Aug 16, 2007

My Rich Uncle: On TLC tonight at 8:00

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 and lockers.

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 George 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 here. 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 Pinstripe Planet which credits Fisk for creating something known as "feathering" in pinstriping circles. An example can be seen on the motorcycle fender pictured here.

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 American 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 'Cadzilla', a 48 Cadillac built for Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, and Boyd's 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.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Your Uncle Lyle, while undoubtedly extremely talented, is also a greedy jerk and a disloyal "friend".

Rick Fisk said...

If this is Darren, please drop me a line at rick.fisk at gmail dot com and tell me how I can get in touch.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, it's not, but I know of whom you speak. (Haven't seen him since the early 90's) Please excuse the disparaging remarks, but bitterness often lingers. This is your site?

Rick Fisk said...

My site yes. I don't take offense. It was an ugly episode. Please do send me an email.

Anonymous said...

Do you know if Lyle ever lived in the Fresno area? I went to school with a Lyle Fisk "gear head" in the 50's.

Thanks......

Rick Fisk said...

He lived in Coalinga. That's the closest to Fresno proper I think he lived.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I am from Coalinga, that must the same guy, do you know how I can down load or view the show on the web. Youtube or something. Comeing from a small town like Coalinga it would be very cool to see a local on TV and all.

Thanks agan.....

Herb Kelley said...

Herb Kelley says thankx
I have known Lyle Fisk for over 30 years. I have had cars, trucks, Motorcycles, and business signs done by him. The highlite of any of his work has always been his signature and date. Thank you Lyle.

east prairie MO said...

One of his old friends from school is trying to reach him. I think his last name in Calhoun. Is there any way we can get in touch with him?

east prairie, mo said...

nevermind, i found it.

durga said...

Hi. Greetings. This post is really good and blog is really interesting. It gives good details.

Boyd Coddington Wheels

Rick Fisk said...

Thanks. Was very sorry to hear of Boyd's passing. I hope all is well with the Coddington family.