by Bob Drake
When I was young, I was enthusiastic and chock full of ideas. Some people thought I showed some promise and they gave me a helping hand. Shortly after I started my business in Woodland Hills, California in 1971, I was searching for a rubber mold-shop (there were plenty in the LA area at the time) to do my compression rubber molds for making things like taillight pads, steering wheels, pedal pads, and window seals. I discovered Mallard Mold Inc. in South Gate, CA. It was there that I had the good fortune to meet the shop foreman, Joe Salvador.
I contracted with Joe to do many of my first steel molds for making rubber parts. But I was just a little guy at the time, placing some small orders at Mallard Mold. One day Joe said, “Stop goofing around. Give me all of your rubber projects. Don’t worry about paying me now; you can pay me when you can.”
So I loaded Joe up and gave him hundreds of samples of original parts over the next couple of years for him to make the tooling. The total bill for that work was over $80,000. Keep in mind that at the time you could buy a nice house in Southern California for about $30,000 that is now worth around $400,000, so in today’s terms, that $80,000 bill would be worth over a million dollars.
BDR had terrific growth over those early years and it proved to be pretty much of a success right out of the box. In just a couple of years I had my friend Joe paid off. I was in the right place at the right time with my newly manufactured rubber parts: Back then, about the only game in town was rubber parts made in Argentina, so the LA area was primed for a good local vendor of early Ford rubber parts.
Joe is a good guy and I’m lucky to have such a good friend. He’s a very interesting man with his own great story. Joe is 89 (born in 1920) and emigrated with his family from Italy when he was just a five-year-old little guy. His father got a job with the Ford Motor Company as a carpenter. In those days, it was pretty standard practice for young men to follow in their fathers’ footsteps, so when Joe and his brother were in their teens, their father helped them get jobs at Ford too. Joe attended the Ford Apprentice School from 1936-39.
Joe graduated from the Ford school as a tooling machinist, and started in the factory for just 65 cents per hour. On his first day, the foreman, an old school guy, told him: “Forget everything you learned up there in the Ford trade school. This is the real world down here!” Joe did well and soon got a 10¢ raise, and pulled down a grand weekly salary of about $30. Joe said, “The folks working at Ford were thrifty back then, in part because Henry Ford’s wife Clara gave every student $2.00 per month to start and build a savings account. To keep getting the money, we had to show her our bank passbooks to prove that we were actually putting the money away for a rainy day.
I asked Joe if he ever saw Henry Ford. He said, “One day Ford was walking through the factory. At the time I was in a big hurry hacksawing a piece of metal, pushing and pulling the saw blade hard and fast. I remember Ford saying, ‘Boy that man is sawing fast and is cutting both ways with that saw.’ I remember thinking that if he had known I had gone through his school where we learned that you only cut with the push stroke with a hacksaw, he probably would have fired me!”
Joe volunteered for the Army during WWII and served in both France and Germany. He was discharged in 1946 and moved to Southern California where he eventually became the shop foreman at Mallard Mold Inc. Joe and I remain good friends and it was great to see him this year at the LA Roadster Show. He was amazed at all the parts I now make and particularly impressed with the five rubber-vulcanized-to-steel boards I’ve made for 1932-40 Fords. Many other people helped along the way including the employees at Sierra Rubber Parts a small family business in Englewood, CA. I owe a lot of the success of my steering wheel line to Everett, a salesman there, and Paul their chemist who helped develop the rubber compound formulas. I consider myself fortunate indeed to know them and old-time tool makers like Joe Salvador. Without their help, I wouldn’t be where I am today.