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Jim Kurten Interview/Secret Wrecking Yard

Discussion in 'The Hokey Ass Message Board' started by Michelley, Sep 23, 2011.

  1. Michelley
    Joined: May 6, 2011
    Posts: 104

    Michelley
    Member

    “
    Secret Wrecking Yard
    Part 1
    by Michelle M. Yiatras
    Timechanic ™
    When 96 yr old Jim Kurten came down the steps of his heyday LA County home in sylvan Arcadia, CA, he didn’t greet us hello, rather he proclaimed, “I’m the only one left. All the rest are dead!” It struck my soul as I was acutely aware of this. He caught me at the base of the haughty sycamore in his front yard gazing right up the trunk in awe. “It’s a hundred years old, and so is the avocado in back.” They are as old as him. The trees were firmly planted twenty years before the house was built amongst them in 1930, and were forty by the time Jim joined the homestead and stayed. The avocado tree in the backyard is a mighty fine character (St. Francis stands sentinel at its roots), just like Jim.
    Jim invented the Kurten ignition. James Paul Kurten, born November 11, 1914, at the beginning of WW1 (which ended on his fourth birthday, Armistice Day aka Veterans and Remembrance Day), in Pasadena to German Catholic and Welsh Episcopalian stock, the first born of two children, is a lifelong So Californian. His father was a Catholic seminarian who took initial vows and then quit the priesthood to marry. His mother was a seamstress tailor of Little Lord Fauntleroy children’s fashion. Jim demonstrated prodigious mechanical talent at the age of six, when he repaired his mother’s Singer pedal sewing machine by taking it apart and successfully putting it back together improved. His formal long term job as a young teen was gas station mechanic in Alhambra, where he also expertly installed and repaired Smith Motor Wheels to the town’s bicycles. “A guy liquidated his business and gave me an upright piano crate full of the parts and I built them for my friends.”
    He befriended the teenaged Spalding brothers, Bill and Tom from Glendora, in 1930, and the bunch of them started building and speed racing hot rods to overcome despondency from the Depression. “Bill and Tom souped up and drove the tractors on their farm. They were always easy guys to get along with. Tom worked with me at the airport. Their mother, Effie, would make us hamburgers, and oranges from their grove, for lunch so we ate. We started developing ignitions in 1934. Ford V8 stock ignition was no good for turning out fast. When people wanted their V8’s to work better, they looked us up. None of us got patents though.” In high school he got his Model T to go 100 mph, so the impressed gas station owner bought it for $25.
    At the gas station he caught the eye of the owner of the Monrovia airport by fixing his problematic auto engine, and went to work there in 1931, trading work time for flying time, and by eighteen had his private pilot’s license. While working at the airport and attending trade school, he also accomplished his instructor’s ratings. He learned to fly on a civilian WACO 10 open cockpit biplane with an OX5 Curtiss single engine (also Howard Hughes’ first personal aircraft 1927); in the 1920’s-30’s they had built a surplus. Jim was nineteen, twenty years old when he and the Spaldings first developed their respective ignitions. They sold them at Bell Auto Parts. “Nearly all two coil ignition systems had been tried by the car companies. I made the cam spark with aircraft points, better for speed. I was friends with George Wight who started BAP. He bought ignitions from all of us. George carried everything, and everybody beat their way to Bell Auto Parts. Roy Richter, who worked there and took over later in the 1940’s, really liked my ignitions and sold a lot of them. He was a hot rodder and racer himself.”
    Jim established Kurten Aero-Motive in Alhambra in 1936-41. Tom and Bill Spalding were his partners at the time. Bill built up the roadsters and streamliners and Tom raced them at the lakes and salts, clocking high very early on before it was official (pre-War). Tom was a pilot in the Navy during the War flying dive bombers on aircraft carriers. He won many medals. He was shot at yet made it out alive, Lieutenant Commander. KAM made ignitions for high performance aircraft engines, sprint and midget racing cars, boat engines, as well as daily driver automobiles. Later Jim also partnered with Harman-Collins from 1940-42. “I didn’t like car clubs, I wasn’t a joiner, except for life Eagle Scouts.”
    Jim had racked up 1000+ hours flight time as a young man civilian, and onset WW2 was drafted for the duration as engine technician and flight instructor for the US Army Air Corps. A punctured eardrum from a childhood cold kept him mainland. Jim made it to Captain in reserve status. During the War he flew his favorite military trainer two crew open cockpit biplanes, Boeing Stearman Aircraft’s models PT-13 with Lycoming engine, PT-17 with Continental engine, PT-18 with Jacobs engine. “Everyone loved a Stearman because they were beautiful to look at and built strong. Stress tested at 1200 horsepower to fly dependably over 220 hp.” It’s distinctive sound like a full race Ford flathead.
    In 1942 Jim met his wife, Zereta, while she worked a summer secretarial job at Al’s Speed Shop in Pasadena. Jim would stop in to buy parts and visit the owner. Their business was to hop up cars. Jim was based for five years at Cal-Aero Academy military training airport in Ontario, now the Ontario Airport. Zereta utilized her sociology and musical orchestra degrees to become a social worker and concert piano player. “After the War it was tough going so I went into aviation at Monrovia Airport and Santa Paula Airport, as the machine shop specialist and flight instructor, fixing airplanes and teaching civilians to fly.”
    They married in 1946. Jim sold one of his six hot rods to buy the engagement ring. “Model A with Model B engine and a Cragar head that was lakes tested at 105 mph. It was a beauty and Bill Spalding bought it because it was a hot four. I never was into the four port Riley, I was all into the OHV. The last of the great fours.” His first hot rod in 1932 was a Model T Ford, “Muroc speed trapped at 101 mph when I got all through with it. Rajo head. Two model 1 ½” M Winfield carbs. Magneto drive with a Bosch model ZR4 two spark mag. Was the best ignition you could get then. Winfield racing cam. It was the first Model T to break 100 at the lakes in 1933. I did the most work on and rarely drove it on the streets, it was a lakes job. I liked to keep it in top shape.” Later gows included, “Model A with two port Riley, only went 95 mph. I didn’t go to all the expense for the carburetion. The two port was Riley’s first and didn’t go as fast as the four port. I drove it regular on the streets. Not as hopped up as the Model T.”
    Jim accumulated forty-six motorcycles by 1949 from his first new 1929 Indian 101 Scout two-cylinder, to Ace 4’s, Ariel 4’s, Cleveland 4’s, Henderson 4’s, and Indian 4’s. The Ariel Square Four and the Cleveland four-cylinder T-head were his favorite sweeties. “In the army I didn’t fool with military bikes, they were made for chasing around and not racing. I worked on a lot of them though,” and after the army went back to his square 4’s. Zereta asked him to give up racing when the first of two children was born. Jim reflects, “Then we fell in love and the girls got their way and took over.”
    We compared notes regarding the acoustical merits of late 1920’s-30’s 78 rpm’s (bandleaders Bert Ambrose and Paul Whiteman with Bing Crosby) playback on a diamond stylus pickup vs. the remastered CD’s. The reverie mood of his mint shellac prevailed over my iPod Classic RCA-jacked into my 1933 Philco Junior 80B and pretend. “We went to the Coconut Grove at the Ambassador Hotel on Wilshire Blvd in LA, in the 1930’s-40’s. Gus Arnheim and Ray Noble played. We dressed coat, tie, and gown. We dined on halibut and bourbon ginger ales, and danced to the orchestras. I drove my ’36, ’38, ’39, ’42 Buicks. Also attended the Biltmore Hotel in MacArthur Park.”
    Many summer and winter counts have not eroded Jim’s sensibilities. “American manufacturing has been outpriced by the rest of the world. The unions, insurance agencies, and environmentalists jacked up the wages so high that manufacturers can’t pay the labor, and can’t compete with other countries. It’s going to be a big leveling adjustment for the everyday laborer that the labor force works for less money, and for everyone that wants American made conscientiousness sacrifices by paying more for it. It’s a tremendous adjustment; I’ve lived through it myself.” Stop demanding to be wards of your government and company. A balance of standards can be maintained without exhausting the employers.
     
    Last edited: Oct 16, 2019
    deluxester likes this.
  2. Michelley
    Joined: May 6, 2011
    Posts: 104

    Michelley
    Member

    Part 2
    by Michelle M. Yiatras
    Timechanic ™

    Jim’s ignitions charged the early steeds of USA made motor works that were tested, from the mid 1930’s to the end of the flathead V8 in 1953, and further into early OHV applications, on the toughest dirt and salt tracks of the arid CA Mohave. Nevada’s Mohave is also proprietor of a vast portion of dry lakes, salt flats, red rocks, hot springs, mines, ghost towns, and forsaken wrecks. You may stagger onto this lost and forgotten wrecking yard during a meltdown and lay down with the desiccated dusty, rusty bones in the desert sands. The wind meanders through playing them like Gabriel’s harps and horns.
    This necropolis parking lot in shades of copper and verdigris will not last as long as the hills. The earth reclaims steel at a dynamic rate compared to the fixed stones. Gaze at these steely gems in stains of dog nose red and jadite green interspersed with favorite chips of flamingo red, monsoon maroon, sunset coral, aztec gold, tacoma cream, stygian blue, biscay blue, brewster green dark, greenbrier green, mist green, taos turquoise, arabian sand, black, and indian ivory.They are the archaeological evidence of American Industrialization.
    The personal pictures seen on my profile page were taken in wintertime temperature of 32° F with 60 mph winds thrashing, freezing the digital camera lens/mechanism (and our hands). We made it out in time with a blizzard on our tails. You can observe the lenticular clouds forming in the sky. The photographs in this article featuring the cars were taken in summertime temperature of 110° F with the sun blazing, cooking the camera lens/mechanism. Extreme weather conditions are a limitation of digital photography, so we had to work fast, for salvage parts and picture snatching. I intentionally did not use a wide-angle lens, as the majesty of the terrain did not require it and I wanted the images to be vérité.
    We are always prepared to brave the elements because it’s colder and hotter than you guess. In the winter shots you notice snow falling and by evening it was impermissible for a couple months. In the summer shots you notice wildflowers and bees springing forth parting the paths. Perhaps it is a mirage in a wasteland swept away in a whirlwind not to be seen again except as a haunting ghoul, the sherds and shreds of American Industry.
    Will the great-grandsons realize the master-building and master-farming of their forefathers, or will they serve in a third-world polyglot? May chills run through you as you answer the call to sacred duty of this nation. Fortunes are to be made, not by overexpanding and overextending economy and resource encroaching on Nature’s reserves, developing repeated styrofoam strip malls and proletariat tracts like the backdrop of a Hanna-Barbera cartoon. Instead, in renovating decayed crumbled infrastructures. Thank Christ for the high sheriffs who choose the upright and don’t tolerate pinche gangs demoralizing their communities on their tall order watch. And businessmen prideful of quality workmanship who invented, designed, and manufactured automobiles, furniture, garments, and tools, and were gainfully employed as a result.
    Necessity breeds inventors, like Jim Kurten. I pray he is not the last of his caliber. I pray our modern society isn’t saddled with manicured metros that never knew how to work the ground, stone, wood, metal, grease, cloth, and weather, and only know the touch screens of instant gratification, who sell their inherent USA birthrights for globalized pottage. Many city folk think that peaches come from a cardboard box or a plastic bag. I always bought my organic bulk herbs from co-ops in Iowa and Kansas. Recently I can only get them as imports from Croatia and Hungary. Domestic farmers aren’t allowed to produce. What the HECK!? Is this country that disabled!?
    Oh well, carry on your weekend and holiday cruises, discover your fortune in repairing your hometown, and know for certain that one’s flesh, blood, sweat, tears, and bread comes from the soil of patriots. I tell ya, I have my workin' in the garage overalls, my workin' in the yard overalls, and my Sunday goin-to-meetin' overalls.


    All Photos © Michelley Timechanic™
     

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: May 16, 2014
  3. Michelley
    Joined: May 6, 2011
    Posts: 104

    Michelley
    Member

    Part 3
    by Michelle M. Yiatras
    Timechanic ™

    Alas, Old Jim, thinking that no one would be interested anymore, several years ago threw away ALL of his photographs, timing tags, trophies, dry lakes jackets, aviator jackets, awards, medals, ack gack gark, eech, kloink klunk, ploink, schloot skreeeek, thhhut, wham plam kloong, yaaugh, zwot tink…MAD-ening. Mowm mmph. He’s checking one final box and he’s slower these days so I’ll post them later in the thread. In the meantime peruse these wrecking yard pics!

    All Photos © Michelley Timechanic™
     

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: May 16, 2014
  4. Michelley
    Joined: May 6, 2011
    Posts: 104

    Michelley
    Member

    Part 4

    All American remains…
    All Photos © Michelley Timechanic™
     

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: May 16, 2014

  5. Michelley
    Joined: May 6, 2011
    Posts: 104

    Michelley
    Member

    Part 5

    And HOW!

    All Photos © Michelley Timechanic™
     

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: May 16, 2014
  6. Michelley
    Joined: May 6, 2011
    Posts: 104

    Michelley
    Member

    Part 6

    Every wrecking yard has its dog.
    All Photos © Michelley Timechanic™
     

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: May 16, 2014
    deluxester likes this.
  7. jipp
    Joined: Jun 20, 2011
    Posts: 1,112

    jipp
    Member

    wow,thank you for this..i enjoyed every word.. and the pictures are fantastic.. his wife must of been quite the women to give up his fast hot rod for a ring:) he had go fast in his blood. and sounds like quite the inventor.. thank you for sharing.
    chris.
     
  8. I gave this thread a five star rating. Hot rod history and a hot rod hero plus junk yard pics. It has it all. Thanks. Pat
     
  9. Nice story on Mr. Kurten, Interesting morph into the lost wrecking yard ........ but a good read nonetheless. Thanks
     
  10. OLLIN
    Joined: Aug 25, 2006
    Posts: 3,076

    OLLIN
    Member

    Sounds like an interesting guy with a lot of cool stories. thanks for taking the time to post this and thanks for the paragraphs this time. :p
     
  11. 1935olds
    Joined: Oct 21, 2006
    Posts: 74

    1935olds
    Member

    I would love to run across a place like that.
     
  12. styleline
    Joined: Feb 14, 2009
    Posts: 868

    styleline
    Member
    from so-hol

    thanx for posting read every word off it cheers
     
  13. 296ardun
    Joined: Feb 11, 2009
    Posts: 4,250

    296ardun
    Member

    5 starst at least...Once again Michelley hits a home run with her hot rod history and pictures, the early shots (especially in Pasadena where I grew up) are worth the price of admission along, but the story makes it even better!!!
     
  14. brigrat
    Joined: Nov 9, 2007
    Posts: 5,281

    brigrat
    Member
    from Wa.St.

  15. Michelley
    Joined: May 6, 2011
    Posts: 104

    Michelley
    Member

    Last edited: May 16, 2014
  16. 1946chevytruck
    Joined: Feb 9, 2008
    Posts: 718

    1946chevytruck
    BANNED
    from london ,ky

    any 39-46 chevy/gmc trucks
     
  17. resqd37Zep
    Joined: Aug 28, 2006
    Posts: 3,217

    resqd37Zep
    Member
    from Nor Cal

    Excellent write up! Thanks again for taking the time to share the History of another great Hot Rodder. I applaud you!
     
  18. Once again, you knocked it out of the park. Great stuff.
     
  19. Hot Rod Willys
    Joined: Nov 10, 2006
    Posts: 1,697

    Hot Rod Willys
    Member
    from Ohio

    Great read and pics, thanks!
     
  20. LB+1
    Joined: Sep 28, 2006
    Posts: 569

    LB+1
    Member
    from 71291

    Thank you!!!!!! I love your work!
     
  21. Thanks for the photos!
     
  22. Theo Douglas
    Joined: Nov 20, 2002
    Posts: 807

    Theo Douglas
    Member

    Michelle,

    Thanks so much for writing this. People like Jim Kurten won't be with us forever, and it's important to remember them while we can.

    Great job!
     
  23. Jonnie King
    Joined: Aug 12, 2007
    Posts: 2,077

    Jonnie King
    Member
    from St. Louis

  24. Michelley -

    Another great read ... Thanks for sharing it (& the pics) with us here on the H.A.M.B.!

    PS: Thanks also for fixing the "Enter" key on your keyboard ;) ... The use of paragraphs in this post makes for much more enjoyable reading :)
     
  25. vonpahrkur
    Joined: Apr 21, 2005
    Posts: 912

    vonpahrkur
    Member

    Excellent job as usual! Always enjoy reading your stuff! Thank
    you so much for posting!
     
  26. moefuzz
    Joined: Jul 16, 2005
    Posts: 4,950

    moefuzz
    Member

    .

    Absolutely Beautiful Read and Write Up!


    Much Appreciation!

    .
     
  27. Cyclone Kevin
    Joined: Apr 15, 2002
    Posts: 4,010

    Cyclone Kevin
    Alliance Vendor

    Jim Kurten Rocks! Alhambra was another part of the Hot Bed of Hot Rodding in So Cal,
    Great Story, Glad that Mr Kurten granted you this interview and insight into his personal life and that it and the very cool salvage yard were shared here.
     

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