'It's not a club for women that just want to look cute in a club jacket.'
10TH ANNUAL SPRING OPENER
South Airport Way, between South Doris Street and South Homer Street,
Noon to 5 p.m. May 21; registration 10 a.m.
$25 cars; $10 motorcycles, bicycles and scooters
In old teenage hot-rod flicks such as “The Devil on Wheels” and “Dragstrip Riot,” the girl was typically perched anxiously on the passenger seat next to the boy with the shellacked hair and turned-up collar. Girls were never allowed to drive, and were usually left on the sidelines when the “big race” finally happened.
Perhaps there were a few girls sitting in the theater seats who did not appreciate being depicted as helpless and powerless when it came to building and driving a hot rod or custom car. The difference between the teenagers of the 1950s and the car nuts of today is that the girls are no longer helpless. Car clubs are more popular than ever and, unlike the clubs of the distant past, woman are active and, in some cases, in control.
Kim Kaliber, spokeswoman for the Piston Packin’ Mamas car and motorcycle club and owner of a 1957 Jeep Willys, 1966 Dodge Coronet, 1972 Honda 500 motorcycle and a 1974 Dodge van, says, “In 2006 a few friends and I decided to start a club just for women. We wanted to hang out with others like us and help each other work on our cars.”
It wasn’t long before people began taking notice of these women and their various vehicles.
“We get real tired of guys asking ‘Is that your boyfriend’s car?’ when we are at car shows. It’s fun to let them know that, ‘No, it’s my car, and I do all of the work on it myself,’” says member Sheilah Shaheen O’Sullivan, owner of a 1953 Ford, 1964 Mercury and 1964 Ford.
By day, O’Sullivan is a designer for Amazon, but after hours and on weekends the computer toolbar is closed and the garage toolbox is opened.
“Being a Piston Packin’ Mama makes us feel empowered. It also makes us happy. We spend a lot of time together laughing and giving each other a bad time. These women are my family,” she says.
Currently there are six active members in the club and two prospective members. Being a “prospective” in some of the more notorious clubs is a grueling one- or two-year undertaking. No so in the Piston Packin’ Mamas.
“We just ask them to hang out with us and see what they think. If they can put up with us then they can become members. Sometimes we are not easy to put up with!” says a smiling Michelle Thurston.
Thurston, a beautician by day, and lead vocalist of the Ramones all-woman tribute band The Dee Dees by night, pilots a 1973 Triumph T150 motorcycle around town.
Majenta Monroe, a tattoo artist and owner of a 1965 Chrysler New Yorker and 1968 Plymouth Barracuda, admits to one problem.
“We are not afraid to work on our cars but on occasion there is one thing we lack as women. Sometimes working on a ‘muscle car’ takes a little more muscle than we have. Usually some beer and a couple of other members provide the necessary muscle power.”
The quietest member, who goes only by Sabina, rides perhaps the loudest vehicle in the club: a 1975 Honda 550 Super Sport. When asked what the appeal of the club is, she replies, “It’s a group that believes to be a member you have to love the cars and motorcycles, and not be afraid to work on them. It’s not a club for women that just want to look cute in a club jacket.”
Sabina’s day job is as a chef, and she spends some of her free time collecting old cookie cutters and unusual aprons.
Not all of their time is spent working on cars. Every year the Piston Packin’ Mamas, along with the Rat Patrol car club, produce the Spring Opener car show. This year will be the 10th anniversary of the show, and over the decade thousands of dollars have been raised and donated to the Treehouse organization (www.treehouseforkids.org), a group that provides for the needs of foster children.
Melissa Reese, a schoolteacher and owner of a 1960 Thunderbird and a 1979 Vespa 150, has been a member of the club since its formation. One reason she has stayed in the group is because of the club’s charity work.
“Each year the Spring Opener has donated $800 to $2,000 to the Treehouse organization. My husband and I are the parents of an 8-year-old girl and we understand what it takes to meet the needs of a child. I’m proud to be a member of a club that can help foster children.”
When asked questions about their personal lives the members share only a few details. But Kaliber, the group’s spokeswoman, offers this much: “Only one of the Piston Packin’ Mamas is married, and she has a daughter. None of the other members are married or have children. We do, however, have a total of 11 dogs. I guess we like cars, motorcycles and dogs.”