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Jack’s Garage ‘06

Jack’s Garage ‘06
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… Jack’s Garage


Story by Richard Parks, photographs by Roger Rohrdanz

  Jack’s Garage is located in Fountain Valley, California, and is just a car garage, like yours or mine, but considerably more cluttered. What makes it unique is that it is a throwback to an earlier time, some seven decades ago, when young men gathered in a garage, clubhouse or diner, to form their own hot rod car clubs. The very birth of hot rodding can be traced to the 1920’s and ’30’s, when high school teens formed their own groups, broadly centered on a neighborhood or street. In those days few people had garages, and many cars were parked in driveways, under carports or on the street. The typical hot rodders and shade tree mechanics would work on their cars in the open, or throw a rope or chain over a sturdy tree branch to make a usable hoist. Some families could afford a garage, though they discouraged their sons from turning it into a work area, for fear of disturbing the neighbors. Every so often, one of the young men would have a parent who would allow them to use it, and equally tolerant neighbors. That young man would usually be voted in as the club president for as long as he provided  the garage. Over the years the car clubs, which numbered in the thousands, began to disappear, though the hot rod fervor only grew in strength and numbers.

 

  Jack’s Garage is a modern day garage, on an unassuming cul-de-sac, that attracts men who remember those old days, and who show up every morning, seven days a week. They talk about cars, racing and the same sort of things that men of all ages have been talking about since the dawn of the automotive age. Jack Underwood is the unofficial club president, and he invites everyone to come, have a donut, a cup of coffee and talk about cars. The first order of business is to remove two Ford Roadsters, with unprimered metal, and stripped to the bare necessities, from the garage. His wife, Nita, and the other regulars assist ‘Big Jack,’ with his white hair, large Norwegian stature and good nature. The garage is a museum to engines, land speed racing, hot rodding and American car culture in particular. ‘Viking Jack,’ as he is sometimes called, is a member of the Dry Lakes Hall of Fame, located in Buellton, California, at the Gas Pump Museum, made famous by Jack Mendenhall. Underwood was inducted for his efforts to preserve the history and heritage of dry lakes, Bonneville and land speed racing. The garage has filing cabinets and bookcases filled with original and copied material that trace the history of land speed racing and other forms of American car culture.

Researchers are welcome to look at programs, books, photos, parts, and records that Jack and his “car club” friends have accumulated. Henry Astor, from the American Hot Rod Foundation (AHRF) draws upon Jack’s Garage for additional material for the museum and archives back in New York City, New York. There is more to Jack’s Garage than paper, books and programs. The garage is filled with people of interesting backgrounds who show up throughout the week. Bill Davis, Dan Hart, Steve McElroy, Joe Barnett, Ed Newett, Will Moore, Billy Jordan, George Steele, Jack Plymell, Vic King, Ron Phelps, John Swanson, Bob Schmidt, Norm Morrison, and Creighton Hunter, are some of the regulars to the garage. The wealth of experience that they possess in the automotive world is impressive. Many have raced at the dry lakes or Bonneville, built their own cars or have participated in oval track or other types of racing. Warren Bullis is the long time Secretary/Treasurer for the Southern California Timing Association (SCTA). Stan Chersky has a world class car club plaque collection with 4000 varieties. Gene and Alan Barbee, Ted Bowen, Bob Snook, and many others have deep roots in land speed racing. Other knowledgeable hot rodders that come on a regular basis are; Roger and Jimmy Underwood, Bob Anderson, Dave Gorges, Ted Loffler, Mikey Spacek, Roger Brophy, Leo Dempsey, Charlie Reno, Steve Rini, Ron Bell, Doug Wilson, Jim Duff, Ed Farrell and Chuck Embry.

 

Ken Hillberg builds and restores classic sprint cars and midgets. Ron Henderson built the “Lady Dragon,” a self designed, classic boat-tailed Speedster. JD Tone, Neil Thompson, and Keith Allen are also dry lakes Hall of Famers, and regulars to the garage. JD makes the dash board plaques for those racing in the SCTA. Yoder, who goes only by one name, is one of the best painters, pinstripers, glass workers and designers in the country. Indian “Red” (Bob) Nichols, Stewart Van Dyne, Jay Cotting, Bob Webb, and Max Kranz are also members of the Gear Grinders SCTA car club. Ed Beck flew P51’s in WWII. Also on hand at the garage are; Jim Loving, Don Stevens, Terry Haines, John Drake, Larry McKinney, Matt Treis, Kevin and Don Stegen, Norman Grant, “Big John” Hunt, Kent Cowgur, Patrick Tone, and Gary Rycraft. No one is as outrageous as the Reverend Scrub Hansen, or Bob Martin, who regales people with his stories of J.J. Junkin. The group that shows up each day is different, but the knowledge they possess is beyond measure. Jack’s Garage is a magical place. A car culture setting that transports us back in time, surrounded by the men who lived during the golden age of hot rodding.