Leon Thomas Warmuth was born into the Depression in 1933 near the town of San Joaquin California, not far from Fresno. His dad, Otto, was a sharecropper. His mother, Leona, picked cotton. He was the fifth of six children and had three sisters and two brothers.
Near the age of 12, it was recognized that Leon’s spine was afflicted with Scoliosis. He was sent to Shriner’s hospital in San Francisco which seemed in his best interest. This left Leon 6-7 hours from his home and family. Leon would spend over a year at Shriner’s getting therapy only.
When he returned home, the economy was well into World War II. His older brothers and sisters were all engaged in the military in some way. Leon was deemed unfit for the military, but with his brothers and sisters serving, and one brother having been shot down over Germany and becoming a prisoner of war, Leon became unwaveringly patriotic as many of that time did.
Leon was soon old enough to drive and with that came the beginning of independence. Leon graduated from Tranquility High School in 1951 and went on to Junior college with a special interest in automotive technology and fabrication. But Leon felt he needed a fresh start. He had a sister who lived here in Eureka, so in 1952 a brother bought Leon a bus ticket to Eureka. Another sister bought him a cardboard suitcase. Here he lived with his sister Wilma and her husband, Fred Butterworth. It wasn’t long before Leon bought an old fixer-upper pickup and started his many new friendships in the car world of Eureka, starting with a number of folks from the Samoa airstrip where they were drag-racing.
Leon’s first job was within the parts dept of the big truck shop of DeBon motors, later the Peterbilt truck shop, Finnigan & Nason Auto Parts, and Gustafson Chevrolet but all these jobs were seasonal, so dad was always getting laid off
While working for Gustafson’s he was able to buy a one-year-old ‘55 Chevy. Cool had come to Leon. It was about this time pilots were complaining about drag racing at the airstrip. Dad and several others solicited Eureka City Councilman Orval Wilson to help find a responsible place to drag race. This was the real foundation of the Samoa Drag Strip that we know today.
Somewhere in this mix of work and play, Dad met my mother, Elaine Smith. Folklore says it was at Morrow’s Drive-In. They were married in early 1957. Son Dale was born in May 1958 and three years later they welcomed daughter, Carrie.
By this time, Leon had developed a following for all sorts of hot rod kind of work, so he felt confident enough to start his own auto repair business. Mom and Dad asked Mom’s Great-Uncle, George Hartman for a $900 loan. Why $900? Because it sounded like so much less than $1000, a fortune in those days.
First came the 2-bay shop at the corner of Fifth and Broadway, Leon’s Brake & Muffler, where Roy’s Auto Center is now. Within a year or so Mom and Dad bought a tubing Bender; later…their first home. The business name was shortened to Leon’s Muffler Service. Then Dad moved the shop to 1460 Broadway which is about where Eureka Natural Foods is now. Stock cars & drag cars came and went.
Dad helped foster the Six Rivers Racing Association with a great group of other folks looking to have more control in the promotion of stock car racing.
In 1967, they bought their first commercial property right next to where our shop is now. In addition to exhaust, Dad added tires and wheels to his services. This purchase of 939 Broadway of course was the first of many commercial properties they purchased. Over a period of time, Mom and Dad bought nearly that whole city block.
By this time, Dad had created a number of great lifetime friendships including Mel Sample, Mike Cahill, Rudy Zeck, Dennis Nilsen, Lane Strope, Steve Rosenburg, Gary Wahlund, and Rich Keller. Dad also had a number of great employees /friends including Don Poor, Tim Milton, Bud Olsen, Dennis Manfredi, Mike Cahill, Jim Frasier Jr., Jerry Coles, Mark Laudenslager, Jake Pauli, Lori Hansen, Kevin Albonico and Mike Marlin to name a few.
Dad started drag racing less. Then he developed a relationship with Ferndale’s Jimmy Walker. Over a couple of years, Dad helped build two race cars for Jim and were quite successful at Redwood Acres, winning the track championship 2-3 times during their partnership.
In 1972, Dad had a hand in Bob Haveman’s Bonneville Salt Flat diesel land speed record streamliner that was built out at College of the Redwoods. That car, known as “The Corsair”, was clocked at over 250mph.
With the family business well established, Mom encouraged Dad to spend more time with the family. Dad took to gardening, and in 1972 they bought a country home out on the Klamath River near Bluff Creek. Here the whole family grew up.
About this time Dad wrote a letter to the Eureka Chamber of Commerce complaining about what they should be doing. Next thing you know he was on the board of directors and went on to serve as President.
In about 1974, Dad’s back came back to haunt him and he had surgery in Oakland where a 10-inch long stainless steel rod was installed. The doctor stretched him 3 or 4 inches.
In 1979, Leon and Elaine bought their forever Home here in Eureka — 6 plus acres of forest in the city limits. Here they gardened in the most enormous ways. Carrie and her husband, Jerry Sams had two children, so Leon & Elaine had their grandkids. Emily Sams-Simmons and her husband Jonah Simmons, Lucas Sams and his wife Ashley Fullerton-Sams who have a daughter Jude Sams, great-granddaughter to Leon and Elaine.
Dad still wanted to leave an auto repair facility for the ages. He and mom had what was ridiculous trust in what their children could build & manage, so in 1993, Leon’s Car Care Center opened in our new location at Broadway and Washington.
In semi-retirement, Leon went on to become one of the vintage Humboldt County postcard kings, and the Prince of Facebook, introducing him to a whole new crowd of admirers.
Although he was most proud of his family, his long-time friends were a source of joy, also. Four to five of his long-time friends gathered every other Saturday at the “Warmuth Ranch” for coffee and donuts, stories and laughter. He also loved his Church Family at Immanuel Lutheran Church and asked to be baptized at the age of 72. He made amazing contributions to their garden and the addition of the Fellowship Room.
Leon is survived by his wife of 66 years, Elaine. His son, Dale, and wife Jeannemarie Baker-Warmuth, daughter Carrie and husband Jerry Sams. Granddaughter Emily and husband Jonah Simmons. Grandson Lucas and wife, Ashley Fullerton-Sams, and beloved great-granddaughter, Leola Jude Sams. He is also survived by his one remaining sister, Tedra Martin, her husband Frank, and numerous nieces and nephews.
Leon was loved beyond measure and his legacy will live on forever in his family.
If you would like to make a memory donation in his name, he loved Immanuel Lutheran Church in Eureka and the Humboldt Botanical Gardens.
A celebration of his life is planned for early September.