As I neared the garage, I could tell something was different before ever turning the doorknob to enter. A faint but pungent smell permeated the air; a blend of something burnt with the distinct odor of mice nests. Upon entering, my suspicions were confirmed, as a thick blue haze seemed to hug the ceiling.
Soon my son’s head popped up from behind the ’34 International pickup he was working on. “Kinda stinks in here, doesn’t it?” he commented. “I got the lower cowl half cut out before I realized I had ignited a hidden mouse nest, and then I had a heck of a time putting out the fire through the small cut left by the cutoff wheel!” In conclusion he added, “You can’t build a hot rod until you start something on fire.” With a grin, he returned to work removing the foul burnt stuff from the truck’s cowl.
They say odors can be a strong memory trigger, and this one was no exception. I recalled countless times I had encountered even slight variations of this smell. Memories of past mouse nest mishaps came rushing back; the ’72 Blazer that wouldn’t start until a thunderous backfire expelled burning acorns and mouse nests like a bazooka from the tailpipe; the pungent smell of the headliner in the ’31 DeSoto that drooped in the spring under the weight of the nesting materials of those who took residence there over the course of the winter. Not to mention all the times their hideaways were discovered in much the same way as my son had just experienced.
I couldn’t help but think of the other smells that brought back memories of so many other old car adventures and misadventures. Only days earlier I visited a local automotive customizer, the smell of body filler and paint in their shop brought back recollections of the many hours spent finishing countless cars in my own shop. Stale gasoline, burnt oil, hot electrical components, carburetor cleaner, and even a freshly waxed finish all bring back vivid memories.
As I thought about all of the smells I associate so closely with our hobby, I couldn’t help but think that no matter how foul the smell I encountered, it was always in pursuit of the passion I hold so close, and how my memories of these events will always be treasured. Perhaps my son’s parting comment was more accurate than he could have imagined, “You can’t build a hot rod until you start something on fire.” Or, perhaps it should be amended to simply, “That’s the sweet smell of progress.”
I encourage you to take your son, daughter, or friends, out to the garage, swap meet, or salvage yard and take a deep breath, as there is a memory that will be best served when it’s shared, and will undoubtedly last a lifetime.