Book Review by Richard Parks, Photographic Consultant Roger Rohrdanz
Albert Drake’s roots in hot rodding and drag racing go back to the early 1950’s. He built his first hot rod, an A-V8 Roadster and joined the Columbia Timing Association (CTA) in 1951. That same year he joined the brand new National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) and has membership card number 4054. He proudly asserts that he has joined no organization since then, affirming his status as an avowed hot rodder. Drake has written 12 books, three on poetry, a novel and eight books on hot rodding. The titles of his books on hot rodding are; Street was fun in ’51 (1982), The Big ‘Little GTO’ Book (1982), A 1950’s Rod & Custom Wish Book (1985), Herding Goats (1989), Hot Rodders From Lakes to Street (1993), Flat Out (1994), ‘Fifties Flashback (1998) and Portland Pictorial the 1950s (2006). His style is simple, but effective and he covers the Portland, Oregon and the Northwestern, United States. Portland Pictorial, The 1950s is a paperback book, published by Throttler Press. The book measures 8 ½ inches in width by 11 inches in height and is 128 pages in length. The front and back have the only two color photographs and the typography for the covers was done by Griffin Drake. The text is minimal and the captions under the black and white photographs tell the story. The paper is light bond, matte quality, which gives the photographs a grainy look. There are two color and 262 black and white photographs, with 1 movie poster, 3 drawings, 7 ads, 7 newspaper clippings, 20 business cards, 3 magazine covers and 3 miscellaneous posters in the book. Portland Pictorial, The 1950s has an introduction, but no chapters or index. I couldn’t find a price listed, but the ISBN number is 0-936892-19-6. Since it is a regional book, it is best to contact Throttler Press at P.O. Box 66874, Portland, Oregon 97290-6874 for a catalog or price list.
The appeal of Portland Pictorial, The 1950s is in its regionalism. The author may have included some material outside of the Pacific Northwest, but this book was compiled to show what hot rodding was like in the area that Drake grew up in. The black and white photographs are somewhat grainy due to the matte bond paper, but still clear enough to make out details. Drake uses captions as a way to identify the cars, people and events in the photographs, and that’s nearly all the story line that you will get. But his desire to record and save the past will be appreciated by those with an interest in hot rodding in Oregon. He began to write about the people and cars that he knew as a young man in the early 1980’s and his books have found a following among hot rodders around the country and in England, Australia, Europe and Japan, who are fascinated with that part of American culture. Drake even has a following in Southern California, where hot rodding began, or so they like to think. The writer did not put in an index and this is a serious flaw. These kinds of books will always have a limited audience. Historians need an index in order to write effectively. People and their cars that are in the book will want to see their names in the index. Besides the photos and the explanatory captions, there are miscellaneous inserts that help the reader to identify what it was like in the Portland area, over fifty years ago. There is so much more that Portland Pictorial, The 1950s could tell us, such as a short history of the car clubs, local drag and street racing and more biographical details.
Don’t sell Portland Pictorial, The 1950s short though. The photos and their captioned stories provide us with a great deal of history. It’s just that the readers have to dig it out for themselves, bit by bit. The format of Portland Pictorial, The 1950s is similar to benchracing with the gang on Saturday night, thumbing through the local hot rod club’s photo album and relishing the memories. By itself, Portland Pictorial, The 1950s will be rather dry reading for people who have no attachments to the Pacific Northwest. As an important piece of the history of hot rodding, this book will find a place in your library, especially on a regional basis. Drake’s writing style is simple, informative and direct. There were some great shots at the dragstrip with interesting innovations and styling in cars. Drake also shows a few popular drive-in restaurants and garages where the local kids hung out. He shows us photos of the road trip that the Road Angels took in 1953 to the Oakland Roadster Show. He mentions various car clubs; Dukes, Road Angels, Pacers, Ramblers, 49’ers, Gremlins, Shaundos, Slo Poks, Musketeers, Drifters, Kustoms, Half n Half, Kingpins, Mobileers, Leadfoots, Idlers, Dicers and more. There’s a lot to recommend in Portland Pictorial, The 1950s and I just wish Drake had given us even more.
Gone Racin’ is at RNPARKS2@JUNO.COM.