Motor City Maven's 2012 Life Time Acheivement Award.
The story of "Wild Bill" Betz
In the Beginning
I was born August 20, 1938 in St. Clair Shores, Mi. My grandfather started in the sign business in 1928 doing mostly sho-cards and small signs, then my father started working with him sometime in the 30s. My dad could do it all; one day knocking out cards and the next day being a wall dog, he was even a accomplished glass blower, he was fantastic.
My mother often helped my dad, even on wall jobs, she was and still is at age 95 the most caring mother in all the world. I had a very happy childhood, we even traveled with a carnival in the 40's and 50's. My sons Kevin and Erik, as well as my daughter Tracy and my wife Marcia are also involved in the business. Kevin does hand lettering and striping, Tracy can do everything else and Marcia makes sure that everything is on the right track.
I grew up watching my dad hand lettering and started learning myself in1954. The first pin-striping I ever saw was in Car Craft magazine and believe it or not I thought it was ugly. A friend in high school assumed that I could do it. We copied some designs from the magazine and I striped them onto his car with a small outliner because that’s all I had, but it was fun. I had heard that there was a brush just made for striping and went to an artist supply and bought one. When I first saw it I thought, oh my God what am I going to do with this weird looking thing. Well I dipped that sucker in paint and what do you know, it was about the easiest thing that I had ever done, man oh man, was I ever hooked. Well the word was out, I was a striper. I striped everything I could, lots of dashboards, bikes, even a few refrigerators. Von Dutch was my hero and to this day he was “the man”. Lettering took me many years to become good at, but pin-striping was a piece of cake, so easy, no letter styles to learn (now it is called kerning), no worries about layout, shades, outlines, letter spacing.
I joined the Navy in 1957 and bought my first bike in 1958. I striped a lot of bikes at the local bike shop and when I got out, I worked for my dad again. I painted my motorcycle with my dad’s spray gun and before I knew it I was painting bikes for others. Well I decided that sign painting was boring (how stupid was that), I wanted to be a famous striper and custom painter and do the auto shows and be in the magazines. Well one day sometime in the late sixties I finally woke up and realized what I had been missing by not painting signs anymore. I was sick and tired of sanding, priming, puttying and all the other crap that goes with custom painting.
"I finally realized how creative sign painting really was. I got interested in gold leaf when my dad told me that the guys who did gold leaf were looked upon as the epitome of the trade."
I bought Raymond Leblanks (it cost $7.00) book and was absolutely fascinated. I practiced in my basement for weeks on end and landed my first job for a chain of men’s stores in 1970. I have been doing gold leaf work ever since. In the 70's I did all the gold leaf lettering and striping for a local fire truck manufacturer for about 15 years until they went under. I usually did about 2 a week for them. I made 2 videos on glass gilding back in the 80’s and they are still sold by several suppliers. We also make 4 different sizes of engine turning tools that are also sold through suppliers, in addition to vacuum tables for weeding vinyl.
In 1983 we hosted a letterheads meet and again about 4 or 5 years later. At the one in ’83 we were blessed with the great Ken Millar, who did a workshop on layout and design and the equally great Al Grand who gilded a beautiful panel in white gold in front of about 30 or 40 onlookers. Speaking of the greats, let me not leave out the other greats; Keith Knecht who worked for us for about 3 years, as well as Bob Behounek, Rick Glawson, Noel Webber and a host of others that I have had the honor of knowing. I have taught gilding workshops at national letterheads meets in Memphis Tn., Cleveland, Oh., Parsippany , N.Y., as well as several of others that elude my memory. I have never had an apprentice per se but have taught and helped many others over the years and I enjoyed every minute of it.
901 Hurst Oldsmobiles...
I have had so many memorable jobs but one in particular was in 1969, I hand striped all 901 Hurst Oldsmobiles in 9 weeks. I averaged 20 cars a day or 100 a week usually doing about 3 an hour. One day I did 5 in 55 minutes just to see what I could do, wow, what a job. In 1970 I striped 500 Hurst Chrysler 300's and about 200 various other cars for Hurst. I also did a lot of striping and lettering on show cars for the Chrysler design studio when it was in highland Park, and several times lettered the first Buick pace cars for the Indy 500 race. Back when I was doing custom painting I designed the first scallop jobs for the Triumph motorcycle factory in England. To me it was nothing special but the English thought it to be fantastic and I spent the next 3 or 4 years painting tanks for them, they even paid me to spend a week in England at the factory working with the paint department.
"just my bike with my kit strapped on the back. Everything I needed to make living I could carry in two hands"
Unfortunately, technology has taken over so much of our profession, but fortunately it will never take over pin-striping. When I got out of the navy I didn't even have a car, just my bike with my kit strapped on the back. Everything I needed to make living I could carry in two hands, now we own about a quarter of a million dollars in equipment, because unfortunately in order to make a good living you have to stay up with technology whether you like it or not.
We are one of the few shops that incorporate hand lettering and pin-striping with the very latest in technology such as computer cut vinyl, large format digital printed graphics and CNC routing as well as hand carving, and hand applied 23 Karat Gold Leaf,. Much of our work now is wholesale for other sign shops that don’t have the equipment that we have. If I had my way, it would all be for other sign shops, so that we wouldn’t have to deal with the average customer- some of which think that they know more than we do about what they need in a sign.
Outside of the profession
I road raced motorcycles for 18 years and when I retired from that my wife Marcia and I ballroom danced competitively for 20 years, even going to England 10 times to compete and to have lessons with the world’s best. I am now competing with another lady as Marcia had back surgery and had to retire from competitions, so now she is coaching us. I also have a private pilots license and am a certified scuba diver. I am also a 33rd degree Mason and have been very active in my Masonic lodge for the past 42 years.
"My philosophy not only in business but in life is that you can do anything if you try hard enough, treat others as you would like to be treated, always charge a fair price (not necessarily the most you can squeeze out of a customer), always give more than is expected, be honest and above all share your knowledge with others. If I had it all to do over again I would not choose another profession. Remember this; time, patience, practice and perseverance accomplishes all things".
“Wild Bill” Betz
Recipient of the Maven's 2012 Life Time Achievement award.