Art and life, no imitation
Once diagnosed with cancer, most make the disease the center of their life. Work, hobbies and even friendships fall away as the disease takes its toll. For Dragerton's Bo Huff things are a bit different.
Diagnosed with an incurable form of cancer several years ago, Huff has undergone treatment for multiple years and has managed to maintain a lifestyle that requires nearly constant travel and work. On July 16 he will begin a 30 day regimen of chemotherapy and stem cell treatments. His dedication to the life he has led for more than 70 years is demonstrated by the fact that he would not begin treatment until after East Carbon's Community Daze Celebration and Car Show. A show he founded and has organized ever since.
Huff and his family, made their way to Dragerton, Utah in 1943 from Clarksville, Arkansas because like many individuals the promise of good wages and a steady paycheck from one of Carbon County coal mines was better than their home economy could provide.
"That was a long ride, I'll tell you," said Huff from his kitchen in the Dragerton subdivision of East Carbon. "Our whole family came in the cab of my dad's pickup. Five of us packed in there all the way to Utah."
The Huff family consisted of Gervis and Corene and their three children, Ada, Bo and Carolyn.
As the family made their way into Carbon County, Huff's father owned a 1935 one and a half ton Ford, the vehicle that would start Bo's fascination with custom vehicles and all they represented.
As the 1940s continued, the Castle Country was in the midst of an economic boom. To put it mildly, the East Carbon of 1935 was a world apart for the community of today.
"When we pulled into town, we pulled in right by where the city hall complex is now and right in front of me was a sea of playing children, said Bo. "I thought I had died and gone to heaven."
Huff began school in the fourth grade while living in a tent city which had been set up for new miners. After being taking in by the Spitlers of East Carbon and then moving into a hotel complex in Price, Bo's father found the family a place to call their own.
The family's first home was near a bakery just off of State Road 123, which is now Miner's Trading Post. From there Bo would attend the "old rock schoolhouse" in Sunnyside.
After renting for almost a year, Gervis purchased the Huff's first home near the Wooden School House where Bo reported being able to see the coolest cars drive through every single day.
In 1935, it was estimated that East Carbon had 11,800 residents, enough coal mining jobs to support a growing community and as many as eight bars. "This place was wide open," said Huff. "A coal miner is a hearty, rowdy type of person. They would work had all day and play hard all night. The young guys would cruise to Price and create bumper to bumper traffic."
Huff was a member of East Carbon High School's first junior class and after finishing with his secondary education left Utah for Denver and a fabrication and body fender school.
"It was an alright place, but I can tell you that they don't teach you everything you need to know in school," said Huff.
With a love for custom cars still burning in his heart, Bo took work in Salt Lake City at Davis Body Shop near 2700 South. After completing his daily work, Bo was allowed to build his own hot rod on weekends. He completed a 1927 Model T while in Salt Lake, his first build.
Huff accomplished another first in Salt Lake, marrying Bonnie (Blue) Pinker.
"One night we really got into it good," said Huff. "And I took off with some friends, Nathan Wall and Bob Singstrom."
The trio made their way to California, continuing to search for the cars and lifestyle that had made their teenage years a magical time.
Once in California, Huff went to work for Oliger's further honing his craft learning the subtle art of metallurgy and paint techniques that were literally evolving right before his eyes.
It was at this time that Huff would meet one of his life long friends, legendary custom paint professional Stan Robels. Robels invited Huff to work at his shop in Southern California and Bo did so after divorcing Pinker.
"There were some amazing cars down there," said Huff. "There is no other way to say it. People were experimenting with paint and body styles. It was a great time for cars. Even if you didn't care for the new cars coming out in the late 1970s, the techniques that were pushing custom work forward was amazing."
Robels and Huff worked in SoCal for three years with Warren Ruark aka Jasper an individual whom Huff described as a 30-year-old Dennis the Menace. During this time Huff also divorced Pinker.
While Bo is known as a life-long rockabilly devotee, he did admit that the hippie influence of the 1960s and 1970s was not lost on him. In face he traded a 1959 Corvette show car for a 1948 Ford 400 which was converted into a custom motor-home which Huff claimed was better than any factory model he had every seen.
"I got really into music at that point and began attending Santa Monica City College," said Huff. "I still love playing the guitar but I have to say, you have to stick with the skills that pay the bills."
As the 1980s began, Huff moved back to Dragerton purchased the shop that would lead to induction into three separate Custom Car Halls of Fame and some of the most influential and cutting edge custom car building in the country. Huff's work on a now famous 1959 Mercury Sedan created a style all his own.
While Huff is a multi-talented builder and painter, he is quick to point out when discussing his career the talented and hard working partners and employees he as had the opportunity to work with. Once such individual is the enigmatic Steve Stella. Stella has worked with Bo on and off for the better part of 30 years and is known as one of the best pin stripe artists in the world.
Stella received the prestigious Von Dutch Award in 2000 and has been putting the finishing touches on most of Bo's work for the better part of three decades. Only most because since Bo's youngest son Junior Bo Huff was 13 he began taking lessons from Stella and doing his own work.
Because Bo has been a single father for most of his life, he has raised five kids and has brought them up in the world he loves. James Paul, Maddy, Kendall and Junior all live the rockabilly lifestyle and with the exception of Maddy all work at their father's shop. Maddy is an accomplished Vargas Style pin-up model takes care of the family's finances.
Naming all of Huff's accomplishments as a car builder would take weeks, his prowess as both a facilitator and builder are easily demonstrated by the fact that his cars have won at the most prestigious and exclusive care show in the country, the Grand National Roadster Show nine times. He as also been inducted into the Darryl Starbird National Rod and Custom Car Hall of Fame, the KKOA Hall of Fame and the Kustoms of America Hall of Fame.
"A good car means freedom," said Huff from the stage during Community Daze in 2010. "When you can build a car on your own and have it reflect who you are it's an amazing feeling."