Say Goodby to Joe Reath June 27, 2013

Say Goodby to Joe Reath June 27, 2013

Written by Delma Reath and Richard Parks, with Jim Snyder


 Joe Reath was born to Elaine Roach and Bennie Tucker in Rutledge, Alabama on 27 February 1925.  At the age of two, Joe was taken to Concrete, Washington to live with his grandmother, Emma and his step-grandfather, Frank Reath.  Emma was Elaine's mother.  Frank was a manager of the concrete plant in the town, and a while later he was sent to work in Tehachapi, California.  Frank and Joe got along well.  Joe remembers that Frank would take him to the cement plants that he managed.  When Frank died, Emma and Joe left Tehachapi and moved into his mother's home in San Pedro.  Elaine had married a dentist, Dr Charles Ulrich DDS, and Joe developed a good relationship with his step-father.  Emma passed away in 1975.  Joe had three half-siblings; Emily Marcus of San Francisco, Charles Ulrich 3rd of Palm Springs and Ronald Ulrich of Washington State.

Boyhood friends from San Pedro days. (l-r) Mike DeFrank, Tommy Johnson, with little brother Carrol in back ground,Joe Reath, circa early 1940’s


Joe went to grade school and Junior high school while living in Tehachapi.  In his teenage years the family moved to San Pedro, California and Joe went to San Pedro High School, graduating in 1943.  He spent his time on his studies and his love for cars and did not participate in school sports.  He was drafted in February of 1945 and served in the Army Infantry at Fort Hood, Texas as a private, until his discharge in July of 1945, when it was apparent to the military that the war was ending.

Joe raced at the dry lakes in the Mojave Desert and at Bonneville, in western Utah.  He also did a little drag racing in the early days.  He joined the Road Runners Club in 1947 or '48.  Some of the club members were Wally Parks, Ak Miller, Frank Breen, Vic Edelbrock Sr, Ray Brown, Harvey Haller and Robert 'Pete' Petersen.  Haller was a close friend of Joe's.  Petersen was the founder of Hot Rod magazine and Petersen Publishing.  Parks was the SCTA President in 1947 and the founder of the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA).  Joe was also a member of The Arabs of Long Beach and the Rod Riders Club of San Pedro.  I think he also belonged to the Lancers car club.  Joe went to the Bonneville Salt Flats in 1951 through 1957.  Harvey Haller was in the Navy, stationed in Hawaii and that’s where he began building a belly tank that he and Joe raced in 1953.  Haller died in a crash at El Mirage dry lake in 1953 and Joe purchased Harvey's machinery from the estate to start up our business.  After Joe met his wife, Dellie, he took her to the dry lakes once.  "The wind blew so hard that I couldn't get out of the car," Dellie said.  "Joe's friends from the dry lakes and Bonneville Salt Flats were George Bentley, Bob Taylor, Leroy Neumayer, Nick Saad and Harvey Haller.  I never went to Bonneville and Joe went before we were married in 1957.  I know that he had a lot more friends in land speed racing, but that was a long time ago and it is hard to remember their names now.  Joe looked up to Harvey Haller.  Harvey was in the Navy and stationed in Hawaii and that's where he began building a belly tank.  I did learn that you didn't dress up if you went to the lakes and it seems like we sat in the tow truck a lot," Dellie concluded.


10th & Cherry, where it all began. (l-r) Dellie Reath, Jerry Ballard, Gary Slusser, Dale Williamson, Ed Nissen, Henry Valasco, Joe Reath, circa 1962


Joe talked about working for Earl Evans porting flathead engine blocks.  The Evans Speed Shop was in El Monte, California and after Earl passed away, Gene Ohly took it over.  The Evans Speed Shop is still in operation to this day, owned and operated by Jaime Gonzalez.  He went to work in the Punch Press Department for Douglas Aircraft in 1947 and stayed with the company until 1957.  While working at Douglas, he became a foreman on the day shift and at night he began building engines for friends in his shop.  In 1954 he met Joe Maillard at the drag races and the two of them became partners until 1957 when Joe left to open his shop to sell speed equipment parts to racers.  Maillard belonged to the Sidewinders car club and was racing with that club.  They were still friends at the time of Joe's passing.  Maillard also worked at Douglas Aircraft and was a very pleasant and nice man.  In 1956 Joe met Delma 'Dellie' Raymer, who would change his life. 

 "My name was Delma Lee Raymer, but most people just called me Dellie.  My mother's name was Bertha F. Whitton and she was born in Moore, Oklahoma.  My Father was Benjamin A. Raymer and he was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.  I was born in Oklahoma City on March 17, 1937.  My father worked in the oil fields and for the Oklahoma City Gas Department and my mother was a housewife.  My father was drafted into the service during World War II and sent to a base in California.  My family moved to Compton to live with my mother's brother, Uncle Floyd Whitton and my Aunt Velma Whitton, while my father was in the service.  My aunt and uncle had three children at that time.  This was during the war years and we didn't have very much.  People just made do with what there was available.  My mother found a job at an aluminum plant in South Gate and I went to kindergarten and first grade at Roosevelt Elementary School.  After the war my parents moved us back to Oklahoma City, and then they broke up and I didn't see him after that. I went to school up to my sophomore year in high school in Oklahoma and then my mother and I returned to Compton where I graduated from Compton High School in June of 1955," Dellie said.

Joe & Dellie Reath w/miniature Hemi engine made for Joe.

"I met Joe in 1956, just a year after high school.  We met at a Drive-In in Long Beach. He was with some guys and I was with some girlfriends.  We started dating and he introduced me to drag racing.  We went mostly to the Santa Ana Airport and Lions drag strips in those days.  Joe and I got married on October 4, 1957 and moved to Long Beach, California where we lived for 56 years, until his death.  Joe and I ran the speed shop business at 10th & Cherry Streets, in Long Beach from 1957 until 1965.  The shop on 10th and Cherry was kind of primitive and small.  But it was homey and we loved it.  For me, the shop on 10th & Cherry was a beginning; I felt like I grew up there.  I was only 20 when we married and started up our business," Dellie remembers.  "In the beginning I did whatever needed to be done that the guys were to busy to do.  I swept floors, cleaned bathrooms, and Joe was going to teach me to build engines, but first I had to take greasy engine cores apart.  Needless to say I didn't last long.  I did most of the daily bookkeeping, ordered parts, and did the inventory.  And last I learned how read a catalog and sell parts.  Joe didn't machine any of the parts we sold.  He was our PR Department and he could talk to anyone," Dellie said.
     In 1965 Joe and Dellie moved to 33rd & Cherry in Long Beach.  Joe's stepfather, Dr. Charles Ulrich II, DDS, bought the lot that our building was constructed on, but we never owned the building.  The machine shop and store on 33rd & Cherry was Joe's dream of what a Speed Shop should be; and it was.  He set up the shop just like he had dreamed about it for years.  He knew where he wanted all the machinery and parts to go.  As the business expanded the shop changed according to the times.  Reath Automotive was the must see place for out of town racers and customers.  Since they were right off the freeway, car guys and racers used the parking lot for some of their meeting places.

(From left-right) Joe Reath, Carl Bodonni, Louie Cangelose. Early 60’s March Meet.

In 1996 Joe and Dellie moved their business to 1430 East 28th St in Signal Hill, California and stayed there until they closed up the shop in 2006.  "I remember Joe was always trying to make room for inventory and equipment but it was very small and there was no room for all that we had.  The machine shop and store on 28th Street was about downsizing and a change in the way the speed equipment industry was going.  Computers were the big thing.  Joe wasn't comfortable with new technology.   He loved the 1950's, '60's and '70's era.  He came from that era and was influenced by the people he met along the way.  I would like to thank the following when we closed the shop in 2006; Richard Heath, Joel Gruzen, Don Ferguson Family and Crew, Stormy Byrd, Ken and Ellen Lee," Dellie recalled.
They had many customers at Reath Automotive, from those who just wanted spark plugs to the famous car racers of the time.  Their customers came from all over the United States, England, Sweden, Australia and other countries.  "We sold to Jim Broadly of Australia, Gene Adams Performance, Bud Bailey, Bob McDonald, Mike Boyd, Jim Bremner, James Burkhalter, John Deats, Doug Lindow, Nate Jones, Wayne Gaskamp, and many more.  There were hundreds of customers during those 50 years and so many more that I can't remember them all," Dellie added.
"Through the years we employed some of drag racing's finest machinists and sales people.  Gary Slusser, worked for us for 20 years.  He was Joe Pisano's Chief Mechanic on his Funny Cars.  John Garrison went on to work for Keith Black and Paul Pfaff.  Henry Velasco started Velasco Crankshaft Company and is still at it today.  Neil Leffler lives in Washington State and I think he drives a logging truck.  Richard Catton has RC Performance in Orange County and he builds high performance engines.  After Richard Rea left us he took up printing again.  David Dunk passed away sometime ago.  Jerry Ballard was in publishing and he has since passed away.  Gerry Ballard owns Ballard & Allen Marketing.  He represents most of the top manufacturing speed equipment companies.  Mitch Apodoca has Deering Industries and supplies high performance hoses and fittings.  Mike Rosenberg does VW engine building in Santa Barbara, Paul Weiss is a commercial pilot, Mike Jordan now has a lawn care company and Richard DeMarco is with Venolia Pistons.  We also had Dave Higgins, Randy Mell, Ken Corum, Ronnie Rumsey and Philip DeLapp work for us.  I don't know what Paul Gommi, and Don Wade are doing now," Dellie told me.
Reath Automotive sponsored Gordon Collett, George Bolthoff, Ratican/Jackson & Stearns, Tom McEwen, Bud Rasner, Ed Peters, Bob Brooks, Slusser & Helmick, The Burkhart & Bramer Roadster, Jim Dunn & Reath Funny Car, and the Rainbow Dragster.  Don Ratican is a wonder; He now lives in the Arizona desert.  Bob Brooks owns a clutch and aluminum rod business.  Jim Dunn is still racing a funny car.  Ed Stuck is retired after working in aircraft maintenance.  There was also Vance Hunt and his Texas Crew and Jesse Vandermere. "All the people we sponsored or helped were great people.  They were good, hard working people and the best in racing," Dellie added.

(From left-right) Ed Iskenderian, Ermie Immerso, Joe Reath.  2002

He knew quite a few people in the racing world; Fred Carrillo, Mike Mitchell who became a Trainer (and took photographs at Lions Drag Strip), Bob Coulter, and Tom "The Mongoose" McEwen.  Joe knew and admired the Parks brothers.  He knew Wally Parks from the SCTA and Road Runners club and Kenny Parks and Roy Richter from Bell Auto Parts.  We bought parts from Bell Auto Parts.  Joe loved anything with a motor in it.  He loved auto racing in most forms.  Joe was honored in 1995 at the California Hot Rod Reunion. In 1998 he was honored in a Tribute to Lions Drag Strip. Joe was very proud of these Honors.  "I would like to thank Ed Stuck and Jim Snyder for the 'Tribute to Joe Reath Tee Shirts' they produced and sold on our behalf," Dellie mentioned.  His other hobbies were bench racing with friends and horse racing.  In his later years Joe took up horse racing.  He loved to bet and to figure out the odds.  He knew quite a few people in the Horse Racing world.  "I would like to give a very special thank you to our friends who were there for Joe and I during these last six years when Joe was ill.  They were there with help in many forms; Bill and Ruthie Hunter, Richard and Connie Reed, Richard Heath, Joel Gruzen, Jim and Kathy Keeter, Ed and Jan Stuck, Al  Teague, Brad and Susan Duest, Frank and Bradley (Ark), Ron and Janet Stearns, Tom Lee, Bob Painton, and the 1320 Family," Dellie said in gratitude.  Joe passed away on January 4, 2013, after a long illness.  
Jim Snyder recalls, "The first Lions Drag Strip Reunion put on by Tom Gregg, Richard Heath and others in 1998 recognized Joe Reath as an Honoree for their event, including an article in the program with photos which documented Joe's life.  Joe was a great story teller.  When I was working at Douglas Aircraft in Long Beach, I would go over to Reath Automotive at lunch time to buy some parts and Joe would invite me into his office. I would be asking him about how to get more power out of my motors, bounce some ideas off him, and I really appreciated the time he took to explain how it works!  He would always wrap a story around the explanations which created some great memories for me to keep.  Larry Dahlhoff once told me that Joe had a way of tweaking a set of carburetors to maximize their performance, he was really good at it according to Larry."   
Gone Racin' is at [email protected]