When I was growing up I got interested in cars when I was about twelve years old. It happened because I asked my Dad how an internal combustion engine worked one night when he came upstairs to say goodnight to me. Parents used to do that sort of thing when I was young. I asked him about it and he spent about half an hour explaining to me how the engine worked. When he was done I totally understood it, or at least what he told me. Amazing! Dad had a good way of expressing himself like that. So that got me off and running as a gear head. Then I discovered Hot Rod Magazine up at the Drug Store in Willamette. For a princely sum of $.35 cents you could buy a magazine that was full of either green tone or black and white pictures of drag racing, Bonneville Salt Flat machines and street rods and customs. Yeah all of these vehicles featured monthly within the covers of the best car magazine in the world at the time. Sorry I can’t say that about Hot Rod Magazine any longer. So I used to take my allowance which was twenty five cents every two weeks and save it up and buy one of two copies of Hot Rod Magazine up at the drug Store. The nice lady behind the counter started pulling one copy of HRM for me and keeping it in what also used be the town post office. That way I had a sort of pay as you go subscription.
Later on when I grew up some more, and became friends with lots of other folks that liked cars as much as I did, I was introduced to more people. Car people just sort of snow ball that away. One of my oldest friends Greg Rice’s Brother Ron was another gear head. He and Dennis McFall (my next door neighborhood hot rod maniac) used to pal around together a little. Dennis was a bit unstable because of his home life situation but was a damn good mechanic and I learned a ton about the basics of pulling transmissions from him. My association with Ron Rice produced my introduction to the Weldon’s in Oregon City. Ron used to speak of the Weldon’s with great reverence as if they were car gods. Actually they were. I have to laugh here but I can’t really argue the point at all. Everybody that built hot rods knew who the Weldon’s were. At least everyone in Oregon City did. Both of them used to work at Publisher’s Paper Company in Oregon City, and so did Mike Hagadorn who used to drive around a 426 wedge powered 64 Sport Fury.
The first time I spoke to Verle was from a phone call. I got his telephone number from Ron Rice. I remember his wife answered the phone. When I asked for him the timbre in her voice got this steely coldness to it and she said, “Well I’ll see if he’s even here.” I don’t know what this was all about, was none of my business and still isn’t. Verle answered the phone so I introduced myself to him. He told me that Ron had told him I was gonna call so I felt better about the call. I asked him about a four speed transmission for one of my tri five cars. I don’t’ remember whether it was for my 55 or my 56. He said he had a few lying around, said he had a close ratio Muncie, a couple of Saginaw wide ratios. When I asked him if they were the aluminum case models he said “Well sure!” Stupid question Dave! He didn’t take offense at the question either. He told me he wanted $120.00 for any of them. Brand new parts inside, he’d rebuilt them all. I had no qualms about any of them either. So I drive up to his house up on the hill in Oregon City. He told me he’d be downstairs. He had a shop underneath his house. I had a sidekick with me at the time. Don’t remember who it was either, might have even been Sonny Tiedeman. The light comes on and this guy about 5’8” tall with curly dark hair comes out with a smile on his face showing off a set of perfect teeth. Verle has these piercing green eyes that sparkle with all sorts of intellect behind them. Looking at this guy you can tell you are about 1 click away from meeting the Albert Einstein of the car world. No doubting his smarts here. He is a soft spoken man with a perpetual smile on his face. The best part of being in the audience of Verle Weldon was asking him a question pertaining to something technical about Chevrolets. He’d start one of his lectures about some camshaft profile and who developed it, complete with the GM part number attached to it which usually contained seven digits. Verle must spend his time when he’s not working at Publisher’s reading old GM parts manuals that he rescued from Weiler Chevrolet methinks. He’d go on about how something affected everything else in an engine. The best part was that it was not boring in the least! What should have taken a hour round trip to complete often turned into a classroom session in Verle’s basement. That’s no kidding either. Little wonder Mrs. Weldon was pissed. Once Verle was done with his dissertation, back came the smile again. He had the ability to make you want to talk with him. A virtual fountain of information and wisdom about hot rods of almost any make. He didn’t charge for it either. Asking him another question and Verle’s eyebrows would sort of tilt upward kinda like a guitar player reaching for a note. This would trip some sort of information file in Verle’s mind and you almost had to be sitting down when he dumped it on you. I had to back him up several times to comprehend what he was saying. I think Verle is German by ancestry. He looked it to a t. The quintessential Werner Von Braun of the hot rod world. Seriously.
It’s one thing to talk a good line and completely another to put your hands where your mouth is. I got a chance to see that for myself on a trip up to Vern’s house on the very top of Oregon City. Verle and Vern had built this MG drag car. Okay all you purists can stop reading now because you don’t want to know what they did to the running gear of this classic British sports car. Yeah it was gone. Everything that had anything to do with the steering, suspension, drive train all gone. I think this car has an Olds rear end under it. This was before the days of nine inch Ford in everything. It sat hooked onto a pair of semi elliptical springs (don’t ask me to explain this here). All the engineering and fabrication on this car looked like something that rolled right out of some famous southern California speed shop. Indeed it was an impressive car. I remember it had a 327 Chev small block in it with an Isky 550 Super LeGerra roller in it. Just about the wildest small block Chev roller cam for the day. They had built a set of what looked like tuned headers for the car that terminated into an oval shaped collector. It had a pair of dual quads on the motor on a dual plane manifold. Were no such things as single planes in those days. They rolled this thing out of Vern’s garage onto the concrete pad in front. It had a nose high attitude to it because of the straight axle under the front end. Nothing too high, the Weldon’s were blessed with about the same amount of common sense as their IQ’s which were considerable. In fact I felt like an idiot around these guys but they had a way of making you feel like you were smart too.
So Verle gets inside the car and I hear this ticking of an electric fuel pump and then the cranking of a Chevrolet starter motor. The motor cranks over a few times and erupts into this 1250 rpm super rough idle, then promptly dies. Verle hits the starter again after goosing both carbs several times. The car fires back up and shoots a bit of black smoke out the collectors. Verle holds the throttle up off idle and the motor is clearing it’s self out at about 2000 rpm. Right out of the headers, music to any gear head. God I remember that moment like it was yesterday. Small block Chev’s sound so good with lots of camshaft in them and straight exhaust. The rear end of the car was shod with a pair of M & H Racemaster slicks that stuck out of the naturally radiused fenderwells a couple of inches. The wheels were probably some sort of Oldsmobile variety that got replaced by some American Racing Torque Thrust D’s of the day later on. The car was a cream white color if I remember correctly.
Verle revved it up a few times which on a small block Chev is akin to hearing a small explosion nearby. Its sort like turning the switch on and off on an electric motor. You can’t hear the motor ramp up and down in rpm. It just goes up instantly and back down again to where ever the cam and carbs want it to idle. An amazing little engine by anyone’s standards. The Weldon’s did magical stuff with these things. I’d like to see what they could do with big block Chevs.
I watched this car run down at Woodburn Drag strip a long time ago and it was really fun. Bob and Clarence Rohrs had their 57 D/Gas Chev down there too. Weldon’s MG had a B & M hydromatic in it. The Rohrs brother’s gasser had a four speed. Bob is big enough to row that four speed car down the track. You have never heard anyone shift a four speed car like Bob Rohrs, I guarantee this. Loved watching both cars go down the track. Verle used to do double duty between his drag cars, (there was more than one) and a little tuning on Bob’s 57 too. Verle is never too busy to help anyone. Always willing to spread himself to the point of transparency if need be. Perhaps that was a failing on his part but I never saw it like that. I admired him for it. He makes all the “Shell Answer Men” that I’ve met who stand around with their arms crossed in front of them with a shitty attitude look like the morons they really are. So I have always patterned myself after Verle Weldon, and one of my other mentor Guy Mitchell.
I have to say a few words here about Guy Mitchell. Guy possesses a lot of the same characteristics as the Weldon’s. He’s a well of information about Chevrolets and just about any other engine on the planet. He has even more knowledge of racing than the Weldon’s. He also has lots of the same personality traits too. He’s never too busy to talk with someone that’s willing to listen, who doesn’t argue with his answers. He’s also soft spoken, has an engaging smile and a great sense of humor. I remember one night Guy took the time to drive out to my house from where he lives in Oak Grove to look at a suspension problem I was having on my 55 race car. Never charged me for it and spent the better part of a couple of hours underneath the car, and bringing me up to speed on what he thought the car needed. Far be it from me to argue with him. I always figured Guy knew a hell of a lot more than I did about any of this stuff. So my best advice around these people is to shut up and listen to them when they are talking. You might not like what they tell you because it’s not really validating what you wanted to do. So unless you really do know more than the Weldon’s or the Mitchell’s listen to them, be respectful and don’t argue. If you ask a question then argue with the answer why bother posing the question in the first place? It’s one thing to ask them to explain their answer a little further so you really “Get” what they are telling you, but it’s rude and disrespectful to just denounce their answer and go on about your business. Their information in most circles should have a dollar value attached to it. They learned this information from doing it.
So I say thank you to Verle Weldon and his bro Vern whom I never knew well at all and to Guy Mitchell for being my mentors all these years.
Someone needs to speak up about these milestones in my life so I did.