Treasures of the Valley » Mike Lawler

When Indy Cars Roared in Montrose – Part 2

Last week I wrote about the Valley Machine Shop, located at 3512 Ocean View, where Augustine and Bailey Glass is today. In the 1930s, a famous racecar builder, Paul Fromm, owned that shop and produced some winning Indy and sprint cars there. I’m reprinting some memoirs written by Paul Brown, who worked for Fromm as a kid. This is Part 2:

Paul Brown writes: “As I became more familiar around the Valley Machine Shop, I got to know the mechanics who built the cars and the machinists who worked making parts for the cars and for companies like Lockheed. One of the mechanics became a friend to me. His name was Johnnie Famulero, known in the shop and among racing men as ‘Jonnyfam.’ He would let me sit in a car and play make-believe behind the steering wheel. He also let me help push a racecar down Ocean View in order to start the engine. Then the driver would steer the car down Ocean View, turn back up Verdugo, and drive to the back door of the Valley Machine Shop for work in the rear of the shop.

Mike Lawler is the former  president of the Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley and loves local history. Reach him at
Mike Lawler is the former
president of the Historical Society
of the Crescenta Valley and loves local history. Reach him at

“I became a regular at the shop during the summer when I was not busy doing some other type of work. The doors at Valley Machine Shop were always open to me. I got to know Paul Fromm and I saw many who were involved in racing and the manufacture of speed equipment for all cars. The Winfield brothers, Ed and Bud, were regulars. They were well known for their auto engine heads, manifolds and carburetors. I had seen them bring into Valley a pattern and core for a new carburetor idea, ram up the mold, heat aluminum in a crucible and pour the casting, then go to the machine shop and create the carburetor. I saw the men who created the bodies for the Indianapolis cars at Curtiscraft Company in Glendale and I saw Mr. Offenhauser, known for his high-speed engine called the ‘Offie.’ As one who hung around, I was asked from time-to-time if I would clean up the shop or clean a machine. They always paid me something, but I would have done the cleaning just to be there with the cars and mechanics. One time I saw Wilber Shaw at Valley Machine simply testing the seat of the car he would drive and win the 500 at Indianapolis.

“During the several years that I frequented the Valley Machine Shop I saw many cars that were being prepared for racing and some that had been brought back for repair after a race. The first cars that I remember were the cars that had an abnormally high engine compartment that housed an engine made from an Italian aircraft engine known as a Hispano-Souza. That large engine was cut in half and adapted to racecar dimensions. The class of cars made with those engines was known as the ‘Hissos’ and they were the ones that had the high fish-tail section that tapered into a fine vertical point at the rear of the body. The next cars I remember included the ‘Offies,’ the engine made by Offenhauser. Those engines were not as tall as earlier ‘Hisso’ engines and permitted a much lower engine compartment with a trim, low body design.

“The period from my 10th birthday until I was 14 was an exciting time. I would drop in when cars were being worked on, talk to mechanics and sometimes drivers. I listened to races when Paul had a car in the race driven by somebody I had met. On one occasion I listened to a dirt track race where a driver named Kenny Pew was killed. He was one of the drivers who came by Valley to talk to the mechanics and test the car for comfort. Kenny’s accident was a sad event and I felt the loss.”

Paul Brown’s memories bring to life the racing history that was made right here in the Crescenta Valley, when racecars roared up and down Ocean View Boulevard.