Memo Ortega Stories part Three


 She said, I’ll pay you for the car washing, and give you money to go an fill up my gas tank when ever you kids bring the car back its okay with me…

[box_light]Memo Ortega is a well known name in the SoCal Custom Car and LowRider Scene, but perhaps not as well known as it should be. Memo has been working on custom cars and Low Riders since the early 1950’s. He became good friends with Custom Car Icon Gil Ayala, and in the late 1950’s he even bought Gil’s famous 1942-46 Ford Coupe as a persona driver. Today, 80 years young, Memo is still chopping tops, and any other custom car work you can think of from, his garage work-shop. Check out more of the Memo Ortega Stories in the Memo Ortega Files on the CCC[/box_light]

CCC_memo-0rtega-part-three-03Memo at work.

By Memo Ortega
One block south of us, Frank Hernandez, my cousin aka Panya owned a ’36 Ford 2 dr Sedan semi custom taildragger. It had lowered head-lites, smooth hood side panals, Appleton spotlites and ’39 Ford tail-lites. The car was lowered and had teardrop skirts and a great looking white tuck n roll interior. Like most of the other Customs in my neighborhood, it had white walls with spinner hubcaps. It looked stunning in it’s black paint.

A little story on this car. Panya would come over on sat-nites and park his car in front of our house. Then he would take off with his friends to go dancing in El Monte. They never came back early, always staying there till very late. I wanted to drive his car so badly, that I told my buddy aka Papitas Manual Fuentes, (Papitas means potato chips.) what I wanted to do. He said “what if we get in trouble”, I told him we will be ok. It was dark, no street lites, and I just wanted to go to the end of the street, then back and park it in the same spot. Nobody will know… that was the plan. We were at the age, we wanna drive but to young. I knew where he hid the keys, I found them, so we jumped in and started the car. This car had a key locking steering collum. We got it going and away we went, the loud pipes sounding good man, if only our other friends could see us, hey we were cruzing too young snot’s. We got to the end of the street and started our u-turn. Guess what? the gears got stuck. Oh man what are we gonna do now!. I asked Papitas what he would do to get them unstuck, I tried, but whatever we did, it did not work. By this time we are sweating balls, oh, man I new it!!! Man they are gonna get us an kick our butts.

We left the car there, went back to my house, and waited for them. We kept thinking, what if the cops come. They would always drive around and turn around at the end of the street… man we are going to jail? I said, well lets face the music, it can only hurt one time. Then the guys came back home from dancing.
“Where’s my car” he yelled at us.
Opps I said, please don’t get mad, we can explain. It was me not Papitas fault. Panya was cool, and said come with me. He fixed the stuck gears, he knew his car better than us, and knew what to do with the shifts. Panya said, dont mess with the car again! I said we will wash and clean yer car on weekends for what we did.
Cool that will work he said go home now! Yes sir.

CCC_memo-0rtega-part-three-02This photo does not come from Memo’s files, but he saw it on the Custom Car Photo Archive and this was his comment about it “Awesome photo, straight from my teenage years in the barrio. The shoes the blue jeans an leather jackets. How kool is that.” The photo comes from the Zeke Carrillo Collection.
latter, I think it was 1948, me an Papitas get our leather jackets a must have to fit in with the crowds. Thers this guy Ezekial Acencio aka Enshelada, one of my heroes. He was 1 block east of us, had a ’37, 2dr. sedan tail dragger in black primemer. The trunk an doors filled-in side hood panals filled-in also. Teardrop skirts an white walls pinners yes appletons too. And, yes the long antenna also. He came by rapping his pipes with his vagabond plaque draging. Well by this time i’m a littile older I got my eye on this ’29 model coupe conv. This is the start of my messing with cars… more on that later.

CCC_memo-0rtega-part-three-04Memo remembers his mother bought ice from truck like this back in the 1940’s. Some of them were nicely customized like this one belonging to Johnny Rosier.

Next email from Memo

The bike accident

Back to the story on my custom pedal bike. One nite we were on our bikes – about twenty of us – we were all from the same neighborhood. The nite before the cops had warned us not to be riding in the streets in packs at nite, or they would take our bikes away. But that did not hold us.. We all got together like we allways did, and we said if the cops see us we will all scatter so they cant get all of us that was the plan, we were riding down. First street by the old packing houses going west, when somebody in the back of the pack yelled la Hura, (means the cops in Spanish) cuase the car coming had the brite headlites like they allways did, back then we hardly had any nite lites on the roads, around there, so it was real dark where we were. When we got to the corner, where Acencios Encheladas house was, there was lite there. So we all started pedaling our bikes as fast as we could, remember there were a lot of bikes behind us. Me an Johnny Sorrian an Papitas Manual Fuentes were in front of the pack, it seemes like we had the fastest bikes. Well we were rolling fast when we got to the next cross st, a street there were not paved, like today. It was all dirt back then, not like the other side of town where they were paved. So all of a sudden I am going down the street, something broke or came off my bike. I come down on the front tire with my face cleaning the tire, lol. And coming at me from behind are all the other bikes crashing down on me. I couldn’t see nothing, all I can hear is the guys moans an groans an metal hitting metal. My face is burnning and I can smell the dirt on my face.

After the dust settled I remember Johnny an Papitas saying “man look at memos face looks like hamburger lets take him to Fuacet an let the water clean his face”. I still can’t see a thing at this time… oh that water felt so good an cool, “man look at his face what are we gonna do” So what they did was take me to my front door an knocked. Then they ran away lol! It was about 9. pm I was standing by the door, my mom opened the door what, happend to you? Look at your face she scolded me, “fell off my bike” was my reply. I cleaned my face and I had small rocks embeded in the face which was swollen by now. At this time I could see again. The next day I heard somebody knocking. I went to see who it was. It was the truant officer Bob Haines from school. I opened the door, and he said I can see why your not in schoolm he said oh my! Rest till your face heals, after that I repaired my bike. It was borring not going to school for the next week I was riding my bike with a red handkerchief covering my face like an outlaw. The guys started calling me bandito, I thought it was funny.
What happend with my bike… I had lossend my ajuster nut to much, to kick my front wheel way out an the nut came off, as I am writing this down, I’m lol that was so funny.


CCC_memo-0rtega-part-three-01Memo’s custom bike back in the 1940’s was something he never forget. In the 1980’s he and his grandsons set out to built their ultimate custom bike. Sadly the project got never finished back then… But Memo recently took it back into his workshop to finish it.

CCC_memo-0rtega-part-three-05And the finished bike (photo by Gina Pattison)

By this time me an papitas are 12 or 13 yrs old, its early 1948, and all the cruzers are still rolling the streets. we are getting more intrested in girls and cars. What we were doing with our other friends reminded me of the movie stand by me. A perfect example thats the way it was. Anyway, one day this old lady, two houses away from us, asked me an my friend Papitas, he lived in front of my house, im a year older than him, anyway she wanted to know if we could wash her car on fridays. We looked at each other an said with a big yees. We will be happy to to wash your car. She said you can wash it on my yard, I got everything there I’ll pay you for the car washing, and give you money to go an fill up my gas tank also. When ever you kids bring the car back its okay if you wanna use it. Just leave the keys under the floor matt. An don’t bother me. Wow what a deal for us. Are you thinking what I’m thinking, I asked Papitas. Yeah he said! So here we go, I was gonna be the driver. Let me tell you, she had the cleanest car an two happy young guys cruzing at 12-13 yrs old! We were driving further an getting away with the car. We knew where the cruzers went on Friday’s. To pomona 2,nd street down town in Pomona. So we went there, let me tell you it was bumper to bumper cruzing that was the pomona American Graffity, like in the movie. We went there every Friday nite. How we got away with it still puzzles me. Two young kids no drivers lic… By the way the car was a 38 buick opra coupe long hood black in color.
Stay tuned for more Memo Ortega Stories in the near future.
Go to part Four.
Go to part Two.











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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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