George Ramos: The Mechanic

George Ramos is a Firestone legend. He wasn’t a gunslinger nor a valiant leader of men, he didn’t hook and book and make the streets safe for women and orphans—at least not directly. At least not usually. He was our station mechanic, one who would respond to assistance requests armed with a crescent wrench. There were no others like him. Anywhere. Ever.

Firestone Station

George refers to the fourteen years he spent at Firestone as the best years of his life. Some might argue those were Firestone’s best years also, me among them.

South Los Angeles was his home. George was raised on 51st Street between Figueroa and Hoover, just two miles outside of Firestone’s jurisdiction.

As a kid, he would ride his bike to 53rd and Figueroa, where a man named Lujie Lesovski built race cars for the Indy 500. Young George would stand outside and drool over the cars and the building process. He attended Catholic school, but by the time he finished 11th grade he was bored. He didn’t return for his senior year. A man named Lawrence Blount, the father of one of George’s closest friends, taught him mechanics, and also taught him to be a man. His own father necessarily worked two jobs and had little time for George during his formative years.

George at Work on a Firestone Radio Car

After high school, George began working at gas stations and garages, brake and muffler shops, often working two jobs as his father had. Eventually, he was hired by Los Angeles County as a garage attendant, servicing vehicles. (He was literally hired by the actor “Andy” from the then-famous Amos & Andy TV series. The acting was a part-time job for the famous civil servant.) Eventually, George moved up through the ranks to journeyman mechanic and was assigned to Firestone station.

My First Experience with George Ramos

I was a young deputy just off training the first time George got me out of a pinch. Tony Baudino and I had been in a pursuit that took us into the Nickerson Gardens, an infamously violent housing project in South Los Angeles. The suspect vehicle crashed, and the occupants fled in several directions through the courtyards and between buildings. I drove over a curb and across wet grass until we could go no farther in the car and the suspect continued running between buildings. I slammed on the brakes, but the car found no purchase on the slick turf, and we crashed into a clothesline pole. We captured our suspect, and the other deputies caught theirs, but the front end of our assigned vehicle had been crunched in the process.

It would have been my first “preventable accident,” a blemish on one’s record, had it not been for George. Tony said, “That’s nothing to worry about. George will take care of it for us.” We parked along the back wall of the station and left a note for George. By the time we returned from our two days off, our assigned vehicle was as good as new, and there was no record of the accident or the repairs.

Taking Care of Deputies

I came to learn that this wasn’t the first nor the last time George took care of vehicle repairs under the table. It made no sense to him to send a radio car up to the motor pool where it would be out of service for months if he could fix it himself. George would take a fender or a door off of one of the “totaled” vehicles destined for salvage, and make the repairs himself. He was undeterred by the often-cumbersome county processes. We needed our cars, and George made sure they stayed up and running in tip-top shape.

George would also help deputies and professional staff with their personal vehicles when necessary and as time allowed. He helped me replace a heater core in my Corvette that would’ve cost me a grand to have done at a shop.

And fixing cars was only part of George’s contribution to Firestone station.

Painting the Station

When the station needed painting, Facilities Maintenance gave an estimate for the job. It was outrageous, and it would have been a significant hit to our station’s limited budget. George got wind of the proposal and scoffed at it, saying he’d take care of it himself. He and Mr. Hooks, his usual partner in crime, liberated a pallet of gray paint from the loading dock at Men’s Central Jail, and then George requested an inmate work crew to the station for exterior maintenance.

A month after the job was done, a supervisor from Facilities Maintenance came by the station and asked how the station had been painted. The supervisor was told by one of our administrators that we did it ourselves. The maintenance man argued that we couldn’t just paint the station without going through the proper channels. A certain lieutenant shrugged and said, “Well, we can’t unpaint it,” and that was that.

No Parking, Per George

George had been assigned to Firestone for about a year when he became aware of several fender-benders and additional near misses occurring outside of the rear driveway where radio cars came and went with frequency and oftentimes urgency. He realized that the problem was the curbside parking on Compton Avenue, north of the driveway. The numerous cars that routinely lined the street in that section created a hazardous blind spot for radio cars departing the station.

George gathered some station trustees (inmates who are given jobs while serving time), a ladder, and a crescent wrench, and late one night this misfit crew of midnight maintenance workers swapped out the “One Hour Parking” signs along that stretch of the road with “No Parking at Any Time” signs that had been appropriated from a nearby county park. Ramos then went to a friend at another county department and “borrowed” a few gallons of red paint, and the trustees painted the curb to match the newly acquired signs. As far as any of us can remember, there was never another accident at the back gate of Firestone station.

Parking Control

Fleet Operations received new jeeps to be used by station parking enforcement officers. George and his assistant arrived to pick up one that had been designated for Firestone, but they saw that it was a standard left-side drive vehicle, not ideal for parking enforcement. There were other new jeeps that did have the right-side drive, and all of these new vehicles had keys in their ignitions. George took two, the one he had been assigned, and one with the steering wheel on the right. He and his assistant (accomplice?) drove both jeeps to the paint department and had the vehicle shop numbers repainted and switched. He swapped the license plates to match the shop numbers and returned to the station with the more appropriate vehicle, though one with questionable registration.

A Dog Named Stoner

Finally, there was a station dog named Stoner who was kidnapped as a prank by LAPD 77th Street officers, and later returned dyed pink with a poodle cut. A few weeks later, George saw an LAPD 77th Street black and white Plymouth parked in the station’s front lot, and he decided to exact some revenge for Stoner.

George with the station dog, Stoner

George crawled under the car with a brake adjusting tool and tightened the rear brakes. He knew that the drum brakes on that vehicle were very ineffective when backing, used primarily for stopping forward motion. The officers easily backed onto the always-busy Nadeau Street, but when they tried to drive forward, their brakes locked and left them stranded in the middle of the road, blocking traffic.

Shade Tree Mechanic

George Ramos racing at Lions Raceway in Wilmington

George has always been a fan of the speedways, and he himself raced on some of the drag strips he frequented as a spectator. But it was a hobby that cost rather than made him money, so he began working on friends’ and neighbors’ cars during his time off instead. Soon he was able to buy his first home in Pico Rivera.

As of this writing, George has been retired for seventeen years.

What does he do? He builds engines, of course—performance motors for hotrods and boats. To date, he has built 115 of them, if anyone (other than George) is keeping track.

My hope is that the comment section below is filled with other great George Ramos tales.

* * *

Thank you for reading my blog. I hope you will share it with your family and friends.


58 thoughts on “George Ramos: The Mechanic

      1. I remember George circa ‘68 when he drove a ‘58 GMC panel with TV lettering. It had a 396 with a Hydro as I sat in the center when I was 6 y.o. My aunts and uncles new George when they were at Manual Arts. My father hung around with George in the ‘60s and referred to him as ‘Gypsy George’. George drove my dads ‘63 Red Corvette at the street races ( the factories in LA with Big Willie) Corvette street car ran 11.40 in ‘63. We lived off of Vermont down the street of George in So. Central. Years pass and both my father and George end up living blocks away in Hacienda Heights. They still talk about cars often.

  1. I have one story about George Ramos I will admit.
    I was working 10sam driving Firestone Bl toward Alameda. I happened on a call being dispatched of a crazy female in the street. She was pretty well dusted and when she saw me , ran to her car. When she tried to pull out I parked the radiocar blocking her in. She powered into my car and the front end exploded. The Sergeants car had all the special radios in it, kinda hard to cover it up with black spray paint.
    George Ramos took that car in the back and had all the damaged fixed before the end of shift. I am a car guy and I don’t know how he did it but I’ll never forget it.

    1. I remember George when he drove the TV van with a 396 motor in it. It was circa 1968 and I was 6 years old. My dad called him Gypsy George as did my aunts and uncles that new him since Manual Arts. George sometimes drove my dads 1963 Red Corvette @ the street races ‘the factories’ 11.40 street driven. A small world as both George and my dad Victor Kim both live in Hacienda Heights and visit each other. In the ‘60’s both George and my family lived in So Central around 40th and Vermont.

  2. It’s hard to know where to start in describing the effect George Ramos has had on the lives of his Homeboys at Firestone, because he has done so much for so many! I know from experience that he is the kind of person that will call you up when you are having a serious problem and will tell you, “Whatever you need, I’m there for you.” Money can’t buy that kind of human kindness. If all the people he’s helped with job-related “problems” were lined up, the line would probably be at least 3 blocks long, and the number of high-ranking Dept. managers that would be in that line would probably surprise some people! I recall that when deputies put out “Immediate Assistance” requests it was amazing how quickly George arrived, as he was out “test driving” a radio car, and he had an uncanny ability to find a weapon that had been accidently dropped in the vehicle! We were very fortunate that he came to Firestone.

  3. Danny:

    Thank you for this awesome tribute to George, our lifetime buddy. My wife, Velda aka VJ worked with George from 1976 until the county “defunded” station mechanics in favor of contractors. Had they not done that who know how long George would have kept turning wrenches because he loved his job and there was NO limit to what he would do for his fleet and his coworkers.

    At his retirement a story was told about the infamous van that dB loved to use that didn’t seem to exist officially… it served the county well I hear… they say it ran like a beast…

    I also loved the tales of George doing brake jobs in less time than you could take lunch – a true feat because George amassed all the right tools and could do brakes in his sleep. Like the stories of shotgun racks, George is simply a freak of mechanics.

    We used to go camping, bike riding, and out to the river a lot. Life got too busy for us however we keep in touch with George.

    One last goodie: you know George has a fondness for animals from snakes and turtles on up. We used to go by and a skunk would be eating out of its bowl by the house – they were welcome… well he also had found a young crow one day and took care of it. We would go by to see him and as the guys circled around talking with George the crow would hang out on the garage door right above everyone just like one of the fellas. Finally he got older and I guess probably found a girlfriend and left. Just another example of how people and animals are attracted to good people. Even if their lingo is a little salty.

    Very cool George!

    My Dodge van motor will be #3 and my 66 Plymouth Satellite that certain people used to race with down Compton when it was on its way to work will be #4 from George…

  4. I have too many George Ramos stories that I’m not sure I can share! I can tell you this, he is great man (rough around the edges), but will give you the shirt off his back. He is one of my best friends, and will be a good friend to any who is a friend to law enforcement. To date he has built me a signature, and his favorite, Chevy 383 and he just finished up a Ford 408. Which reminds me, I need to go see him. He’ll greet me the same way he greets all his friends, “do me a favor, hold this,” as he hands you a fresh ice cold can of your favorite beer (you actually only have two choices, but after your first visit he’ll know which one you prefer)!

    1. Ron, thank you. I need to see him next time I’m in L.A. for two reasons: that cold beer, and to pick up some equipment he’s holding for me. We should go together!

  5. Right about the time I had my drivers license, 1974, my brother and I would go up the street to see George working on his vehicles. This was in Hacienda Heights. I learned a lot of mechanics from this man, Even visiting him at the Firestone Station way back in the day. I knew that he was a very integral part of the police force. Without his knowledge of mechanics, I’m sure a lot of crime calls would’ve ended much differently. He is a true unsung hero of the police department. I’ll never forget the one very important advice he gave me all those decades ago. He told me if you are ever short on funds, you can let a few things slide on your automobile but ALWAYS keep on top of the oil changes! As busy as he always seems to be, he will always go out of his way to lend a hand. Love you George!

    1. Joey, thank you for this contribution. I’ve known George for a lot of years but it never ceases to amaze me how many people’s lives he has touched. Thank you!

  6. George is a great guy. He got me out of a few jams, and rolled back-up for me several times.
    If you had a minor mishap with a radio-car, you’d parked it head-first into the wall in the far corner of the station lot, and sling the mic over the rear-view mirror. Then beef the radio to the watch sergeant and call George. He never let me down. That car would be back in service the next day. The radio repair guys probably didn’t like that drill, but it worked for us.

  7. As an Intern assigned to Firestone Station, George introduced himself to me on my second day. When George learned I lived near him in the San Gabriel Valley, he directed me to follow him home every day for my protection. On our first day, and most days following, we pulled out of the station to the Liquor store across the street for our “drive home beverage”.
    George is a wonderful man who genuinely cared about me and my safety and it was appreciated.

    Thank you George!

  8. Ramos favorite saying “ I know a guy”
    I met George long after his FPK days.
    I’ll pass this along. You think Ramos was out of control at Firestone.
    You should have see what he was doing as a LET. With the whole County as his play ground.
    He built two engines for me. A 489 BBC for the boat and a 547 BBF for the 1979 4×4 truck.
    He’s one of a kind. Great great guy.
    Thanks for the FPK stories

  9. Great story by the master storyteller about a great guy. I have no “George” stories because I wasn’t (officially) suppose to know what was going on in the garage – and I tried very hard not to.
    what I do know that in my 35 years on the Department I was never at an assignment where the mechanic (or any non-sworn for that matter) was such a beloved member of the team. It is because of stories like these and many others that George became indelibly as much a part of Firestone as the building itself. How could you not have loved working with and around the guy. I sure did. I’m glad he’s alive and doing well in retirement – here’s to another 115 engines!

  10. To sum up all of the George stories….he was everyone’s Santa Claus.

    There will never be another “George”.

  11. George is my hero. On my first day of training, my TO (Mike Nikolenko) was in the station yakking. I was getting the car ready, and put the shotgun in the rack and locked it. I then put my shiny brand new key in to unlock it and it broke. In half, with most of it in the keyhole. I tried to get it out. Nothing worked.

    I looked across the parking lot and saw who I soon learned was George Ramos. He had no clue who I was or what I was doing there. I was frantic and told him what happened. He jogged over to the car and fiddled around with the lock, then said, “You’re f****d, but don’t worry.” George then removed the entire rack and shotgun, took it to the garage, got the shotgun out AND THEN REINSTALLED A NEW RACK in the car, in less time that it would take me to tie my shoes.

    George gave me one of his keys (George had everything a deputy may need!) When Nikolenko came strolling out, I was sitting innocently in the car studying the RD map. He was none the wiser-George never ratted me out. The perfect crime.

    George was always there for all of us in any situation. He was literally my first friend at the station and to this day, I would take a bullet for him. Love you George and THANK YOU!!!!

  12. George Ramos, a LEGEND!! He is a phenomenal man; always so helpful and was the “go to” guy! He was working at SANE when I was assigned, there. Since I had always been a “motor head,” we loved talking about cars. At that time, I had a ’97 Corvette. My very first car (when I was 17) was a ’65 Pontiac GTO; followed by a ’71 Plymouth GTX-440 (loved the muscle cars). I have very fond and fun memories of our conversations, events, and fun times working together. SUPER, GREAT GUY!!!

  13. I have a second hand story my brother Frank told me about George. Seems during the day of the muscle cars some of the regular county radio cars would lose the racers during a pursuit. After several of these unhappy endings, George took it upon himself to “beef up” the motor in one Chevy. Tale has it that a high lift cam, headers, and high rise intake were installed to level the playing field. George made sure the Firestone boys never came in second.

  14. Man, I love George Ramos. How many times was he out on a test drive and came across some bad guys. I remember hearing him putting out traffic, following 459 suspects. He helped me many a time. He had some buddies at Spray King on Imperial in Lynwood. He sent me there one day when I was at SPI with a little problem. In less than 8 hrs, the little problem was fixed and only cost me a couple hundred as a tip. Not another like George.

      1. This man George sounds like a living legend, and there are very few great mechanics that can fix cars at lightning fast speed! Even in the 80s, George is an example of how ingenuity and efficency could do more than the bureaucracy of the “motor pool/facilities” ever could!

        Your latest blog is a breath of positivism and the best way to unwind! To be honest I quit watching the news (all of tv for that matter) since last monday, too much propaganda and negativity. This blog post is proof enough of why police and the proper equipment/coolest Mechanics are vital to keeping a city safe. The “Defund The Police” crowd will not rest until Police Officers and Deputies drive Ford Pintos as police cruisers and the only “authorized” on-duty Carry Weapon is a super cheap and prone to jamming Hi-Point.

        Thanks for the positive blogs and anecdotes! I love and miss the 80s…..

  15. George was a great guy, and was not above assisting with a prank. I fell under the watchful eye of Scott Fines, who was a great cop but loved to mess with people. One day I annoyed Scottie (probably just for existing, LOL) and with George’s assistance, they took my beautiful cherry red 1970 red VW and put it on the hydraulic lift, and he went home. Here I was a civilian new to Firestone trying to find my car and I see it is 15′ off the ground in the mechanics bay. Some sympathetic Lt. helped me retrieve my vehicle and I learned 2 things…stay on the good side of Scotty Fines and never annoy the station mechanic.

  16. Danny …. I don’t have any great George stories. But I want to tell you that you are the consummate story teller. You are the modern day “Paul Harvey”. Garrison Keillor has nothing on you. I see a book of short articles called “Tales from the Stone” written by you. I think any Deputy who served there would treasure it. Keep up the outstanding writing.

  17. I think it was my crash coming out of the station parking lot that got George to modify Compton Avenue parking.

    George Ramos did so much for all of us… he knew somebody locally that could do what he wasn’t allowed or able to at work. A few examples he did for me: truck frame repair, transmission fix, carburetor fix, body alignment, tire connection.

    Of special note was trustee corps. His hand picked crew of inmates did paint and body work, landscaping, painting etc when they got released and re-arrested their first call from IRC was to George to see if they could get their old job back.

    George hot rodded the motor in our DB car when it needed a rebuild, installed a gun rack in the trunk and painted it. Whether patrol DB or personal ride, George had your back.

    He is a good friend to this day and still can be counted on to consult on a motor build or a parts source or swap.

    Literal FPK Legend. Love the man like a brother.

    1. Thanks, Mike, great contribution. There was much more I could have added but a blog shouldn’t gone on forever. I’m glad you and others are telling other great stories about the man.

  18. OK one last George story and I’ll shut up. As those who were there will recall in the dark of night someone (rumored to be the Black Panthers) threw a frag grenade onto the FPK parking lot. A number of radio cars were damaged. George and his inmate crew miraculously got most of them back in service in short order. But that’s not the story. As a result the station brass decided to erect two observation platforms at opposing sides of the station property. They were called 10 Paul 1 and 10 Paul 2. Each was staffed by a Deputy. Lots of good Obs felony arrests were made from there by the way. I was on vacation when those platforms were built. For all I know George had a hand in that too. In any event it was not our favorite duty but we all had to take turns staffing those positions. We initially had only our revolvers and a “lunch box” portable radio which allowed us to communicate with the station desk. During day shift George would sometimes bring us a bottle of water or cup of coffee while we sat somewhat exposed on our observation platforms. We all told the “brass” that we really needed a shotgun at each position and George was aware of our desire. Mysteriously one day we found that a shotgun lock had been installed at each of the two positions—courtesy of George of course. Once the locks were in place the “brass” consented to us checking out shotguns from the armory when we drew 10 P 1 or 10 P 2 duty. Without the locks George had somehow found and installed that never would have happened.

  19. As everyone who worked FPK knows the number and nature of “hot” calls we responded to were rough on radio cars. The mainline fleet wasn’t bad, thanks to George. But through no fault of his the “extra” cars (there were not many) were high mileage pieces of $#!t and we really hated having to drive them. We all had our favorite cars and avoided beefing them if at all possible so we wouldn’t have to drive one of the extra POS cars. On one occasion my partner and I had a lengthy pursuit. At the end of it we took the suspect into custody but the left front brake was smoking pretty bad. On the drive back to the station to book the suspect it was obvious that brake was toes up and needed to be replaced. When we got to the station we told George about it. He said go book your guy and have a cup of coffee. Your patrol car will be ready to go when you get back out here….and it was.
    On another occasion I was working a one man day shift car and was assigned an almost brand new Plymouth Fury. However in checking it before going 10-8 I found that the Unitrol light/siren unit was not working. I asked George if he had a spare. He thought about it and said the only other Unitrol was in 10 Lincoln’s (the Lieutenants) car. Then he said “this LT (to remain nameless )never goes in the field anyhow. Give me 10 minutes and I’ll pull the Unitrol from his unit and put it in yours….I’ll get a replacement for his next time I go to the county shops”. Good, good man whose #1 priority was to take care of Deputies….certain Lieutenants perhaps not so much

  20. George replaced spotlights on the black and whites with aircraft landing lamps he liberated somewhere. They would nearly blind folks. The list goes on and on.

    Great story Danny. Captures the maniac well.

    1. Deac rumor had it that certain Deputies when working OT security details at Compton Airport would liberate those bulbs. Just a rumor of course 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.