Jamie started building rods for a living just a few months after graduating from college, though he didn’t plan it that way. With his business management degree in hand, he snagged his first corporate job quickly, only to discover he couldn’t handle sitting in an office for eight hours a day. “The job was going well, but I couldn’t stand it,” Jamie explained.
In the meantime, Jamie who had worked part-time while in college at The Adult Toy Factory, a rod shop in Las Cruces, New Mexico, had friends asking him to work on their cars. He began to take on building projects for nights and weekends. After about three months, he decided to quit his office job in order to build rods full-time, initially working out of his dad’s garage. People would bring their cars to me there, or sometimes I’d work on them in their own garages, while they were at work every day,” he says.
His family and his then-girlfriend, Roni, now his wife were supportive, even though he was working alone and very long hours to keep up with what turned out to be a huge demand. Business really took off when a woman named Jo Ann Chrisman stopped by. “Jo Ann wanted me to build her a “46 Ford convertible and she wanted to have Ron Mangus do the interior. I was 26 and here I was calling Ron to ask him he’d consider upholstering my customer’s car,” recalls Jamie. Jamie and Jo Ann ended up flying up to Ron’s to meet with him and show him a video of the “46. Ron agreed to take the project on, but he was also interested in something else – the steering wheel that was in Jamie’s personal rod he’d seen in the background of the video. Ron urged Jamie to patent it, which he did, and said he wanted to sell it.
“Ron had Jo Ann’s ’46 as well as my steering wheel in his booth at the Los Angeles Roadster Show and that’s when things started to take off,” Jamie remembers. The ’46 was selected to be in both the Grand National Roadster Show and the Fresno (California) Autorama, and Ron began selling Jamie’s unique steering wheel. He has since become the exclusive distributor for what Jamie calls a four-spoke banjo sprint steering wheel. Jamie makes every steering wheel by hand, shipping them to Ron on a one-off basis, while Ron wraps them with leather to coordinate with the customer’s
car interior. With all the exposure nearly simultaneously, Jamie realized it was time to stop trying to do everything single-handedly and he hired two employees to help with the shop’s work. Later, he expanded further, to a total of five employees. “I had dreams a running a big shop and then I realized that I didn’t really want that at all, ” he says. “If I did that , I wouldn’t be in the shop working. I’d be managing, and I wouldn’t be able to work with every customer one-on-one. Those things are important to me.”
As a result, Jamie made the decision to scale back Hot Rod Haven a bit. Currently, he and three employees work in a 4,500 square foot shop, building both ground-up cars as well as specialized projects. All told, they work on about 50 rods a year and the shop currently has a 1 1/2 year waiting list for building a complete rod. His staff includes his dad, Jim Johnson, who has built rods since the early 1970’s for himself, as well as Andy Barrow and Will Morton, both age 24. Monday-Thursday you’d be hard pressed to find Hot Rod Haven, as Jamie removes the sign from the door and keeps the large bay doors closed to keep out prying eyes. “We all go full-bore those four days a week. That’s how we get so much done. Interruptions compromise that,” says Jamie. On Fridays however, the sign comes out and the Albuquerque ship opens its door to anyone who wants to stop by. A part-timer, Bob Ghram, comes in specifically to give tours and answer questions. Jamie talks to visitors and answers what Bob can’t field, while the others continue and abbreviated form of their daily duties.
Although building rods for others consumes the majority of his week, Jamie still makes time for his own projects on the weekends or in the evenings. “It helps me maintain my passion,” he says. Currently, he has seen cars: ’59 dragster and a ’67 Ford Mustang convertible (the first car he built, beginning in the eighth grade) and five rods. Both the “33 Ford three-window and the ’30 Ford coupe are in the process, while the ’28 Ford modified, “26 Ford roadster pickup and the ’47 Ford coupe are all
in driving condition. These days, the ’47 gets the most use, as it’s the only vehicle that can hold a car seat to transport Jamie and Roni’s daughter, Morgan, age three.