Early Igniters history, straight from the source. Cool hot rod history here.

jaded iconoclast

  • Hero Member
My buddy Atwater Mike sent me this email today, figured I would share it here, asked him he is A-ok, so here it is. I have posted it verbatim.


Wow, George!!!

GREAT to hear of your 'bonding'...Really quite enviable. (I'd love to be able to hook up with someone like a former 'guru' like I had so many of in the 'formative years'...but hell. They're all dead, and would be senile at the very least.)

I had a treasure trove of 'elders', my Dad was killed in '54, I was 12. I would be sidling up to neighbor Al Soto's house semi-daily, he was 23 or so, married, 2 small children...Al drove a new '53 F100, dual carbs, Edelbrock heads, cam...and a '53 Merc crank. I saw the engine on a stand in his garage before he installed it...Brand new truck, and being 'Hot rodded'! Imagine!

Al and Louie Soto were charter members of the Igniters of San Jose. There were roughly 20 members, I knew 'em all. Plaque had a spark plug with a lightning bolt under the electrode ground...SO Right!




But the unique thing about the Igniters was that they employed a 'club within a club': That was 'Hernando's Racing Team'! (the logo was the WWll "Kilroy" avatar that G.I.s would scrawl onto walls all over Europe: The familiar bald headed guy looking over the fence, only his eyes, nose and one hair on the bald head showing, and his fingers grasping the top boards holding him up.) "Kilroy was here"...and that was the 'minority' that I chose to listen to.

There were club meetings I was welcome to attend, kept mouth shut and eyes & ears open. (a task for me, to be sure; you know I usually have 'something to say'!) LOL

 

Other members were previous acquaintances, Santa Clara was a small town, and my family was well known. Grandma was a 'pioneer', born on the Calistoga wagon her Dad had wagon-mastered from St. Joseph, Mo. to Seattle, Wash. This was his last trip, he had bought 120 acres in lush Santa Clara Valley, and Grandma was born in St. Helena, CA., 1876.

Grandma married in 1890, at 14 years of age...she and her husband built the sprawling ranch style bungalow on Lincoln St., across the wide avenue from the Carmelite monastery.

And those were my digs, as Mom and Dad stayed there with Grandma, after Grandpa passed. (1930, Mom and Dad married in 1938)




The Santa Clara (and San Jose, 6 miles away) members were mostly of Portuguese descent, and made light of it: Every joke had some slant pointed at their 'roots'...Lots of laughter, they were great to be around.

Alphonse was a Mexican. Real gear guy, he could quote recommended ratios from engine specs and car weight, I thought he was a genius. (this was 1954, Ted Halibrand had a 'Gear wheel' he sold, a circular graph that could be rotated for 'combinations'...Alphonse did it in his head. He was seldom far from the 'best combination'!

I always had a chauffer to take me to the drags. "Mikey can't get to the drags, we can pick him up" was the credo.

 

My good friend "Boof" (Al Marceline) had the tall '32 Highboy roadster, windshield chopped 5", black paint and black Ford 16" wheels, 7.60s rear, 5.00s front...had '46 Ford caps, black tires, very 'businesslike'.

Boof ran a 5/16" X quarter, 274" flathead. Dual 97s, Eddie Meyer heads, Harmon & Collins cam AND ignition, dual coil. Holy crap...First time I rode in it I was made aware of 'impossible physics'...Cars just couldn't accelerate that fast!  Leastwise, none of them I ever had the luck in riding in!

Boof left the house, we were goin' to the DIGS! He turned the corner, right on Benton St. It was city blocks for 10 of them, then crossed the railroad tracks and became Brokaw Rd., 2 lane, country...ran past the airport.

Boof said, "Let's make some time..." second gear, his foot mashed the '32 Spoon pedal to the firewall, the roadster pulled my skinny body into the seat with brutal force, at high torque! Shift into high, ZOUNDS! The speedo was somewhere around 70, and climbing...The wind whipped past the chopped windshield, we were flyin'!

He let off then, my eyes were big as saucers...I said, "Whew! Does this baby go!" -or some such, Boof laughed.

I hung with him mostly, he was always ready to talk, (I read every Hot Rod Magazine since the first issue, a man around the corner gave me his whole collection, only the 3 latest ones were missing, I soon found them and was up to date! I memorized every line Don Francisco wrote, Roger Huntington was 'tougher', I sometimes had to look up terms he used in the dictionary...he was a member of S.A.E., and his 'papers' were notoriously technical!)

Ergo, Boof and Alphonse (and Ritchie Mignano, who taught me how to oxy-acet weld 20 gauge steel!) all said, "Ask Mikey, he knows all the jet sizes..." "Ask Mikey, he knows the ring gaps..."

I memorized everything engine and transmission related I could get. I never got a 'big head', these guys knew stuff I thought I could never learn...




The club car (Hernando's) was a chopped & channeled Austin Bantom Coupe on a much modified 'A' frame; Body sat at extreme rear, and it had a long 'needle' nose, hand formed aluminum. It was dubbed, "The Hangover", and had a pic painted on the nose of an explosion, and a guy's body parts graphically being blown to bits: his head going straight 'up', arms out to the sides, legs downward, apart, and second look his hairy balls going straight down, and the 'other part' upward, past his surprised face...but you had to look for it. A track 'official' spotted it some time after it was painted, said "Get that stuff covered up, there are women and kids here," indicating ME, with the flag in his hand...I felt guilty, as if it was my fault...but they all laughed it off, and had the painter do white patches over the 'private parts'...and we wrote "Censored" in black India Ink!

Car ran B "Competition Coupe", one week turned a blazing 140 MPH, was vied "World's Fastest Coupe" for a couple of weeks.




 Car ran a 304" 59L block, (Canadian, for the 'thicker cylinder castings': 'Gospel', from the wisdom of Alphonse)

3-7/16" X 4-1/4", offset welded '50 Merc crank; Again, the Merc Crank...Potvin Eliminator cam, 'radiused lifters'?

I would learn more, like the drilled tappet bosses to keep the tappets from turning when adjusting the 'abstract threads'.

My job was to adjust these tappets, (they were keyed, so they didn't 'turn'...they were shaped at the bottoms like a 'roller' would be, in later times thanks to innovator Chet Herbert)

The four Stromberg 97s were a constant pain for Alphonse and Louie Soto, who would remove them in the pits and change jets. Linkage, fuel hoses, and 12 5/16" nuts that came off from within tight spaces soon became a job for the small but nimble fingers of 'Mikey'!

About the third time I had to do this, I had a 97 jet wrench I was given: My own 97 Tool! Bonanza!

I made a slight modification to the jet wrench, and pulled off what seemed to be the 'perfect crime'!

Removing fuel hoses from carbs #s 2 and 4, I was able to sneak in and change jets on #s 1 and 3 while still on the manifold. The others I did on a fender cover on the cowl.

This guy "Switch" was a member of the Igniters, he saw me and said "Hey, what the hell are you doing?" Loud.

The guys came up, and looked...Switch was asked to go mind his own business, and were surprised at how fast this made the operation...like a smart, shrewd move. I was proud, they said "Real cool move"...




Switch never liked me, I don't know why. He drove a '32 sedan, full fendered fordor, chopped 4"+, competition yellow, Chrysler 331 with 4 carbs, Magneto ignition, and I don't know any more about it...he sat in the back, single bucket seat, pressure system inside, Moon tank & pump. Used 2nd and high gears, Louie said it had a LaSalle box. Ran fast, but the fast flatheads usually beat him.

Switch was an Army soldier, finished a 2 year hitch out of Korea. Blond hair, crew cut, looked like my cousin Ronny. Kind of a 'pistol', always with the "What's this kid doing here? Somebody's gonna trip over him..."

I avoided him, Al Marceline ("Boof") told him if he crossed me again he'd be "going to fist city". I was relieved.




So, after a typical hot run at 130+MPH, the 'Hangover' (piloted by "Little Paul",) the Hangover was turned toward the return strip, a one lane hard packed dirt path barely 8 feet wide, separated from the standing spectators by a 3 foot high wire fence.

Now, Paul, (5 feet tall, 100 lbs., was the Mexican nephew of Alphonse, I thing he was somewhere around 21, because he drank beer. (ALL the rest of the Igniters were tee-totallers, they all drank 'Near Beer', no alcohol.)

Eventually, I'd ride in the famous Babe's Muffler Service push truck, a full custom chopped F-1, taildragger full skirted with Nash grille, dual stacks, NEW '53 Cad engine with 4 speed Hydramatic...maroon paint, I have a pic I'll send. Looked better than it sounds, 'Nash grille'...wait'll you see it)

 

We'd push the Hangover to start it, Paul would turn it around, (no reverse) line it up and go. We'd follow, at moderate speed, after his run, catching up with him at the end of the strip, pushing him gently to line up for the return strip.

Paul would open the top hatch (doors welded shut) and bail out! (He HATED the heat in there, always made the line quickly, so as to get it done and get out as fast as he could...

My NEW added responsibility was my favorite: Climb partway in, sit on top of the aircraft seat with my head out of the open hatch; Babe would 'nerf' me at 5-7 MPH through the return passage...I'd sit looking 'casual'..."Nothin' to it'...as if I was the Pilot!

Spectators, young and old, would whisper: "That kid! Did HE just drive that thing???" My head would grow, chest would swell... Lookin' cool in my recent flattop haircut...I had also taken to wearing desert boots, like Little Paul.

I was 'coming out', as they say...HOT rodder, extraordinaire. Sponsored, yet. LOL

A few schoolmates, too...they'd have 20 questions the next day at school. I grew to hate Mondays...but could live with the envy of the jocks, who thought I really shoed the Hangover.




So, I sincerely miss the 'overseers', my Mentors. There would be some others, but my job became 'specialized', and after working under the mentorship of the likes of Vasek Pollack, Ak Miller, and later with wonderful fellows like Ron Canepa, Fag Campoy, and Roy Weber, I have been 'blessed'.

Still I wish old Harry of Automotive Industrial Supplies were alive. To work with him was like it would have been to visit with Harry Weber!

Old Harry collaborated with Rich Fox, (HAMB Bonneville racer) who put the Yblock head on the Plymouth 4 banger. I met Rich in San Jose at Harry's shop, they were working on the project then and there. It was 1962.




Gosh, this is a 'volume'. "Mikey can STILL talk!"

 

Sure do miss my learned mentors...Consequently, it's sure comfortable to have regained contact with you, George! Intelligence (well rounded, with life smarts abounding) is rare in my life.

I reside in a cultural desert, an intellectual vacuum!




Thanks so much for responding...I'll look forward to conversation. WISH you were here...

Keep me up to speed with your progress with Doug's project, and I want to see some pics of your T!!!!

Glad to hear you've settled into a 'light project', as these are the ones see light at the end of the tunnel!

My Tub has a ways to go, sheet metalwise. But I have another rear section, (mine was in a fire where it sat, only the right rear quarter got 'hot' and 'thinned out' when it rusted for 10 years.




But I have built lots, so this is an easy one...(been done many times by many, so is well documented...the 'stance' and other aesthetics are important, as the power dep't is more than 'available'.

Just might use the Desoto hemi, but Oh, those hi-comp pistons! $$$ & $$$!




Talk later, have to put a seal in the steering box on my '55 F100...




Cheers!




Pals... Mike


Fordors

  • Hero Member
My buddy Atwater Mike sent me this email today, figured I would share it here, asked him he is A-ok, so here it is. I have posted it verbatim.


Wow, George!!!

GREAT to hear of your 'bonding'...Really quite enviable. (I'd love to be able to hook up with someone like a former 'guru' like I had so many of in the 'formative years'...but hell. They're all dead, and would be senile at the very least.)

I had a treasure trove of 'elders', my Dad was killed in '54, I was 12. I would be sidling up to neighbor Al Soto's house semi-daily, he was 23 or so, married, 2 small children...Al drove a new '53 F100, dual carbs, Edelbrock heads, cam...and a '53 Merc crank. I saw the engine on a stand in his garage before he installed it...Brand new truck, and being 'Hot rodded'! Imagine!

Al and Louie Soto were charter members of the Igniters of San Jose. There were roughly 20 members, I knew 'em all. Plaque had a spark plug with a lightning bolt under the electrode ground...SO Right!




But the unique thing about the Igniters was that they employed a 'club within a club': That was 'Hernando's Racing Team'! (the logo was the WWll "Kilroy" avatar that G.I.s would scrawl onto walls all over Europe: The familiar bald headed guy looking over the fence, only his eyes, nose and one hair on the bald head showing, and his fingers grasping the top boards holding him up.) "Kilroy was here"...and that was the 'minority' that I chose to listen to.

There were club meetings I was welcome to attend, kept mouth shut and eyes & ears open. (a task for me, to be sure; you know I usually have 'something to say'!) LOL

 

Other members were previous acquaintances, Santa Clara was a small town, and my family was well known. Grandma was a 'pioneer', born on the Calistoga wagon her Dad had wagon-mastered from St. Joseph, Mo. to Seattle, Wash. This was his last trip, he had bought 120 acres in lush Santa Clara Valley, and Grandma was born in St. Helena, CA., 1876.

Grandma married in 1890, at 14 years of age...she and her husband built the sprawling ranch style bungalow on Lincoln St., across the wide avenue from the Carmelite monastery.

And those were my digs, as Mom and Dad stayed there with Grandma, after Grandpa passed. (1930, Mom and Dad married in 1938)




The Santa Clara (and San Jose, 6 miles away) members were mostly of Portuguese descent, and made light of it: Every joke had some slant pointed at their 'roots'...Lots of laughter, they were great to be around.

Alphonse was a Mexican. Real gear guy, he could quote recommended ratios from engine specs and car weight, I thought he was a genius. (this was 1954, Ted Halibrand had a 'Gear wheel' he sold, a circular graph that could be rotated for 'combinations'...Alphonse did it in his head. He was seldom far from the 'best combination'!

I always had a chauffer to take me to the drags. "Mikey can't get to the drags, we can pick him up" was the credo.

 

My good friend "Boof" (Al Marceline) had the tall '32 Highboy roadster, windshield chopped 5", black paint and black Ford 16" wheels, 7.60s rear, 5.00s front...had '46 Ford caps, black tires, very 'businesslike'.

Boof ran a 5/16" X quarter, 274" flathead. Dual 97s, Eddie Meyer heads, Harmon & Collins cam AND ignition, dual coil. Holy crap...First time I rode in it I was made aware of 'impossible physics'...Cars just couldn't accelerate that fast!  Leastwise, none of them I ever had the luck in riding in!

Boof left the house, we were goin' to the DIGS! He turned the corner, right on Benton St. It was city blocks for 10 of them, then crossed the railroad tracks and became Brokaw Rd., 2 lane, country...ran past the airport.

Boof said, "Let's make some time..." second gear, his foot mashed the '32 Spoon pedal to the firewall, the roadster pulled my skinny body into the seat with brutal force, at high torque! Shift into high, ZOUNDS! The speedo was somewhere around 70, and climbing...The wind whipped past the chopped windshield, we were flyin'!

He let off then, my eyes were big as saucers...I said, "Whew! Does this baby go!" -or some such, Boof laughed.

I hung with him mostly, he was always ready to talk, (I read every Hot Rod Magazine since the first issue, a man around the corner gave me his whole collection, only the 3 latest ones were missing, I soon found them and was up to date! I memorized every line Don Francisco wrote, Roger Huntington was 'tougher', I sometimes had to look up terms he used in the dictionary...he was a member of S.A.E., and his 'papers' were notoriously technical!)

Ergo, Boof and Alphonse (and Ritchie Mignano, who taught me how to oxy-acet weld 20 gauge steel!) all said, "Ask Mikey, he knows all the jet sizes..." "Ask Mikey, he knows the ring gaps..."

I memorized everything engine and transmission related I could get. I never got a 'big head', these guys knew stuff I thought I could never learn...




The club car (Hernando's) was a chopped & channeled Austin Bantom Coupe on a much modified 'A' frame; Body sat at extreme rear, and it had a long 'needle' nose, hand formed aluminum. It was dubbed, "The Hangover", and had a pic painted on the nose of an explosion, and a guy's body parts graphically being blown to bits: his head going straight 'up', arms out to the sides, legs downward, apart, and second look his hairy balls going straight down, and the 'other part' upward, past his surprised face...but you had to look for it. A track 'official' spotted it some time after it was painted, said "Get that stuff covered up, there are women and kids here," indicating ME, with the flag in his hand...I felt guilty, as if it was my fault...but they all laughed it off, and had the painter do white patches over the 'private parts'...and we wrote "Censored" in black India Ink!

Car ran B "Competition Coupe", one week turned a blazing 140 MPH, was vied "World's Fastest Coupe" for a couple of weeks.




 Car ran a 304" 59L block, (Canadian, for the 'thicker cylinder castings': 'Gospel', from the wisdom of Alphonse)

3-7/16" X 4-1/4", offset welded '50 Merc crank; Again, the Merc Crank...Potvin Eliminator cam, 'radiused lifters'?

I would learn more, like the drilled tappet bosses to keep the tappets from turning when adjusting the 'abstract threads'.

My job was to adjust these tappets, (they were keyed, so they didn't 'turn'...they were shaped at the bottoms like a 'roller' would be, in later times thanks to innovator Chet Herbert)

The four Stromberg 97s were a constant pain for Alphonse and Louie Soto, who would remove them in the pits and change jets. Linkage, fuel hoses, and 12 5/16" nuts that came off from within tight spaces soon became a job for the small but nimble fingers of 'Mikey'!

About the third time I had to do this, I had a 97 jet wrench I was given: My own 97 Tool! Bonanza!

I made a slight modification to the jet wrench, and pulled off what seemed to be the 'perfect crime'!

Removing fuel hoses from carbs #s 2 and 4, I was able to sneak in and change jets on #s 1 and 3 while still on the manifold. The others I did on a fender cover on the cowl.

This guy "Switch" was a member of the Igniters, he saw me and said "Hey, what the hell are you doing?" Loud.

The guys came up, and looked...Switch was asked to go mind his own business, and were surprised at how fast this made the operation...like a smart, shrewd move. I was proud, they said "Real cool move"...




Switch never liked me, I don't know why. He drove a '32 sedan, full fendered fordor, chopped 4"+, competition yellow, Chrysler 331 with 4 carbs, Magneto ignition, and I don't know any more about it...he sat in the back, single bucket seat, pressure system inside, Moon tank & pump. Used 2nd and high gears, Louie said it had a LaSalle box. Ran fast, but the fast flatheads usually beat him.

Switch was an Army soldier, finished a 2 year hitch out of Korea. Blond hair, crew cut, looked like my cousin Ronny. Kind of a 'pistol', always with the "What's this kid doing here? Somebody's gonna trip over him..."

I avoided him, Al Marceline ("Boof") told him if he crossed me again he'd be "going to fist city". I was relieved.




So, after a typical hot run at 130+MPH, the 'Hangover' (piloted by "Little Paul",) the Hangover was turned toward the return strip, a one lane hard packed dirt path barely 8 feet wide, separated from the standing spectators by a 3 foot high wire fence.

Now, Paul, (5 feet tall, 100 lbs., was the Mexican nephew of Alphonse, I thing he was somewhere around 21, because he drank beer. (ALL the rest of the Igniters were tee-totallers, they all drank 'Near Beer', no alcohol.)

Eventually, I'd ride in the famous Babe's Muffler Service push truck, a full custom chopped F-1, taildragger full skirted with Nash grille, dual stacks, NEW '53 Cad engine with 4 speed Hydramatic...maroon paint, I have a pic I'll send. Looked better than it sounds, 'Nash grille'...wait'll you see it)

 

We'd push the Hangover to start it, Paul would turn it around, (no reverse) line it up and go. We'd follow, at moderate speed, after his run, catching up with him at the end of the strip, pushing him gently to line up for the return strip.

Paul would open the top hatch (doors welded shut) and bail out! (He HATED the heat in there, always made the line quickly, so as to get it done and get out as fast as he could...

My NEW added responsibility was my favorite: Climb partway in, sit on top of the aircraft seat with my head out of the open hatch; Babe would 'nerf' me at 5-7 MPH through the return passage...I'd sit looking 'casual'..."Nothin' to it'...as if I was the Pilot!

Spectators, young and old, would whisper: "That kid! Did HE just drive that thing???" My head would grow, chest would swell... Lookin' cool in my recent flattop haircut...I had also taken to wearing desert boots, like Little Paul.

I was 'coming out', as they say...HOT rodder, extraordinaire. Sponsored, yet. LOL

A few schoolmates, too...they'd have 20 questions the next day at school. I grew to hate Mondays...but could live with the envy of the jocks, who thought I really shoed the Hangover.




So, I sincerely miss the 'overseers', my Mentors. There would be some others, but my job became 'specialized', and after working under the mentorship of the likes of Vasek Pollack, Ak Miller, and later with wonderful fellows like Ron Canepa, Fag Campoy, and Roy Weber, I have been 'blessed'.

Still I wish old Harry of Automotive Industrial Supplies were alive. To work with him was like it would have been to visit with Harry Weber!

Old Harry collaborated with Rich Fox, (HAMB Bonneville racer) who put the Yblock head on the Plymouth 4 banger. I met Rich in San Jose at Harry's shop, they were working on the project then and there. It was 1962.




Gosh, this is a 'volume'. "Mikey can STILL talk!"

 

Sure do miss my learned mentors...Consequently, it's sure comfortable to have regained contact with you, George! Intelligence (well rounded, with life smarts abounding) is rare in my life.

I reside in a cultural desert, an intellectual vacuum!




Thanks so much for responding...I'll look forward to conversation. WISH you were here...

Keep me up to speed with your progress with Doug's project, and I want to see some pics of your T!!!!

Glad to hear you've settled into a 'light project', as these are the ones see light at the end of the tunnel!

My Tub has a ways to go, sheet metalwise. But I have another rear section, (mine was in a fire where it sat, only the right rear quarter got 'hot' and 'thinned out' when it rusted for 10 years.




But I have built lots, so this is an easy one...(been done many times by many, so is well documented...the 'stance' and other aesthetics are important, as the power dep't is more than 'available'.

Just might use the Desoto hemi, but Oh, those hi-comp pistons! $$$ & $$$!




Talk later, have to put a seal in the steering box on my '55 F100...




Cheers!




Pals... Mike


"Switch never liked me, I don't know why."
Simple, really. The kid kept his mouth shut and listened and observed. When he came up with a good time saving step and was criticized by Switch the other, wiser guys told him to back off. Thanks to George for posting this and especially to Mike for the history lesson. Good stuff!
I know the basement floor is down there because it's holding everything up. I just can't see it anymore.

jaded iconoclast

  • Hero Member
Its really a pleasure Larry. There are a couple guys I want to lure over here, Mike is one. We have talked a lot off-forum over the years, especially about the Ray Anderegg car, and some other stuff too. When he talks about this stuff, he is coming from the perspective of being there, when it was happening.

Tom

  • Administrator
    • http://hotrodcraft.com
What a great post!   I felt like I was back in time.   Thank you!

29bowtie

  • Hero Member
Thanks so much to you George and Mike as well. What a journey through history. 8)
Professionals built the Titanic, An Amateur built the Ark

DavyJ

  • Hero Member
Thanks guys, that was a very entertaining break in my day!  Hope you can share more memories!
Living life at a 100 smiles per hour!