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A Visit with Diane Carmelo Leuenberger Vandenberg Dec. 20, 2012

A Visit with Diane Carmelo Leuenberger Vandenberg Dec. 20, 2012

A Visit with Diane Carmelo Leuenberger Vandenberg
Written by Diane Vandenberg with Richard Parks.
Photographs by Diane Vandenberg,
Photographic consultant Roger Rohrdanz
Dec 20, 2012


      I was born on October 3, 1935 in Orange, California to Daniel Carmelo and Mary Sepulveda Carmelo.  My father, Daniel Carmelo, was born in Arizona in 1904.  During the war years in the 1940’s my parents worked at Douglas Aircraft, in Long Beach; Dad worked in the production department and my Mom was a riveter.

      My grandfather on my father’s side was Cidraco Carmelo, who was from the Apache tribe and he was a prospector who spent most of his time in the Arizona and California deserts, prospecting for minerals.  He and my grandmother Virginia lived in Orange, California for many years after that.  My grandmother was Virginia Carmelo and she stayed home and during WWII, looked after my brother and myself while my parents worked at the aircraft plants.  Virginia was from the Gabrielino-Tongva Tribe, which was located in San Gabriel, California.  

     My mother, Mary Sepulveda, was born in Santa Ana, California in 1909.  My grandfather, Adolph Sepulveda was born in Santa Ana in 1871.  My grandmother on my mother’s side was Laura, and she was born in San Juan Capistrano, California. Laura was descended from the Yorba family, and her father's name was Jose Antonio Yorba II, and her mother's name was Josefa. The Yorba’s are an old Californio family that has deep roots from the very first Spanish colonists who intermarried with the early California Indians of the Southern California area.

     Jose Antonio Yorba was born in Spain, and was one of Fages' original Catalan volunteers.  He became a corporal under Gaspar de Portolà during the Spanish expedition of 1769.  He was in San Francisco in 1777; Monterey in 1782; and in San Diego in 1789.  In 1797 he was retired with the position of sergeant and in 1810 was granted the Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana.  In 1810, José Antonio Yorba was awarded by the Spanish Empire the 63,414-acre Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana land grant. Covering some 15 Spanish leagues, Yorba's land comprised a significant portion of today's Orange County including where the cities of Olive, Orange, Villa Park, Santa Ana, Tustin, Costa Mesa and Newport Beach stand today.  Upon his death in 1825 he was buried at his request in an unmarked grave in the cemetery at Mission San Juan Capistrano.  A cenotaph was later placed in Yorba's honor.

      My parents owned King Pest Control in Orange County for many years.  They were great parents and I couldn't have asked for more understanding, loving, and supportive parents.  When Dad was short of help he showed me how to drive the Model-A trucks down between the rows of trees and that was the start of my love for the Ford cars and trucks.

      I have one sister who lives in Riverside, her name is Dolores Carmelo Deatherage, and she has always been a housewife.  Dolores has three sons.  My brother, Donald Carmelo, lives in San Francisco, and he served eight years in the Navy and then he went to work as a hair stylist up in San Francisco for thirty-five years.  Donald is an avid history buff.  I have one Aunt that lives in Hemet, California.  Her name is Inez Soza, and she is a very feisty lady who is still very active and loves to jitterbug; that was the dance that she and her brothers danced every chance they got, when the two Marines came home from the WWII. 

     On the Sepulveda side of my family were my uncles; George, Clarence, and Adolph Sepulveda.  My aunts on the Sepulveda line were; Nellie, Katherine and Josephine Sepulveda.

       I started school at the West Orange Grammar School, and then went to Garden Grove, at Lincoln Elementary.  I attended Garden Grove High School and my friends were Jim Henson, Jerry Hart (C. J. Hart's son), Hill (Hildrado) Alcala and all of the guys who would hang out at Jack Hart's Texaco Service Station, in Orange.  Jack Hart would go on to become the Vice President and General Manager of the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) in the 1960's.  Jack Hart was instrumental with his expertise in building engines and allowing his group of followers to increase their interest and knowledge of racing.  The large group of young hot rodders that hung around Jack Hart's station developed a deep camaraderie and were encouraged to develop their skills as racers.  

      Hill Alcala raced his 1927-T roadster, which is now at the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum in Pomona, California.   Hill was a very polite, quiet and hard working man; he worked for the Segerstrom Ranch in Costa Mesa area. This ranch has acres of lima beans for miles around and there was an old adobe house on a slight hill, which is now called Estancia house, near the corner of Adams and Placentia.  Hill raced at Santa Ana, Bakersfield, Pomona, Irwindale and Long Beach.

      C. J. Hart was not related to Jack Hart.  C. J. Hart would team up with Frank Stillwell and Creighton Hunter and promote the Santa Ana Airport drag races. I didn't have much to do with them except to say hello.  C.J. was always a fair person and very pleasant to the young drag racers who raced at his drag strip. I liked the smell of his cigar.  C. J. always had something positive to say to everyone and this made the Santa Ana Airport drag strip my favorite place to drag race.

     A special hang-out where my friends and I gathered was the Drive-In at Harbor Blvd and Main Street in Santa Ana, California.  My friends and I had a lot of places where we would hang out and eat hamburgers and drink cherry cokes until we decided on a place where we could go and race our cars.  I had to be home early because at this time I was still in high school.  There wasn't a lot of money to spend, but we enjoyed what we had, standing around talking about cars mostly.  Some of the guys had girl friends and they were there also, but it has been so long ago that I can’t remember all of them. I had a very nice car that I drove to school, even before I had a license to drive the car. It was a 1941 Ford business coupe, dark blue metallic paint job, no chrome on hood or deck lid, and white wall tires.

      I had a 1932 five-window Model B that I would race at the drag strips in the area.  I raced at Colton, Santa Ana Airport, and Lions in Long Beach and my coupe could reach a speed of 103 mph, with an elapsed time of 14 seconds in the quarter-mile, which was pretty good in those days.  I competed in the A and B gas categories.  Jack Hart built and tuned my engine at his service station in Orange.  Leslie Long, from Yorba Linda, also helped me tune my car.  My '32 five-window coupe originally had a very small block flat head engine, but with help from Jack and Leslie, I ended up with a 315 cubic inch flat head motor.

      Leslie took over the Santa Ana Airport and Main Street Malt Shop reunion when Bill and Marie Jenks could no longer run it.  We meet twice a year at Santiago Creek Park in Orange, during April and October.  Leslie is also the historian for the Santa Ana Airport drag strip and for the SCTA El Mirage dry lakes meets.  He brings his photo albums to the park and we all try and identify the cars, drivers and crew from way back in the 1950's.  I know that Leslie worked several years while in the service at Sandia, New Mexico, but it was a top secret installation, so he didn't talk about it much.  Leslie is a brilliant man and very unassuming.  He has designed several items for race cars.  I have always enjoyed having Leslie as a good friend.  He always has something interesting to talk about, and he has put a lot of hours into keeping records and pictures of the old days of racing at the drags and dry lakes. Everyone I know appreciates all his hard work and dedication to history and to keeping the reunion going.  l never met Bill and Marie Jenks.

      I remember that we sometimes would race on the streets.  A favorite spot was on Fairview Street and Red Hill, near the old Air Base.  We would run on the north side of the base.  I was very fortunate that both of my parents supported me in my racing and I would love to make another run someday down the quarter-mile drag strip.  Sometimes we would pause at the stop signs and look from side to side to see if it was all clear and then we would peel out, go down the road and drag our cars. We were never stopped by the police for racing.

       I was married twice, and divorced twice.  John Leuenberger was my first husband and we were married in November, 1952.  John and I had one daughter together, Diane Leuenberger.  I married my second husband, Larry Vandenberg, in 1985.

      I worked in the aerospace industry for twenty-one years, for a company called Ling Electronics in Anaheim and then spent another twenty years working for the American Red Cross; eleven years as a volunteer and nine years as a paid staff member at the Red Cross National Headquarters, in Washington, D.C. as a fleet manager.  I was the California State Emergency Response Vehicle inspector, touring California and looking after more than thirty trucks.  The total number of emergency vehicles in our fleet of trucks is well over three hundred now, counting all of the states.  The most emergency Red Cross vehicles are in California and Florida has the second most trucks in the fleet.  We are prepared for any disaster that comes.

       I have one wonderful daughter and her name was Diane Leuenberger.  In the seventies, when my daughter was a teen, we did dirt biking and water skiing; which has always been in our lives.  My daughter and I were involved with horses, and we participated in the Indian rodeos.  Her second horse was a Hunter jumper.  Both of our horses were Appaloosas.  She loved all her animals, and her cars.  She was also a great hair stylist for twenty-nine years.  She passed away four years ago.  Diane was a beautiful person and she had a big heart, loved by all her clients and many friends.  She had no children.

     I have been involved with Thunderbird classics for many years. I'm a master judge and have judged many shows throughout the United States and Canada. I have owned a 1957 and a 1956 Thunderbird.  I was a judge at a show in Memphis, Tennessee this year.  I was also involved with hot air and helium balloons for several years, and crewed for a pilot from Canada.  I have been to Albuquerque, New Mexico, Montreal, Canada and across the United States, ballooning with the same pilot. I also competed in off road racing for a short time.  It was fun, but I turned to photography instead as it was a lot safer. 


Diane Vandenberg, circa late-90’s

(L-R) Diane’s sister, Dolores Carmelo Deatherage, her father Daniel Carmelo and mother Mary Sepulveda Carmelo. Pictured
in Garden Grove 1964.

Diane (R) and her daughter Diane Leuenberger did dirt biking and water skiing in the 70’s, sadly she passed away four years ago.

Diane and Larry Vandenberg were married in 1985.

Diane judging a Ford T-bird in show in Albuquerque, N.M.

Diane (L) at Bean Bandits banquet.
Joaquin Arnett in (yellow shirt).

L-R) Lynn Alcala (daughter 0f Hill Alcala), C.J.Hart, and Diane the  California Hot Rod Reunion at Famoso in 1994.

(L-R) Tony Alcala (son of Hill Alcala),
Lynn Alcala (daughter of Hill Alcala),
and Diane Vandenberg in the California
Hot Rod Reunion at Famoso in 1994.