A Visit with Bill Junge

A Visit with Bill Junge
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A Visit with Bill Junge
March 12, 2010
Written by Bill Junge, edited by Richard Parks,
Photographs by Bill Junge, Photographic consultant Roger Rohrdanz 

My father Elmer met my mother Mary Newman in the small southern Illinois town of Nashville. He painted houses with his brother Edwin, and she was a waitress where they met. They were married in Festus, Missouri on Valentine's day in 1937. After they were married, they opened a small coffee shop, the Home Cafe, in Nashville. I was born at home in Nashville, on July 8, 1939 and my sister Julia Ann (Judy) was born there on September 23, 1940. Early in 1941, my dad drove to California with uncle Edwin to find work and then sent for my mom, sister and me. We arrived by train in Los Angeles, California just three days before Pearl Harbor was bombed (December 7, 1941) and lived in a small bungalow in Redondo Beach. During the war my dad worked in a shipyard during the day and in a bowling alley at night. I can remember the blackouts we had and hiding under the kitchen table with my mom and sister after the blinds were drawn and the lights were turned out. We lived near the ocean and there were reports of Japanese submarines just off the coast. During the war, my parents bought a house in a new tract in Redondo. There were many other families buying there with kids around our age. In fact, it seemed like every house around us in the 400 block of South Juanita Street had two or three kids and most were in the same grade as me or my sister.

Growing up in Southern California in the early 1950's was the ultimate for a person who loves cars. My interest in custom cars and hot rods began in Las Vegas, Nevada at about the age of 13 or 14 when my mom and dad went into a downtown Fremont Street casino and left me and my sister Judy standing outside on the corner sidewalk. It was dark but the street was brightly lit by all the signs. I can still picture myself standing there when a chopped Mercury coupe turned the corner and slowly cruised down the street. I had never seen anything like it and was spell-bound as he cruised by with the reflections of the signs bouncing off the mile deep paint on this smooth car. From that point on I bought every car magazine I could afford with my 25 cent allowance. My dad eventually opened his own bowling alley, the Redondo Bowling Palace in 1946, and my mom ran the coffee shop in the bowling alley. The Palace was a former dance hall built on the edge of the Pacific Ocean and the bowling alley was torn down when the downtown area was redeveloped. My mom was a stay at home mom after the bowling alley was sold in 1957 and my dad went on to manage other bowling centers in California and Arizona.

   Things that I remember as a young boy; walking to grade school in the dense fog, and my dad setting up a Lionel train layout in the basement he dug under our house. Taking turns bowling with my sister at the bowling alley as my dad was closing up for the night. I'd bowl and she would reset the pins by hand and then she would bowl and I'd do the same for her. We weren't big enough to use the pin setting machine so we'd just stand up the ones we knocked down. Later I set pins at my dad's bowling alley during summer vacation or when he needed a pin boy for a bowling league. My first real job after high school was washing dishes and rolling enchiladas at a restaurant where my best friend Norman Woodruff's mom was the head cook. Woody, as he was called, later got me a job where he was working in Culver City. From there I went to work for a Ford agency in Redondo in the Parts Department. My boss, Oscar Dunfee, was a Model A restorer and knew the part number for every part on those cars. I remember local hot rodders coming to the counter and asking me for a part for their old car and Oscar would tell me the part number before I had a chance to look it up in the catalog. That agency changed names three times (Ocean Motors, Ben Alexander Ford, and Leon Ames Ford) in the short time I worked there and I then moved to Bacon Ford in Hermosa Beach. 

 
  My 1941 Chevrolet coupe with the Vampires plaque on the gravel pan. Note the tag on the license plate says 1955.

I went to Central School, Hillcrest Junior High School and attended Redondo Union High School, all in Redondo Beach, where I graduated with the Class of 1957. I took metal and machine shop in high school and I wish now that we would have had a foundry at our school so I could have learned how to cast my own car club plaques. When I turned 16 in 1955, I joined the Vampires, a Southern California car club that was based in Gardena, California, not too far from my home in Redondo Beach. I proudly displayed my plaque on the gravel pan of my 1941 Chevy coupe to let everyone know that I was a Vampire. Jay Hathaway was a recent transfer to Redondo High from Gardena High and was a member of the Vampires. He lived in North Redondo and many of the first Vampires that I met lived in that area, including; Woody Woodruff, Jim Cresap, Dick Davis, and Benny Collins. Some of my friends from the South Redondo area were Pat Sims, Leonard Morgan, Pete Ralph, Dennis Colmer and Harry Thorns. Some of our outings included trips to the drags in Santa Ana and weekend camping trips to Rosamond Dry Lake before it was taken over by the government. I never knew it could get that cold in the desert after the sun went down. We would build huge fires to keep warm and the sloe gin would help too. One night Pat Sims rolled his 5W Chevy Pick-up when he hit a ditch while speeding across the dry lake bed in the dark, but only the truck suffered any damage. We later formed a new chapter and had new plaques made for the Vampires that had a different graphic and a different location.  We were now located in the South Bay instead of Southern California. The old group met in Gardena at one of the member's home and our new club met in the "play room" my dad had added onto our house in Redondo. Most of the members in the Gardena chapter were from all over and I guess that's why the plaque said So. Calif. I was also told there were other Vampire chapters in Southern California but never saw or met any of them. My friends and I were still in high school and the other Vampires were about three or four years older than us.

 
My mild custom 1949 Chevrolet Fleetline taken around 1957.  

When the Magoos were being formed in Hermosa Beach the following year, myself and a bunch of other Vampires jumped ship and joined them. New plaques and jackets were ordered and the Magoos plaque replaced the Vampires plaque on the package tray in my customized 1949 Chevy Fleetline. Later, the club purchased an engineless Willys coupe, an old race car that was set up with center steering and setback engine. I don't remember who owned or raced it originally, but it was plain looking with no decals or markings and I painted the Magoos name in large letters on the deck lid after we got it. Someone in the club had a mildly hopped up flathead that we installed and raced for a short time at Lions  Drag Strip in Wilmington, California. I remember my first time at the starting line in the seat of our coupe, the engine missing and my left leg shaking so much that I could hardly hold the clutch in. After what seemed like a 30 second ride, it was over and I received a timing slip showing that I went through the traps in our gasser at 78 MPH. We never had the money to get the car running well and eventually sold it. Going to the drags almost every Saturday night at Lions was looked forward to with the hope that the fog wouldn't roll in before the racing was completed. We spent many a Saturday night there and saw all the big name cars race. I remember that one night a new gasser was on the starting line; it was an early Studebaker sedan and I think it was owned or driven by Doug Cook. When he stood on it at the line the nose raised and the front fenders started flapping like it was trying to take off. I also remember Mickey Thompson's 4-engined Bonneville car being on display there and I have a couple of photographs of the car before it was painted.

 
  Woody's chopped Merc (The Moose) with a flat tire somewhere on Route 66 in the Texas panhandle on our way home from OKC in 1958.

During the summer of 1958, my friend Norman Woodruff and I caravanned with the Redondo Beach Drifters car club to Oklahoma City, where they raced two coupes at the National Drags. Woody's chopped and flamed Merc convertible with a Carson top drew many looks along the way as we took turns driving straight through on Route 66. Woody and I did everything together. He quit high school to go to work and bought a new 1956 Chevy pick-up. I would often take the pick-up and drive it to school, then take it to have work done on it after school while he worked. Once I took it to the Service Center in Compton to have a dropped axle and lowering blocks installed.  I also think that Doug Cook worked there. They sold a lot of speed equipment and Woody bought a 3x2 manifold for his Chevy Pick-up there. When the new '57 Chevy's hit the showroom, he sold the truck to a club member and bought a silver 210 H/T coupe that he also had lowered. Then one night while we were cruising in Long Beach he spotted the Merc convertible sitting on a used car lot. The next day he took his mom there to sign for a loan and drove it home. It had flames on the front and also on the deck lid. When Woody's mom saw it she said the flames on the trunk looked like moose antlers. From that time on the car's name was "The Moose." Making the trip to Oklahoma City on our own in the flathead powered Moose was truly exciting for a couple of 19 year olds. The sound of Art Arfon's Green Monster making a pass before I saw it go through the traps near where the Drifters cars were pitted had me thinking a plane was landing. Removing the Carson top and storing it in our motel room was a challenge for a couple of skinny kids.

It was on a Saturday evening in 1958 that I met my future wife at Lions Drag Strip. Her name was Lorraine Leger and she moved to Redondo from Montreal, Quebec, Canada when she was 14. One interesting thing was that she lived in my cousin Virginia's duplex for a short time. My cousin kept telling me that I should come over to meet this girl, but it never happened. After we met at the drags, Lorraine was looking through one of my dad's photo albums and saw my cousin's house. She told my dad that she used to live there and he said that was impossible, because it was where his niece lived. I found out that Lorraine was the girl that my cousin wanted me to meet. Lorraine is a couple of years younger than me, but she had skipped a year of school when she moved to California. She was in the same grade as my sister and also used to ride to school with Judy, but I had never met her at that time. The first time we met was at the arranged meeting at Lions. The date Lorraine had for her prom wanted to go with an old girlfriend, so he asked me if I would be her date and he brought her to the drag strip to meet me. After I saw how beautiful she was, I had to say "YES." While I was dating Lorraine, it was often she, Woody and me on a date. After we announced our engagement on December 25, 1958, the mother of a high school friend, who was a seamstress for the movie studios, volunteered to make Lorraine's wedding dress. Lorraine, Woody and I spent several Saturday nights at Lions cutting out lace with small scissors while we watched the drags from my car and these pieces would become parts of the dress. Woody was the best man at our wedding and years later married my sister. After they divorced, he married Kathy Donovan, who is Ed Donovan's widow and Woody now runs the machine shop at Donovan Engineering in Torrance, California.

Attending the Nationals at Oklahoma City was a once in a lifetime experience for me as I was married in 1959 and the '49 Chevy was sold. Then a house, kids and work became my new club. Woody used my new garage to build his blown DeSoto powered dragster, and I helped, but I could no longer afford any car related activities. My future mother-in-law talked me into going to work at American Latex Products in Hawthorne and I was there for a short time until my dad asked me to work for him at the newly opened 64 alley Wonder Bowl in Downey, where he was the General Manager. I spent the first 10 years of our marriage working graveyards 6 nights a week at WonderBowl and Palos Verdes Bowl in Torrance. Lorraine and I lived in an apartment in Redondo when we were first married. My father and mother helped us to get our first home in Redondo so that we could bring our first baby home to a real house. We lived there until we retired in 1996. Our son Rick was born on August 20, 1960. Our daughter Caroline was born on my father's birthday, October 25, 1963. Our last child, Janice was born on February 24, 1966. They all went to Redondo High School. Raising a family was lots of work and there was no extra money. After my bowling alley years, I worked as a traveling mobile home serviceman for Silvercrest Industries in Norwalk for a few years, until they promoted me to the purchasing department. My next job was as a buyer for Die Cast Products, a foundry in Gardena, and from there to another job in purchasing at The Aerospace Corporation, until I retired as a Senior Procurement Administrator.  During my working years I continued attending races as a spectator, going to Lions, Riverside, Long Beach, Ontario, El Mirage, Muroc and other places with my son. He also developed a love for racing and now his son is racing Go-karts. We also spent most of our summer vacations water skiing with friends Rodger & Karen Gregerson who had a V-drive flat bottom that I helped with when he was setting it up. In the 1980's I took some classes at El Camino Junior College and the University of Phoenix but never intended on graduating from college.

 
My 1951 Studebaker Champion 4 door sedan built by The Ernies in 1994.   

By the early 1990's my children are grown and have left the house and I now have extra money to spend on myself. I started buying car magazines again and while Lorraine was visiting relatives in Montreal, Canada, where she was born, I saw an ad for a 1951 Studebaker Champion 4 door sedan that was for sale. I had recently seen a Studebaker Starlight Coupe featured in Rod & Custom and thought this would be a cool car to customize. I made a deal for it and had it towed to my house. When I got it home, I started thinking about what I'd like to do with it but was unsure of how I'd get it done with my limited skill and knowledge. Luckily I met the Belchers, Ernie and Ernie Jr, known in the South Bay area as "The Ernies," at the Pomona Swap Meet.  The Ernies are a talented father and son duo in Torrance and they took me under their wing after I met them in 1993. They built my Studebaker in about ten months working evenings and on weekends. Ernie Jr built his wild Studemino after he finished my car and they had also added a Studebaker front clip to Don Atwood's '50 Chevy Fleetline "Studolet." The three amigos would often attend shows together with Ernie Sr's chopped '47 Chevy Coupe or '60 Olds H/T Coupe parked next to us. I have a website for Studebakers called Bullet Nose Paradise and both Ernie Jr and Don Atwood's Studolet are pictured there on the phantom page. The URL is http://www.citlink.net/~junge/ if you would like to take a look. When I talked to them about helping me build the car, I was almost embarrassed to say it was a Studebaker. This was a car I wouldn't have been caught dead in when I was cruising around Redondo Union High School in 1957. When it was finished a year later, I joined a club that was started by an old Magoos friend by the name of Louie Pina, who had also formed the Cruisin '50's in the South Bay.

The Strictly Fifties club from Torrance had plaques and I added one to my growing collection. I was only in this club for a short time before we moved to Arizona. I spent most of my time attending car shows in my "new" Studebaker with the Ernies’. I also became interested in the art work on plaques that I would see at the shows I was attending with my car. I began taking photos of the plaques with our newly purchased, state of the art, digital camera. It recorded the images on a 3-1/2" floppy disk at somewhere around a whopping 1/3 of a Mega Pixel. In September of 1996, my wife and I both retired from The Aerospace Corporation in El Segundo and sold our house in Redondo that we had lived in for 36 years. It was then that I found my old plaques from the Vampires and Magoos that were packed away a long, long time ago and they were moved with us to our new home in Lake Havasu City, Arizona. I joined the local car club, Relics & Rods in 1998 and added another plaque to my collection. When I was asked to take over as webmaster for the club's website, I jumped at the opportunity so I could post the photos I had collected on that site. Relics & Rods started in the mid-70's and they host the annual Run to the Sun car show each October. We were sponsored into the club by Fuzzy and Vi Anderson. Fuzzy is an old time dry lakes racer that went on to race jalopies and Hudsons at the start of what was to become NASCAR. His Miller OHV powered Model A is a replica of the car he drove on Harper dry lake back in the late 1930's. Jack and Ethel Carpenter still drive around in Jack's Willy's touring car that he made into a roadster pick-up in the early 1950's. Both of these cars are featured on the club members web pages on our club's website. Lake Havasu City, Arizona is believed to have the most old cars per capita than anywhere else in the United States and it's a great place to live if you like old cars like I do. 

What started as a small project has now grown to something I never could have imagined. As people found our site, they sent photos of their old plaques, their dad's plaque or the plaques they had in their collections. Other interested people took photos at car shows they attended across the country and sent them to me including some of the photographers that contribute photos to Hot Rod Hot Line. I now have over 5,000 different car club plaques posted on www.relicsandrods.com. If you have a plaque, or two, or two hundred, that you'd like to have documented on our site, you can E-mail photographs to relicrod@pair.com. A future expansion of this project could include information about the clubs and their members. I would also like to know any history of your club, or a club you have knowledge of, so it can be added to this archive. And if you're looking for a plaque to replace the one your mom threw away when you left home, let me know which club you belonged to. I may be able to help you locate one. When I see a car with a plaque at a show, the people will often ask me why I'm taking a photograph of it and I have to explain why. I've also received permission to use photographs posted on the internet. Stan Chersky bought one of my extra Vampire car club plaques from an eBay auction and I got to meet him and see his collection. He has thousands of car club plaques and his collection has been featured in several magazine articles, the latest in Hot Rod Deluxe. I've met a lot of nice people with all kinds of car club stories to tell and I hope that my efforts to document some of them on our website will provide a history of these clubs. I look forward to living long enough to find and add another 5,000 club plaques to our site. And as a footnote, I added a new plaque to my collection in 2005 when I had some made for myself and some friends here in Lake Havasu City. Our "club" is called the Dry Heat Geezers and I have plaques on the Studebaker and Ernie Sr.'s purple 60 Olds Super 88 H/T coupe that I bought from him in 2002. Lorraine and I celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary on August 1, 2009, in Yosemite National Park. We have seven grandchildren from the age of 14 to 25.

Gone Racin' is at RNPARKS1@JUNO.COM.  Bill Junge is at WWW.RELICSANDRODS.COM.