HOT ROD DREAMING
Sometimes I dream of hot rods – a well designed and built coupe with that timeless essence and the delicate balance of rawness and finesse flying down an open road while the vintage flat-head purrs its beautiful music as the scenery passes by in a blur. This may be the fantasy of a lot of people have as we daydream about things that we love. So, when Mr. Ken Schmidt of Rolling Bones fame kindly invited me into the inner sanctum to photograph the cars and shop and then ride down with them to the 2017 Race of Gentlemen there was no way I could say no.
THE ROLLING BONES
What can I say about the Rolling Bones that you don’t already know? Their cars and reputation for building one-off custom hot rods first came to my attention in the early 2000’s when a friend shared a video of the Bones and their cars driving across the country from their home in upstate New York to the hallowed salt flats at Bonneville where they would see just how fast these beautiful pieces of wheels and steel would fly across the salt. After a week of pushing for speed records driving back to New York at a measly 80-90 miles an hour probably felt like they were crawling. But regardless, these cars were meant to drive and while they look amazing just sitting still they are in their prime habitat when the engine is pulling these works of art as fast as possible into the horizon.
I met Ken and Keith, founders of the Rolling Bones, at the Grand National Roadster Show in January of 2017. I had seen them at previous GNRS shows but thanks to my good friend Mike Takagi a more formal introduction was made. Mike is an incredible illustrator and true artist and had “met” Ken and Keith on-line through their shared passion for art and hot rods. Ken and Keith welcomed us into the crew and immediately invited us to join them at “a small gathering in Burbank”, later that evening. Not really knowing where we were going or what was happening, we were directed to a dark driveway and a door by a small lot in Burbank. When we walked in we were greeted by a collection of historic cars and memorabilia that that one only dreams about in testosterone fueled fantasies. A very kind, vivacious and passionate gentlemen named Tom McIntyre graciously welcomed the small group into his inner sanctum and shared his incredible stories of the cars in his collection and his love for all things automobile. It was an unforgettable evening.
The following day I shared some of my images from the 2016 Race of Gentlemen at Pismo Beach with Ken and Keith and that was when I was kindly invited to visit the barn known as the Rolling Bones shop just outside of Saratoga Springs, New York. I had five months to plan for an adventure that so many people dream about but few have the opportunity to experience.
There is much lore about this old barn in upstate New York where incredible hot rods are born. Well, it is just that–an old barn–and that’s pretty awesome in itself. Coming from Southern California I was struck by just how green and beautiful the area was as we rolled up to the shop for the first time ever. Sitting just to the side of the barn under a small awning there stood two Rolling Bones builds that hot rod dreams are made of. The door was open and we could hear the sounds of activity as we approached the door that had a small Rolling Bones metal sign hanging on the front.
We walked into the shop and were immediately greeted by the sights and sounds of hot rod heaven. Some might even call it the ultimate man-cave. Surrounded by five Rolling Bones cars in various states of build I immediately wondered if any of the Rolling Bones might consider adopting me. Work stopped briefly as Ken, Keith and Matt came to welcome us to the shop and see if we brought donuts.
There are three master builders known as the Rolling Bones. Mr. Ken Schmidt whom I affectionately call the Godfather, Mr. Keith Cornell, partner and builder extraordinaire and last but far from least Mr. Matt Schmidt, son of Ken and also a master builder. These three men work together on each and every project to collectively make some of the most beautiful hot rods I’ve ever seen. These cars are made to run, and run they do.
Ken gave Mike and I a tour of the shop and it was everything I dreamed it would be with a combination of tools, dust, vintage parts and cars tucked into every nook and cranny. If heaven were a hot rod shop I believe that it would look and feel a lot like this. There is so much history, so many stories and so much knowledge in this modest barn in the countryside in upstate New York that if those walls could talk there would probably be a lot of guys in a lot of trouble and one hell of a good book. So, how do you tell the story in a new way of a hot rod shop that has been talked about, photographed and shared for over a decade? This was my dilemma as I grabbed one of my cameras and started exploring this storied brand.
THREE DAYS TO THE RACE OF GENTLEMEN
Preparation was fast and furious as cars were readied for the trip to Wildwood, NJ for the 2017 Race of Gentlemen. With three days to prepare the cars, as well as continue work on the builds in progress the shop was in constant motion. Well, with the exception of coffee and donut breaks which I came to learn are vital to the creation of hot rods. The shop also seems to be a community gathering spot for neighborhood gear-heads and people would randomly stop by just to talk hot rods and soak in some of the hot rod juju that seemed to flow from the barn. Stories are told, some true, some questionable, friends are made and the builds go on.
Two of the three days before we left for TROG it rained. And rained. And rained. I spent a lot of time inside just looking and listening, trying to take in as much as I could to remember and capture this experience. Matt and Keith constantly move around the shop focused and crafting incredible details at every corner of the builds in places that most mere humans will never even notice.
Mr. Jon Suckling flew in from England to race his car 232b at The Race of Gentlemen and to see his coupe in progress. His new build was sitting at the very front of the garage and every time I turned around Jon was sitting there looking at every detail, curve and element of his car trying to keep his excited child-self in check as his mind saw what this car was going to be someday. It is already a work of art. There is no modesty or restraint in this build, yet there is a refined subtly and finesse that seems to be in every Bones creation. This car is going to be incredible.
Ken, the godfather, seems to be everywhere and see everything. He knows what’s going on and is always there to make sure there are no corners cut or effort wasted in building the best hot rods in the world. Mr. Schmidt, as I’m sure he was known to his former students when he taught school is also a fine artist and you can see his eye for shape, form and detail in everything the Bones do. Ever the teacher, Ken took Jon aside and showed him how to shape the ribs of aluminum that would form the nose of his car. With a lot of good natured ribbing Ken gave Jon the chance to experience a very small part of just how much work it takes to build something that ends up looking so perfectly simple. While Jon spent quite a few hours learning to shape these elements we were educated to the fact that this was not even a scratch on the surface of the work that it takes to build the nose-let alone the entire car. I can’t speak for Jon but knowing that I had had a small part in making something that was going on such an incredible build would be largely fulfilling and satisfying. A truly unique Rolling Bones build experience.
On the day before we were to leave for New Jersey the sun finally revealed itself. As the day passed tires were checked, oil was changed and details reviewed all in preparation for the trip to The Race of Gentlemen and the race on the beach to come.
THE TRIP TO WILDWOOD, NJ
Thursday, June 8th, 2017 awoke to glorious sunshine and I was beyond excited about the trip to Wildwood in the hot rods. Mr. Carter Cook had arrived, introductions were made and Dick DeLuna’s Salinas Special was loaded into the trailer for Carter to drive at The Race of Gentlemen. I made the trip down in Jon’s coupe so that I could get shots of Ken’s car.
When you see a Rolling Bones car you immediately know that it is a Rolling Bones car. They look fast and mean, and I was honestly expecting it to be a very long day of super loud engine noise and kidney testing jolts, especially on the New Jersey highways. Now, I’m not going to say that riding in the hot rods was a Cadillac-like ride, but, the cars were so well built and engineered that I very quickly forgot that I was in a one-of-a-kind car built using technology that was over seven decades old and instead could completely just enjoy the fact that we were cruising down the interstate at 80-90 miles an hour. Ken had recommended that I wear ear plugs, not for the engine noise, but for the wind noise as these cars are strictly air-conditioned by Mother Nature.
It is amazing to be cruising down the highway in hot rods that you’ve seen and have only dreamed about riding in. The look on people’s faces as we drove by varied from scowls to very enthusiastic thumbs-up and everything in between. The enthusiastic reactions far outnumbered the scowls and I was really wondering how many accidents had been caused by some idiot trying to drive while using his phone to get a photo or video to put on his social media feed.
With a stop for gas and a stop for lunch and by the time my adrenaline had come down to more human levels we were pulling in to Wildwood, NJ.
THE RACE OF GENTLEMEN
Suffice it to say that I will share a full story and feature on the Race of Gentlemen itself here on my site but I’ll share a bit of what it was like hanging out with the crew during the three days of TROG so you can get a small sense of what it was like.
In a word, family. Now this isn’t a 1950’s TV version of a warm and cuddly family. It’s a slightly dysfunctional, don’t-make-me-pull-this-car over kind of family. The kind of family that has great debates, differing points of view and shows its love and acceptance by giving you a hard time kind of family. It’s great to have an opinion but you better be able to back it up kind of family. The kind of family that takes the good times and the bad and makes the best while all the time making memories that last a lifetime kind of family. It was an honor to be a part of this small family for the few days I was there.
The days were pretty much meet for breakfast to start the sh!t talking followed by heading down to the beach to be a part of the race. Lining up in the Rolling Bones cars in the line heading to the beach for the races felt kind of like hot rod royalty.
The evenings were always entertaining as the crew and other friends of the Bones gathered to make the nightly pilgrimage to whatever restaurant was chosen for the evening’s sustenance and vocal recollections of the day. A huge thank you to Joe Murgas for driving us around in the vintage Chevy station wagon all weekend. Now I can honestly say that I was put in the trunk of a car in New Jersey and it was still an awesome experience. You sir are a life saver and made schlepping a stupid amount of camera gear all over Wildwood, NJ a lot less stupid.
There were four Rolling Bones cars and drivers at The Race of Gentlemen for the event:
Ken Schmidt and his three window 1933 Ford coupe “591”.
Jon Suckling and his and his 1932 Ford “The 232 Roadster”.
Carter Cook who was driving Mr. Dick DeLuna’s 1934 Ford “606c Salinas Special”
Drew Garban who was driving the Rolling Bones 1932 “575” while his car is being built.
While Jon, Carter and Drew made as many runs down the sand on day one as possible Ken took one for the team and stayed in the spectator area to meet the fans and sell copies of the Rolling Bones wonderful new book the Book of GOW. There were huge smiles all around, racers and spectators alike, and the sights and sounds of vintage racing had me smiling like a crazy man all day long.
Day two of TROG was a big one for the Rolling Bones as Ken was tasked with setting up and running the bracket races. To say that the people racing at TROG were competitive would be an understatement. To make a long story short the Rolling Bones cars made a beautiful showing of themselves ultimately with Carter driving Mr. DeLuna’s coupe to win in the V8 class. It was a glorious day all around.
ROLLING BACK TO NEW YORK
I can’t speak for everyone else but after three days of racing, heat, sun and sand I was exhausted. Knowing that we still had the ride back to the Barn was just icing on the cake on a week that I had looked forward to for a long time. For the trip back I rode with Ken so that I could get some shots of Jon’s car as we travelled north. One thing I can say about Ken, he LOVES this stuff. When we were on the New Jersey turnpike every time we would come through the toll booth you knew that on the other side he was going to hit that gas pedal hard and let that Y-Block powered piece of art show you just what it was built for. Each time I would look over and see Ken with a grin on his normally very controlled face as his inner 19-year-old self-celebrated the joys of wheels, steel and speed.
So, what do I remember most from this adventure? That’s a tough question and I’m sure that the answer will vary as time passes. Spending time with the guys that call themselves the Rolling Bones was a pleasure. People like this are what this world needs more of. People with skills, talent and a point of view that they live for. While they are well known for what they do they haven’t fallen into the traps of “success” but remain welcoming, honest and true to themselves. To the other members of the Rolling Bones family, the people lucky enough to own a Rolling Bones built hot rod and the others of us that also love this stuff as much as they do that have been welcomed into the clan, thank you all for your kindness, your warm welcome and the memories that I’ll have for a lifetime.
BONUS CAR PORN
If you like this kind of content PLEASE HELP ME SUPPORT THIS by sharing this page and please order your fine art prints in the SPC store COMING SOON. I do this because I love it and fund all of this out of my own pocket. The more support I get from you the more I can continue to create images and stories that help us all keep the things that we enjoy alive.
LONG TERM PROJECT HELP
I am working on a long term project entitled PASSING. This is a look at people, places and things that have influenced us all today but are slowly passing from the collective awareness. I hope to eventually put together a book of these people, places and things with photographs and short stories about them, where and what they are now and what they mean to us all. If you have ideas or connections that might help continue this project please tap the CONTACT button above and send me a note. Thank you.
ALL IMAGES AND CONTENT ©2017 Scott Photo Co. – Photography by Tim Scott