No one knows exactly who, what, when, or where the word "hot rod" came into being, but imagine standing right next to the person when it was first uttered. The guys who hung out at the speed shops before World War II called them gow jobs and hot irons. But we can pinpoint when another idiom was created that would describe the most explosive, mechanical projectile ever conceived, plus it also became the source of Dode Martin's livelihood.
That little 5-year-old ragamuffin was Dode on the family lemon grove in Fallbrook. This wa
The late Dick Kraft had shown up at Santa Ana Drag Strip shortly after it opened July 3, 1950, with a contraption he called the "Bug," that consisted of a Model T frame, a cowl, an engine, and a seat. After seeing that, Dode Martin, thinking he could do one better, built a similar racer. C.J. "Pappy" Hart, who founded the commercial dragstrip, asked Martin, "What are you going to call it?" When Dode couldn't come up with a name, Hart said, "Call it a dragster." Dode was not only at the beginning, in many ways, he was the beginning, as you shall see.
Dode Martin's parents, Dean and Pansy, moved to Fallbrook, California, from La Habra, California, when Dode (born 1925) was 18 months old. Dode has lived on the property in Fallbrook ever since. His father drove a truck for a lumber company in La Habra. He traded his house and lot there for the down payment on a 20-acre lemon grove in Fallbrook.
The area was/is known for its avocado and citrus industry and still has several packing plants. You may recall in the Parnelli Jones story, Jones' father worked on an avocado grove in Fallbrook.
Dode went to Fallbrook High School, consisting of approximately 125 students. There were no auto shop classes to take in school so Dode took agricultural classes. "When I was 15 I got an old car from a friend who had a '28 Chevy chassis and motor and we put a Model T body on it. It was really a hokey-looking thing. I didn't have a license because in Fallbrook you didn't even care. There was no police department in town. (Fallbrook, to this day, is unincorporated and is serviced by the county of San Diego.) I taught myself to weld and had a little shop in an old barn on the property.
That’s Dode (left), his mother, Pansy, and his brother, Don, before Dode shipped overseas.
Dode further honed his welding and metallurgy skills by working at Douglas Aircraft in Long Beach after he graduated from high school in 1943. He worked there until he was drafted.
"I got drafted into the Army infantry in June of 1944. After 17 weeks of boot camp I went to New York and boarded the Queen Elizabeth that had been converted to a troop ship, to Glasgow, Scotland. There were 17,000 of us troops, plus the crew, on board. We were a replacement company that replaced soldiers who were killed or wounded. I went to the 8th infantry division, 1st Army, and got right in the middle of The Battle of the Bulge in Germany in December for a month and a half. I got frostbite on my feet and hands. I was in five military hospitals, first in Belgium, then Paris. I was flown on a military aircraft to Manchester, England, where I was in the hospital for three months. Finally I was released and sent to Germany to guard German prisoners who had surrendered. I was discharged in August of 1946.
"When I got home the government gave us what they called 52-20. That was $20 a week for 52 weeks. I did that for a few months and got tired of it. I got a job digging water wells with a jackhammer, driving farm tractors for some of the groves till I got a government job at Camp Pendleton in the Labor Pool at a $1.05 an hour. If a carpenter needed a laborer they came and got us. Then I got into plastering. We remodeled all of the barracks in Camp Pendleton. It took 25 minutes to drive from home to Pendleton. I did that for 10 years, from 1949-59.
"I had a chance to rent a little place in downtown Fallbrook for $25 a month. I started acquiring a welder, a boring bar, and equipment for the shop. Then I got a Model A coupe that I chopped and channeled. I wasn't very good at it and it was never really finished.
That’s the family Dodge behind Dode’s ’40 in 1948. Little did Dode realize when that photo
"I heard they had drag races up at the Santa Ana Drag Strip (approximately 70 miles north) so I put a tow bar on the Model A and drug it there. I saw all these guys running, like Dick Kraft, so I said, ‘I can do better than that.' I could see what Kraft was running was stripped down to nothing.
"I went down to Russell Wolf's wrecking yard in Fallbrook and bought a Model A frame and front end. I had a '36 Ford in the barn, I tipped it over, took the rear end and transmission out of it, took the motor out of my coupe, and put it in this frame-thing, found a crumpled up body, and made a race car out of it."
“I had that ’40 Ford for 13 years. I had it before I got drafted and my folks saved it for
Dode chopped and channeled this Model A coupe, threw a tow bar on it, and dragged it to th
“Pappy Hart let me run the car at Santa Ana. It had no rollbar, I had no helmet, and I bor