Yep, that’s a copy of Bernie’s...
Yep, that’s a copy of Bernie’s “pink slip” for his ’32 Ford DeLuxe roadster dated 03-26-42. Looks like his license fee was a whopping $1!
Those lucky enough to have access to Post War SCTA Racing Programs will see an astonishing number of competitors who raced at El Mirage Dry Lake with little or no recognition. The official entry list from September 25-26, 1948, had 249 entries. Of those names listed were the points leaders: Stu Hilborn, Alex Xydias, Phil Remington, and Ak Miller, whose achievements at the lakes and in the automotive industry drew the ink and made them legends.
In far greater numbers were racers who ran with distinction but left the hot rod scene to pursue other careers, like Bernie Couch. Bernie’s ink would come from his and his older brother Morey’s printing business that they had for 43 years—that is until now.
Bernie’s head of hair got...
Bernie’s head of hair got him the nickname “Curley.” It was just days after this photo was taken that he would join the Navy in 1942 and head for the Pacific. His roadster would wait out the war in the garage while Bernie and tens of thousands of young men put their lives on hold to fight for their country.
Bernie Couch was born in 1924 in Yorba Linda, California—a community of orange and lemon groves back when he was growing up. Bernie’s father, Entler, was a farmer in Tennessee before moving to California. If you recall the 1939 John Steinbeck novel, The Grapes of Wrath, many farmers fled to California during the Great Depression only to find an abundance of cheap labor once they got to the Golden State: “My dad went through the Depression when you couldn’t find a job and worked at anything he could find to do,” Bernie begins. “He ended up working at a citrus grove in 1938, then for the county road department for a time, and then he went to work at a cemetery and dug graves.”
Mr. Couch dug graves for the remainder of his working years while Mrs. Couch worked at a packinghouse for 15 cents an hour, washing lemons before she quality-graded them, for 18 years.
“Just about all I took in high school were shop classes,” Bernie says. “I took wood shop, machine shop, metal shop, drafting; I never did get into the foundry at school but I also took print shop.”
Bernie still had his “sea...
Bernie still had his “sea legs” when this photo was taken as he had just gotten out of the Navy in 1945. As you can see he wasted no time reacquainting himself with his roadster.
If you think the shop classes offered by schools decades ago was a way of dealing with students with low IQs or keeping them entertained and out of trouble−think again. Any one of the shop classes that Bernie or his fellow students took gave them a leg-up on a lifelong career in one of the trades. In Bernie’s case, taking print shop would become the stepping stone to his future livelihood and that’s exactly how he would earn his living for the rest of his working life in the printing business. (All of the legendary hot rodders I’ve interviewed will tell you that taking shop classes in high school was as important to their future careers as the academic side of school. More importantly, every school offered shop.)
Bernie’s older brother, Morey, looked after young Bernie. When Morey began working for a paper company as an outside contractor he hired Bernie to work there as well. In fact, Bernie followed Morey through life you might say, later into the Navy during World War II, and finally in business together.
While the penciled-in speeds...
While the penciled-in speeds on Bernie’s timing slips have faded, his memory of those celebrated days has not. Thanks for preserving such history for us. The late Wally Parks and Ak Miller were presidents of the Southern California Timing Association when Bernie ran and experienced their leadership. Through Parks’ and Miller’s foresight, the two spearheaded the way to the largest event of its kind on its (almost) flat earth−Bonneville.
“When I was 16, I bought a Deuce roadster for $280 that was owned by Dick Hartzler. He belonged to the Tornado Car Club in Santa Ana with my brother, Morey. Morey told me [Hartzler] traded his roadster in on a new ’37 Ford. It ended up sitting on the used car lot at McCoy Mills Ford in Fullerton in 1942. [Hartzler] went to jail for five days for street racing in it. That’s when he decided to sell the car.”
Morey cosigned the credit application for Bernie: “I didn’t have the money to put down on the car until the 15th of the month when I got paid by my brother; they held the car for me. I started making payments of $14.30 a month. I worked all the time while I was in school and I guess you could say my girlfriend in school was my car because I couldn’t afford both. I picked up a paper route at the Fullerton Tribune News to pay off the car—but when I couldn’t buy tires for my roadster that I wore out, I had to quit the paper route.”
The ’32 Ford roadster was...
The ’32 Ford roadster was the epicenter of hot rodding. It was elegant enough to pull up the Brown Derby in Hollywood for an evening on the town. Or with just a few tools it could be converted into a full house race car. Bernie enjoyed his roadster to the fullest both ways. It had multipurpose written all over it. Here it is at El Mirage, all clean and shiny, it was Bernie’s street rod that day. Other times at the lake it became his hot rod.
We hope looking at this photo...
We hope looking at this photo just makes your day with “Izzy’s Stock Outfit” ’cause it sure does ours. First off, there was no such person as Izzy. Those of you old enough to remember “Kilroy Was Here” will relate to Izzy. Kilroy was a fictitious character with a bald head and big nose peering over a fence that was plastered all over Europe during World War II. Izzy’s Deuce was actually Bernie’s. Bernie’s group made it a practice to plaster Izzy’s name all over the place among the racers.
Left middle: You can thank...
Left middle: You can thank Bernie for keeping the cost of real Henry Ford fenders down a tad. This photo was taken in 1946 just after he removed the fenders to go racing. Why are we thanking him? Because he hung his up on the back of his garage instead of throwing them in the trash like so many ended up.