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A Visit with Jim Moore
07-07-08
Biography by Jim Moore and editing By Richard Parks photographic consultant Roger Rohrdanz

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Richard & Roger

 In 1929, the year of the stock market crash and the beginning of the Great Depression, my dad, James A. Moore Jr, a graduate of Dartmouth College, was fortunate to obtain a job with the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company manufacturing plant in South Gate, California.  He was hired as a member of “The Bull Gang,” a group of husky men who unloaded carbon black from freight cars at the plant.  This was before there were palletized shipments and fork lifts.  His starting rate of pay was 35 cents per hour.  Thankfully, he was able to advance fairly rapidly with Firestone, and went on to become the plant’s Director of Industrial Relations, a position he held until he retired in 1967.  A few years ago I discovered in a conversation with SCTA archivist, Jack Underwood, that his father also spent many years at the South Gate plant.  Not long after my dad joined Firestone, my uncle, John F. “Johnny” Moore also got a job there, after trying to eke out a living as a taxi cab driver. Johnny began working for Waldo Stein; the company’s racing tire manager.  In addition to their regular jobs, both my dad and Johnny volunteered as drivers in the company’s test fleet program.  The purpose of the test fleet was to drive the highways of Southern California testing experimental tires.  One of the favorite stops for the test fleet was a roadside berry stand in Buena Park where one could get a cup of coffee and a slice of Cordelia Knott’s boysenberry pie.  That small stand went on to become the well-known tourist attraction, Knott’s Berry Farm.  While in high school, I worked at Knott’s as a bus boy in the Steak House.  The pay was a buck an hour and you had to bring your own lunch.

The American Automobile Association was the primo sanctioning body for all types of oval track racing in those days and Firestone was the sole racing tire provider at those events.  The AAA was also involved in other types of speed events like automobile endurance testing at the Bonneville Salt Flats, and again, Firestone was there.  Land speed record holder Ab Jenkins ran Firestones on his Mormon Meteor racer. Johnny was also at Bonneville in 1947 when the Englishman John Cobb exceeded 400 mph in his Railton streamliner, although the car was not on Firestones.  After Johnny got involved in racing events with Firestone, my folks would often accompany him to tracks in the Los Angeles area.  My dad would help him in the pits while my mother, Clara Minor Moore, a schoolteacher, would sit in the stands reading a book.  Dad used to joke she wouldn’t even look up from her book when there was a crash on the track.  During this time, in the early 1930’s, before I was born, the Moore's came to know most of the race drivers of the period including Indy winners Louis “Louie” Meyer, Wilbur Shaw and Kelly Petillo, who was Italian and signed his name with an “X,” because he couldn't read.  My folks were particularly fond of Rex Mays, and Louie Meyer would go on to become a lifelong friend of my uncle John.  When Louie retired from racing, he started an engine rebuilding company called Meyer and Welch, which sold rebuilt flathead Ford engines through Ford dealers nationwide.  During World War II, Louie built a killer engine for Johnny’s ‘41 Ford business coupe.  I loved riding in that car, since it was also equipped with “dual pipes.”  Was that cool or what?

Among the race tracks the Moore's attended in the area in the early ‘30’s were Ascot, Mine’s Field (now LAX), and later Gilmore Stadium (now the site of CBS Television City).  My mother’s trips to the racetracks ended on March 19, 1935, when I was born at Monte Sano hospital in Glendale and I was named James Alexander Moore III, after my dad and granddad.  At that time, my folks lived in Walnut Park, but in 1937 they moved to Fullerton, in Orange County.  Meanwhile, Johnny’s responsibilities in the Racing Tire Division increased, when he was promoted to replace the ailing Waldo Stein.  In addition to traveling to AAA races in the western states, he also became the number one tire guy at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  While preparing to go to Indy one year, Johnny was approached by a lanky young man who delivered laundered uniforms to the plant.  Johnny had come to know this young Huntington Park resident during his regular deliveries, and soon learned the laundry deliveryman wanted to work for Firestone and go to Indy with the crew.  For Johnny, it was a done deal until he found out his aspiring crewmember was too young to work at Indy.  His name was Wally Parks.  The family's move to Fullerton resulted in an 18 mile commute to the South Gate plant for my dad, so he traded his old Studebaker in at Lindt-Wilson Ford in South Gate, for a new ‘37 Ford Tudor flatback, powered by an economical V8-60 engine.  To this day, I maintain the ‘37 flatback had to be one of the most butt-ugly Fords Henry ever made, but it served our family well until the war ended and it was replaced by a ‘46 Ford sedan.

As a kid growing up in Fullerton before the war, my racing interests were constantly being fueled by my Uncle John’s stories of his job with Firestone, and he would often bring me souvenirs from the track.  He was a single guy, who liked high performance cars, and often showed up with a new ride; my favorite was a Buick Century with twin carburetors.  In addition to my uncle’s influence there was quite a bit of hot rod activity in pre-war Fullerton, although the cars were called “gow jobs,” not hot rods, a post war name.  I can recall seeing a few Hiboy roadsters around our town of 10,000 as well as some pretty neat coupes.  Those cars all but disappeared when the war

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Jim Moore with Chet Herbert's "Beast" at Bonneville. 1953

began on December 7, 1941.  I was 6 years old at that time.  I attended local schools graduating from Fullerton High School in 1952.  Many years later, I learned that one of the very first dry lakes racing clubs was formed in 1934 by a handful of Fullerton High students, calling their club the Knight Riders. Among the members were Duke Hallock and his brother, John Bean, and Ed Adams, who lived a couple of blocks from my home.  When the Southern California Timing Association was formed in 1937, Ed Adams became the Association’s first president.  From what my friend Frank Currie told me, the first of the famous Hallock windshield frames was cast in the Fullerton High School foundry.  John Bean later owned the local sporting goods store, and often repaired my bicycle for me, but I never knew he had a roadster or had been a member of the Knight Riders.

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Johnny Moore flanked by mechanics Coon (L) and Travers, with Bill “Vukie” Vukovich at Indy.

Bernie Couch told me the Knight Riders changed their name to the California Roadster Club in 1946, in an effort to be more socially acceptable.  Bernie, by the way, bought his 1932 Ford roadster from McCoy and Mills Ford in Fullerton in 1941, and became a member of the CRC in’46, participating in dry lakes racing for several years.  Amazingly, Bernie still has his roadster, having recently rebuilt his motor with new Navarro heads he bought from Barney Navarro shortly before Barney passed away.  At 83, Bernie is a very active member of the current California Roadster Club.  By the time I got to high school, the predominant dry lakes club around Fullerton was the Strokers, an SCTA club from

Whittier.  Mac McGaughey, who was a couple of years ahead of me, had a Model-A Hiboy powered by a hot 4 banger, which he would drive to school.  His car had a “Cragars” plaque on it, but I know nothing of the history of this club.  Mac eventually became a serious dry lakes racer, and replaced the Cragar with a flathead V8.  In 1949, the SCTA got permission to stage time trials at the Bonneville Salt Flats, and Uncle John and Firestone were there.  By 1953, I had finally managed to talk Johnny into letting me go to the salt with him to be his official “gofer.”  From the beginning, he was aware that the hot rodders needed safer tires to use in land speed time trials, and it had taken him four years to persuade the Firestone brothers to build tires capable of handling 300 mph; the “Firestone Bonneville” tires made their debut on the salt that year.

One of my jobs at Bonneville, probably contrived by my uncle to keep me out of his hair, was to take a clipboard and go check each entry to see what kind of tires were being used.  Except for the new Bonneville's and a few old Indy tires, the racers were running passenger tires. Virtually every tire manufactured in that era was there including Goodyear, Goodrich, U.S. Royal, Armstrong, Atlas, Fisk, et al.  Fortunately, I saw no one running Pep Boys’ Cornell Clippers, though I saw one roadster from Washington State that had a

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Bob Morton, Isky, Jim Moore, Warren "Hoke" Hokinson at the 2005 Gas Up at Mendenhall's.

different brand of tire on each wheel.  Lee Chappel did not choose to run the Bonneville tires on his streamliner since the wheel covers, in his opinion, would stick up too high.  Instead, he chose to use General aircraft tires upon which he shaved the treads.  Unfortunately, one of the tires blew at speed, destroying his beautiful streamliner.  Luckily, his driver was not seriously injured.  In 1956, I bought a ‘40 Ford coupe in Buena Park for $80.  It didn’t run, but the body was decent, except for the rear fenders, which obviously had been hammered out a number of times.  I had planned to put an Olds or Cad engine in the ‘40, but heard about a ‘55 Chevy engine a local drag racer had taken out of his ‘55 sedan and replaced with a ‘56, “because it had better heads.”  I bought the engine and scored an adapter from Dean Moon, and ended up with one of the first Chevy powered Fords in Orange County.  I had a lot of fun with the little high-winding 265 until I sold it when I went in the Army.

  During the time I owned the ’40 I met Frank Currie, who had graduated from Fullerton High the year before I entered the school.  Frank lived in the family home on Euclid Avenue near the Fullerton-Anaheim border.  A friend had spotted Frank’s ‘31 Model A pickup and noticed the massive chrome valve covers protruding from the sides of the truck.  It was a Chrysler hemi.  We went to Frank’s place and introduced ourselves, and thus began a friendship that has endured to this day.  He was engaged, and would soon marry Evelyn, now his beloved wife of over 50 years.  Frank is the kindest, most generous, and most talented guy I have ever met.  At the time he was working for Taylor-Dunne in Anaheim, a manufacturer of golf carts, and he would have us save any early Ford rear ends we came across to sell to his employer to use in their carts.  Eventually, he left Taylor-Dunne to become their rear-end supplier.  When the old Ford banjo rear-ends became scarce, Frank switched to 9 inch Fords, which were unpopular with wrecking yards since they never broke or needed to be replaced.  He offered to buy the 9 inchers for $10 each and stationed dumpsters at the yards so they could be easily collected.  Thus began the Currie Enterprises dynasty, which has grown into a multi million-dollar business.  Frank’s business philosophy is amazingly simple: Pay all the bills at the end of the month and what’s left is profit.  He is now retired and it would be redundant here to describe his many automotive exploits.  His sons now run the business and are continuing to introduce innovative products for racing, street rods, and off road applications.

  I enlisted in the Army's six-year active reserve program while at Whittier College, which was an alternative to the draft at the time. My unit, the 306th Psychological Warfare Battalion was based at Fort Ord and Fort MacArthur in California. After my release from Army active duty, I bought a ‘54 Porsche after reading about them in Road and Track.  My venture into the sporty car world was short lived when I realized there was very little I could do to hop up a foreign car.  I had read an article in Hot Rod about how to install a small block Chevy in an Austin Healey 100 roadster and decided that might be the way to go.  I bought a ‘54 Healey and found a ‘56 Corvette engine salvaged from a wreck, which my friend Frank installed for me at a phenomenal cost of one hundred bucks.  By this time, I had gotten married and started doing all of those domestic things that married guys do, like looking for a house to buy.  I sold the Healey to the manager of the Ontario airport, one of the few car transactions I ever made money on, and bought a fixer upper in Fullerton.  My hot rod activities were put on the back burner until 1976, when I happened upon a street rod meet in Santa Maria, where my wife and I lived.  After seeing all of those familiar shapes and hearing those familiar sounds I got the car bug again and have never looked back.  I am blessed to be married to the perfect wife, Sharon, who tolerates my hot rod activities and during our time together, I have built nearly a dozen cars.  We currently have a ‘32 Ford Hiboy roadster running a ’55 DeSoto and a 4 speed Saginaw, and I’m in the process of building a Brookville bodied ’32 Ford Hiboy roadster pickup equipped with a ’52 Cadillac and a T5. After working at the Firestone Tire plant, I left to become the personnel manager with the Columbia Records Division of CBS in Santa Maria, California. I have two daughters, Melissa and Jennifer, and two grandsons, Zachary and Alex. Zachary is a police officer in Tacoma, Washington and Alex is a student at Washington State University. 

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Jim Moore's ’55 DeSoto powered, '32 roadster at the 2005 L.A. Roadster's Show.

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Jim Moore's '32 roadster pickup, currently under construction

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