About Joe Bailon

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Prunes to Candy Apples Joe Bailon's Story (continued)

Two of Joe's brothers worked in the small factory where the shipping boxes for the prunes and grapes were manufactured. Joe would slip into the plant after it was closed for the day and find bits of wood that he would take home to turn into model cars and trucks. And then he built more model cars. In 1938, before Joe's 16th birthday, he acquired his first car a 1929 Ford Model A coupe which he customized the only way he knew how by adding lights, reflectors, trim, and pieces from other cars.

His customizing wasn't enough for the imaginative Bailon mind, even at 15, so Joe worked out a trade with the proprietor of a local junkyard. The man had a Model A Cabriolet and said that Joe could have the body, but Joe would have to remove it from the frame and replace it with the coupe body. The trade was even, except that Joe had to do all of the work. He jumped at the chance, and in one day, he swapped both bodies without help.

As soon as he took his new car home, Joe chopped its top, and it became the first Bailon custom car, starting a career that he's still pursuing today. When World War II began, 18-year-old Joe went to Richmond, California, and found a job in the shipyard as a "cutter." He was taught to use a torch to cut the thick steel plates that were then welded together to make the hulls of tankers and freighters. The cutting job lasted until Joe was drafted into the army, where he served 2 years of duty.

Once discharged from the army, Joe bought a '36 Ford three-window coupe, and he drove north to Eureka, California, the hometown of his wife. That coupe would be Joe's entry into the world of customizing cars for others, although he didn't know that when he bought it. Before leaving the San Francisco Bay area with the car, Joe had seen Tommy the Greek's '40 Merc convertible.

The car had a chopped Carson top and no running boards, besides being lowered and having the rear license plate sunk into the deck lid. "It looked good," according to Joe. "I was totally wiped out. That was the greatest car I'd ever seen." Without any instruction or outside help, Joe lowered the Ford, installed '38 Ford teardrop taillights into the rear fenders, and set the license plate into the rear deck of the coupe. He cut the hole, rounded in the metal edges to the glass covering of the license plate, and installed both the plate and the light. He then finished off the car with a ruby-maroon lacquer paint job.