I always look forward to attending the Grand National Roadster Show and the Pinstriper’s Reunion in Building 4. Our good friend John Buck, the promoter of the Show, reached out to Von Hot Rod years ago and offered him and the Pinstriper’s Circus a spot to hold their extravaganza. Roger and I arrived on Thursday, a set-up day before the spectators were allowed into the show. Several of the pinstripers were busy setting up tables and putting down a protective plastic protection, to keep the paint spills off of them. Other pinstripers were working on the stage and getting their work ready for the auction. Though they still had 24 hours to go, there was a feverish pace. The pinstripers were preparing for a very big event and they wanted everything to go well. In the old days pinstripers had a rugged and wild reputation, greatly deserved or undeserved based on one’s perspective. I had heard that a few tattoers had been escorted out of several shows and some people have that same feeling about the modern day pinstripers; but not me. I love those guys; and girls too. Pinstriping is such a gas to watch as the artists stripe everything and anything that comes within reach. If you ask for it, they will do it and this amazing artwork unfolds so quickly before your eyes. Pinstripers have such a zest for life. They are such an unselfish lot and a little bit of praise goes a long way with them. How they could ever be thought of in the same light as tattoers is befuddling. Actually, I like the tattoers too, but they are harder to find or maybe they just won’t let a dull guy like me into their parties.
The big event for the pinstripers is the auction of their art work for charitable causes. You should see them get down on themselves when they can’t get enough contributions to reach their goal. Von Hot Rod loses his voice doing the best example of an auctioneer this side of the Chicago stockyards. He has a resonant, booming voice that bidders ought to pay just to hear. I’m always unprepared for the auctions. I never bring enough money and I dare not bring the checkbook. Usually the bidding starts in around $30 or $40 and rises quickly. Von Hot Rod has 50 or more objects to auction off and the goal is to break into five figures. The pinstripe treasures range from miniature surfboards, panels of wood, plastic and metal, lunch boxes, guitars, candy machines, purses, toy cars, bowling pins, helmets and whatever strikes their fancy. Almost all of these beautiful pieces of art are sold for less than they would fetch in a retail store. Sometimes for a lot less. I make a lousy shill. I’m usually in on the opening bid and fall out seconds later. As I said before, I never bring enough money. I’m after Von Raven’s oil paintings, or anything Herb Martinez, Tom Kelley, Butchr or Styles stripes. They’re out of my league. Even the new guys are rapidly rising above my budget. The ladies are entering the world of pinstriping with a vengeance and they bring a certain style and class that complements the men. The ladies that were pinstriping this year included Jennifer Hallett, Kiera Brady, and Kit Kat Harrigan.
All this activity was for a cause; to raise money for charities that tug at the heartstrings of the pinstripers. One cause was the Spinal Muscular Atrophy and The Gwendolyn Strong Foundation. Their goal is to find a cure for this genetic killer of young children. The other cause is the Progeria Research Foundation which supports research into this genetic disease that causes children to age and die literally right in front of our eyes. Chip Foose’s sister died of this horrible affliction. Wherever the pinstripers hold their traveling show at car events, which they call the Pinstripers Circus, they auction off their work to support local charities. I am always attracted to their booths and tables wherever and whenever they put on one of their shows. Here are just a few of the pinstripers who were at the Grand National Roadster Show, and they often go by just their aliases. ‘Hot Dog’ has been a car painter and pinstriper for twenty-five years and has a full size paint shop in the San Diego area. Keith Heidy got him interested in pinstriping. ‘Kong’ attends a lot of car shows in the San Diego area, where he picks up a lot of his business. ‘Kong’ is still running with the Pinstripers Circus and will be appearing at the Sacramento Autorama. He told me that the business climate has been fair during the recession, but is starting to pick up and it is better this year versus last year. He likes to do Harley and motorcycle striping and attend car and bike events. ‘Kong’ has been at every GNRS that I’ve attended and is a real supporter of the Circus and fund raising efforts.
Butch Tucker has been pinstriping for 54 years and this puts him in the same time span as Herb Martinez, Tom Kelly, Von Dutch, Ed ‘Big Daddy’ Roth and other pinstriping artists. These are the guys that the young pinstripers look up to and try to emulate. Butch goes by the alias of ‘Butchr’ and resides and works out of the Phoenix, Arizona area. This is his first year at the GNRS. Butchr, along with Tony Perez and Ron Hernandez promote pinstriper.com and the Arizona Pinstripers Reunion. “I’ve been to Gary Jensen’s pinstripers reunion in Salt Lake City, where fifty to sixty ‘stripers show up,” Butchr said. He mentioned Jeff Styles and Blaine Scott as friends of his. “I started pinstriping in 1958 in the Mesa area when I saw Jamie Jamison stripe. He worked for Dean Jeffries and Larry Watson. Jamie moved to Mesa and taught me how to pinstripe. I also looked at books and learned a lot from reading about other stripers. In the 1970’s I worked for Von Dutch in Arizona. Dutch was the nicest guy in the world when he was one on one with another person, but groups made him anxious and then he got difficult to deal with. Lots of guys came to Arizona with AMT, a model car company, and when they did they came to see Dutch. He used to tell me, ‘there are no mistakes in pinstriping,’ because you just changed the design. Dutch always demanded payment up front, because what he striped was what he felt like striping, not necessarily what the owner wanted done,” Butchr added. “He was outrageous at times. I remember when he said to me, ‘This car is so ugly I wouldn’t put my stripes on it,’ and then he striped the inside of the car. When the owner came he had this puzzled look and said to Von Dutch, ‘Dutch, why haven’t you finished my car.’ Dutch opened the doors, hood and trunk and there was all the striping. But Dutch liked to play with his reputation and make it sound more bizarre than it really was. He knew what people thought about him and he amplified it. He had this casket in his garage and he put it in his bay, below the floor. The rumors spread that Dutch would sleep in his casket, so when someone came by the shop, he would get into the casket and an accomplice who was in on the joke would lead the customer in and stomp on the casket, ‘Dutch, wake up, you’ve got a customer,’ and Dutch would open the casket, sit up and rub his eyes,” Butchr concluded.
‘Diablo’ was back for another reunion. He has been at all of the GNRS events that I can recall. Half the year he leafs and stripes and the other half of the year he builds some radical custom cars. “I build pre-1965 hot rods and Kustoms and I do all the work but the upholstery,” he said. I asked him why he doesn’t do that as well. “Takes special machinery and I don’t do stitchery,” he added. ‘Diablo’ said the job market is a bit slow and he “may have to look at getting a job,” he told me with a twinkle in his eye. You can look him up on Diablo Artwerks on Facebook. ‘Big Chris’ is called that for a reason; not all pinstripers are small and compact. This is his first Pinstripers Reunion at the GNRS and he has only been striping for 2 and a half years. He’s from San Dimas and has loved art all his life. ‘Big Chris’ hangs out with ‘Kong’ and participates in the traveling Pinstripers Circus. To make ends meet he is a general contractor but his goal is to make a full time living striping. His specialty is mini-wooden surfboards which he designed and makes, and then puts a wood finish and stripes. When he is finished they look like the metal boards, but are lighter and have a real glow to them. He is self-taught and learns from YouTube videos and books. ‘Dr D’ comes from Deland, Florida and told me that last year was really busy and profitable for him. He’s the only pinstriper at the Summer Nights Cruise in Somerset, Kentucky. ‘Dr D’ is looking forward to the Daytona Bike Week that is coming up soon. This is his 4th year at the GNRS and he loves coming to the west coast. “I do more bikes than cars, but I prefer cars. Car people give you more freedom to design. Motorcycles are smaller and more confined,” ‘Dr D’ told me.
‘TBonez’ comes from Livermore, California. “I do pinstriping as a hobby, not really as a business. I enjoy striping. I retired after thirty-five years as a letter carrier for the post office. I’ve been drawing since I was four years old, and striping since I was six. I’m self-taught though I’ve taken classes given by Herb Martinez. I do digital copies. There are lots of people using the computer that are doing digital and workshop copies of pinstriping,” TBonez said. Next to him was the table occupied by the master himself, Herb Martinez, festooned with books, brushes and other pinstriping products for sale. Martinez is not only one of the best of the best, but he has set a goal to educate the public and promote striping wherever he goes and he travels on behalf of the vocation that he has dedicated his life to. Pinstripe Planet sells for $25 and 8500 copies have been printed. Herb Martinez’s Guide to Pinstriping is a hard cover book that sells for a very reasonable price of $40, with 5000 copies printed. Not only does his books attract attention from stripers willing and anxious to learn his techniques, but fans of striping love this book as a centerpiece of their art world collections. Herb carries a line of Brushes and tools to the shows that he attends and is sponsored by 1-Shot Paints, Fashion Paints, KK Colors and Mack Brush. “I’m out to train the world in pinstriping,” he beamed. His first video on pinstriping was put on DVD back in 2002. All of the stripers are outgoing and personable, but Martinez is a self-made PR man for the genre. He sees another ‘newby’ and off he goes to spread the religion and I move to the next table to interview ‘Spiderman.’
Don Fite is from Portland, Oregon and is called the ‘Spiderman.’ This is his second GNRS and he has been striping for twenty years as well as lettering and he makes a good living. He prefers striping cars. “Originally I was from California and I got involved taping cars for paint jobs. I watched Herb Martinez stripe and he showed me a few things and that’s how I became a striper,” ‘Spiderman’ explained. Harry Malicoat has been a pinstriper for 40 years and hails from Fresno, California. This was Harry’s second reunion at the GNRS. He is self-taught, but Malicoat also has a degree in design at Cal-Poly and Fresno State. He goes beyond striping to all kinds of fine art, including portraiture and the use of colored pencil artwork. A very eager and energetic young pinstriper is Jennifer Hallett. I asked her if she was related to the Hallett boat company and she just laughed; “I wish,” she said. Jennifer has been striping for six years and this is her first GNRS Pinstripers Reunion. She also travels with the Pinstripers traveling circus. Jennifer is from Orange, California, and is self-taught, though she finds inspiration in the work of Jeff Styles. “I like to stripe panels and objects with shapes to them. I especially like to work on musical instruments; I will stripe anything,” she said enthusiastically. ‘Logan’ is actually Logan Styles, the fifteen year old son of Jeff Styles, and he has been striping for three years. Logan has an air of nonchalance about him, having been around one of the premiere pinstripers in the nation all his life. “I’ve been striping for three years and I like to do panels,” he told me in response to my questioning. Then Logan added the following, “I want to be a firefighter one day.”
Eric Malicoat worked for his father, Harry, in his youth. Eric now works for a sign shop and has been a striper for several years now. He comes from the Pismo Beach area and likes working on glass or clear plastic. His work shined with a special brilliance as the light illuminated the painted designs. Tom Kelly was a contemporary of all the famous 1950’s pinstripers and knew them all. He is the unparalleled master among all the pinstripers who look up to this man with a respect that transcends all the other pinstripers. Many of the pinstripers learned their craft from Kelly and owe him a great deal. He has been striping before most of them were born and there is a respect for him that goes very deep. A young man with lots of talent and drive is Joseph ‘Rhythm’ Ramirez, who has been striping for two years and is attending his first GNRS Pinstriping Reunion. He comes from the Pico Rivera area and is also a known muralist. I asked him about that part of his artistic life. “I’m a legal graffiti artist. Companies hire me to come in and paint over illegal graffiti that frightens away their business customers. Sometimes my murals are vandalized, but that just means more work for me. The biggest mural that I worked on was fifteen by thirty feet in size and I have plenty of business in my area. The sides of buildings are my canvas,” he told me. A young lady who also has lots of energy and talent is Kiera Brady who has been pinstriping for three years and is a part of the traveling pinstripers circus. She works around the Riverside/Orange County areas and as she left to join the others on the stage for the group photo, someone mentioned that Kiera is only 16 years old. Look for a lot more success to come in this talented young lady.
Dave Whittle also went up on the stage to be in the group portrait and this gave me a chance to interview his wife, Cathey Whittle. I always like to interview the wives because they give me a completely different view of the artists. “I go to some of the shows with Dave. It’s really a fun thing to do. Dave has had his shop now for forty years and we are located in the Norco area. He does oil painting as well as striping and is quite an artist. He’s now into computer graphics and drawing. There are three shows that I like to go to with Dave, and he is involved with about fifteen shows a year,” Cathey said. Cathey and Dave have three children; two boys and a girl and all of them have Dave’s artistic traits. “I work in a law office in Corona during the day, while Dave has his shop and keeps busy with his work,” she added. I asked her about the economy and the impact that it has had on the stripers. “When one kind of art has a lull, Dave keeps busy with another type of artwork. He is very talented and adapts to the marketplace. He does graphic art and makes t-shirts, banners and other artwork for high school teams, baseball and football leagues. Then there is pinstriping too. In his spare time he likes to play the guitar,” Cathey concluded. ‘Kit Kat’ Harrigan came from Grand Rapids, Michigan to participate in her first GNRS Pinstripers Reunion. “I’m so happy to be here among the crowds and warm, nice weather,” she beamed. “I started pinstriping when I was fifteen years old and that was thirty-five years ago. My mother was a furniture designer and that’s how I got started in the business, by helping her. I’m self-taught, but I did take courses in art at Aquinus College where I got my fine arts degree. All of my family is artistic and I grew up in that environment. I also do sign painting, that’s where most of my business comes from and I love to go horseback riding in the woods in Michigan,” Kit Kat said.
Ron Myers represented the mid west, coming from Tulsa, Oklahoma to attend his 5th GNRS Pinstripers Reunion. He started striping in 1959 and has been at it for 52 years. “I’m basically self-taught and about 99% of my work is with hot rods. I also paint graphic signs and my inspirations are Tom Kelly, Dean Jeffries and Larry Watson. Dean is my idol,” Ron mentioned. Eric ‘Eggie’ Foust has been striping for eight years and this is his fourth GNRS Pinstripers Reunion. “I’m basically self-taught, but I look up to and emulate Herb Martinez and Craig Judd. I’m also a sign painter as well as a striper,” Foust said. Wild Bill is simply Wild Bill. I once had his full name, but I’ve forgot it and everyone knows him by one of the coolest names in pinstriping. He’s been striping and doing artwork for as long as many of the greats; Kelly, Martinez, Butchr, Myers, Spina, and so many more. Von Dutch, Big Daddy, Larry Watson, Dean Jeffries, the names just roll off the tongue and Wild Bill fits into that group. A younger striper with a cool name is ‘Chilin’ Isidro Aguilara. This is ‘Chilin’s second GNRS and the sixth year that he has been striping. He comes from the Rancho Cucamonga area. “This is all that I do and I’m making a living doing it,” he says. “I go to shows to get business. I’m self-taught, but I look up to and am influenced by Dave Whittle, Von Dutch, Butchr and others who came before me. This is the second year that I’ve been on Von Hot Rod’s traveling pinstripers reunion,” ‘Chilin’ stated. He does really well with purses and skate boards.
Jeremy Pedersen is also a returnee to the GNRS. This is his third reunion and he is very glad to be escaping the cold weather back east. His goes by the name ‘Relic’ and he has been striping for six years now, back in his hometown of Austin, Minnesota. “I’m self-taught, but I look up to all the originals who have come before. This work is all that I do and I make a living from it. I also do art work, screen printing and car painting,” ‘Relic’ told me. D. A. Garcia has been striping for fifteen years and this is his third GNRS reunion. He comes from Whittier, California and is a self-taught striper who admires Larry Watson. Garcia is also a member of the traveling pinstripers circus that was founded years ago by Von Hot Rod to bring the history and art of pinstriping to car shows and charity events. “I make a living from striping and my art,” he said with pride. Mitch Kelly is the son of Tom Kelly and he has the same no-nonsense character that his famous father has. Both the Kelly’s also have a heart of gold to match. Mitch is not as much of a striper as his dad, but he’s a great car and truck painter and works well with his father. “I don’t like my dad getting up on the ladder to stripe the big trucks, so I do that. I’ve been a painter for 37 years and started when I was 13 years old. PPG is my biggest customer and though times have been hard, I’ve actually done quite well. Other paint shops in the area have had to close and that’s given me more business. I’ve got three employees and I share my shop with my dad. I’ve seen an increase in business lately,” Mitch added. He showed me photographs of some of the huge trucks that he paints and his dad helps to stripe. It was reassuring to see a father and son business still in operation after all these years. Soon the auction would begin. Would I finally get that special panel that I’ve been after? See me at the next Pinstripers Reunion and I’ll tell you.