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Custom History

September 18, 2017

Customs at Milnes Richfield Station

 

NORM MILNES RICHFIELD Station

 

In the mid 1940’s The Thunderbolts Car Club of Sacramento used the Norm Milnes Richfield Station as their hangout. Some historical important Custom Cars were photographed at this location.



The birth of Custom Restyling took place in California, in Southern California to be more precise. Exact dates for when this happened, or even what city this took place have never been documented. And we will most likely never be able to pin-point down, other than it happened in Southern California, possibly even at different locations at similar moments around Los Angeles. The form of Custom Restyling, as we discuss it here on the Custom Car Chronicle, started in the early 1930’s and developed over the years. It also migrated soon after that, first mostly in California, the Bay Area around San Fransisco as well as around Sacramento soon became hot beds of Custom restyling, later followed by other States as well.





Sacramento, Northern California was particular important for the Custom Restyling as we know it. Metal genius and early Customizer Harry Westergard was from Sacramento, Duck Bertolucci and also Sam and George Barris lived there. Les Crane, another early Custom Restyler was from that area so there must have been something good in the Sacramento area water.

After WWII, in late 1945, several Sacramento area Hot Rodders and Custom Car guys including Harry Westergard, Norm Milne and Butler Rugard formed a new car club The Capotol Auto Club, nicke named Thunderbolts. They held meetings at Harry Westergards place, and later the Richfield Gas Station of member Norm Milne (and his brother) would be the clubs headquarters, and hangout. The gas Station was located at Broadway and 25th in Sacramento, not to far from where Harry Westergard then worked from. Norm Milne personal Custom was a 1938 Ford Convertible Sedan Custom that was restyled by Harry Westergard in the early 1940’s. Norm was one of the very few guys who had a camera, and took some pictures of the club-members cars from time to time. Without his photo nearly none of this important part of the Custom History might never have been documented, at least not photographic.

Norm Milne 1938 Ford on the right and Gene Garrett’s 1940 Ford on the left at the Richfield Gas Station that was owned by Norm Milne and his brother.

 




Norm Milne 1938 Ford

Norm Milne’s 1936 Ford was a very early Custom, started in 1940, when Norm drove it to Los Angeles to have a chopped Carson Top installed. The Carson top Shop handled it all, including the chop of the windshield and the cutting and refitting of all side windows. Most likely the metal work was done by the Jarret Metal Works next door to the Carson Top Shop.

Some time after returning to Sacramento Norm had his friend Harry Westergard do the rest of the restyling. Harry reshaped the front of the hood and grille surround to make the 1940 La Salle grille fit the Ford. The Hood-sides louvres were filled and the sides are now completely smooth. The hood ornament shaved and the stock headlights rings were replaced with chrome plated aftermarket sealed beam headlights. At the back Harry set in the license plate behind glass, a very popular technique at the time. The car was lowered and a set of teardrop fender skirts added. The door handles remained on the car, and so where the running boards. Harry installed a set of bumpers, possibly from a Graham with custom bumper guards to make the Ford looks a bit more robust. The only two photos we know that exist of the car show it with the front sheet metal still in primer.

Norm Milne’s 1938 Ford Sedan Convertible with the front body work done by Harry Westergard still in primer. Parked in front of his Richfield station. This photo, as well as most others in this article was taken in 1947. Notice how the front bumper had three bumper guards? That is Gene Garrett’s ’40 Ford in the background on the left. Both cars had black wall tires.

 


Cropped section of the leading photo shows Norm’s Ford parked inside the gas station. It is a very small photo, but as far as we know there are only two photos of this Harry Westergard Custom ever published.

 




Gene Garrett 1940 Ford

We know Gene Garrett best of the ’36 Ford Convertible Custom Harry Westergard did for him around 1942-43. But Gene owned at least one more Custom later on. In 1947 he drove a 1940 Ford Convertible with chopped padded top. According the stories Gene, did just as his friend Norm, drive his car to Los Angeles where he took it the Carson Top Shop to have then chop the windshield and add the white padded top. We only have very limited photo material of this car, but as far as we can see in the photos the running boards were removed, the hood was shaved, made one piece and smoothed. The side trim was removed and at the back the trunk was shaved and a set in license plate was added to the lower end of the trunk. De Soto Bumpers were installed and the car had black wall tires in 1947.

Parked at the Richfield Gas Station looking good with is nicely shaped chopped padded top. I wonder which convertible or roadster sedan car is parked behind Gene’s Ford. It does not show up in any of the other photos taken at the Gas Station.

 


The rear end of Gene’s 40 Ford shows in the photo of Norm Milne. This enlarged section shows the ’37 DeStoto bumpers as well as the set in plate in the trunk. It also gives us a good look at the odd three bumper guards on Norm’s ’38 Ford. I have no idea why that was done, and why it had two different units placed close on the passenger side, and only one on the drivers side? 

 


Since photos of the Gene Gerrett 1940 Ford are so rare I have also included this snapshot of Gene racing the dray lakes. (Photo comes from the Don Montomery books Leroy Semas Collection)

 




Mel Falconer 1939 Ford

We are fortunate that we have several Harry Westergard created Custom Cars still among us. At least 6 of them are still around, some completely restored, others in the process of it, or at least in good hands. One of them is the Mel Falconer’s 1939 Ford , that was later owned by Bruce Glenn when it became more popular in the 1950’s. There is one photo of the Westergard Restyled ’39 Ford taken at the Richfield Gas Station in 1947 that shows the car with its original chopped padded top. Later Harry would create a lift off metal top based on a ’38 Ford top which is still with the car today.

Originally restyled in the early 1940’s to what we see in the photo here, wonderful metal work on the nose of the car to be able to use the 1940 Packard grille that was chopped to get the right height. The headlights were replaced by painted ’40 Ford units, the bumpers replaced by ’37 DeSoto units and at the back Harry had set in the license plate behind glass, and later he would mold in the trunk completely. Mel’s ’39 Ford Custom is the only Custom in this series of photos, taken around 1947, that has white wall tires installed. Around 1947 the tires manufacturers were starting to produce white wall tires again. Its production had been stopped completely during WWII when the rubber was needed for the war. During the previous years only black wall tires were available, and during the war those were rationed as well.

Mel Falkoner’s Harry Westergard ’39 Ford looked stunning at the Richfield Gas Station. To bad the hubcaps was missing when this photo was taken.

 


When I zoomed in on the back of the car I noticed a damaged teardrop shape skirt on Mel’s 39 Ford, and peaking just behind it is Gene Garrett’s ’40 Ford.

 




George Barris 1941 Buick

Around 1947 George Barris was starting to establish a name as Custom Car builder in Los Angeles. He had moved from Sacramento to Los Angeles in 1943, and he still had many of his car-friends back in Sacramento. When he had finished his personal 1941 Buick Custom with full fade-away fenders he was very eager to show his Nor-Cal friends how far he has gotten as a Custom Car builder. He drove his Buick from LA to Sacramento to meet up with his friends at Norm’s Richfield Gas Station. We are not sure if George was able to show his personal Custom Buick to his master Harry Westergard during this trip. There are some photos of George with his Buick and some of his friends, but Harry Westergard is not in any of those photos.

George also used his Buick for long distance drives. This photo was taken in front of the Elmer Howard’s Body – Fender & Top Shop in Sacramento. The building on the right is Norm Milne’s Richfield station.

 



This photo of George his Buick was taken facing away from the Richfield Station, to the right, just outside this photo is Elmer Howard’s Body Shop.

 


After George had finished his new Custom he wanted to show it to his old Sacramento friends. Left to right Willis Schraeder, Jack Odberg, George Barris, Buddy Ohanesian, Bruce Glenn, Norm Milne and Mel Falconer. The friends were pretty impressed with George’s new Custom ride. The photo was taken in late 1947.

 




Another one of the friends, this time a little closer. Jack Odberg kneeling, George Barris standing, Buddy Ohanesian kneeling, Bruce Glenn standing, Norm Milne and Mel Falconer both kneeling.

 



Norm Milne in the center with his trusty camera, which he always had with him according the stories. On the left of the photo is Butler Rugard and on the right the master himself. Harry Westergard.

 


Location of Norm Milne’s Richfield Gas Station at the corner of 25th and Broadway in Sacramento, California.

 


Harry Westergard is always credited for creating the typical Westergard style Custom in the 1940’s. Basically a ’36 Ford-ish Roadster with a speed boat stance, chopped windshield white padded top smooth hood sides, De Soto Bumpers and a 1940 LaSalle grille. This image might not have been based on an actual car Harry Westergard has actually created, but more likely on an painting by Artist Robert Williams. Norm Milne‘s 1938 Ford is, as far as we know the only Custom Harry Westergard created that actually used the LaSalle Grille, as can be seen in this article. Harry more frequently used the Packard Clipper grilles.

 






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About the Author

Rik Hoving
Rik is the CCC editor in chief. As a custom car historian he is researching custom car history for many years. In 2004 he started the Custom Car Photo Archive that has become a place of joy for many custom car enthousiasts. Here at CCC Rik will bring you inspiring articles on the history of custom cars and builders. Like a true photo detective he will show us what's going on in all those amazing photos. He will write stories about everything you want to know in the realm of customizing. In daily life Rik is a Graphic Designer. He is married to the CCC webmaster and the father of a 10 year old son (they are both very happy with his excellent cooking skills)




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5 Comments


  1. Epic history lesson !
    Thanks Rik


  2. That number 14 painted on the roadster beside HARRY WESTERGARD in that photo is killer, I just love the Art Deco numbers painted on Roadsters …..

    Harry Westergard lived in a street with a junk yard just opp his hos not far, I can only think of the parts he got from there to build his trade mark customs….

    I would be sure to bet there is one of his cars he worked on lurking in CARMICHAEL in SAC TOWN. There are a lot of old houses built up with single car garages barn style…..There…..
    Ive had a peep there and there is some nice old tin still there…..!!!!
    I was surprised that maybe some one at the MERC GATHERING there might of been from the area and knew of something….I found that guys who know were cars are go to shows but don’t tell any one what they know of, Then one day some ones says look what I found and some how that guy is involved…..

    I remember they guy who found HARRY WESTERGARD’S ROADSTER, He was taking photos of it at MONTERY / PEBBEL BEACH….He told me he found it on the back road from RENO when you take the short cut through CARSON CITY through the mountings of LAKE TAHOE….. There is a guy at an old gas station who sells old cars at HEAVENLY MOUNTIAN RESORT area on the state border. We had a time share in Lake Tahoe. He had a custom there once but I never looked at it.

    KUSTOMLAND


  3. Awesome pictures and information to piece them together. The Mel Falconer ’39 Ford is really neat to see, although it has some minor changes today. Last time I saw it was at the Harrah’s car museum in downtown Reno. It had baby moons and a small Moon-style steering wheel. The metal lift-off top is intact and really a work of art. It would not take much to restore it back to its ’40s look.

    It would be amazing to go back in time and be a fly on the wall to experience the enthusiasm these early customizers had…


  4. nice history rik from back then love it,



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