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Pinstripers Reunion

Grand National Roadster Show at Pomona, Calif.
Jan 28, ‘07
Story by Richard Parks, photographs by Roger Rohrdanz

  We met Von Hot Rod at the Grand National Roadster Show at the Fairplex in Pomona, California. The event ran for three days, from January 26 through the 28, 2007. John Buck, the owner and promoter of the Roadster Show asked Hot Rod if he would like to have space in the main building complex for the Pinstripers Reunion. Hot Rod organized the event as an invitational only Pinstripers Reunion, the twelfth in a series of annual affairs. Von Hot Rod is very passionate about his work and hot rodding. His father was a drag racer, and father and son were around cars all their life. They spent a great deal of time together in junkyards salvaging parts and building hot rods. This searching for parts gave Hot Rod the idea to open his own business called ‘Hot Rod’s of Norco,’ in Norco, California. After he semi-retired, he focused more on his pinstriping, and all the other related fields to this art. Vinyl and decals were starting to take over. It was much easier to peel off a piece of vinyl and attach a design than it was to have an artist create designs. It was also cheaper and much faster, but it lacked the warmth and creativity that only comes with hands, eyes and the passion of the mind. He reached out to others in the pinstriping community and organized a reunion in the middle 1990’s. Von Hot Rod wants to get new blood and students in the art. He travels around the country, and to Japan, for the art of pinstriping and to do workshops in this field. He is a patient mentor and teacher and there is a big demand by those who want to take his workshops and classes. The 2006 SEMA show in Las Vegas, Nevada, where Von did one of his workshops, brought a lot of attention and new converts to this art. 

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Some of the art that was auctioned to raise more than $8000 for their charity the House of Ruth, a halfway house and counseling center for abused and battered women and children.

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Von Hot Rod from Riverside, CA. Behind him is some of the art that was auctioned off for charity.

  If I asked most people what a pinstriper was, the answers would be in a narrow range. A pinstriper is someone like Von Dutch or Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, and they are wild and crazy artists. The problem with perceived generalities is that we are often deceived by our own prejudices. The men and women who have taken up the art of pinstriping are artistic and creative. Some of them are wild and crazy, as in passionate to a fault about their profession. The truth about pinstripers and their art is far more interesting than the rumors that follow them. I found them to be kind and generous, and rarely envious of the talent of others. Almost always they stopped to explain or help the beginner or to answer the public’s questions. They would tease each other, and those nosy reporters, but behind the ribbing was a true caring and comradeship. The pinstripers worked furiously to create works of art to sell at an auction, that raised more than $8000 for a charity that they picked out. That charity was the House of Ruth, a halfway house and counseling center for abused and battered women and children. This certainly ran against the preconceived notions of the general public. Pinstripers have these wicked tattoos, wild names, strange clothing and hairstyles and from a distance it is hard to tell if it is safe to be around them. But get up close and talk to them and you will see their humanity and kindness. They have families like we do, and they are in business to make a living. Pinstripers are more likely to be preoccupied with filing quarterly tax reports than giving wild parties. It is a business and they are professionals.

  Wildman has been a pinstriper for 17 years and comes from Yokohama, Japan. He stripes racecars, lowriders, hot rods, and motorcycles and is much in demand. Wildman started as a sign painter, doing trucks and signs for Toyota. He copied Ed “Big Daddy” Roth as his artistic muse. He is adept at airbrushing and sign painting. Wildman is very popular in America and travels extensively to appear in shows around the country. TJ Pagano has been striping for 3 years and is self-taught, but was influenced by Herb Martinez and Mike Clines from the Sacramento area. Pagano stripes purses, wallets, apparel, cars, panels, toolboxes, and shop tools. “I’ve built hot rods since I could walk,” he says, “and I love the history of the pinstriping art.” 

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Jeff Styles from Lake Forest, CA. His father was a striper, and he was also influenced by Don Overman and Butch Tucker, aka The Butch’r from Mesa, Arizona

Styles is Jeff Styles from Lake Forest, California, and he started striping when he was 13, in 1980. His father was a striper, and he was also influenced by Don Overman and Butch Tucker, aka The Butch’r from Mesa, Arizona. “I love flames, anything with hot rods, painting, striping, anything,” he says. Styles will even do body painting and says, “it’s fun to paint the girls. They want you to paint everything.” He is a very friendly and outgoing man and answered every question put to him. “Most customers tell me to paint what I like, but I want them to enter into the decisions too,” he said. Styles said that some paint jobs for cars can run up to a hundred thousand dollars, and flames up to $5000, and that striping can start at around $100. Most of the stripers sold panels of their striping and art work at the show, and Styles work went for around $150. 

These panels were artistically conceived, often framed, and collectors were buying them to display in their homes and garages. 

JimmyC has been an artist and striper for 30 years and his works is much in demand. Stripers know that their work goes up in value as they develop a name and perfect their talent. JimmyC has reached that pinnacle where the younger stripers wish to someday attain. He hails from San Clemente, California, and produces his own art shows, Auto Art Invitational. JimmyC learned striping from MichaelB, a sign painter from Parker, Arizona. With a twinkle in his eye he said, “you can see how I got my name, JimmyC, after working with MichaelB.” He travels around the country and to Europe and Japan, where he is in demand to do shows and demonstrations. JimmyC does designs for the apparel industry and original artwork and posters. His originals have sold for upwards of $3000 and his trashcan art for around $2000.

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Jimmy C from San Clemente, CA.has reached that pinnacle where the younger stripers wish to someday attain.

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 DoRr comes from Garden Grove, California and has been a striper for five years and an artist since he was 7 years old. Most of the stripers had an itch for being an artist at a very young age, and are adept at all kinds of artistic endeavors. DoRr spells his name for a very special reason and told me off the record, but the other stripers know the story, which he might let me tell one day. Like JimmyC, he has been an artist for 30 years and travels constantly. DoRr has gone to Brazil and all over Europe, doing 30 shows and demonstrations a year. He is successful and self-taught, but looks up to JimmyC, Roth, Von Dutch, Bob Spina, and Von Franco. “I love to paint the girls,” he said. “Once you establish a name, your business just flies,” DoRr mentioned. A DoRr striped panel and frame goes for about $200. 

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– Doug DoRr from Garden Grove, CA. DoRr spells his name for a very special reason and told me off the record, but the other stripers know the story, which he might let me tell one day.

  J-$IN comes from New Albany, Indiana, and has been striping for 2 years. “There’s not a whole lot of competition where I come,” he said. J-$IN sells T-shirts from Lucky 13, a clothing line linked to the striping culture. J-$IN likes to paint rat-finks, cars, motorcycles, bowling pins, purses, lunch pails and Tiki masks. His framed panels sell for $100. Tom Kelly, Herb Martinez and Bob Spina are the Masters at the reunion. Von Hot Rod surrounds these two giants of the art with young and rising talents, who will learn from them. Kelly has been striping for 54 years and was there in the beginning when Von Dutch, Roth, Dean Jeffries, The Baron, Art Summers, and Tommy The Greek were all equals. Kelly loves it all. His enthusiasm hasn’t been diminished at all by the years, and teaching the young stripers new skills gives him a renewed zest. Kelly learned the craft from his grandfather, who is called The Baron. The Baron striped coaches and wagons for Studebaker before there were cars, and then for Ford Motor company on the assembly lines. A Tom Kelly panel, unframed, will go for $500 to $1500. He wet his small brush, shaped it with his thumb and finger, and in a flourish wrote out my name in a script that was distinctively called a “Kelly.” Bob Spina said, “Kelly can stripe 80 feet before that brush runs out of paint.” Other stripers said that was impossible, and maybe 20 or 25 feet was as far as one could go on one single dipping into the paint jar. I think they said that just to see how wide my eyes would open and mouth could gape. 

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“J-Sin” Mattox, New Albany, Indiana. He likes to paint rat-finks, cars, motorcycles, bowling pins, purses, lunch pails and Tiki masks.

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– Bob Spina from Las Vegas (l) and Tom Kelly from Bellflower, CA. Tom Kelly, Herb Martinez and Bob Spina are the Masters at the reunion.

  Bob Spina is from Las Vegas and has been striping for fifty years. He is also the most excited and animated of the stripers at the convention and his art has been his passion for half a century. Typically, he started drawing and painting at a young age, and when he saw his first example of striping at 14, Spina was hooked. He wrote a letter to Roth, who answered and sent him a brush and encouragement. Roth met Spina two years later and offered him a job on the spot, and Spina could only say, “but I’m only 16.” Spina’s favorite phrase is “who’s your Daddy,” and you can see that Roth has a huge place in his heart. Spina loves everything about art and striping. It’s hard to find something this man doesn’t like. He has a show coming up which will air on the Octane Network that will also feature Roth’s sons; Darryl, Charley and Dennis. Art Goldstrum said, “Bob Spina put Las Vegas on the map for custom painting and pinstriping.” A Spina framed panel will run about $500.  Cadillac Daddy-O comes from Wichita, Kansas and has been striping for 2 years. While he was getting tattooed he met Willie Fisher, who got him started in the art. He credits David Hightower, Blaine Scott, Roth, Kelly, and Alton Gillespie as those who have inspired him. Cadillac will paint anything, and he does a lot of trucks in Kansas. His framed panels run about $85, and he says “where you live makes a big difference in the prices you can charge, and California is definitely more expensive.” 

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– Cadillac Daddy-O from Wichita, Kansas. While he was getting tattooed he met Willie Fisher, who got him started in the art. He credits David Hightower, Blaine Scott, Roth, Kelly, and Alton Gillespie as those who have inspired him.

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  Ben Arstad comes from Lynwood, Washington and has been a striper for four years “on the side.” Ben is a land surveyor and paints and stripes part-time. He wants to be a full time striper and make a living at it. “Weather is a factor in Washington State and makes it hard to get a lot of jobs unless I make garage calls,” noted Arstad. Lily Choo is his business manager and came with Ben to the reunion. He sells from his website and goes to 20 shows a year. His framed panels sell for about $60. Harry Malicoat is another striper, but he was busy and it was hard to interview him. Malicoat seemed to be everywhere, talking to show spectators and helping others. Von Hot Rod brought over a lady whom he wanted me to interview. Laura was an abused wife who was helped by the House of Ruth, and Von wanted me to know why the stripers were supporting this group. Laura told me her story without any anger, in a soft and measured voice. She had come from an abusive home, and she married a man who was abusive. She said that young women often marry men who remind them of their fathers. Her husband told her she was worthless, that she could not survive on her own and that her four children would suffer if she didn’t do as he said. Laura wasn’t allowed to have any friends and her husband called her stupid. No matter how hard she tried, her husband was never satisfied and he would often tell her “you’re the reason why I have to act this way.” Laura went on, “people just don’t understand” what it’s like to be an abused person, and they say, “why don’t you just leave.” She left her husband five times, but he would convince her to return, promising to be kind and loving.

Her situation became desperate and she was so depressed that she felt suicidal. Laura had to make a decision, “leave or die,” and so she left. Packed up her kids and went to stay with her family, and then she discovered the House of Ruth, where counseling and support services helped her to recover. It wasn’t easy, because friends and church members, embarrassed at the break-up, were trying to force her to return to her husband. Even her children harbored resentment and asked her to let her husband come back to her. Healing takes time and it takes help, and gradually she began to heal and to realize that she was a person who could survive on her own and develop her own dignity. Today she is going to college, and soon will have her nursing degree and a life that is rich and rewarding. Her husband did not learn from his mistakes and is in another abusive relationship. “His family, my church friends and neighbors, just about everybody wanted me to return to him,” she said. “When you see the pressure build up like that you are likely to give in and let the abuse continue. It is only places like the House of Ruth that give an abused woman or child a chance at life.” Laura smiled softly and left, to go and thank the other pinstripers for their support of her cause. A cause that brings redemption and hope to those who can’t find hope without some help from others.

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Harry Malicoat from Fresno, CA. Showing some of his excellent work

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  I returned to interviewing the pinstripers and met Sonny, from Santa Fe Springs, California. Sonny has been striping for a year, but had been painting for five years, doing cars and motorcycles with his father Leo, at their place, Road Dog Customs. Leo is a full time teamster and builder. Sonny is a full time fabricator, builder and painter of motorcycles from the ground up. He wants to expand into engines and painting. Sonny has framed panels for about $60. Chick (Pinstripegirl) comes from Redlands, California and has been striping for 8 years. Chick had Larry Watson do some striping on her truck, and it needed some touching up. Her husband told her that she could do the touch-up work and she “liked the free form of pinstriping, which released her artistic inhibitions.” I asked Chick if she ever makes a mistake, and she just looked at me with those big eyes of hers and a wry grin, “there are no mistakes in striping,” she told me. “You just incorporate any mistakes into the design and keep on going.” Chick told me that her muses were Von Franco, Larry Watson, Doug DoRr, and Von Dutch. “They encouraged me, because there are so few women stripers,” she intoned. Chick’s panels sell for around $80. Mitch comes from Lawndale, California and has been striping for 3 years. He is self-taught but gets his inspiration from Steve Feinberg, Tom Kelly, Dean Jeffries, Herb Martinez, Makoto, and Kenny Youngblood. He is a mechanic by trade and does lettering, signs and striping at night. A year from now he plans on starting up his own business fabricating, building, painting, striping and making race car engines. His panels sell for $75 and he uses galvanized sheetmetal as well as Plexiglas. 

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– “Chick” from Readlands, CA. and some of her work. “There are no mistakes in striping,” she said, “You just incorporate any mistakes into the design and keep on going.”

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