My father was not a “car guy,” although he grew up on a dairy farm in northern Minnesota and was no stranger to work. The lessons he taught me—to work hard, be self-reliant, and always do the best you can—have served me well. Even though he passed away a few years ago now, my memories of him and the lessons he taught continue to influence me today. As Father’s Day approaches, I can’t help but recall one of the last times he visited me in the shop.
“So, when are you going to finish it?” My father’s voice rang out as he entered the garage. I believe I’ve heard those words nearly as often as, “So, what color are you going to paint it?” and from far too many people to recall.
Certainly dad could remember the many times I drove the Chevy over to visit, but the simple fact that the old car was all apart again seemed to cloud his memory of it. I paused for a moment, in the same manner I had for the countless others who asked the same question.
I explained, “Dad, it’s not a race to get it done quickly; it’s a hobby.”
I could tell by the look on his face, as he scratched his head and made his way to the refrigerator for a cold soda, the thought of working on an old car simply for enjoyment was something he never considered. I went on to explain, “Just because it’s done, doesn’t mean I can’t take it apart and make it better.” He mumbled something before coming to rest on the stool next to the workbench.
I grabbed the new driveshaft to mate the 4L60 transmission to the new nine-inch Ford rear axle and slid beneath the old Chevy. As I snaked the driveshaft around the rear axle and through the driveshaft loop, I couldn’t help but think how our hobby compares to others. I suspect no one has ever questioned a golfer as to why they have played the same course more than once, because it’s assumed they want to improve their skills and achieve a better score. Nor does anyone question the fisherman who returns to the same lake, and often the same spot, in pursuit of a bigger fish.
As I slid the U-bolts into the rear axle yoke and called out for a half-inch wrench, it occurred to me that maybe the difference lies in the simple fact that so many consider car repairs to be “work,” and certainly nothing about a task that is seen as work could be enjoyable unless it is completed. While the prospect of clubbing plastic balls around someone else’s lawn, then chasing after them, only to club them again seems more like work to me, the biggest difference may be how others perceive our chosen hobby.
The distinctive ring of a half-inch Craftsman wrench sliding across the concrete toward my head returned my attention to the task at hand. Dad soon called out again, “I gotta go!” As he turned the knob on the garage door, he stopped to ask, “So, when are you going to finish it?”
I miss you, Dad, and thanks for everything.
Great story, my dad really didn’t want me to mess with the race car that much cause he didn’t think I would ever finish college because of drag racing!! I did & everybody was happy. Now I got a ’59 El Camino & I’m playing with it now to have something to do!!! Thanks for all your tips Mark!!!
If it was about the finish rods would all sit in the garage with the door down.
My doors are up things are going on and it is my happiest place. The truck will probably never really be finished there always a chance or improvement to do. You can always buy a new truck that would be finished.
My dad didn’t get it either but he could go fishing. Miss him too.
Thanks for such a good letter. I enjoyed reading every word. It brought back memories of me and my dad. When my parents would come visit, my dads first stop was to look inside my shop window to see the progress of my 39 Buick that I was restoring. It took me 15 years to complete and my dad passed away before I finished the job. I remember when I was in high school, the times my dad would join me in repairing what ever car I had at the time. He normally took over but I learned a lot. I remember I was working on the engine of a 1954 Chevy. My dad came out and took over and said “here, hold the light for me” after a few minutes he said ” Can you see OK? I said ” yes ” he said ” well now hold it over here where I can see”. Thanks for the memories.
As a kid, I was always a “car guy”. Up until I was 16 I could tell the year and make of any car by it’s tail lights, going down the road, day or night.
Right after I turned 16, my father sent me down to the local Gulf station, driving his car and his credit card get to it filled it up (my newly licensed also) . The owner just happened to come out to pump my gas and asked if I’d like a part time job. One night a week after school to 10 and Fri and Sat 3-10. The owner was an ex-marine and every night before closing the place was spit and polished clean. When there was nothing to do, you cleaned tools, wiped down surfaces or waxed the tow truck.
All the guys that worked there were all younger fellows, except the head mechanic a short guy named Peanut. We got to work on our own cars after closing. Peanut, the head mechanic was always available for advice in exchange for an RC cola. All the guys were really into rat and mouse motors. Chevy’s of every shape or size except me. I stuck with fords. Just about every other month Peanut would pull motor out of his 68 Camaro and replace it with one that just been rebuilt with a lot of love and care.
All the cops stopped by to check out our car and make sure the wheels didn’t stuck out too far or that air shock weren’t making rear ends too high. We never got any tickets but they all new where we lived.
I started by pumping gas, then busting tires, then oil changes followed by tune ups, driving the tow truck.
As a teenager my father always know where I was and I never suspected a thing.
At my Dad’s funeral, Norm, the owner, told my sons that my father had also been his boss when I worked at the gas station. Dad had been sort of an advisor/very silent partner.
My dad always said – when I wanted an old car – “Buy a car new, and keep it until it’s old.” He wasn’t the slightest bit interested himself in restoring an old car; he had a ’49 Packard that he kept running from new. Finally, after buying an old car in need of restoration, then getting it “completed,” did he pay me the highest complement: “You did a good job on this car.”
Miss my Dad thanks for sharing the thoughts my friend!
I love these Dad stories. Back in 1977 I bought a “60 Ford F100 shortbox from a co-worker for about $400. It was to be my work vehicle but I was still proud of myself for the “deal” I made. As I sat there idling and telling Dad all about, he asked why the engine making such a clatter. “Oh, it just needs a tune up” I said. He just smiled and said “I see” and walked away. H knew from tinkering with cars in his teen years just what I was facing but was big on letting us learn for ourselves. A few weeks later, that engine had excessive blow by so I changed to a heavy oil and sold it for $200 and wished the new owner good luck. A year later Dad was intrigued by the Kit Car industry and thought it would be a good father son project to build one. He could not get any dealers to tell us what a completed car might bring. Unfortunately, before we could launch into a project, he was killed in a plane crash at age 49. Gone way to soon but, I still think of him and quote him all the time. Miss you Dad.
I’m a newbie here, and sure glad I came. I was lucky enough that I was able to tell my Dad how he got smarter the older I got as well as thank him for giving me 90w on the brain. I miss him every day.
what a lovely story, well written.
My Dad wasn’t into working on cars, but I remember him trading in cars every couple of years. A couple that I remember was a 66 Cutlass. He brought home a red one with wire wheels that I thought was so cool. The next day, he brought home a white on that had hubcaps and wasn’t so cool, but he loved the car. He kept it for a few years then bought a 69 Pontiac Grand Prix. I remember the “S” gear that he told me meant “Super” gear. I believed him, why not, I mean he was my Dad. He had several cars that I liked over the years. He passed away in April of 1998 after another bout with cancer. It was the month before I retired from 22 years in the Navy. I had planned to move back to Indiana and spend as much time as I could with him but he was gone before I could do that. I miss him every day and miss the phone conversations that we didn’t have. I’m sure he’s in heaven looking down on me and wondering why I like Ford vehicles over General Motors vehicles that he favored.
I lost my father a year ago, and still hear his voice along with the lessons that have served me well. What I wouldn’t give to talk to him one more time.
He passed the love of cars on to me, even though he didn’t work on them as I like to.
Lost my dad when I was a year old so obviously dont remember him but the stories and the pics of him make me realize that he was the best dad a boy could ever have. He had a 69 Roadrunner with a 440 sixpack and loved cars! Im a die hard Pontiac guy and love muscle cars too. I would give Anyrhing to get to meet the man that made me who I am.
Miss ya Dad and think about you every day,
My father was of German descent. He overdid everything. He had me wire brush the whole interior of our 58 Plymouth station wagon and paint it with Rustolium. We built a wall in the basement and he had me paint the studs before we nailed up the drywall. When I would ask him why his answer was always the same. “If I die and you mother remarries I don’t want that guy to think I ever did a half ass job” My father was in the Army with the 36th Division. Maybe he thought his time would come early. When he died he was 96. My mother died a few months before. I wonder if the new owners ever pulled the drywall off and wondered, WTF.
I would always get “why are you messing with a perfectly good car” from my dad, when I was “upgrading ” stock parts with aftermarket “go fast parts”… My dad was not into hot rods…. Love and miss you dad. Oh and my kids leave my tools laying all over too…… 😉
Boy did that bring back memories! I used to get the same thing when I was working on my 1930 Model A Pick-up. Even though Dad would find things for me, like the Cragar over- head conversion, he always asked
when I was going to get it done. Even though he would go for rides in it when I completed some task and I wanted to show it off to him. Dad was a golfer and he always talked about his game at the various clubs and courses at dinner. Then it’d come around to the “30 Ford siting in the driveway. “Son, when are you gonna get it done? Dad, I’d answer, its an evolving process.” He’d just laugh! He knew- – – as he raced “A”s and “T’s” as a youngster. Of course Mom just rolled her eyes! Hahaha
Brings back memories of my Dad. He asked me a few times why I spent sooo much money on my race car. I would in turn ask him if I ever owed him $$$. That would end the conversation. I know he only meant the best for me.