My Rich Uncle
Unless you are a car freak, the name Lyle Fisk won't mean anything to you. You
won't find a lot of information about
Lyle Fisk on the
Internet. There is a smattering, but hardly any of it does justice to the
influence he's had on the car culture of America. If you don't know what I
mean, go rent George Lucas' best film: American Graffiti this weekend. Hot
Rodding began - and some say was at its peak, in the 50's.
Lyle Fisk was born in Yuma, Arizona, in 1940. By the time he was 14, his
parents, my grandparents, had moved to Santa Maria, California and Lyle caught
the bug; the pinstriping bug. He bought a brush, taught himself how to use it
and was soon pinstriping anything and everything he could get his hands on. My
grandmother told me once that "nothing was safe, not the washing machine or the
refrigerator". At school, he'd put pinstripes on student's sneakers, lunch boxes
Near the end of the 8th grade, Lyle dropped out of school and took up sign
painting and pinstriping as his career. He soon found himself working for
Barris at the Oakland Roadster show washing and polishing cars. Barris is
best known for his creation of "The Bat Mobile", featured in the popular T.V.
series Batman with Adam West in the late 1960's.
He has spent the rest of life, some 50 years now, pinstriping cars, painting
signs and woodgraining - a specialty he has honed and to which this biased
fellow thinks he is unmatched in genius. He can make you swear that a piece of
fiberglass is actually wood.
You may not know what pinstriping is but you have probably heard of its most
famous representative, Von Dutch. After Von Dutch died, an enterprising business
man bought the rights to his name and it now appears everywhere as a pop culture
icon in spite of the fact that most who see the Von Dutch moniker don't know
anything about him. Like many in the sign business, Von Dutch spent a lot
of years drinking and smoking and it finally caught up with him in 1992. Fisk, a
devout Christian, avoided the pitfalls of his contemporaries but always had a
special place in his heart for Von Dutch. He was the reason Fisk took up
pinstriping. Occasionally, Dutch would work out of Lyle's shop. A picture of
Fisk and Von Dutch circa 1982 can be seen
Von Dutch is in the middle of that picture holding the cigarette.
Over the years, Lyle has wowed his customers and observers alike with his steady
hand. He is featured in a book called
Planet which credits Fisk for creating something known as "feathering" in
pinstriping circles. An example can be seen on the motorcycle fender pictured
Yeah, I'm proud of him. I love my uncle. When I was younger, I wanted to follow
in his footsteps. I spent summers with him in Southern California and when I
finally moved to El Cajon, California, during my senior year of high school, I
would walk the 8 miles from El Cajon to Lemon Grove as soon as school let out
just to be able to spend some time in his shop. The cars that came through that
shop were simply incredible. Cars would be shipped in from literally all over
the world to get the Lyle Fisk treatment.
After I graduated from high school, I went to work for Lyle. I received the most
"frequent fired miles" of anyone who ever worked for him, an accomplishment of
which I am not proud. I had some talent but I was a slow learner when it came to
personal responsibility. As a sign painter, I am a pretty good software
developer, if you know what I mean.
On Thursday, August 16, at 8:00 PM, Lyle can be seen on
Hot Rod, a reality show produced by the Discovery Channel and filmed in Boyd
Coddington's shop east of L.A. The Show airs on The Learning Channel every
Thursday. Boyd is probably known best by the car culture's uninitiated, for
a 48 Cadillac built for Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, and
wheels, an innovator in custom billet aluminum wheels. The show aired on
Thursday is the third documenting work on a 1960 Mercury Wagon, converted to a
"Woody". The car was commissioned by Sobe, the beverage company. The film crew
captures my uncle Lyle turning painted metal into what you could swear was wood
once he finishes.
I gave up television 12 years ago so I will be desperately calling friends to
hijack their T.V. for one evening. If you have any interest in hot rods, or are
just curious, this should be a fascinating episode. I have watched him work for
as long as I can remember and I never cease to be mesmerized. He's a master at
what he does.