Gordon "Red" Harron's early life sounds like a Woody Guthrie song: in and out of orphanages, hitching rides, hopping boxcars, sleeping in subways and Central Park, working odd jobs. A teacher once hauled him up in front of the class when he was 8 years old and announced the boy would be in prison by age 20.
But then two things happened that changed the course of his life.
A kind woman he did some odd jobs for told him he, alone, was in charge of his destiny and, around that time, he spotted -- in Joplin, Mo. -- the first great love of his life: a beautiful Ford modified by Joe Wilhelm, one of the most notable car customizers of the era.
"I've always been fascinated with cars," said Harden, who owns Carriage Masters in Bakersfield.
"I think it was about 1960 when I ran across the car, and it was the prettiest car I'd ever seen. I was just sitting there, looking at this car, he (Wilhelm) came out and talked to me, and I asked him all sorts of questions. From then on, I knew that's what I wanted to do."
Harden followed his dream all the way back to his native California. He eventually wound up in, not all that surprisingly, 1960s Los Angeles: land of endless highways, hot rods and the actors and actresses to buy them.
For the next decade or so, Harden worked under Bill Cushenberry, another legend in the custom-car world, who taught Harden everything he knew.
Over the years, Harden customized cars for an impressive list of celebrities, including Farrah Fawcett, Elvis Presley, Steve McQueen and Buck Owens. He also helped construct some big-name cars for both the big and small screens, like KITT from "Knight Rider," Dragula and the Munster Koach from "The Munsters," even the iconic General Lee from "The Dukes of Hazzard."
But in spite of contributing to the creation of some of Hollywood's hottest steel-and-chrome-bodied celebrities, Harden remains the picture of down-home modesty.
"I'm more of a worker bee than anything," he said. "I just keep my head down and build my passion into the cars. I've never been one to say, 'Hey, look at me,' or toot my own horn; I never really want to be that guy."
These days, Harden dedicates most of his time and talents to his collision-repair shop, which he runs with his wife, Elicia. He's also taking himself, and his famous cars, to the streets in hopes of giving a bit back to the community that's supported him through the years.
For the first time, Harden, along with his eerily appropriate Munsters vehicles, will be making a couple of appearances, at the kickoff social at Houchin Blood Bank on Oct. 14 and at the Scary for Charity Halloween benefit on Oct. 26.
All of the proceeds from Scary for Charity will be donated to the Jamison Center and the Kern Partnership for Children and Families. The $55 ($60 at the door) tickets include music, appetizers and a chance to have your picture snapped with the Munsters autos.
"Bakersfield has been very gracious to me," Harden said. "Very, very gracious. Anything I can do for the community, it's my honor to do. It's just a little payback for everything Bakersfield's done for us."