Yes, it’s a photo of Bernie’s...
Yes, it’s a photo of Bernie’s 404 B from 1947. But did you notice there are at least three Deuce roadsters in the photo? You can bet there was a whole bunch more in line. So, if you own one, there’s a good chance it got fast and dirty that day because no one ever thought of them as anything but a race car and treated them accordingly.
Bernie was slinging 200 papers a day on his 50-mile route in his roadster, but because of the war effort, not only couldn’t he buy tires, only four gallons of fuel a week was permitted from 1942-45. That meant any driving Bernie did had to be close to home.
Still going to high school, Bernie landed a job at Douglas Aircraft. “When I was 18, I went to work at midnight, was off at 7:30 a.m., and got to school by 8. At 3:15 I got out of school, went home to sleep, and did the same thing again,” he laughs.
“I went to my prom down at Huntington Beach the Friday night before going to the lakes in 1941. I had a girl by then but my buddy said, ‘You can’t take that girl in your roadster!’ He told me to take her in his new ’40 Chevy. The next day, five of us piled into the Chevy and went to Muroc dry lake. I remember one of the Spalding Brothers was there—he ran an overhead-valve V-8 in his Modified roadster. (The blown OHV was a Riley—the brothers ran 132 mph the day Bernie was there.) I thought the cam was going to come right out of it, it was so loud. Doug Caruthers was there as well.” (Caruthers was another record holder before World War II and later sold his Modified to Le Roy Neumayer and Art Chrisman.)
You can bet the experience of going to Muroc stayed with Bernie. While it would eventually be closed to the public for good, Bernie would return to race at El Mirage after the war.
Bernie’s buddy Chuck Potvin...
Bernie’s buddy Chuck Potvin (of Potvin cam fame) picked up on the Izzy spoof and ran with it too! Potvin had just embarked on his high-performance cam business and ground Bernie his fifth cam free of charge, which is still in his Flathead today. Of course, hundreds of Potvin cams would follow.
Bernie followed Morey into the Navy, and once in, traveled an astonishing 190,000 nautical miles during World War II by the time he was 21. His ship, the USS Anzio Coral Sea CVE-57, was an escort carrier engaged in 10 battles in the Pacific with the Japanese. The first 100 days at sea, the ship was engaged in its first battle near Makin Island when its sister ship positioned next to it was hit, going to the bottom in 23 minutes. Miraculously, 174 seamen survived. Bernie was assigned to the boiler room (one of the most dangerous, noisiest, and hottest places to be onboard ship). “It was 140 degrees where I worked.”
In all, 27 Japanese flags were mounted on the ship’s bridge (the room where the ship is commanded), representing six submarines sunk plus 21 enemy aircraft shot down by the USS Anzio while Bernie was on board.
Bernie bought a house for his folks in Yorba Linda when he was 19 while he was stationed in the Pacific: “I didn’t need money so I sent it to them. Within six months I made 3rd class petty officer, so my pay went up. My folks were renting the house. I had $350 in the bank; they came up with the extra to make the $500 down payment and bought it for $2,500.” Are you ready for the house payments? Just $25 a month!
Sure, you could paint the...
Sure, you could paint the number on your car at the dry lake in El Mirage, but it was more fun to put it on at home and head to The Main Malt Shop in Santa Ana (which Bernie frequented daily) before heading to the lakes.
When Bernie was discharged from the Navy in 1946, he became circulation manager for the Fullerton Tribune News (the very one he started as a paper boy and janitor at), but soon he realized he wasn’t cut out for circulation manager and he went to the pressroom in the printing end of the newspaper business.
While at the paper Bernie was given $50 per month under the GI Bill for going to Fullerton College. Bernie worked at a gas station, in a print shop, “and I did anything I could to make a dime. I worked at night to earn 50 cents worth of gas, which was about 15 cents a gallon. It was enough to go to El Mirage.”
If you think dry lake racing...
If you think dry lake racing didn’t attract a crowd—a big crowd—in the late ’40s, this photo, dated 09-25-49, should put an end to how popular this free-spirited sport was. When it was time to get serious about running at El Mirage, that’s just what Bernie did.
About to cross into Nevada...
About to cross into Nevada (circa 1950-51), Bernie stopped to grab this photo on what is now the heavily traveled 15 freeway. It wouldn’t be until 1955 that Whiskey Petes, a two-pump gas station, would open just up the road. Bernie may have crossed into the gambling state, but couldn’t gamble on the amount of petrol in his tank before he made it to a gas station on that lonely stretch of desert road in those days.
Show ’n’ shine was not on...
Show ’n’ shine was not on Bernie’s to-do list before he took this photo in 1948 when he drove his Deuce up to Snow Valley (near Big Bear Lake), just above San Bernardino, CA.