My father was my biggest influence, and I do remember him always having a nice, clean, low vehicle. One of the first standouts that made an impression on me was a silver, metal-flaked 1952 Chevy truck. I was pretty young, but I believe that this was around 1962.
If dad was working in the Imperial Valley, I always hoped the Greyhound bus would stop in North Hollywood. As soon as that bus parked, I would run down the street because “Barris Kustoms” was in running distance. Mind you, I was only nine or ten years of age. At the time, George Barris, “King of the Kustomizers,” had a big glass front showcase building located right near the bus depot and filed with some of the most iconic custom cars of all time. There they were, “The Munster’s Coach,“ Grandpa Munster’s “Dragula Coffin Car,” and “The Batmobile,” right in front of me.
My father took notice of my obsession and I was blessed in the fact he would regularly attend “The Famoso Drags” or “The Fresno Autorama” and take me along. Without realizing it, I was studying the lettering, numbers, and admiring the pin stripe work on the dragsters and pull cars. While my dad was my influence on the car side of things, my mom was a big influence on my artwork because she took the time to draw things for me. We bonded over many of my designs and drawings and looking back I can say that those are very precious memories for me. Earning my stripes on models and bikes, I would often experiment with color fades, lettering, flames, and pinstripes. Of course I was just beginning and these early works were very crude, but I was learning.
Happy that I had some creations to call my own, I’m riding down the block on my custom bike as a 10-year-old when I see this ’66 – ’67 Riviera shining down my street with a multicolor metal flake paint job. I’m pumping my pedals as hard as I can try to keep up with this car. I continue to follow him and I realize I’m practically on the other side of town. The car parks and slowly lowers itself to the ground! Oh my god! It was the coolest thing I had ever seen! The guy’s name was “Huero Caldillo,” and he had multicolor Rivis, pearl step-faded Caprices, and other flaked out Lowriders with adjustable suspensions.
At twelve or thirteen, I began lettering diesel truck doors and doing flame jobs on local cars and trucks. As ambitious as I was eager, I would get myself into trouble on a few jobs because I wasn’t afraid to try and use paintwork techniques I knew nothing about. I was also a kid with a limited budget and resources, so many times I found myself using the wrong paint, brushes, and supplies.
In 1974, I reached high school age where I paid much more attention to articles on paint than I did on my traditional textbooks. I eventually enrolled in a regional occupational center class that focused on auto body repair. I was a fast learner and my brain soaked it all up like a sponge. Through the class, I was introduced to metal shaping, making repair panels, and airbrush techniques. I took to it like a fish to water and by this point, I was frenching tailgates, shaving door handles, pinstriping, and I had figured out how to airbrush roses, similar to the way they appeared on “The Gypsy Rose.” The instructor used to get upset with me because I would just jump into the work, instead of asking for help or waiting for instructions.
My auto body occupational class was located at East Bakersfield High School, and it was there that I met (Hall of Fame Member)“Harvey Reyes,” President of “Carnales Unidos” Car Club. I appreciated his demeanor as he was a really nice guy who would always take the time to talk to me and answer any questions I had. I was also happy to gain insight from an enthusiast who seemed to understand the passion I had for paintwork.
I reached driving age by the late ‘70s, and the car clubs in my area at this time were Orpheus, Majestics, and Carnales Unidos. All these “club” guys were a few years older than I was, but I still mingled with them and absorbed the lifestyle. I did my own work by striping cars on Saturday morning at the Mobil station on Cecil Ave. and Hwy. 99, specializing mostly in scrollwork and names, which were both big back then.
I remember taking an influence from Mingo Pena; he showed us young guys how hydraulics worked and guided us to where we could get parts. He shared his knowledge with us.
Another big influence came in the form of “Big Abel” Acosta, founder of the Majestics Delano Chapter. Back then, I was doing stripe jobs and lettering for Majestic’s members, so I began making a bigger name for myself as being a guy who was dependable and did quality work.
I would attend the original super show “The Lifestyle Show” at the Shrine Auditorium and the Sports Arena. It was like school for me, because I was studying the big time paint jobs and bringing these ideas back with me to use on my customers’ cars. My club friend Mario “From the Barrio” Martinez and I would journey to the famed Whittier Blvd. on various Saturday nights to cruise in the scene. While I was getting some great education on the streets, it was time for me to get even more in the classroom.
In 1977, I graduated high school and enrolled in the Tulare Adult School Auto Body Program in Tulare, Ca. The instructor, Jeff Dailey, gave me full run of the shop. Jeff Dailey, was my mentor and I appreciate greatly his contributions to me as a human being. While at Tulare, I met Big John Vargas, an owner of various custom cars and trucks. John taught me the ins and outs of custom bodywork, chopped tops, suicide doors, custom fenders, custom front ends, and block sanding. Working with John only fueled the fire, and I also stayed with Jeff for a few years until he retired.
I began working for the local Chevy dealership in Delano, but I was doing custom paint with the management getting the credit. After that, I worked for different shops in the area and was always on call for special paintwork. “Have gun, will travel.” That was my motto and the dealership days were probably the last times I worked for any specific shop. I was self-employed from then on and I’ve been blessed with constant work for over thirty years. I have a great respect for the other artists in my field and I’ve been really privileged to see the work of Art Fullington, Big Ed Madrigal, Walt Prey and John “Mr. Custom” Tosta. I studied their work religiously; these men are true masters and their amazing output is a testament to their dedication.
As my reputation grew, I began to get candy jobs from all over the state. San Francisco, San Fernando, Fresno, Bakersfield all reached out to me for my services. I put together a small home studio to do my graphics and airbrush work, opting to rent paint booths for completes when I needed to. I continued to do custom paintwork on Harleys, Helmets, Hydraulic tanks; custom paint on diesel trucks, signs and lettering, airbrush art, basically anything that came my way. I was lucky I had learned different aspects of custom work, so if the car business was slow; there was always a Harley, a lettering job, or something else to keep me busy.
In the last 10 years, the majority of my custom work has been for “Lil Abel” Acosta, president of Majestics Delano chapter. He brings the cars base painted and I do my artwork and patterns. He keeps me busy and I can’t thank him enough.
For the last six years, I’ve actually had two jobs; custom painter and auto body instructor. I was offered a job at North Kern Vocational Training Center in Delano, Ca. This is a new start for me and I really believe that’s where I’m supposed to be. At 44 years of age, I had to go back to school, which was tough. I received my Vocational Instructor Credentialing through U.C.L.A Extension. I teach basic collision repair, basic auto refinishing, estimates, parts locating and ordering, and of course custom paint, airbrush, pin striping, lettering, and metal shaping. I even try to instill life skills education into what I do, to better prepare my students for life outside of the garage as well. My job is to help my students earn a living, build a good work ethic, teach them how to speak to the public in a professional manner. I have no problems helping a student do custom work on their own vehicle, and they often take this opportunity to learn because if they take their car to my shop they have to pay; this usually serves as a good motivator.
My future plans are to continue teaching and to finish up some personal projects. I will continue modifying and painting these machines because that’s what I do.