Greetings, Speedsters

Greetings, Speedsters

Enrique (Henry) MunozEnrique (Henry) Munoz

The SHOP‘S HUMBLE BEGINNINGS

The ATASCADERO SPEED SHOP. Those four words can transport a tired old mind to a place far away, to a land and to times that still live in the hearts of the fortunate few who ventured there so long ago. To honor that place and those times, this site is dedicated to that speed shop and to its heroic founder, Henry Munoz. Henry was born Enrique Horacio Munoz in El Paso, Texas on January 8, 1939, the third child and first son of a family that would ultimately total seven children. Of the seven children, four were girls- Yvonne, Herminia (Toots), Graciela (Grace) and Corina, all sweet and very special. As noted, Henry was the third child and first son. The other two boys, Ricardo (Rick) and Armando (Mando) were to be Henry’s cohorts in the speed emporium and are the culprits behind this tribute to Hank, who was also affectionately known as Kiki (in his early years) and as Hank later in life. So, now that these few facts have been established, it is with great pleasure and immense bluster that we hereby introduce the magnificent yet humble home of the all-new, all-opinion, all-wit, no-meat ATASCADERO SPEED EMPORIUM web site. We know it will be difficult for this site to measure up to the greatness of its inspiration, but we’re gonna give all we got, yes we will.

At this point we want to thank Rick (Rocket/Spider) Munoz, Henry’s nephew and my son, for his hard work and excellent efforts to get this site set up and running. Thanks Rick.

THE BIRTHPLACE

Although not the birthplace of Henry himself, who was born in a house closer to downtown, the birthplace of the SPEED EMPORIUM can be said to have been that large house on several acres at 320 Tobin Place in El Paso, Texas. It was there that an intelligent, energetic, inventive, curious and strapping young boy first manifested his love of all things mechanical (cars, planes, trains, guns, power, speed, competition), art, drawing, writing and life. Henry was a genius and I do not use this word loosely. His mind instinctively understood the dynamics of mechanisms, mastered mathematics and handled abstractions. He wrote fluently and creatively with perfect grammar and spelling, was artistically gifted and thus could draw any object, any scene with perfection, was a great philosopher, had a great sense of humor and was as complete a human being as you could imagine. He was also loving, compassionate, thoughtful, respectful and sincere. He was tall and handsome but had no vanity. At the same time, he was brave, curious and a bit of a rapscallion.

These recollections might prove to be incomplete at times mostly due to the fact that I, Rick, have a very faulty memory and Mando, who has a steel trap mind, was very young when some of the early events took place.

The CHICKEN COOP

That big house on Tobin Place sat in the center of a very large lot. In fact, today there are homes on either side of the big house that have been built on the land that was part of the big house’s large yard. The lot(s) fronted on Tobin Place. To the south was the Franklin Canal and across the canal Paisano Drive was eventually built. To the north was Vallejo Court, which we then knew as ‘el callejon’, or the alley. Across the street on Tobin Place was a Catholic Church and an associated orphanage, with its coterie of priests and nuns. The house was two stories tall with a full basement and a very large attic. The house was in the center of the three lots, one of which had a row of about three pecan trees. The other lot had a line of fruit trees, mostly pears. The house was in an area that could be considered to be, at that time, the outskirts of town. The location was rural enough and the lot large enough that there was room for animals on the land. And animals there were, including chickens! Of course, the chickens required a chicken coop. Thus came to be constructed on said property a very nice chicken coop, built (not surprisingly) of 2x4s and chicken wire. The coop was constructed by the family’s maternal grandfather, Higinio Mazpulez Gonzalez, a Spaniard who passed away in 1953. For several years beginning in the early forties, in that coop built by Papa Gordito, chickens roamed, laid eggs, were chased and caught, then beheaded, plucked, cooked and served for dinner. Eventually though, for reasons shrouded in mystery, the family got out of the chicken business. This may have been due to encroaching urbanization and zoning laws. But, whatever the reason, the result was an abandoned chicken coop and 2x4s and chicken wire that no longer served a purpose. Slowly, over time the chicken coop deteriorated.

The 2x4s and the SAW

In 1950 Henry was 11 years old. The middle brother, me- Rick, was 9 years old. Mando was not yet 4 years old. At about this age, Henry approached the delapidated chicken coop, found a loose 2×4, removed it and dragged it away. Then, possibly in the shade of one of the fruit trees, using a No. 2 pencil, he drew on that 2×4 the side view of a car, maybe a ’47 Chevy sedan. Using a makeshift sawhorse and a handsaw, he carefully cut away the wood surrounding the drawing of the car. Then magically, out of that abandoned 2×4 came a very credible if rough rendition of a miniature ’47 Chevy. The most intrigued observer of this magical transformation was yours truly.

The Wooden Models That Started It All

Cutting the rough outline out of the 2×4 was just a first step in Henry’s scheme. Using only that hack saw, a hammer and a screw driver, Henry further refined his creation. The front of the front tire and back of the rear tire were already “carved” out. By making slot cuts behind the front tire and before the rear tire he defined two limitations. Then, placing the flat blade of the screw driver horizontally between the two slots, at sill level and much as one would use a chisel if one had a chisel, he struck the screwdriver with the hammer and effectively removed that piece of 2×4 that had remained between the tires. Now the car sat up off the ground with only its front and rear tires touching the ground. Next, using that same screwdriver and that same hammer and even a pocketknife at times, he carved out the three dimensional planes that defined fenders, hoods and rear decks, as needed. The carved surfaces were smoothed out using the concrete sidewalks or steps as an abrasive. The final steps involved drawing the image of the car on both sides of the wood, as well as the top, front and rear. The drawings were very correct and the dimensions and scale were uncannily accurate considering the primitive tools that were used. Crayola crayons were the final step, giving the little cars color and character. So, viola!, toy cars began to appear all around Tobin Place and three young boys could drive anywhere their imagination could take them using little wooden model cars manufactured by a young boy with a lot of imagination, talent and desire. For a few years, maybe from the very late 40s until mid 1953, when the family moved to Noble Street, those little cars served to satisfy the needs of three kids who loved cars.

The BIG PICTURE

Those little wooden cars illustrate Henry’s early fascination with cars and other things mechanical but cars were only a tiny part of the wide ranging interests and inventive obsessions that filled Henry’s mind. In fact, his mind was fascinated by and sought to understand all things mechanical: cars, trucks, trains, airplanes, even guns. His visits to the magazine rack at the drugstore on Alameda Avenue across the street from what at one time had been Burleson Elementary School but was now Thomas Jefferson High School became opportunities to devour information on all his interests. Back in those days, before TV and the internet, magazines were a major source of information. And so they were to Henry and his inquisitive mind.

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4 thoughts on “Greetings, Speedsters

  1. Joe Surfer

    I hear the Atascadero boyz know a thing or two about 50’s Chevy’s!!! 😉

  2. Retired Onthejob

    Anyone know where I can find a headlight trim piece for a 1962 Chevy Impala?

  3. Pop,

    Another well told tale. Although I have been familiar with the wooden toy cars you describe here, I had never known the source of their wood. It makes them all the more wonderful and interesting. And your description of how Uncle Henry first carved them actually makes me want to try it myself. … we’ll see about that. Thanks for the memories 🙂

  4. This is a beautiful tribute to a truly magnificent person. Only those of us that were fortunate enough to have experienced being with him can truly appreciate all that he was and all that he stood for. However, having known him also deepens the pain of having lost him. If there is a haven, for sure he stands tall among all the other angels. Hank was one of god’s finest creations; we all should try our best to live up to his example.

    I consider myself among the true lucky people to have been so close to him.

    With undying love and gratitude for all you did for me, I love you Hank.

    Mando

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