of the name (not Altar...which has a totally different meaning).
“It turned out that a lot of guys from that era described in “Cool Cars Square Rollbars“ were still around, and we began to meet and befriend many of them at the Road Agents Rumble” says Flash. It was there that Pete introduced Flash to Jim Gove, another founding member of the Alter Boys. Eli English reiterates the point by saying “around ’02 or ’03, a friend invited me to take a trip to Hartford, Connecticut, to the Road Agents Rockabilly Rumble. That would change my take on hot rods and customs forever! Here it was all younger people, driving home-built traditional hot rods, crazy rough rat rods and wild traditional customs. I thought Wow! Look what I am missing, people actually talking about building cars, driving cars and cutting cars up...instead of spending their retirement packages. It was there, at that show, that I was introduced to the original Alter Boys members...and we hit it off right away. They were mostly from my “neck of the woods” and all had really awesome traditional cars. Over the next year or so, either John or Pete would call me to go to another show or invite me to the always crazy Alter Boys garage night in Needham, Mass., or just down to their houses to hang out or work on hot rods.”
As another nod to some New England History, Pete and Jim decided to run ‘39 Ford truck grills on their cars. Pete slapped one on his coupe and Jim ran a sectioned unit on his deeply channeled Model A roadster. Both cars were overhead-powered with four-deuce intakes, Jim’s being an early Caddy and Pete’s a Buick Nailhead. You know, stuff the street rodders didn’t want! We had a blast tearing around Boston in those days, back when there were so many good shows at the MIddle East club and TT’s and it was easier to park.
Building and driving hot rods in the city presents its challenges but it’s still a fun place to cruise the cars around. Because the cops always had plenty of more pressing issues to tend to we were never really concerned with fender laws. But problems with the neighbors were another story. Jim says “I remember one afternoon when Tony, John and myself were firing up the freshly rebuilt 331 Cad motor in my model a. The time had come to break in the new Isky reground cam but the garage where we were working was directly underneath the apartment building we lived at in Watertown Mass. The noise was bouncing off of all the neighbors’ houses and it was deafening. The poor law student in the apartment above was driven to tears as she was studying for the Bar exam. But we couldn’t shut it off, it was just breaking in! She definitely did not understand the importance of the “break-in””.
Another time, a bunch of us cruised down to the Bronx to hit the Rumblers’ Show. Roger Miret and the rest of the Rumblers showed us great hospitality, cars and music. Eventually, as the day wore on, the bench racing turned real as the Alter Boys and Rumblers squared off for some epic night time stoplight drags. Hot rods racing beneath the B.Q.E! Yes please! Only those who were there that night know the outcome of those grudge matches!
Inspired by trips to the first few Shifters shows at Viva Las Vegas, and meeting other clubs on the West Coast, like the Choppers, we set to work on organizing our own show. The first Alter Boys’ Jalopy Jamboree was held in September of 2002 at Ralph’s Diner in Worcester, Massachusetts (aka Worm Town). The show was held every September for the next twelve years, but if you ask the club members most of them will agree that those first few years at Ralph’s were the best. John tells the story “We started the show really late, like four o’clock in the afternoon as sort of an FU to the street rod guys that made us get up at 5 in the morning to get into their shows. We started late and partied all night with 5 or 6 bands going. A lot of those original early hot rod guys that we were getting to know would come out and stay up all night too, drinking us youngsters right under the table”.
Then one time at Ralph’s the “Don’t bring a dog to a pony show” incident occurred. As John tells the story “Don’t bring a dog to a pony show is what I told a guy in a high-tech ’32 roadster at one of the first shows at Ralph’s Diner. This guy was really angry because we wouldn’t let him park his fiberglass kit car up front with all the historic hot rods that had shown up. He started to make a major scene so I said that to him as a way of pretending to de-escalate the situation, but it had the predictable effect of making the guy want to fight me. I get a lot of credit for that line but I’m pretty sure I stole it from Luke Karosi or one of the other Road Agents”.
Unfortunately within a few years of starting the show all the abandoned parking lots and bombed out buildings that surrounded Ralphs got redeveloped by bio-tech tech companies. I knew the writing was on the wall when the cops threatened to tow every car attending the show because a bunch of us had unknowingly parked in an emergency outpatient treatment center. We decided to change venues a couple times so that we could continue to accommodate all the people that wanted to come, but we could never repeat the same atmosphere. The show kept starting earlier and earlier until it felt like all the same shows we had initially been trying to counter, eventually we stopped having a show altogether. Who knows maybe someday we’ll figure out a way to repeat the magic from those early years.
The Jalopy Jamboree is how we used to cap off the summer driving season but to help get us through those miserable Boston winters we would also have a winter garage party. This was a smaller get-together at the shop in Needham that we shared (because garage space is nearly impossible to find in the city). Lots of good times were had there, and we had lots of “special guests” come by, including the infamous Richie Willett.
One year we had a special surprise planned for Eli. He continues “That year, in January, it was time for another garage party...I was asked to come early to look at Jim’s ‘36 Ford...for advice on the roof chop, but the real reason was that I was about to be asked to become a member of the Alter Boys! I remember feeling this huge rush of emotion come over me. I could not believe that group of people that I had admired and respected for several years, wanted me to be one of their own! I also knew that you couldn’t just join the Alter Boys, you had to be asked!”
Another favorite winter club event is our annual trip out to the Grand National Roadster Show. On our first trip there, some of the guys went on a mission to search out the local liquor store. Torr and Eli spent a good deal of time in the store, conversing about how much Raspberry Zima Eli should purchase. Apparently the checkout clerk, after hearing the strange accents, became convinced that Torr and Eli were extras from the movie “The Departed.”
GNRS is also a great event to hang out with hot rodders from the other side of the country. We met up with the Choppers again, so they took us out to a favorite dining spot. Torr couldn’t resist introducing himself to Keith Weesner. But he introduced himself as Pat Pryor!
Well Keith hadn’t ever met Pat in person at that point, though they had a bit of a rivalry going. John recounts “I can’t remember how long we let the whole thing play out, maybe just a few minutes, but eventually everyone had a good laugh at the prank. Torr was so pleased with himself that day, almost as pleased as when he’d get Eli to overindulge in Raspberry Zima, but that’s another story.
Back to some earlier history, while the Alter Boys were doing the show at Ralph’s, the remaining Kustom Krowns, who were now going by the name the Stumblin’ Idles, were organizing a flatheads-and-inlines only drag race at an abandoned race track in a cornfield in upstate New York. What better way to settle old differences between car clubs than a drag race? Pete built the “Golden Shower” for the Alter Boys to run and Moose (Ryan McCombs), Mad Dog (Mike Maclean), Pissy Pete Gumaskas and Torr built the Boston Shitbox for the Stumblin’ Idles.
Moose continues “I came into the fold soon after I moved to Boston in 2000. On my way home from work one day, I stumbled onto a car show at the Boston Institute of Contemporary Art. Turns out it was the “Customized” show featuring the art of Coop, Robert and Suzanne Williams, and many others. It didn’t take long to find that certain style of hot rod/custom that really stood out from the crowd. Soon I was talking to Pete, Necro, and Flash. Anyway, we ended up at Bukowski’s Bar, and that’s where it all started for me. I think this was about the time that the Kustom Krowns split up. Soon after I was hanging out in a basement in Roslindale with Snag and Kitty, Necro and Gretchen, Torr, Pissy, Slick, Big Joe, and Mad Dog. We came up with the name ‘Stumblin’ Idles’ and then kept drinking.
We put together the Boston Shitbox out of a bunch of parts that Torr had been scrounging for years. Somehow it worked out, and it was a blast. There’s nothing like sitting with your shoulder a foot away from the top of a slick, and seeing the wisps of smoke while doing a burnout in second gear, before a pass on an old drag strip.“
Both cars were inline-six-powered modifieds, but varied in level of fit and finish. For example, in classic Stumblin’ Idles form, the pitman arm fell off of the steering box on the staging line and the race almost didn’t happen. Had that incident happened at the end of the strip I doubt the “seat belt” that Torr had would’ve helped. While he was wearing one, it served no purpose other than to hold up his pants, he had never attached it to the car! In Torr’s classic gruff east coast accented voice he explained at the time “I don’t wanna be stuck in this fahkin thing if I crash”. That was an awesome day of racing and afterwards all old scores were considered settled. Eventually the Stumblin’ Idles fizzled out, and over the course of about 10 years, Moose, Torr and Pissy Pete all came over to the Alter Boys. An event that made all parties involved really happy – it just seemed right to have the whole gang together again.
New England is kind of it’s own little corner of the country, but over the years we made lots of friends from all over the place. Mel Stultz was kind enough to invite us down the New Jersey for his Motor Speedway event, sort of a precursor event to The Race of Gentlemen. There we got to hang out with the Choppers again, who came east for the event. We all had a blast racing and then watching Brian Darwas’ film ”The Devil At Your Feet” in which we were featured along with the Choppers. Now we are proud to have had Alter Boys’ cars in every TROG so far since the very first one.
In 2008, many of the club members were recently married or on the verge of it, with kids in the near future, so everyone decided we’d better take a road trip to Bonneville before the chance was missed. That turned out to be the road trip of a lifetime! What a scene, blasting down the highway with Pete’s Olds-powered ’33 three-window, Jim’s Cadillac-powered ’36 three-window and Jared’s flathead-powered T roadster alongside club friend Miles’ shoebox and Wayne and Ed Sicotte driving a support truck (which thankfully we didn’t need). It was a dream come true, especially once out of New England and onto the wide open roads out west. John tells the story “We had prepared for the worst mechanically, but couldn’t have prepared for some of the other things that happened along the way. The cars performed great, even at the blistering pace set by Pete in his green ’33. Anybody who’s ever road tripped with Pete will testify that he does not like waiting around. It’s all “hurry up lets go” and “what’s the holdup”, there’s definitely no time to relax when he’s got a schedule to keep. I guess that’s how we managed to make it from Boston to Bonneville in only three and a half days, even though we experienced a couple of minor mechanical issues. Mechanicals aside there were other incidents too. Jim claims it was a carbon monoxide induced hallucination, but John swears he saw a guy relieving himself into a cooler in a desolate hotel parking lot, an incident which still haunts him.
What was definitely not a hallucination was what happened days before the cooler incident. “We had stopped at a campground to sleep for the night and there was a guy working the desk there who claimed to have been a retired professional boxer. He kept lifting up his shirt so that we could see his stomach and how fit he was, he was pretty fit but he was also totally drunk. John says “He almost crashed the golf cart he was using to show people around the campground, and then he almost pissed on my foot. I thought he was leading us to our campsite but he was actually walking over to a tree to relieve himself and I was following him too closely. I barely missed the stream”.
Once at Bonneville, driving onto the salt was like landing on the moon. Total elation. We got to watch our friends Ken Makuch, Dave Simard, and the Rolling Bones race, plus a lot of the East Coast old timers that we had befriended were with us there too, including Russ Daly and Paul Howard. Hanging out at the Wendover Nugget parking lot party afterward was nearly as good as being on the salt. Mind-blowing hot rods and race cars filled the streets at every turn!
This club, like others, has been through its ups and downs. Not everyone agrees all the time, not everyone can make all of the events, members have come and gone, but overall none of that matters. We have no leaders, no club dues, no regular meeting schedule, no “support” t-shirts...basically we are the anti-club. We stick together, hang out when we can in our busy and often hectic work and family schedules, but most important of all, we have mutual respect for each other. This hobby has afforded some of us the chance to run our own businesses. Eli English started Traditional Speed & Custom out of Pittsfield, NH and Chris Ball started MillWorks Hot Rods & Customs in Tewksbury, Mass, Moose builds intakes and headers at ManifoldsbyMoose, and Flash continues to randomly publish his hot rod ‘zine “Mag-Neto”. Every one of the guys looks forward to getting old, gray, and fat together...then watching this whole scene unfold all over again someday when a young guy comes up to us at a show (this time we’ll be the ones sitting in lawn chairs) and says “hey, weren’t you and your car in this hot rod book a long time ago?”.
Current and past members in no particular order:
Tony “Flash” Dowers
Ryan “Moose” McCombs
Mark “General Gow” Phelan
“Pissy Pete” Gumaskas