Former WW man discovers love of custom builds


A 1978 Datsun 280-Z acquired at 16 set wheels in motion that led to an avocation that gives former Walla Wallan John Ball great pleasure and opened new lanes of creativity.

The 40-year-old Mill Creek resident (just north of Seattle) recently completed an 18-month build of a custom motorcycle — from the ground up.

But perhaps I should back up before putting the proverbial sidecar before the bike.

The 1990 Walla Walla High School grad has been interested in motorcycles for some time and designs, builds and crafts some of his parts and buys others.

With the music technology degree he earned in 1994 from the University of Washington he went straight to work for music studio Bad Animals, started by Ann and Nancy Wilson of band Heart.

He was brought into the audio department at Microsoft in 1996, “though my true love has always been the technical side of the industry. I slowly worked my way over to having the title as a systems engineer.”

Some of his jobs “have been really interesting and taken me to some really neat and famous places.”

Discovering there is an unceasing need for custom installations, he learned how to fabricate and weld all kinds of metal at night school, such as custom speaker stands, video monitor mounts and walls, custom equipment racks and producer desks.

He subsequently assembled his own shop to handle and take on other work.

In 2001, he disassembled his Datsun. “I took it to bare metal, removed all the rust and slowly over the course of six years began to completely rebuild it.”

He fabricated and welded new body rails and quarter panels and with a body guy repainted it. The engine, transmission and underside drive-train are entirely rebuilt at his hands.

“It is now a show car that has won multiple first place awards. Once I finished the car, I thought I would try my hand at building a bike from scratch.”

He fabricated the bike’s fenders, altered a gas tank to fit “and created a ton of custom parts on it. I worked with Illusions Customs to create the flag pattern airbrushed onto the bike.”

The resulting all-custom low-slung, stretched-out motorcycle took 18 months from mock up through paint and finally assembly with the help of an assistant, 10-year-old daughter Haley Ball.

“She and I secretly hid our signatures up underneath the tunnel of the gas tank when we finished it.”

Since then, John was pictured with his creation in Harley-Davidson’s Hot Bike magazine Readers’ Showcase section.

And the bike has been in numerous shows by request, winning every time, John said.

Work is coming in for John’s JB Designz company from several states around the country since the item in the magazine first appeared.

“In the meantime, my company has done work for numerous clients including two more motorcycle rebuilds, custom metal arbors, custom tables, mantles with hidden valuables storage, to name a few.”

He recently completed building a producer’s desk based on a Les Paul sunburst guitar. His company helped design and integrate Bungie Studios (maker of Halo, a video game No. 1 seller) audio and video studios. All of this while working full time at Microsoft.

He made the bike to honor police officers, veterans, firefighters and folks in the military, the ones whose lives are on the line, because without them he couldn’t have put it together, he said.

“My original goal was to build the bike and sell it. Since then, I changed my mind on that — with my daughter persuading me that she wants it when I am no longer able to ride.”

John and Haley visited Walla Walla over Labor Day for the Walla Walla Fair & Frontier Days. His understandably proud father, Larry Ball, lives here.

He’s also the son of Karyl Wahl of Seattle. To contact John, email

With all of its activities that benefit the community and county, Blue Mountain Chapter Pheasants Forever received a writeup in the Fall 2012 Pheasants Forever Journal.

The journal notes the local conservation chapter planted 950 evergreens and shrubs in the Woodward Canyon area, its largest project in its 20-year history; 500 shrubs at the Sapolil Road area; and distribution of 50 bags of food plot seed to 35 farms.

The chapter organized an information booth for community events to recruit new members and banquet attendees, held a youth hunt/shooting event and barbecue at the Walla Walla Gun Club and conducted a tire cleanup at a hunting area near Touchet where 97 tires were hauled away to Les Schwab Tires for disposal.

Blue Mountain Chapter donated $500 to 4-H clubs in Walla Walla and Dayton for youth shooting clubs, $2,750 for six high school student scholarships, $1,000 for a pheasant educational enclosure at the Pioneer Park Aviary and $500 to Walla Walla Gun Club for a new shooting range.

Speaking of the youth hunt, this is its third year. Chapter president Jim Sonne and youth chairman Gene Weinmaster coordinated the activity for 25 boys and girls who hunted and took home 28 birds.

Each youth had to complete a hunter-safety course and have a hunting license to participate, said Jim. The event, held Sept. 22-23, was aided by enough volunteers to provide one-on-one interaction with the young people and various hunting dogs came along.

“Gene talked to the kids before the hunt regarding safety and proper hunting etiquette. During the hunting we did not have to remind any of these kids about safety,” Jim said.

Participants were treated on Sept. 23 to a post-hunt barbeque and trap shoot at the Walla Walla Gun Club.

Bryan Jensen, who bagged his first bird, won the special drawing for a combination shotgun/rifle.

“Special thanks goes to Dawn Davis of the Washington Department of Fish and Game who arranged to get 150 birds to release before the hunt and of course the property owners where we held the hunts: Todd Kimball, Mike Talbott and Buckley Daughters LLC.

At the launch of Walla Walla/Columbia Retired School Employees first meeting of the school year in Sept. 10, they heard a program about Walla Walla’s early days.

Dan Clark and Barbara Daniel, members of the Fort Walla Walla Museum Living History group appeared respectively as Walla Walla’s first mayor, E.B. Whitman and first public school teacher, Sara Miners.

These two historical figures were afoot when Walla Walla experienced a period of rapid growth.

The program was part of the theme to celebrate the city’s sesquincentennial. Whitman was a distant cousin of Marcus Whitman. E.B. came to Walla Walla in 1846 and became mayor in 1862. An interim city government held the election and Whitman obtained the most votes of the 422 cast.

He continued as mayor for four years and held a number of other city offices.

Sara and her husband were early area settlers. In 1861 she opened the first school for 40 students that was located at Palouse and Alder streets. Young students sat in the smaller seats at the front and older students in the back. Older boys in the back were close to the door to bring in wood for the stove.

Teacher salaries for both genders in 1872 was $31.11 per month. By 1883 men earned $42.81 and women just $32.52 each month.

By 1872 Walla Walla County had 37 public schools with an enrollment of 1,035 students. In comparison, at the same time King County had eight schools and 213 students. Numerous church-sponsored private schools were also established.

A tradition of military service runs deep in Stephen Mathew Cook’s family, according to grandmother Dorothy Werttemberger.

Stephen, who participated in four years of the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps at Walla Walla High School, has since joined the U.S. Marine Corps.

He left for Afghanistan Oct. 9 for an expected 15-month deployment.

From the family’s long line of military service comes Stephen’s grandfathers David M. Cook Sr., a Marine in the Korean War, and John P. Werttemberger, a two-time Purple Heart recipient in the Vietnam War; great-uncle Maurice T. Billings, with the U.S. Army and a prisoner of war in Vietnam who made it home.

Stephen’s great-grandfather Samuel W. Billings Sr. served 23 years active duty and another 20 years in the reserves with the U.S. Air Force then the U.S. Army.

Stephen is in his third year of his first enlistment as a 4421 legal services specialist and was in the 29 Palms Marine Base Commander General’s Golf Tournament last spring alongside Maj. Miner, Capt. Hodges and Col. Peterson, all from 29 Palms Marine law office.

He and a couple dozen Marines were honored on the Jay Leno show on Martin Luther King Day 2011. During the Marine Corps birthday celebration that year, he wore Civil War uniform.

Dorothy started a Facebook page for him, “Operation Stephen.” Its intent is to follow and support him while he’s in Afghanistan. She said it will be updated daily and he will be posting about how he is doing.

He married high school sweetheart “Katie” Hall Cook on March 19, 2010, in Walla Walla. She is in her third year of college to become a school teacher.

“Katie is a great example of a supportive, loving and caring Marine wife, granddaughter-in-law, sister and a friend to many,” Dorothy said.

The young couple is expecting their first child, due on March 9. Stephen describes it as their Skype baby, as he’ll be keeping tabs on Katie’s progress online while overseas.

“Katie has great family support on both sides of the family, to get her through anything while Stephen is deployed,” Dorothy added.

Dorothy added that “more now than ever, we as his family and friends need to step up and support Stephen and keep his moral up by writing letters and sending care packages.”

Items recommended to send troops include ramen noodles, home-made goodies bearing in mind it’s over 90 to 100 degrees during most months and chocolate melts so maybe peanut butter cookies, banana bread, instant mac and cheese; beef jerky, hard candy, micro-wave popcorn, packaged instant coffee, sugar and creamer, hot cocoa and apple cider mixes; magazines, water balloons, decks of cards.

Hygiene items should be sent separately.

Contact Cpl. Stephen M.A. Cook at RCT-7HQ Co (SJA), Unit 41500, FPO AP 96427-1500.

Etcetera appears in daily and Sunday editions. Contact Annie Charnley Eveland at or 526-8313.


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