Thursday, June 28, 2018

have you ever wondered what it was like for a vet coming back from WW2, and starting a garage? I have, and I just learned from a great guy who wrote it all down. Chad Johnson, from US Army 1942-'46 to Chad Johnson Auto Repair, Burbank

Chad wrote:
"On February 1, 1946, I was released from the United States Army Air Corps. I was given $300.00 along with an honorable discharge.

I am now on my own, in a strange town, the first time in my life. About the third day, I decided I needed a job, and I started looking at various auto shops. The owner of “Fritz Auto Shop” hired me.

I am now a full-fledged auto mechanic. I believe I was paid 40% of the labor charged. I did pretty well, and was the second highest paid mechanic there.

Arriving in July, and renting a room in a “boarding house” on Peyton Place in Burbank. My uncle had a service station in Burbank, and needed to rent out three stalls in his station for an auto repair facility.

The station was built for Lockheed during world war two. There were three pump islands, with 9 pumps. There were 2 lube bays, 3 mechanical bays, a wash rack, and an 80-car parking lot. Lockheed used this facility to park and clean all of their company cars, busses, trucks and trailers.

After the war ended, Lockheed no longer needed this large facility, so it was closed down. Lockheed also didn’t need the employees that operated the place. So my uncle and another man, Marshall Collins, who were no longer employed by Lockheed, made a deal with the oil company, “General Petroleum”, who held the master lease on the entire property.

My good friend Pat was a mechanic before the war and I decided to rent the shop from my uncle. At the boarding house where I lived, was another renter by the name of George Ewing. He was also a mechanic for a Studebaker agency in North Hollywood.

About a week before we were to take over operating the garage, Pat backed out of the deal and left me high and dry. George and I discussed my situation, and he went in with me on the station deal. George was a lot older and had a lot of experience in the business. I refinanced my car for $500, and he put in the same, and we became “Empire Motor Service”.

Our partnership lasted about 3 months, and he decided we would split up. I made him an offer he couldn’t resist, and now I was the proud owner of “Chad Johnson Auto Repair” at “Lincoln and Empire”, Burbank, California. I moved out of the rooming house to a trailer, then a converted garage, and finally an apartment in North Hollywood.

But I did have about 3 months experience working with George. I had to learn how to deal with the public, diagnose problems and repair their cars, be honest and fair, be a bookkeeper and janitor, learn how to budget my time, and on and on.

I had a contract with Lockheed to wash ALL of their company cars, trucks and busses. Also lube and oil changes. The large parking lot was used to store vehicles that were to be washed over the weekends.

The year 1947 was one of gaining experience as an auto mechanic, but also learning how to treat my customers, and the art of not spending more than I made. The first couple of years I operated on a cash basis. I was a one-man shop and my hours were what ever it took to get the jobs finished, be it nighttime or weekends. Within a year or so, things started to slow down in the station part of the property, but my business remained good. The station still had the contract to wash the Lockheed company equipment.

I made some changes to the property, refacing the front of the building in stone, add a waiting room for customers, an air-conditioned office to conduct business, (entry from either side of the office), and removed the 3 pump islands, and all of the very old gas pumps. I installed 2 new gas pumps on the Lincoln street side of the property, where they could be seen from the mechanical bays of the building.

So why did I decide to keep 2 gasoline pumps, when there was not much profit, in the sale of gas? I needed the credit card system from Mobil Oil Company. I was now able to charge the auto repairs to the customer’s credit card without any charge to me.

In 1952, the local Ford dealer in Burbank contacted me. They had a lease contract with both the city of Burbank, and Lockheed for a fleet of 1950 Ford cars. That included the City Police cars. I was asked if I would be interested in taking over the full maintenance of these vehicles. I met with the Ford executives, and we came to an agreement that I would furnish full maintenance on all of the leased vehicles for the next two years at a fixed price per vehicles per month. It was a win-win for all concerned.

That... is a first hand account of what life was like after the war for Chad, and might seem similar to what you've heard from others... but the detail is so cool to read. 

Chad is still alive and well, and living in a retirement home in Palm Desert. One of the few remaining WW2 vets. 


  1. I have never commented here but this is outstanding, thanks.

    1. I can't take much credit, I got to talking to Chad, and mentioned to him he ought to write his biography ( he had contacted me about the Mobil Gas Economy Runs that he'd been the inspector for ) and he mentioned he's already written about his time at Lincoln and Empire and that I could share it... so I editted it a bit for easier reading, and he said - I quote "Thank you, Jesse, you did a great job in your editing. Now, when and where do we, You and I, get our star on the walk of fame somewhere? I am very pleased and honored by your work.


      THAT is a cool guy. So, he earned the compliment, I just helped a tiny bit. That sums up about half the content on my site... I found most of it, and simply put it together to share with other people who are like minded, and get a kick out of the same stuff I do.

      The other half I've created the content, such as going to museums, SEMA, car shows, etc. I'll take credit for that... but all in all, I'm just the car guy that put together what I liked, and all you readers came along to share it with me.

      That's pretty cool. Thanks for the comment, I hope you have been enjoying the rest of the blog.