When my first assignment for Lowrider Original came in, I was pleased to find out that it was Leroy and Kenny Gonzales, owners of Truck of the Year, "Punch 84," and Punch 84 Customs in Delhi, CA. Being from the same town, I decided to go pay them a visit at the shop. As I pulled up into the parking lot, I noticed the crew working late into the night on a '53 Dodge pickup. The truck was scheduled to show and compete at the famous American Graffiti show in Modesto, CA, that same weekend, so the boys were burning a little midnight oil to get the build finalized. The show, on average, pulls in about 1,000 entries each year, and this year was no exception. Delivering the truck to the owner in time for the show, the father and son team were pleased to find out that their build took 20th out of 935 entries. "Not bad for not having any body mods," says Leroy proudly. Scheduling the date and time to sit and chat with the father and son team that had built such award-winning cars as "Strictly Business," "Funky '51," "Shop Laggard," "Hawaiian Punch," "Punch '84," and multiple others was something I had been looking forward to for quite a while.
As we sat in the new shop with the Gonzales family, Leroy began to explain to me how he grew up in a town called Marfa, TX, and that the town was so small, they had vocational AG in high school; however, they only taught you how to stick weld and lacked any mechanical or automotive courses. All through high school, Leroy and five close friends would always spend their days working on cars. He and his buddies would modify cars with what little tools and expertise they had. They used to experiment by going to junk yards and taking parts from different cars to adapt them to their own cars. "My first modification was adapting a '56 Pontiac bumper to my '55 Chevy," explained Leroy.
The young but jobless eighteen-year-old Leroy got married to his wife, Elodia, on a Friday and went looking for a job the following Monday. With only a handful of job opportunities in town to choose from, Leroy couldn't land a job. Not having any other choices, he turned to his last resort, and attempted to get a job at a wrecking yard without any tools or experience. Offering to intern at the yard for a week, Leroy landed the job by showing Bill Matt-Miller, the owner of the wrecking yard, that he was a quick learner and a hard worker. "That's where I got most of my experience working on cars," recalls Leroy. "He taught me how to do weld jobs, pull rear ends, drop transmissions and other tricky basics."
Once Leroy's wife graduated from the University, they packed their bags and moved to California, where her parents had moved the year prior to her graduation. Moving to Turlock's West Side, Leroy began his search for a new job. With experience under his belt, he landed his first job in California at S&A Manufacture in Livingston, CA. "Back then, I was making $2 an hour, and I thought I was making good money," laughs Leroy.
Fast forwarding to the future, Leroy bought his son Kenny a two-door '57 Bel Air for his 13th birthday. The youngster got every imaginable ticket in that car. "From exhibition of speed, to unsafe lane changes, to hit and run, and even getting in high speed chases with police," exhales Leroy. He can laugh about it now, since luckily, Kenny got everything except a DUI - since he's not a drinker. Still, his son's love for automobiles was genuine, and Kenny, who had learned everything about customizing cars from his dad, would come home from school to find several cars parked in front of his parents' house. They would be dollar signs to him, as they were parked for him to lower them, which he used to do with a torch for side money.