Tuesday, July 2, 2013

My Father's Garage.

I'm not sure where I took my first steps as a baby, but I like to think that they were in my father's body shop. While I doubt that I was allowed to wander around as an infant amongst the cars and tools and oil and grease and paint, I have so many fond childhood memories in that place that I want it to be where I finally got properly mobile. Because it was from there that I learned to ride a bike, and then use my pedal car, before graduating to a go-kart and finally to driving a real car. And this, of course, was my destiny.
Growing up in a house on the edge of a lake in a small town is a fantastic way to spend ones childhood, and I certainly am thankful that I did, but having my father's business, a car repair shop, just a couple hundred meters away from the house was just as exciting to me. All of my spare time was spent there. As an adult I realize that I was certainly more of a hassle then a help when I was little, but it never felt that way. My father was always willing to take the time to explain things to me, to show me what he was doing. This is without question where my passion for cars comes from.

The building was a rather strange construction, on three levels. We called it simply 'The Shop'. The main floor was a mostly rectangular shape with two large bay doors, a paint booth, a pit, a hoist, and space for at least six cars. Over the years the old traditional frame-pulling machine was joined by a more modern unibody unit as cars moved away from traditional full-frame construction, though my father never got rid of anything. His customers knew that he could easily fix a modern front-wheel-drive econobox, but was much happier banging away on an old rusty rear-wheel-drive monster.
A small semi-circular office was stuck off the front, and it was in here that my father and his coworkers and customers and friends discussed politics and theology and economy, shared the occasional beer, told jokes of questionable taste... and discussed automotive repairs, when they had the time. They were all experts on all topics, and over the years I realised that when they got into that office, they all turned back into schoolyard boys at recess. The tales were tall and the claims grew bigger over the years; it was a place where legends were created out of thin air. And this is part of what made 'The Shop' such a wonderful place to be.
The lower level was another smaller garage with a bay door. During most of my childhood a used car salesman used this space to prepare his cars before putting them for sale on the front lot. Out the back of this part of the garage was a large yard that, up until the end of the 1980's, housed a massive pile of wrecked cars. It was a teetering, towering pile of old rusted carcasses. While I knew that I was not allowed to climb amongst them at the risk of being crushed under a falling Buick or Chrysler or Lincoln, in perfect child logic I figured that if my father was going to present me with such an amazing jungle gym, I was going to use it. I recall climbing to the top of the pile, rocking back and forth in the old cars, hearing them creak and groan, oblivious to the risks I was taking.
Environnemental concerns forced my father to dismantle this pile as I reached my teenage years, which actually worked in my favor. This left plently of space to set up my own test drive track, and from the age of 13 on I was parallel parking and reversing with the best of them. By the time I hit driving age, at 16, I was already considered myself a seasoned driver. My 'first car' was a 1985 Chevrolet Celebrity with a 2.5 litre 4-cylinder engine and a 3-speed automatic transmission... a nasty connecting rod rattle kept it off the roads, but didn't stop me from honing my skills as a racecar pilot.

While I do not have a picture of the actual car I learned to drive on, I have included a nearly identical example so that you can all see that for a young gearhead, love is blind, and even something as homely as a Celebrity can be the car of a young mans dreams.
The roof over the upper level was an odd, sort of modified quonset hut-type construction. This huge open space was an Ali Baba's cave of old car parts. The only access was up a crooked metal ladder, and when I was finally old enough (and brave enough) to climb up, I was in heaven. I spent hours and hours of my summer holidays and weekends up there, sorting through old car seats and dashboards and wheels and radios, and countless other assorted car bits and pieces. I was convinced that there were enough parts up there to build a full car, if not several. I tidied up one corner of the loft and set up some old car seats as chairs and an old center console as a table; I had taillights and headlights as lamps and an old record player for entertainment. This was my space, and while I occasionally allowed my cousins to visit, my sisters were not allowed. No need for a 'No Girls Allowed' sign, anyways, they were all too scared to climb the twisted ladder...

I don't have any pictures of this part, and  think that it's better that way. My father fixed his last car in his shop in 2003, and it has since been sold. I can't remember the last time I climbed up that ladder into my own private automotive refuge, but it has been at least 15 years, if not closer to 20. It was probably smaller and dustier and darker than I recall, but I would rather remember it through the eyes of a kid, master of his domain, losing track of time and sorting through decades of old car parts, imaging his future...

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