VIP Sponsors


Robert Shaw Biography April 12, 2012

Robert Shaw Biography April 12, 2012


Story by Terry Shaw, editing by Richard Parks
Photographic consultant Roger Rohrdanz 


Robert “Bob” A. Shaw was a common man, the guy next door who would give you a helping hand anytime you needed. You won’t find him in any ordinary history book although he had one made up. But he was part of the greatest generation you hear about that grew up during the depression, made the world safe by fighting World War II and helped the US become an industrial super power after the war. In some ways it’s amazing he turned out so well adjusted.

Bob was born in February 1921 and passed away in November 2002. He was the son of Frank D. Shaw and Alma M. Maas Shaw. Frank was born in 1884 and passed away in 1960. Alma was born in 1886 and she passed on in 1937. The family attended the Congregational Church. Bob attended the Irvine Preventorium Health camp for approximately two years. He went to Roosevelt Grammar School and then transferred to Lathrop Junior High School. His father was absent during much of his youth, although they reconnected later on, and his mother passed away when he was 16. His sister Helen took over as guardian, so she did a good job. That’s not to say he didn’t have his wild side. He would tell stories of pranks he and friends would pull such as knocking over outhouses on Halloween or getting chased by Irvine ranch security when hunting in orange orchards.

Bob attended Santa Ana High School and was on the cross country track team, the Drama Club and graduated from Santa Ana High School in 1940, a year late due to a "voyage of a lifetime." He was a member of the Sea Scouts from 1937 to 1938 and was a crew member on the MS Stranger, also known as the MS Moana. He was the last Sea Scout to serve on board the MS Stranger and went with it to Acapulco, through the Panama Canal, to Havana, Cuba and on to Miami, Florida. After the ship was sold he boarded a bus for the cross country trip back to California. In the 1940’s he became involved with building and racing hot rods, which sometimes involved run-ins with the local constable. After the war they would have time trails at El Mirage dry lake. It was there that his car flipped on him and he walked away with a broken nose. All this is indicative of his love for adventure and the outdoors. He enjoyed many outdoor pursuits, such as fishing. I remember fishing in Newport Harbor by the jetty with him, and later fresh water fishing.

John Westcott wrote the following. “Bob Shaw was a part of the hot rod scene, but says he didn't take part in the Newport Boulevard races. The Ford soft-top Model-A roadster was a very popular car to turn into a hot rod. They took the running boards, fender and top off. The V-8 engine had only about 65 to 85 horsepower, but back yard "engineers" did things the Ford engineers said were impossible. Drivers took them to auto shops like Senior &Senior to bore out the engines and put in larger pistons, and polish the cams to make them go better. Smitty Mufflers replaced the mufflers with one that got that loud sound they wanted. Frank and Bubbie Clark's Main Malt Shop was the headquarters for Santa Ana's hot rod crowd. When someone from Anaheim or Long Beach challenged somebody to a race, they headed for Newport Boulevard. By 8 or 9 pm there wasn't any traffic. It was a long, wide open stretch, from the triangle at South Main Street all the way up to the Tustin curve, where it turned north. Once in a while, someone called the police. Everybody would take off. Back yard engineers rebuilt their V-8 engines and sparked the lively "hot rod" culture in the 1930’s. Newport Boulevard was just two lanes but was straight as an arrow through Santa Ana, and became a nighttime racing spot for local rodders from the rate 1930’s to the early 1940’s. After the war they headed out to the desert at El Mirage and roared through time trials,” Westcott wrote.

Here is an article that was written by my father for the Old Courthouse Museum Society. HOT RODS IN SANTA ANA, by Bob Shaw, OCMS Board member. “Back in 1928 to 1935, I don't think Henry Ford knew that he was building cars that in later years would become ‘Hot Rod’ classics. Even in 1935 the V-8 engine in production line cars only had about 65 to 85 horsepower. All this would start to change in the forties when young backyard 'engineers’ began to do things with Detroit cars that Ford engineers said were impossible. What the backyard ‘engineers’ wanted was speed and they found a way to get it. The Ford soft-top Model A roadster was a very popular car to turn into a Hot Rod. The running boards, fenders and top were taken off. The 19 inch rims were replaced with 16 inch rims, large tires on the back rims and small tires on the front and the front axle lowered. The Model-A engine would be removed and replaced with a V-8 rebuilt to backyard ‘engineers’ specs.

Many other design changes were made, and later on Don Arnett of Santa Ana began manufacturing dual ignition distributors. Detroit began to take notice. Senior & Senior (Harry and his wife) had a garage-machine shop at the corner of West First Street and Flower Street where they had a good reputation for rebuilding engines. Smitty Mufflers replaced stock mufflers at a Flying A Service Station at the corner of South Main Street and Chestnut. Across the street was Frank and Bubbie Clark's Main Malt Shop. This became the headquarters for ‘Hot Rod’ people of Santa Ana. They served really good food: hamburgers and malts for 25 cents each, and the best chili size ever for 45! As Hot Rods were completed and motors were broken in, the owners needed a place to see how fast they would go. Newport Boulevard from the triangle at south Main Street to the Tustin curve was the choice.

In the 1940’s, Orange County, with a population of about 150,000 people, was pretty quiet at night when they went out to test their Hot Rods. On the north side of Newport Boulevard about fifty feet from the cement road was a deep irrigation draining ditch; on the south side, open bean fields. Bob Jewell had done some work on his car one day and that night he took Don Arnett with him and went down to Newport Boulevard to give his car a trial run. The following was told to me by Don, just recently; they had cruised from the triangle to the Tustin curve, then turned around and started back. Don estimated they hit sixty or seventy miles an hour when the steering wheel came off in Bob's hands. He didn't dare touch the brakes. They coasted about a half mile slowing down. The car slowly edged toward the deep ditch on the north side of the road. They had slowed to about 20 or 25 miles an hour when the car went into the ditch. It hit nose first, then came back down with its wheels touching the ditch wall. The car was banged up, but they were okay. They hitched a ride into town to the Malt Shop. A group took their cars out there and pulled the car out of the ditch.

Living near the railroad tracks that went to the Sugar Beet Plant, I had always wanted to ride on one of the little cars which they used to check the rails. I told this to Don Arnett one day and we decided to take my Model-A down to the tracks on Chestnut Street and give it a try. The wheels lined up perfectly with the tracks. We decided to let about one-half the air out of all four tires. It worked. The tires gripped the rails like train wheels with two shoulders on them. We rode the rail down to McFadden Street. On the way we set the hand throttle on the steering column for a speed we felt was safe, then sat up on the back of the seat with our arms folded. I'll never forget the double take of a farmer cutting water ditches in an orange grove. He saw something moving, took a quick look, went back to work, then realized what he had seen and stood up to take another look. We waved at him - he just shook his head and went back to work!

Sometimes dragsters would come over from Long Beach, Anaheim, Costa Mesa and other places and challenge the faster Hot Rods in Santa Ana to a drag race. Everyone at the Malt Shop would go down to Newport Boulevard to see the race. Someone would drive down to the Tustin curve to check for car lights on Tustin Avenue. If it was clear, he would flash his lights and the race would be on. The cars would peel rubber taking off. The winner might be determined in the first quarter of a mile or they might race neck-and-neck for the whole distance (about two miles). The war had been going on for a while now. As time went by, most of the Hot Rodders went into the service. The cars were put into storage till the end of the war. After the war, there were time trials out at El Mirage Dry Lake and drag races at the Eddie Martin Airport. But that's another story. I must say something about the people involved in this sport. They were all a great bunch of fellows. I never saw anyone drink beer. I can't remember too many of them even smoking. I never saw a fight. Their ages could be from 16 to 26. Your age meant nothing to anyone involved with Hot Rods. If you liked working on them, you were always welcome to be a part of the team. Those were really the good old days. We have a reunion every year in Santiago Park. This year (1998) some fifty or more showed up to talk about the good old days of Hot Rods,” Bob concluded.

After high school my father attended Santa Ana Junior College. He was working underneath his car when the radio broadcast the news of the attack by the Japanese Imperial Navy on Pearl Harbor that brought the United States into World War II. He had tried to enlist in the Navy before the war but rejected due to high blood pressure. He worked at North American Aviation and Douglas Aircraft during WWII. Maybe some of you flew in the planes he worked on. I guess he did a good job, since you're reading this. Bob was later drafted during WWII, but assigned a 4F rating due to his high blood pressure. In Santa Ana he was part of the Main Street Malt Shop group. These were the local kids who would gather at this malt shop and show off their cars or after racing at the Santa Ana Airport drag strip from 1950 through 1959. During the war he met Mary Ann Brown at a Victory bus stop and they dated and were eventually married in June of 1947. Bob went to work at Excelsior Creamery in Santa Ana in the maintenance department, as an engineer in their ice plant and worked there until 1956. In 1948 he traded hot rod racing for pigeon racing and the next year his first born son, Gary (Garth) Shaw, was born in May. He built his first and only home in Costa Mesa and moved his family into the new house in December of 1949.

Bob reconciled his differences with his father Frank in the 1950's. Bob attended and was baptized into the First Baptist Church of Cost Mesa which he remained a member of until 1996. Mary and Bob welcomed their second child, Terry, into their family in February 1953. When Disneyland was opened in 1955 Bob provided pigeons for the grand opening and made some home movies of the event showing Walt Disney and others at the amusement park. In 1956 Bob started working for Narmco Materials in Costa Mesa as a welder and 'jack of all trades' and stayed with the firm until his retirement in 1984. He attended industrial fire fighting school and, although not originally a "union man", he eventually became the chief union steward. He was a non-working lead man and maintenance supervisor at Narmco.

We made many hikes in the sierras to favorite fishing spots. He liked the water and at various times he paddle boarded, body surfed and river rafted. Camping and backpacking were high on his list. A highlight was when we hiked to the top of Mount Whitney in 1971. When my brother Garth became a boy scout, dad became an assistant scoutmaster eventually receiving the order of the arrow for service. Through the scouts and family vacations, many trips and hikes were made to the Sierras: Kings Canyon, Tuolumne Meadows, Huntington Lake backcountry and later Lee Vining Canyon. Other trips were made to the desert, Joshua Tree was a favorite. The redwoods, Oregon’s Crater Lake, the gold country, Baja California, Arizona’s Grand Canyon, Southern Utah and Yellowstone were visited. Dad was somewhat of a bear magnet.

By his count he had at least five close encounters with bears. I was along for one. We had backpacked to Glen Aulen and hung our food between two trees for the night. During the night I heard a noise and saw a bear trying to get the food. I woke dad and he scared the bear off. After a while I heard him again. We both got up and scared him. Only this time he turned around and started coming back. I said we should get out of there, but dad persisted. He picked up a branch, banged it against a tree, jumped and yelled. The bear slowly retreated, but we didn’t sleep much the rest of the night. He also had an uncle who lived in Alamos, Mexico, so a few trips were made there after the uncle passed away to meet an aunt and cousins. On the trip I went along, the trailer axle broke. We were stuck on the shoulder of a two-lane highway for the night hoping no large buses or trucks would come along at the same time. The next day he went to Yuma to get the needed parts. That was indicative of his resourcefulness. He was able to fix or make a multitude of things, such as the boat he made from sheet metal and two P-38 drop tanks. In August of 1971 Bob hiked to the top of Mount Whitney at an elevation of over 14,000 feet. That same year he shattered his ankle when a ladder slipped from under him while he was helping a friend with a new business and he never walked normally on the foot again.

Bob was always willing to try something new. He participated in the Laguna Beach Pageant of the Masters from 1976 through 1982. In 1976 he was in the painting of the 'Signing of the Declaration of Independence.' He was also in the famous reproduction of 'The Last Supper' from 1977 until 1982. Garth was a road manager for Kenny Rogers for seven years and Bob and Mary Ann would get to attend his southern California and Las Vegas concerts for free. He supported Terry when his son was in college and was proud of his son when he graduated from college in January of 1976. Bob took to gardening in the 1980's and mass produced Amaryllis flowers, also called 'naked ladies,' in his back yard and selling the cut flowers to local florist shops. In 1981 Bob went on the Tiger cruise aboard the USS Kitty Hawk aircraft carrier from Hawaii to San Diego with Mary Ann’s nephew David Fuller. Terry also participated in the cruise. Two years later in 1983 Bob went on a second Tiger cruise, but this time it was on the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier and went from Hawaii to Alameda, California. With him were his nephew David Fuller, great nephew David Fuller Jr and Terry Shaw. They also visited their cousin Malena in Hawaii. Bob retired in 1984 from both work and pigeon racing but not before he provided pigeons for the opening ceremony of the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984.

Another big event in 1984 was the marriage of his son Terry to Marilyn Gould in October, 1984. In 1986 he attended a reunion with the former crew members of the MS Stranger. Since he was the last Stranger scout he had been left out of prior reunions but Terry saw a newspaper article and Bob was included from then on. Bob traveled the Alaska Inland Passageway by ferry in 1987. With help and encouragement from other crew members, he wrote and created a video of the 1937/38 trip aboard the MS Stranger. His first grandchild, Christina was born in February 1991 and the next year his grandson Thomas was born in September of 1992. He attended Harbor Trinity Church beginning in 1996, until health started failing in 2001. He had a heart attack in 1996 and underwent a five-way bypass surgery in November of that year. During the summers he and the grandchildren made many forays to the beach. And he said the grandchildren helped him concentrate on his recovery after his heart attack. His grandchildren meant the world to him and he wanted to spend as much time as he could with them, but in 1999 he suffered another heart attack.

With a contact he had made and concerned about his legacy, he began working on an oral history in 2000 through Cal State University in Fullerton. That same year he received recognition from Orange County Board of Supervisors for his work in volunteerism. The next year in 2001 he published his oral history. The same day that he gave his oral history his cousin Jack died of a heart attack in the parking lot. Bob's health started to suffer and he was diagnosed with lung cancer in May, even though he had never smoked. He received three types of chemotherapy, but suffered a stroke in early 2002 and entered a convalescent home and passed away on November, 2002. Bob was an avid sportsman throughout his life and his activities included; salt and fresh water fishing, shooting, hunting, hot rods, backpacking, hiking, camping, body surfing, paddle board, river rafting, and photography. He was a member and director of the Costa Mesa Chapter of AARP (since disbanded), a member and director of the Costa Mesa Historical Society, and a member and director of the Old Courthouse Museum Society.

Although not particularly verbal about his faith, he exhibited it by the way he lived. He could get angry though. My brother and I got our share of spankings and one time he broke a make shift toy we were fighting over. But looking back, he probably gave us more slack than we deserved. And anytime I had a car problem he came to the rescue, the last time being last December out by Magic Mountain. He was my triple AAA service. He was not only my father, he was my best friend. He didn’t have much patience with bad drivers and used to call them stupid ‘edgits’ although he got away from using that term. And one of my favorite sayings of his was, “Why is the first person in line always the last to see the light turn green?” This made the front page of the Orange County Register newspaper in 1939. A body was found hanging from the tall natural gas tanks in Santa Ana. It turned out to be an effigy of Hitler. Dad was the one who put it there. He was survived by his wife of fifty-five years, Mary Ann Shaw, his sister Helen Brough, his sons Garth and Terry Shaw and his grandchildren Christina and Thomas Shaw.

Gone Racin' is at [email protected].