When Jim got out of high school...
When Jim got out of high school he went to work at a gas station where there was a `40 Ford for sale. Jim bought this `40 and started drag racing it.
Hot rodders, the so-called hooligans, didn’t hang out in bars, they hung out at speed shops and drive-ins; drive-ins to find out who was going faster and speed shops to learn how to go faster.
Jim Travis met his future wife, Deloris, by cruising the drive-ins. Deloris went to Whittier High School and moonlighted as a carhop at George’s Drive-In in Pico Rivera, California, plus Jim hung out at Automotive Specialties in Montebello that sold new and used speed equipment. It had the allure of burning rubber and a trace of fuel in the air with two owners who were skilled fabricators, mechanics, and most importantly—racers.
Mind you, even though Jim...
Mind you, even though Jim was in the Army that didn’t stop him from opening a shop called Automotive Specialties in Highland Falls, NY, while serving his country. Displaced Californians probably thought Bill Fowler and Jerry Eisert opened another shop on the East Coast. That’s Jim’s shop partner, Orv Schultz, at the drags standing next to Jim’s ’48 F-1.
Jim probably made a nuisance of himself, but owners Jerry Eisert and Bill Fowler took a liking to him and introduced the young man to the hot rod world of Bonneville and Indianapolis. Because of that initiation, Jim eats, sleeps, and drinks hot rods. Actually he lives on bologna sandwiches, sleeps above his shop, and until a short time ago, drank Pepsi.
Jim would later go on to chop one of the most hammered ’34 Ford coupes, racking up more miles on the Salt than a cab driver in Fargo, North Dakota—we’re talkin’ Bonneville baby!
Jim is also a highly respected and sought-after restorer of historic race cars. Between 1991 and 1999, Jim restored 28 race cars of distinction, including the late Jack Chrisman’s (Art’s uncle) chopped Hemi-powered ’29 Model A sedan, plus Mickey Thompson’s four-engine Challenger 1 Streamliner and the Assault, and Mickey’s single-engine Pontiac dragster that looks more like a Bonneville Streamliner than a streamlined dragster. Read on.
Jim had just gotten out of...
Jim had just gotten out of the service when he stopped by the Speedway. “That was January 1959. I got there late and everything was closed up. The museum was next door. I just looked in the windows, took the picture, and headed home because I was being chased by a snow storm.”
Jim Travis of Whittier, California, was born in Bradford, Pennsylvania (home of Zippo lighters), in 1934, but his grandfather, who was in the Spanish American War with Teddy Roosevelt, contracted Malaria and was told to move to a warmer climate. Jim’s grandmother had a brother who lived in Montebello, California, so the whole family moved to the racing town.
Jim rode in his dad’s ’34 Dodge four-door and Jim’s mom in Grandpa’s new ’47 Olds to California. When he got here, Jim hit the shop classes with both hands at Montebello High School: “I took metalworking, and in radio shop I made a one-tube crystal set (which needs no battery or power source but runs on power from radio waves using a high antenna), machine shop, and auto shop.
“I sold papers on Whittier Boulevard for the Herald and the L.A. Times. I stood there on the corner, they were piled up in front of the A&P Market and I had to make deliveries up and down the boulevard to different merchants. I’d come back to my stack of papers and there’d be money lying on the papers. I’d count the money and it was the exact amount to cover the missing papers.”
Jim not only got in with nothing...
Jim not only got in with nothing more than a look that he belonged there, but ended up working on Dan Gurney’s Lotus Ford at Indy in 1963. Then he got a few more skinned knuckles on “The Spirit of St Louis” Champ Car owned by hot rodder Ermie Immerso, pictured behind his No. 53. (A hot rodder to the end, Immerso’s casket was painted Candy Orange.)
When Jim turned 16 he found a ’37 Plymouth coupe at one of the garages that he used to deliver papers to for $70. He sold his bicycle for the down payment and gave his paper route to his brother. To pay for the Plymouth, Jim started working at some of the gas stations that he used to deliver papers to. Of course they all had lube racks and tools but all that free equipment couldn’t save the Plymouth. “It didn’t take me long to blow it up,” Jim laughs.
The car Jim had through the remainder of his two years of high school was a ’31 Fordor, which his dad saw for sale on the bulletin board at work. Jim paid $60. He had to upholster it, and make a top for it. The roof fabric was gone when he bought it, which is why the interior was no more. Taking various shop classes, Jim worked on the car in school. Not exactly a girl-magnet but it was wheels and, for some reason, the too-many-door Model A landed in the high school yearbook. Jim graduated in 1953.