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In Support of Al Slonaker

In Support of Al Slonaker


You know the National Roadster Show? No, not the one by the LA Roadsters club, nor the other one on the same fairgrounds. I mean THE Roadster Show, that one started in the east bay city of Oakland, up in Northern California. Started when hot rodding was getting some really ratty yellow journalism in the San Francisco press. Presented at just the right time to gain an immediate following nationwide, if not worldwide. It was THE hot rod show.

I didn’t meet the show founders/promoters Al and Mary Slonaker until the middle l950s, after the exhibition had been around for a while. But I knew the show, since it was introduced right in my backyard.

Al Slonaker was in every respect a very good snake oil salesman, and he always had my highest respect. Actually, Al was a great public relations man, a talent that stood him in good stead of his later year day job of schools educational departments director in the Oakland area. One time, he told me of an incident long before the Roadster Show, having taken place in El Paso when he and a travelling companion had been riding the rails west. In the south Texas border city, they developed the idea of putting on a bull fight. After all, Mexico was just over there a mile or so, and good bulls and bull fighters would be simple to round up.

So, the pair lined up an arena and had posters printed, all on the cuff of course, and found the bulls they needed just across the river. The hammer fell when they came to the arena that fateful morning to learn the bulls could not cross into the US of A. Not even into the US of Texas. What to do??? The stands were filling and the pair were frantic for a solution. Which was when Al hit on an original idea. “We got plenty of cowboys right here in the show grounds,” he confided to his confidant. “You get them rounded up as bull fighters, I’ll take care of the bulls!”

Seems there was plenty of beef on the grounds, of the studly sort. All quickly arranged for a dozen or so to be moved over to the normal rodeo bucking chutes, then he went prowling the tractor garage. And found exactly what he needed. A can of kerosene. And a couple corncobs. At the chutes, he advised his cohort to throw open the gate at his signal, which was also to alert the cowboy/bull fighter that all hell was about to break loose. And indeed it did. He also suggested his partner visit the ticket booths and take receipt of the funds before the last bull fight as they would probably be in a hurry to catch another train headed west.

Al positioned himself just behind the first chute, reached through the slats, and raised the first bull’s tail. With the other hand he doused a corncob with kerosene, shouted to open the gate, and thoroughly wiped the bull’s rear orifice and cohones with the soaked corncob. Needless to say, the bull was livid when it leaped from the suddenly opened gates……and shot straight at the cowboy/bull fighter. Said fighter waving a red blanket valiantly only to note the bull charged right on by……directly into the low fence fronting the grandstand. Knocking itself down, and staying grounded only long enough to clear the addled mind. Up jumped the male bovine type and made a streak the way it had come, again past the amazed cowboy and into the chute gates.

The crowd was yelling approval, so Al proceeded to offer up several more tons of kerosene fuelled indignity. Ever seen a dog scooting along on the grass trying to appease a rear facing itch? Apparently the show was an absolute runaway success. “So, what’d you guys do?” I queried on cue. “Was the show good enough to stage more?” “Don’t know,“ Said Al, ”we just made it to the freight yards in time to grab a train.” I think I got the picture. Interestingly, this was a case where the actual result was probably better than a real Mexican bull fight. Certainly the crowd obviously loved the show. They got their buck’s worth.

I can report that Al’s first Roadster Show, held at the old Lake Merritt pavilion was a success and he didn’t leave unannounced. In fact, he was invited back for many more years in downtown Oakland, California. Al is gone now, last I heard, lovely Mary was over in Arizona. Not too far from El Paso.