Heroes In The Trenches Of Disneyland

Heroes In The Trenches Of Disneyland

Despite my ability to tolerate it beyond all known parameters, I hate pain. This hatred, of course, doesn’t separate me from society as a whole, but my tolerance for it does. And this isn’t necessarily a good thing.

A good example of this are my recent forays deep into properties owned by The Walt Disney Company. Just a few months ago I found myself on a cruise ship owned by the Axis Power sipping $12 light beers, taking orders from both my wife and my mother, while watching my kids sucker punch Donald Duck on the open seas.

It was enough to send any normal man into the steep spiral of a mid-life crisis, but somehow I was able to survive. I must have lost some wits, however, as just a few weeks ago I found myself in Southern California with my in-laws, my wife, and my three kids… in a two hour queue eagerly anticipating a date with animatronic characters singing about how damned small this world of ours is. This time, Disneyland was kicking my ass.

While in these fiery depths, I wasn’t alone. My wife and I teamed up in an effort to endure and we did our best to give each other reprieve as often as possible. By early evening, however, the shit had hit the fan. Our youngest was hours past her nap time, four Mickey Bars in, and losing her composure on the level of Ron Artest in a playoff run. Our middle boy was just sick of everyone’s shit… and our oldest was demanding her fourth trip down Space Mountain. If you don’t have kids, the only thing I can truly compare this predicament too is being embattled in trench warfare and then, after days of desperate fighting, a live grenade lands between you and your battle buddy.

My wife looked at me – eyes full of pain, love, resentment, and exhaustion – and then without hesitation, jumped onto that grenade just before it blew.

“The sun goes down in two hours,” she said. “Why don’t you head to Orange County and shoot that hot rod you’ve been talking about. Afterwards, you can swing back by the unhappiest place on earth and pick us up.”


A year or so ago, I was swiping through Instragram and found some guy that was posting pictures of his ’27 roadster. I fell deeply in love with the car and tried desperately to set up a photoshoot in Orange County, CA from my studio in Austin, TX. I couldn’t get the logistics to work and, after a while, gave up the ghost. It wasn’t until I was in the depths of my family vacation in Southern California that I thought of the car again.

My wife’s brave and heroic act was really the catalyst that made it all happen. I shot a text off to the owner of the car, Louis Stands, as if calling in an air strike and within minutes the photoshoot was set. Lou even had a buddy with another car he thought I might be interested in – a traditionally built ’32 four door owned by Nathan Sutton.

The three of us met at a gas station in Orange and then Nathan and I followed Lou to the high grounds west of Orange. Eventually, Lou took a right down an empty cul-de-sac and came to a stop next to the electric gate of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.

“What do you think?” Lou asked. “Will this work?”

Admittedly, the view was beautiful… but I figured Lou knew my history with local law enforcement and was just playing with my emotions (And you know this, man!  – Smokey).

I decided to call his bluff. “Looks great,” I said. “Let’s do this.”

The HOTHEAD Lou Roadster

I shot Lou’s car first, so I’ll start the feature with it. Lou bought the roadster in progress from Mason Dyer and then quickly got to work focusing in on the mid 50’s period for inspiration. That’s really the period that gets Lou going. The NHRA was taking off, Flatheads were getting beat up by Small Blocks, and the hot rod world was seemingly on fire. As a nod to performance, a ’63 Corvette 327 was tapped with 202 valves and 11:1 compression. It’s topped with a trio of Strombergs and backed by a 4-speed rotating a Dana rear.

The stance is set traditionally with a dropped ’32 axle up front and a ’40 spring out back. Simple ’40 Ford wheels wrapped in 8.20 rears and 5.60 fronts plant the car. Drums around do the stopping.

Mechanically, it doesn’t get much more simple… and that’s exactly the way we like it, but where this car really earns its stripes is in its aesthetics. Lou painted the car in his garage using hard labor from both himself and his wife and paint from the Ford Tractor catalog. The result isn’t a perfect paint job, which is perfect. If you didn’t know this car’s history you would assume (as I did) it was just another Southern California survivor with a young curator and a long history of speed and abuse.

Adding to the look is the “Lift-The-Dot” located tonneau cover. Lou’s mom came down from Washington state, made a template, and took it all home to tackle the project on her sewing machine. When she was done, she called it a “one of a kind” because she’ll be damned if she ever does another. You can tell a lot of pain and love went into it.

The rest of the interior is just as detailed. Lou hand formed the dash and then added a ’48 F1 gauge cluster as well as a Motorola accessory radio. His buddy, Jimmy Grigg, then made a one-off shift knob featuring a “Safe Driver” coin from 1927 to tap it all off. I’m certain some punk ass kid stared at a similar dash some sixty years ago. It’s just right.

And really, this whole car is just right. And that’s the point of all this I guess.

The Nathan Sutton 4-door

After building both a model-a coupe and a ’36 coupe, Nathan decided he needed a hot rod with room for a baby seat to support an incoming kid (poor bastard lives right by Disneyland too). He started by searching out ’32-34 Tudor sedans, but was quickly turned off by market pricing. And then, he found this Fordor ’32 sedan as an older restoration.

The idea was to turn the little family sedan into a family hot rod. He did so first by setting the stance with a ’32 dropped axle located by unspilt bones, P&J shocks, and transverse springs front and rear. Brakes are handled by ’46 Ford drums around and the rest is pretty much stock – including the driveline if you ignore the traditionally original 265-inch Chevrolet motor.

Again, it’s the aesthetics on this one that grabbed me. The paint above the belt line is mostly original and while the paint below has been resprayed, it was done well and it all works to create a car that’s tactile and fresh without feeling too terribly planned or, for lack of a better word, new.

This theme is carried on through the interior with stock mohair upholstery, a ’46 Ford steering wheel, and a really neat ’34 Plymouth gauge insert. Again, the curtains match the drapes… By that, I mean that everything just works together and the end result is a car that feels as though it has been together for a really long time. It’s casual. It’s simple. It’s perfect.

The Photoshoot

Typically when I do a photoshoot like this, it takes me a couple of hours – minimum. I shot both of these cars in under an hour. The pace was set for a couple of different reasons. First, about every fifteen minutes or so a sheriff would pull through the gates behind us and ask just what in the hell we thought we were doing on their property. All of the lawmen we encountered were cool enough, but just about every one of them warned us that we would probably be kicked off the property shortly. We never were, but the idea of a rogue land protecting Sheriff loomed in the back of mind with every shutter blast.

Secondly, I still had an entire family battling the fifty thousand strong crowd at Disneyland. I was completely stressed out about leaving my battle buddy alone amongst this chaos and had no idea how long it would take me to get through the traffic and back to the Minnie Mouse parking lot. I had visions of finding my wife dead from malnourishment in the Pirates of the Caribbean line and my five year old in hand cuffs for sassing some security guard (apple is pretty close to the tree on that one).

I bring this up, because initially I was little worried about how my haste would come across to Lou and Nathan – two guys I had never met before. But there’s just something about car guys… Within minutes of meeting these two pals, I felt at ease. I mean, I’m about as Texan as a guy can get and both Nathan and Lou are from California and it would be acceptable to assume some kind of a culture gap between us. There wasn’t… and that’s because both Nathan and Lou are the real deal. I love that.

The End

It wasn’t until around 10pm when I pulled into the Disneyland parking lot. The families leaving the park reminded me of the “walking dead” coming back from Hacksaw Ridge. Their eyes were hollow, gates short, and intentions vague – little bodies were strewn across shoulders, lay motionless in walkers, and drug through the gates by their arms. It didn’t take long before I spotted my own brood in the crowd. They looked just as defeated as the rest. They too had seen some shit I guess… But honestly, I think I had a better time.

A really sincere thanks to both Nathan and Lou for taking the time… and a just as sincere thanks to my wife, my true battle buddy, for giving me the opportunity to escape.


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