Harden customized famous cars
As a kid growing up in an orphanage and then running away from that orphanage, Red Harden, owner of Carriage Masters, didn’t know what he would end up doing, but it all changed when he came across a custom car.
“I was raised in an orphanage and ran away when I was 12,” he said. “I’ve been on my own ever since and ended up going to New York. I lived underneath the subways in New York and Central Park.
“Then just traveled around the United States trying to figure out what I wanted to do, and then I came up across a custom car one time and I thought, ‘dang, that’s beautiful.’ I always loved cars, and wanted to come to California to work on them.”
Harden helped customize cars such as the original Batmobile, the Dodge Charger from “The Dukes of Hazzard,” the original Kit car, the Coffin Car from “The Munsters” and the Silhouette, but at the time, Harden had no idea how famous these cars would become.
“When I was working on those cars, I didn’t think too much of it,” he said. “The studios don’t tell you that these cars are going to be really famous. Like “The Dukes of Hazzard” or Kit cars, I didn’t think that they would be famous. You just don’t have a clue that those cars are going to be so iconic, and make such an impact on the world. I don’t think there is anyone in the world that doesn’t know what those two cars are.
“I look back on it now, and I’ve had such an opportunity to work on so many famous cars, but back when you’re doing it you think it’s just a job. You’re proud to get a job, and proud to do work for the studios.”
He added that his favorite car that he worked on was “The Dukes of Hazzard” car because it’s so memorable.
Harden left the orphanage because he disliked being there and ran away over 30 times before finally going to New York.
He started off working for Bill Blalock, a customizer in Burbank, when he was 12 years old that got him started as a customizer.
“I got the job when I was 12, even though, I told him I was 18, but he told me I couldn’t even sweep his floors,” he said. “So, I told him ‘if you don’t like how I sweep your floors then you don’t have to pay me,’ and he hired me.”
He added that within a few weeks he started working with him personally and asked him questions about how and why he did some of the things, so he taught Harden the trade.
“I worked with him for four years, and then one day he just fired me. He told me I need to be on my own, so he rented me a building and brought me a car to work on.
“He started to ship me more and more work, and it took off from there. That’s how I got into it, and then I met my partner Bill Cushenberry,” he said. “I thought I knew everything, but this guy taught me so much. It was unreal. We became partners and together we built some really nice cars.”
He explained that when he was seven one of his teachers told him that he was going to end up in prison, so that stuck with him, and drove him to be successful.
“That puts a lot of drive in you. To where you think, ‘you know what? That lady doesn’t know my future.’ You just can’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something or be what you want to be. I think that’s what gave me a lot of drive.
“You also have to have a passion of what you want to do. It’s really the old saying that even a blind squirrel can find an acorn. You have to have a drive where you want to turn a car into a piece of jewelry. Anything I’ve ever worked on I’ve never been satisfied. If you ever get to a point in your life where you think something is perfect, but really nothing is ever perfect, and that’s what keeps you on top of your game.”
He explained that before he got to working on cars he never knew what he wanted to do as a career.
“I always had a passion for cars, but until I actually got to work on them, that’s what got me thinking that this would be good for me.”
He moved to Bakersfield after meeting his wife and started his own collision repair shop on Rosedale.
“Basically, I get to do my own stuff for me,” he said. “We know what it takes to put a car back on the road at the best it can be, and I think that’s something we have over many shops. Going from that field to this field is like night and day. I used to get some people coming in and telling me that their car isn’t running right, and if I could take a look at it, so my wife and I got to talking and thought why don’t we open a collision repair shop. Now we have one of the largest ones in the nation.”
He added that something he would like to do is to take some of the cars he’s worked on to some high schools to show how they used to go about working on those cars.
“I just want to make sure that these kids never give up on their dreams,” he said. “You can be anything you want to be. We live in America.
“Do whatever you want to do in your life, but do it to the best of your ability, and believe you will succeed.”