MUCKRAKERS & CUSTOMIZING

 

Theory and Rationalization

By Jim Mundy

 

(DRAFT WORKING MODEL)

 

Please email additional facts, corrections, additions and stories to:

 

michael@bledsoe.com

 

 

CUSTOMIZING - It is an expression of a person’s unique individuality, personalized. It portrays and amplifies the personal traits, independence, uniqueness, innovation and fosters traits such as our famous  rugged individualism, an American trademark from the founding days.  It is personally aesthetically appealing to the customizers senses and artistic ability.  It’s an important segment of his lifestyle, image, and has even helped define our national character.  Often customizers throughout life enjoy working on the machinery and get a huge amount of gratification from it.  It forms a particular kind of comradery.  It marks identity, and not tatally the norm.  The beginnings are about youth, culture, clothes, music, and the love of modified and unique machinery.  

 

In the old days you had to distinguish between a gamble and a calculated risk when modifying and building the machinery.  It took courage, understanding and a sense of direction (goals) just like life itself.  It was oftentimes a challenge, a means of creative expression.  As you became skilled, it gave you confidence and credibility.  And it also gave you recognition.  There was a fine line between good judgment, reliability and disaster.  The enthusiasm and pride would sometimes outweigh good sense.  Sometimes customizing would push the limits of sensibility, and sometimes improve the machinery.  But we lived through it for the better.  It enriched our lives greatly then, and many to this day.  However, today it has changed.  In fact it has changed dramatically over the decades.  Technology, experience and the numerous after-market professionals have taken much of the risk out of modifying vehicles.  And the machines have become much more reliable.  Customizing today still reduces the manufacturer’s reliability a bit, depending on your ability as a mechanic, but the fun of it makes it all worth while.  And customizing the older 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s cars keeps the nostalgia of the old days alive and the cars much improved with today’s products, technology, modifications and knowledge.

 

Today, the urban scene and freeways are similar to the past.  It’s about cars, trucks, big rigs and motorcycles all being personalized.  And a gentleman named Myles Kovacs, 29, founder of Dub magazine is in the process of taking customizing a step further being motivated to make customized urban cars acceptable in the mainstream.  His ideas and insight into the growing auto customizing market is becoming noticed throughout the corporate industry executive suites, trade groups and car lovers alike.  This means it will only be matter of time before marketing of after market products will take hold for the general masses.  The rest of the machinery types will follow and become much more acceptable as his idea becomes successful.  What this will do to the overall customizers exclusivity remains to be seen.  The everchanging and rapidly accelerating world!

 

THE BEGINNINGS - In the past, modifying machinery was quite primitive.  As an example, after WWII the sub-culture in the late 40’s and 50’s called the Hells Angels began stripping down and modifying Harley-Davidson motorcycles.  In the “old” days it was a special breed of person.  This was probably the beginning of today’s mainstream customizing movement.  The Hell’s Angels began a trend still mimicked a bit today in the motorcycle aftermarket modification circles.  Customizing cars was primarily mainstream youth, the “hot rodders”, in our early years of the 50’s and 60’s.  The Muckraker’s of Ellensburg is a good example from this time period.  From this the roots of today’s fun for us older customizers comes.  And now the custom car trend has moved into the imports, the “tuners”, today’s youth.  And yes, there are a few, only a few of us older ones that have taken up the imports.  Most have remained diehard American machine modifiers of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s manufactured automobiles.  

 

For many of us the fascination with cars came at a young age, somewhere around 12 to 14.  In my instance, my mother dated a tank truck driver (which she denies to this day), who delivered gas to the Economy station on the west side of Ellensburg where she eventually became the manager.  I would spend my summers with her at that gas station, helping out a bit, watching and counting the number of Ford, Chevy’s and Chrysler cars with a few others mixed in as they passed by on the then main highway to Seattle, before the Interstate.

 

THE 50’S – Ellensburg……The early car club in Ellensburg was the “Windy Pipers” with Don Huss, Roy Bowers and Martin Peterson to name a few.  They started and ran the airport drag strip also.  Around 1959, a group of gentlemen got together to form another car club and began the “Muckrakers”.  These included Roy Vidonne, who was the first President, Ray Wilson, Rod Robbins, Ted Jensen, Wayne Lyons, Frank Ruckman, Richardson, and Bob Snowden.

 

The 60’s – Ellensburg……From notes November 29, 1960, the club was joined by Jim Mapes, Jack Mackner, Gunner Rex.  Then Jimmy Wilson, Bob VanWagoner, Jim Hollandsworth, Mike Bledsoe, Terry Eastburn, and Maury Worgum all joined the older guys in the Muckraker’s around 1961-3 time period.  A picture dated 1960 included sixteen Muckraker’s; Rod Robbins, Ray Wilson, Bob Snowden, Lynn Knudson, Jim Wilson, Jim Hollandsworth, Bob Harris, Bob Beckner, Joe Mackner, Jack Mackner, etc.  Then Lanny Mills joined later.

 

THE BLEDSOE FAMILY (Mike and Mac) - Mike Bledsoe built a small block Chevy powered 34 Ford 5 window coupe that was chopped and channeled.  Then he moved to a 49 Chevy with a GMC 671 blown 401 Buick.  As backup, he ran a 49 Ford, lowered with no springs, riding on the frame.  Brother Mac Bledsoe’s ran an old Plymouth which he welded a long pipe on the back to water ski the Hi-Line irrigation canals.  Mac liked the old flat head engines, with a metallic blue 49’ Ford club coupe with a built flathead that moved, and then a 46” Plymouth and a built flathead.  They both were into motorcycles, building Harley choppers in the mid 1960’s. 

 

THE VANWAGONER FAMILY(Bob and John) -

 

THE WILSON/MUNDY FAMILY(Gary, Jimmy, Little Jim and Tom) -  Jim Wilson first had a Pontiac Silver Streak, then a 49’ Plymouth with the steering wheel cut in half.  After that, a nice 53’ Ford that Teddy Martin fixed up, lost to Kelleher’s Ford dealership in Ellensburg.  Gary Wilson then purchased it and replaced the six cylinder engine with a V-8, a poor decision as the six was faster and better on gas….as if we cared back then!  Gary then bought a TR3 and went to Seattle and Jimmy Wilson, still in Ellensburg, bought his masterpiece, a 56’ Chev with new 357 engine and a 4 speed transmission, high school blue with white and blue tuck and roll upholstery.  After that, Jimmy purchased a red 62’ Chevy and moved to Seattle.  There was a Model-A there and a Ford Coupe Gary and Jimmy bought with a blown engine.  When dad gave it away it still had a blown engine.  Dad would not let me get a hot ole’ car of my choosing, thought my education was more important.  So he gave me his Nash Rambler that I drove while in High School.  What a tank!  The first car I purchased was a 52’ Ford four door, which I immediately took the torch to and lowered it nicely.  Then a spray can of light gray was used in several areas on the light blue car to further personalize it.  A torch and a primer can was all you needed in those days. I sold that old 52’ Ford and bought a 1955 Studebaker President and had it painted dark metallic blue at Perry Institute in Yakima, after taking a torch to the springs on it.  The “Studey” lasted me through much of my college years.  Although, I bought another Studebaker two door coupe with a tri-powered Buick engine, Olds transmission which I could not put the hood on, nor could I keep it running.  So it lasted only a short while.  

 

However, many of us were on the fringes of organization, independents such as myself.   In the early years after getting my drivers license I would walk downtown to the Shell station where Maury Worgum worked on Main Street near the college and idle away time watching the cars cruise by.  Some older friends or locals such as Roy Viodonne and his 49’ Chev Business Coupe with side pipes would drive by, then John Monroe bought it and continued cruising.  Teddy Jensen would cruise in his 32 Ford five window coupe, and Ted Martin in his really nice 57’ Chevy.  LaVerne Taylor had a nice 58’ Chev Impala with red flames, and Bob VanWagoner and his white 1959 Plymouth four door hardtop lowered, actually slammed.  Jon Drake and his first car, a 51’ Ford Crown Victoria which he lowered and tore the front grille out to be cool, er’ different.  Jon then bought a 53’ Ford 2-dr station wagon, put a 352 Interceptor engine in, a three speed and painted it orange (said it was moly red!).  John Spence had a red 57’ Chevy convertible with a 283 engine, which he proceded to trash over time.  Jim Hallandsworth and his 60’s Chevy.  Lowel Emhoff had a real nice customized 52-54 Ford.  The boys from Cle Elum and their hot machinery would come and cruise Main Street and the college on weekends.  Billy Crites and his custom low rider baby blue 55’ Chevy would stop by the station and chat occasionally.  Then there was cousin Dick Mundy and his supercharged Studebaker Avanti.  I would occasionally help Maury work on his salmon and gray 55’ Chevy, in which he was putting a 327 Chevy engine at that little shell station.  When he finished that car was the hottest in town for a short while and the country roads could attest to that.  There were many impromptu drag races out by the Ellensburg airport throughout my High School and college years (1960-1967).  Eventually someone came with a hotter car than Maury’s 55’, and I remember that to be Bob Schmierer from Odessa, a college student, with his 64’ Chevy 409. That car burned the back roads for several years while we were going to college.  He eventually became one of my roommates during college.  Ellensburg was truly one of the American Graffiti towns during that time period.  By the time I graduated from college the seed had been subtly planted.  I was faced with the military draft at that time, so I joined the Air Force to fly fighter jets, and custom cars became secondary for only a short time.

           

 

 

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