Inside the Black Widow’s Web

Thanks for the great magazine. I really enjoyed your article about the Black Widow ’57 Chevrolet in your September issue. This brought many memories back from my adolescence and I thought I’d share some lesser-known historical information as well.

I was born and raised in Harlan, Iowa. There are few famous people from there but a few known to early NASCAR fans would be Johnny Beauchamp and Tiny Lund. The former could have won the first Daytona 500 and the latter did on a charity ride from the Wood Brothers for helping save their driver from a wreck a week before the famous race.

But the least known and most significant of the players here was Dale Swanson. He was the mechanic who engineered and built the famous Black Widows. The events were described in an article for the World Herald newspaper by Lee Ackerman and also on www.Swanson-Automotive.com. When the boys from SEDCO in Atlanta needed help they sent for Dale Swanson. He built a car just like the ones he raced in the Midwest and they copied his design with five more to launch the famous Black Widow.

I worked for the Swanson family at their boat and auto shop in Harlan when I was a teen and good friend with Kim, their son. They are one great family and as nice as you can find. Kim continues to run a shop in Harlan near the original site. We prepped a ’57 Chevy to run the dirt tracks in Southwest Iowa when I was working for them and won everything. I had no idea how influential Dale was to NASCAR but I did know that he could build a race car to dominate and he did.

Dale Swanson was one of the first innovators who made the mechanic as important as the driver. He embodies the racing spirit as few can. Maybe someday the world will see fit to honor this truly forward-thinking genius.

Will Conrad

Via the Internet

Will, many thanks for sharing a little of the “behind the scenes” info from your early days with the Swanson family. The story behind the story oftentimes is as interesting, and sometimes more so, than the original. Here’s hoping a few more rodders will learn about Dale Swanson and give him the recognition he so richly deserves.

Attaboy for Walker Radiator

Last summer I decided to get a new Walker radiator for my ’36 Ford pickup street rod. I ordered it from a vendor who would bring it to Goodguys show in Pleasanton, thus allowing me to save on the freight. Everything went as planned. The radiator was packed beautifully, wrapped in plastic, and incased in pour-in-place expanding foam within a heavy-duty box.

Not needing it quite yet, there was no safer storage than right in that box. A few months later I unpacked it to make some measurements and to my shock found several cooling fins bent and the paint gone where bent. I called Walker and talked to Mr. Vernon Walker Sr. about the best way for me to repair (i.e. needle nosed pliers) and paint. He said that might be OK but what would be better would be him issuing a pickup order to UPS and they would handle it. I explained that I had bought it from a dealer and he said not to worry. UPS picked it up and took it off to Tennessee. A couple weeks later it returned in pristine condition with an invoice marked “no charge”. Now I have a terrific radiator, but probably far more importantly I have had a terrific experience with a quality American company, run by great people. I will always remember this experience, and any and all future radiators I will need will have Walker script embossed on them.

Bob Collins

Davis, CA

Bob, glad to run your letter and give some credit to Walker Radiator, a company that has been around a long time and has helped many a rodder. Fact is many of us around the magazine have or have had a Walker Radiator cooler in our hot rods and have come to rely on them.

More on Bomber Seats

I liked your article on Frank Wallic’s “Built for Two” (authored by Chris Shelton) riveted aluminum seat; the guy is an artist. Just looking at all those rivets gives me a headache, much less driving and bucking them.

His Hughes Aircraft Company ID tags are a hoot, but it is my understanding that the so-called “Spruce Goose” had a specific official name. Our Chico, California, Air Museum entertained a guest speaker a couple of years ago who was the curator of the Evergreen Museum, location of the “Goose”. I believe he said, and I have read, that the aircraft was officially always known as the Hughes HK-1 Hercules. (Also, that it was true that Howard really hated the S.G. moniker the press stuck on his pet project, especially since it wasn’t made of spruce.)

From my references, this designation was based on the fact that automotive upstart Henry J. Kaiser (as in Henry J.) was an early partner in the project, thus the HK initials; also, well before the Lockheed C-130 transport usurped the name, though the “Herky Bird” certainly had more claim to the fame, based on performance.

Maybe you could clarify this for me? Mr. Wallic obviously intends his tag to be nostalgic satire, but as your caption states: “‘Hughes Flying Boat’ was the official name of the Spruce Goose”, it is possibly misleading?

Keep up the good work. I read every word in SR.

Wick Humble

T-33 crew chief, Chico Air Museum, and hot rodder since 1961

Wick, to get to the bottom of this intrigue we asked for author Chris Shelton to give us some background and then we turned to the Rivet Master Frank Wallic for his input. (Mr. Wallic is a senior, senior citizen and a bit of a curmudgeon, so we “hang on” when asking Mr. Wallic for an answer.) We believe you will find both answers eyebrow raising and entertaining. —B.B.

“Thanks for the props. I try to keep things entertaining but Wallic makes my job easier. He has a pretty good sense of humor—you’d have to in light of all those rivets!

“Yeah, there’s a little bit of a semantic gray area there. People often casually refer to it as Hughes Flying Boat but according to Boeing’s entry the plane fell under the Flying Boat classification. Also according to Boeing, the HK-1 Hercules designation ended upon Hank Kaiser’s withdrawal from the project in 1944. At that point Howie renamed the plane H-4. So it wasn’t always known as HK-1 either.

“And people wonder how I learn all this random stuff!” —Chris Shelton

“Howard gave me the tags on his dying bed.” —Frank Wallic

The Next Generation

Your Nov. ’12 editorial was good and gave me lots of food for thought. My attitude has always been to let anybody (young or old) interested in my ride, sit in it and enjoy the view. It’s an easy thing to do and really it makes a difference.

Children are always excited to try a street rod on for size and generally a parent can’t wait to take a few pictures to capture the moment.

Someone, many years ago (class of 1964) was generous with the gift of a short ride in their chopped Model A coupe. As most of my friends know, it changed my life significantly. Everybody should try it. It’s actually fun to share.

Those twerps in the photo are the neighborhood kids who borrow my tools to fix their bikes and scooters. I’m the only guy without a lock on his toolbox.

They are (left to right) Sutton, Blake, Grant, Anthony, and Gavin.

Mike Chiavetta

Donut Derelict / Huntington Beach, CA

Mike, as always good to hear from you, hope all is well at home, Donuts, and, oh, your toolbox. I’m sure many of us got our starts rummaging through somebody else’s toolbox. Good going.