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'Tex' was the best

Remembering LeRoi 'Tex' Smith

Tex Smith was my favorite “boss” on the Old Cars Weekly editorial staff.

If I wanted to make a business trip on a whim or add a day to a trip to hang out with a famous “car guy,” Tex understood that such things were important in making Old Cars Weekly an exciting publication.

Tex first came into my life around 1959 when I read his stories in copies of Hot Rod magazine that I had hid in my English textbook. Tex wrote stories about everything from the 1961 National Championship Drags to a 1963 tech piece called “Build Yourself an Axle.” He was very fond of how-to articles and often visited experts and shop owners to get his pictures and info.

By the mid-‘60s, hot rodding was gaining an even wider audience and a man named Dick Wiliford, who worked for Sears, Roebuck & Co., thought the Chicago retailer should hook up with HRM to produce how-to books Sears could sell in wire racks in the auto parts section of their stores. Back then, Sears sold lots of auto parts.

The bylines in those books included names that are iconic in hot rodding today — A.K. Miller, Gray Baskerville, Roger Huntington, Dick Wells, Don Francisco, Eric Dahlquist, Terry Cook, Tom McMullen . . . and Tex Smith.

Along with other enthusiasts, I could not wait until Saturday to go to Sears to buy another book. Then, in the late '60s, Tex’s name disappeared from the credits. Though the how-to books, engine guides and “Hot Rod Yearbooks” were still great, they lacked the friendly down-home style Tex was famous for.

In 1968, I came across the first car book that I ever bought. "How to Fix Up Old Cars" was a hardcover published by Dodd, Mead & Co. and written by “Tex.” In a dozen simple, anyone-can-understand-it chapters, Tex covered hot rod building and made it sound easy. His writings made you want to pick up a wrench and head out to the garage. His words pulled you into the world of hot rods.

The staff of Old Cars Weekly while LeRoi Tex Smith was editor and publisher.

The staff of Old Cars Weekly while LeRoi Tex Smith was editor and publisher.

With Tex's written literary encouragement, I purchased my first old car and started writing about them, first as a club newsletter editor and ultimately as a professional. By 1978, I had joined Old Cars Weekly. Late that summer, word came through the grapevine that Tex was looking for a job. I rushed into Chet Krause’s office to tell him. That fall, I drove a company truck to the Rose Bowl Swap Meet in California, and left it there for Tex to use to move to Wisconsin.

For the next three years, I got to work daily alongside a man who I consider to a hot rodding icon. I got to know Tex, his wife and his kids, and some of his friends such as Brian Brennan and Neal East. I even got to supply a photograph of a 1960 Corvette to use on the cover of a revised edition of "How to Fix Up Old Cars." Having the honor of putting my photo on the cover of the book I read as a kid made me realize any young man can realize his dream if he finds what he loves in life and has mentors like Tex Smith to guide him to it.

Tex Smith (at right) presenting an award for the new Corvette.

Tex Smith (at right) presenting an award for the new Corvette.

Tex — who always stressed that his real name was Charley Roy Ugama Waya Golaneeda — first retired in 1985 and relocated to Idaho to live and go trout fishing in the Teton Valley. Life took him well beyond Idaho shortly thereafter, because he couldn't stay retired very long. The last time I heard from Tex was in January 2014. At that time, he was working on finishing three novels on diverse topics. He said that he had plans to follow those with two more books. “And of course, I am still chasing the elusive (and dangerous when cornered) Rocky Mountain trout!” he added. We hope that he landed that darned fish before he stopped fishin’.

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