Earlier this week, I found myself in Camas, Washington, strolling the tree-lined streets and enjoying the sights and sounds of small-town life. Out on Fourth Street, I studied the colorful John Alcorn 7-UP sign at the Mill Tavern and admired the historic Liberty Theatre—a gem that first opened in 1927. Next to the theatre there’s an antique store that, naturally, I had to check out.
The store itself is filled with all sorts of wares, some interesting, some not. While poking around the basement, I gravitated towards a booth that was jam-packed with the former. There were oil cans, vintage matchbooks, old license plates and a smattering of automotive accessories. An early-’50s Chevy grille was affixed to the wall and there were bottle openers galore. After leafing through the matchbooks, I noticed a small stack of magazines on a shelf. One was a Fawcett book about Brass Era cars, while the other two are far more germane to the world of hot rods and customs.
Yes! At the bottom of the pile sat a pair of J.C. Whitney catalogs from the early 1960s. “The World’s Most Complete Line of Automotive Accessories and Parts,” one boasted. “For Custom Cars, Hot Rods, Station Wagons, Trucks and Foreign and Sports Cars.” Both were sealed in plastic and modestly priced. I didn’t even have to open them—I knew I had to have them.
I’ve been collecting vintage hot rods magazines for the better part of 15 years, but I’ve never owned an old catalog. Sifting through these has been a treat, especially since I now have a project car to daydream about. I enjoyed seeing the wacky products and low prices, as well as the speed equipment that’s still sought after today.
Although the story could end here, I decided to take things one step further. According to the shipping labels, both books once belonged to N R Long, who lived at 2524 NE Halsey Street in Portland. Later that afternoon, I swung on by.
By the time I reached the neighborhood, the sky had turned gray and rain started to fall. I peered out at the 100-year old house on NE Halsey, which was partially hidden by a pair of tall, skinny trees. The lights were off. From what I could tell, nobody was home. Records indicate that the property was sold in 1995. Did that mean that N R had moved away? I should have knocked anyways.
Just because I love a good mystery, I dove into Rodder’s Journal #79 to hopefully find out more. In that issue, Pacific Northwest hot rod historian Albert Drake shared his colorful account of Portland’s first hot rod show: Speed Cycles of 1951. Maybe Long would be mentioned in there? The closest I could find was Ron DeLong, who owned a 1930 A-V8. “It was full-fendered with a full-race, Schnell-built Mercury flathead,” Drake recalls.
I’d like to imagine it pulling out of the alley behind the house, equipped with some speed equipment from one of these catalogs. Fact? Fiction? Your guess is as good as mine.