It was a little after 9:00 A.M. on October 22, 2010, when I checked a text message on my phone, and it read: “MY FATHER WENT TO HEAVEN.” Devastated, I knew what it meant – esteemed Leader and President, Fernando Ruelas of the Mother Chapter of the Duke’s Southern California Car Club, had given in to an excruciating 3-year battle with cancer. A Lowriding legend, unfortunately it was his time to lay down the welding torch, hydraulics tube bender, body and fender lead files, and his candy apple, metal flake and pearl paint spray gun in exchange for greener pastures.
Fernando Ruelas came to California in 1955 from Tijuana, Mexico at the very young age of 5 years old. As a single parent of five children, his mother, Josefina Ruelas’ hands were full. Street gangs in South Central California were everywhere, and the neighborhood she was raising her kids in was gripped up by the notorious 38th Street gang. Fernando’s Uncle Tinker stepped up to get the young and impressionable Fernando involved in auto mechanics, in the hopes of keeping him off the streets. Fernando’s interest in Lowriding came to him in full while he was attending Carver Jr. High in Los Angeles. On one of those fateful school days, he saw a car drop to the ground with hydraulics and it rocked his world. Fernando pleaded with the owner to “do it again,” and the owner obliged with a hit of the switch and the car raised and lowered with ease. It was in this moment that the Chicano Lowrider movement captivated Fernando and never left his heart. This was the early sixties, and little did he know, but this passion would begin Fernando’s pioneering legacy within a culture that would shape the world over.
From his own neighborhood, the Duke’s of LA Car Club was born in 1962, with Fernando and his three brothers as founders. Fernando grew into an extremely skilled welder during these formative years. In 1970, the Vietnam War took Fernando overseas to serve his country in the U. S. Army, and with his return, he became Club President and restructured Duke’s Car Club. Building the club’s foundation on a friendly, cordial attitude was a must for Fernando. In 1973, he met Gloria De La Rosa and he married her in September of 1974. With his loving wife by his side, and a newly designed plaque in his ride, Fernando and the Duke’s SoCal Chapter rolled out in September of 1975. More than just a fan of cars, Fernando has given back to his community and culture in countless ways. Two awards Fernando was very proud of were his 2008 LRM Hall of Fame “Lifetime Achievement,” and his 2004 Meguiars’ “Treasurers in the Hobby” honor.
Fernando’s three sons Jason, Alex, and in the later years, Matthew became the pillars of their father’s legacy. They have been with their dad at his shops since the late seventies, and are responsible for countless cars, like Ry Cooder’s El Chavez Ravine Ice Cream Truck. As Fernando’s oldest son, Jason, takes the banjo steering wheel of this Legendary Duke’s Car Club as President, there is no doubt he will fill his father’s illustrious shoes just fine. Fernando’s sons will take this thirty-plus chapter Duke’s Car Club and continue to lead it where Fernando left off. Fernando Ruelas will be missed; his character and humor are legendary. While we are saddened that he is gone, we can take comfort in knowing that he will never be forgotten; as he joins his brother, Julio, with “DUKE’S HEAVENS CHAPTER.” Ride in Peace, Brother.