2 February 2016

Real struggles in real garages, hold the sugar-coating

Let’s face it: Not everyone has a warm, cozy shop with plenty of work space and storage. There are those of us out there who regularly dream of the day that we’ll finally own a full-fledged shop with a furnace, plumbing and perhaps even a drainage system. And a plasma cutter, hydraulic press and a lift — oh, the epitome of my dreams, a lift!

Well, at least we can all take comfort in knowing that we are not alone; thousands of dedicated gearheads get by with a tiny garage or even just a driveway. And cheers to the diehards in cold-weather climates who work on their vehicles in these less-than-desirable conditions year round. Hopefully you’ll find a little comic relief as you relate to my story — a typical January evening in Northern Michigan in my two-car (one-car, when stuffed with tools) garage…

Finally, after a long day at work I was ready to head out into the garage, my completed hot rod project fantasy rippling through my mind. As I bundled up in a hoodie and my favorite black Carhartt jacket, I opened the creaky door to the garage and flipped the light switch. In response, a slow flicker echoed through the darkness. A rush of cold blasted my face as I closed the door behind me and reached to turn on the small gas-powered heater. The lights eventually leveled at a constant fast flicker.

I squeezed between the back wall and the rear end of my 1952 Ford Crestline Victoria to spend the first 10 minutes searching for the extra-small flathead screwdriver needed to remove the interior trim securing the headliner. Once I found it hiding in my red, beaten-up tool chest’s depths, the screws came off easily, but the trim was fused on. After returning to the tool box’s abyss and spending what seemed like another 10 minutes looking for the single bright blue trim removing tool, I was able to gingerly pry the trim away from the rotting headliner and carefully climbed to the top of a 6-foot ladder in order to store it safely on an upper shelf.

With safety glasses positioned, I crawled back into the Ford, squeezing through the narrow doorway, which was doomed to always be more closed than opened due to the wall being only a foot away. As I tugged at the edges of the headliner with my gloved hands, the fabric seemed to disintegrate. Eventually I found its stronger points and ripped it down in one large chunk as a cloud of dark grey dust and lumps of mouse feces-caked nesting material rained down on me. I exited the giant putrid nest and decided that while waiting for the toxic dust to settle (as to avoid a massive allergy attack), I would continue grinding the last night’s rear fender repair welds.

“Where’s that darn angle grinder?” I asked myself. I looked around the Ford where I was using it the night before, but of course it wasn’t there. Maybe it was on top of the tool chest — nope. After searching a few more minutes, then getting distracted by other things (like uninstalling what remained of the dashboard, which in turn caused another (shorter) search for a Phillips screwdriver and more trips up-and-down the ladder to store the remnants), I finally found the grinder right where it belonged in the first place, in the old repurposed filing cabinet drawer, of course.

After spending an extensive amount of time with no choice other than to maintain a full squat while grinding, I was finally able to stand for the last small portion. Suddenly, I found myself at an odd angle and the grinder kicked back, cutting into my inner thigh before I could let go of the safety switch. With a defeated sigh, and perhaps after a few expletives deleted, I made sure that first, everything else down there was unharmed, and second, that the cut would stop bleeding on its own, then I continued grinding down the remaining welds.

I was tired, dirty and extra sore from the excessive amount of yoga and tai-chi moves needed to work in the tight space between the car and the shelves sticking out of the wall at perfect concussion height. Out of the corner of my weeping, allergy-fogged eyes I saw a welcoming stool directly behind me. In an effort to relieve my legs for just a moment, I leaned my weight onto my gloved hand, and the split second of relief for my leg muscles came and went just as quickly as the burning pain searing through my glove. I leapt away, ripped the glove off, and threw it on the ground in disgust beside the space heater that now smelled of burned rubber, and maybe a little skin.

With my soul broken, sinuses clogged and blood drained, I decided that tomorrow was another day. After another 30 minutes spent looking for and storing all of the tools, I swept up the scattered remains of the moldy headliner and rodent feces. On my way back inside, I turned off the heater, pausing to scowl at the permanent black rubber handprint pressed neatly on its surface, and then I gave the freezing florescent lights a rest while I limped back inside for a stiff drink, a shower, some bandages and burn cream, and a good night’s sleep in anticipation of the next day’s progress. The completed hot rod dream endures.

66 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Loreen Marvosh Henderson, NV February 3, 2016 at 16:02
    Now this is a story I can relate to! Blood, sweat, tears, bruises, and scars. Just replace space heater with portable shop light.
  • 2
    CHUCK STYLES LAS VEGAS NV February 3, 2016 at 16:14
  • 3
    John DeSpelder Traverse City February 3, 2016 at 16:28
    Tara, your article came at just the right time. I'm sitting here feeling fatigued and somewhat sorry for myself after spending hours reinstalling the primitive fresh air vent system on my nearly 40 year old car. I feel a little better knowing that you're out there having much the same trials as me. At least my heater hangs from the ceiling so I can't (hopefully) lean on it by mistake. Keep up the good work!! John PS: Years ago I read a similar article about life in the garage by Peter Egan of Road & Track. You're in good company.
  • 4
    Ben D Long Island New York February 3, 2016 at 16:37
    Been there done that. When it's finished and you are driving around all this will be forgotten. Stay with it, the rewards are worth it and spring is right around the corner.
  • 5
    John Lancaster County, PA February 3, 2016 at 16:39
    Oh, if only I had been so fortunate as to find a mate like you! I constructed ( nearly finished) my faux 1932 Rolls Royce Competition Roadster outside , under the trees, until I had it painted. I lot of "cheese and rice" went into this project. I too spent a lot of hours looking for misplaced tools.
  • 6
    Browney Mascow Boyne City, Mi February 3, 2016 at 16:52
    How far from Boyne City does this lady restorer live? I may have some space available for her to work on her car and maybe even some help in the restoration.
  • 7
    Tom Loganville, GA February 3, 2016 at 16:59
    Years ago living on the bank of Lake Erie with a small 1 bay attached garage to my house in the January winter sandblasting my 69 GTO convertible. After a few minutes I couldn't see my hands in front of my eyes the blast media was everywhere. But the cold was the worst, I could run anything electronic inside the media would kill it.
  • 8
    Dave Minnesota, A.H. Garage February 3, 2016 at 17:20
    Over many years to retirement, I have developed a garage like the story started. Plasma cutter, hoist, heat, air cond. etc. A shop is never big enough. Not too much stuff just not a big enough shop. My stories, like this one repeat them self. We must remember this is the fun of a restoration,
  • 9
    Chuck Northern Nevada February 3, 2016 at 17:26
    Cold winter repairs! Life with two space heaters and the pain of touching freezing cold steel parts is the reality for most of us. Great story and it sure invokes memories of at least 30 such winters.
  • 10
    Gary Platz Colonial Heights,Va. February 3, 2016 at 17:28
    Been there and done that. I did many metal / Bondi repairs in our driveway. Not in the garage as the light is better and easier to clean outside.Too many injuries from suspension work and replacting engine mounts.How about trying to fix paint damage during the cold winters by putting rattle cans in hot water and heating the body surface with a blow drier and working quickly.Then there's gas line repair in winter and getting g as on your hands making them even colder.I admire this lady for she'll appreciate her car and remember all the suffering she went through and saying that it was worth it.Now matter how the Ford turns out, she can point with pride and say she did it herself.
  • 11
    Dick Tatina Countryside,IL February 3, 2016 at 18:01
    My 49 Olds Coupe is so close to the garage wall that I the door handle cannot be reached. The only warmth in the garage is the residual heat from the second engine, if that car had been started. keep us informed on your progress.
  • 12
    Mitch Simmons Westland,Michigan February 3, 2016 at 18:06
    Been there ,done that Stay the course.....when your car is done and you are cruising .....its all worth it! And then, when you're sitting around listening to friends talking about what they are going to do.......you can tell them what you have done:):)
  • 13
    gary olson Minnesota February 3, 2016 at 18:14
    Sounds like my garage except I never melted a glove on a heater--cause I don't have one!
  • 14
    Fred Bicknell Lacenter WA. February 3, 2016 at 18:34
    Excellent story. Now I feel embarrassed when I back up to my wood stove in the garage.
  • 15
    Dick Miller Live Oak, Florida February 3, 2016 at 18:44
    Tara Hurlin ... What a woman ... Band Aids and all ... lol .....
  • 16
    JR greenwich NY February 3, 2016 at 18:45
    Cool Cool :)
  • 17
    David Toronto February 3, 2016 at 18:47
    Great story! The things we do for the love of cars.
  • 18
    Rick Lee St.Albert, Alberta, Canada February 3, 2016 at 19:05
    I thought I had it difficult... you are a better person than I am. I have a bit more room working on my 68 Firebird RagTop but I hate working in the cold garage and most nights I pass on the work to be done and dream of spring ....
  • 19
    skip league oroville ca February 3, 2016 at 19:21
    this story is like most of my days in the garage.I am working on 1954 ply savoy 2 door.the older cars are hard to find parts for and a lot work to fix up on cold days. keep up the hard work. it fun when its done.
  • 20
    KDD PDX February 3, 2016 at 19:31
    Glad to hear of a great goal and such dedication! I personally gave up on the rotten cold and salt of the East about 30 years ago. The West coast is the place to be for car guys and gals, for sure. However, no matter where the "scene of the crime" there is no substitute for an organized plan of attack and dedicated law and order in the workshop. Wasting time looking for tools is a "project delayer"! Get your mise en place: a place for everything and everything in its place. Good luck and keep on keepin' on!
  • 21
    Barry Boricchio Sonora Ca. February 3, 2016 at 19:55
    With a sprit like yours you will build a great car and in a great shop. keep it up we all have had some cold nights.
  • 22
    Vincent Virginia February 3, 2016 at 19:55
    My project is a rescued 1952 Crestline Victoria full custom. Previous owner seemed to give up when he got to the small details that finish the job all the way. He also needed money for his 1953 Buck project. Good luck and feel free to contact.
  • 23
    DENNIS WHITE middle village, new york February 3, 2016 at 19:57
    You remind me of myself, conditions, and cold, after one hour fingers not moving, frozen. Keep moving forward, don't stop, its all worth it at the end
  • 24
    Bob Bilodeau Hackensack MN February 3, 2016 at 20:42
    Great story! Reminded me of working in my garage at night on my 57 Chevy 3100. Although I had heat I still had all the battle scars from the build and I loved every minute of it. Hope to read updates.
  • 25
    John Alma, MI February 3, 2016 at 20:52
    I remember those days! Now happily retired and working daily in my heated workshop.
  • 26
    KEITH REGELIN PORTLAND, OR February 3, 2016 at 20:53
    Great piece, Tara. Don't give up, it will be worth it in the end!
  • 27
    George CT east shore February 3, 2016 at 20:54
    True, too true!
  • 28
    Gary Mace MN February 3, 2016 at 21:07
    Thank Goodness Reality No back up professionals No access to sponsors with a bin full of parts, shop full of the latest and greatest tools I have been revitalized Thank You
  • 29
    Michael Adirondacks in upstate New York February 3, 2016 at 21:13
    Indeed misery loves company . I too work in an enclosed building that for most of the winter has inadequate heat and dubious light sources. I hate it when I misplace a tool and I hate it even more when I again find it but...the retrieved tool is then nearly as cold as an icicle .But the end goal is in sight...I look forward to the day when a project can move down the road under its own power and then the thumbs up and great smiles come my way as another restored car is seen and appreciated by others. No sense wasting a winter's evening in front of the TV when you can exercise your brain and bust a knuckle on a worthy vehicle. Still in all...great fun.
  • 30
    Wendell Kelley Alabama February 3, 2016 at 21:16
    Yep I can relate, been through similar. Don't get that cold here in Alabama though and I didn't have a heater. Summer heat mean more than multiple fans circulating air through the garage, one blowing where I'm working and on me. A slightly bigger garage and a smaller car (70 Opel GT) meant more room but lighting wasn't good. A flashlight and an old lamp without lampshade lit up my work as the incandescence garage lights did little but create shadows. I have a pie chart on the wall showing time lost looking for that tool I just had in my hand.
  • 31
    John Ft Wayne February 3, 2016 at 21:29
    LOL, thanks for the laughs Tara. Hang in there, I feel your pain. Something about working on cold steel, seems like it gets 10 time harder than at "normal" temps, or maybe its the flesh that is 10 times easer to cut/scrape/bruise.
  • 32
    Jeff Collins Wadsworth, Ohio February 3, 2016 at 21:50
    Tara, really enjoyed the article. People don't know what a joy and sense of accomplishment it is to bring a car back to life. I restored a 63 Chevy Impala SS in my two-car garage. Had to keep my wife's side clear of parts and tools. Thanks again, and keep us up on your progress.
  • 33
    j w dreyer well, today it's santa monica February 3, 2016 at 21:50
    yup, been there and done that too. you write like a northern Michigan version of P. J. O'Rourke - very entertaining. Last year I bought a two post low profile lift. wanted one for 20 years. you seem to find a rather large number of "new" friends when you own a lift.
  • 34
    Adam Wosneski San Antonio, TX February 3, 2016 at 22:11
    Sounds like another 'day in the office'! :) so many things we all identify with , like spending more time looking for tools than actually working. Bandages make beer taste better! :)
  • 35
    tom flynn gladstone mi February 3, 2016 at 22:48
    as a Yooper I understand the need for the heater. I have torn apart many headliners and soo learned to wear a dust mask yuck that's bad stuff, good luck with your project I am a Ford guy for50 years and am still going at 73 I'm 17 when in the garage tho
  • 36
    gord hunter Vancouver Island February 3, 2016 at 23:10
    Hang in there, Tara. And in the interests of your health you might want to google hanta virus before cleaning up more mouse droppings. Could save your life.
  • 37
    Yuri N. Arizona February 3, 2016 at 23:22
    it was 16 deg F this morning here in N. Arizona (6100' elev ) . My garage is inhabited by my daily driver, a 1978 911 Targa. My project is a 1954 5 window GMC truck. Besides fighting weather, the inside of the truck needs vacuuming (packrats) daily.good luck to you and best wishes
  • 38
    Roger G Ithaca, NY February 4, 2016 at 13:00
    Been there, done that. Like picking up the nut or bolt on the floor that you just used a torch heat to get off. Dang! Or changing leaf springs on the daily driver - outside, in the snow.
  • 39
    Jack Mercer Island, WA February 4, 2016 at 13:01
    Stick to it, a small 110V heater can be put where ever you are working. Over the years I found having a small tool tray with 1/4" sockets and a quaility multi head screw driver, a 6" cresent , and a few types of pliers saves much time. It seems to take three tries to get it right when you start to assemble it so stay paient.
  • 40
    Kathy St. Paul, Alberta February 4, 2016 at 13:20
    WOW!!! can I relate to your story, I am working out of a unheated small one car garage in Northern Alberta, Canada.
  • 41
    Sherwood So. Cal. February 4, 2016 at 02:27
    You weaved vivid examples of things that happen to folks who share your passion (or necessity) to wrench and attempt repairs on stubborn vehicles and their sub-pieces. With or without a generous checkbook, the garage, despite it's sometimes compromised working environment, is a somewhat comforting refuge for true automotive enthusiasts. I wish you well in your efforts to bring that Victoria back to life. And keep writing.
  • 42
    Paul Mclaughlin Alsip,IL (Chicago Suburb) February 4, 2016 at 15:01
    Interesting article & gutsie lady. It becomes a QUEST to fix anything, as she does. Too little space, too many tools and northern winters are awful, providing too little time. And the hot rod dream endures! Good luck to smiling, questy Tara Hurlin!
  • 43
    Don Schmidt Leduc, AB, Canada February 4, 2016 at 03:09
    I feel your pain...and determination. This story is so close to my own "adventures," it's as if I wrote this article! Fantastic, Tara.
  • 44
    Bruce C CO February 4, 2016 at 16:50
    Nicely written. My wrenching career started outside in Wisconsin in all types of weather. I can especially relate to being distracted by the ever present three other things that need doing. One of the prime motivators of my career has been to earn enough to afford a decent, heated shop devoted to my hobbies. I am pleased to report that I achieved the dream. Now if I could just limit the number of unfinished project...
  • 45
    john Georgia February 4, 2016 at 17:49
    Great, Loved it--- Makes me really appreciate my garage !!!
  • 46
    Frank Branstrom Livonia mi February 4, 2016 at 06:25
    great story.....great car too. more in that car than money can buy .
  • 47
    andy perna DANBURY CT February 4, 2016 at 06:57
    Great article. Keep the faith!
  • 48
    Randall EUP Michigan February 4, 2016 at 19:46
    I can relate to your story to a tee. The car I have been working on is a town car cartier. just got done with my buick 1982 riviera. no summer wear in my garage.
  • 49
    JoEste New England February 4, 2016 at 07:54
    Thank you for the light hearted look at reality for many of us. I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who spends time looking for tools and getting distracted by something else before finding the missing tool where I left it...
  • 50
    Joel Griffin Cloverdale, Indiana February 4, 2016 at 07:55
    Been there saw the Video!
  • 51
    Richard Miot Long Island, New York February 4, 2016 at 07:56
    I totally identify with this. I've been working on my 64 Austin Healey 3000 for the last 6 years, out of my able-to-fit-2-small-British-cars garage, year round. I recently got the re-done engine back, and I'm working on putting her back together. Usually I have to back my other car, a 70 MGB GT (in good condition), out of the garage to work on the Healey. We must really love this stuff!
  • 52
    Steve Hamilton, ON. February 4, 2016 at 08:05
    LOL! Boy do I know that feeling, Tara! Nothing like laying on the ground trying to pull an M-21 out of a '68 Camaro during a freak snow squall @ 15 * F. We do it for the love of the hobby.
  • 53
    Brian B. Alberta, Canada February 4, 2016 at 08:36
    What an awesome story and boy can I relate to that even now! Living in the frozen North if we waited until it was nice and balmy to work on our classic cars we would go stir crazy. If you have no heated shop space and want to work on your classic, just tough it out and get 'er done!
  • 54
    Brannen Sneads Ferry, NC February 4, 2016 at 21:06
    I can absolutely relate. My first round of resto-mod work to my 1970 Mustang was done in a 10' x 20' storage unit. The only power was a single light socket on the ceiling (from which I powered more things than a single light socket should be able to power). Even now I run my own little repair and custom automotive lighting business from an 890 sq. ft. shop. I had to install scaffolding to hold all my spare parts and it's still so full with tools, parts, a car, a bike.... But I make do and I love it.
  • 55
    Steve Goldenberg Indiana February 4, 2016 at 09:17
    That was a great story and written so well that it was thoroughly informative and humorous.
  • 56
    John P. Leseganich Canfield, OHIO February 4, 2016 at 09:36
    I can't believe "Finally" an article was written on this subject! In my "Mid 60's, I've been a "Gear-Head" since my early teens, breaking, tearing down, attempting to fix, then becoming the "guy to go to" in my small young group.....but never had the comfort of the professional work shop/garage. Wait, there was that time; between 16-19 when I worked at the gas station; back then they were true "Service Stations" when after hours we'd all hang around and have the luxury to work on our cars in the garage.....with a "Lift", wow, I miss those days. Now, as your article reads; all work is done in my back "one car" storage (all my yard tools and other stuff) garage. As I read your article I easily related to the strange bends, a stuck positions, the missing tools they you swore somebody must have taken, the dressing like your going sled riding. Even though I have heat back there it isn't always on; here in Ohio (like Michigan) it gets cold. I usually turn the heat on a little bit before I go back in the garage, it heats up the area a little, then you grab that "ice cold" wrench. Anyway, currently working on (body repair) a 1965 VW "Bug" and loved your article, what's the saying "Misery Loves Company". At this point, one of the problems I have is when and if I do any body/panel repair and I have to finish it off with some light "body putty/glaze", I usually have to wait for the are to get warm and after applying, well that's an entire night for it to cure when it's 30-20 degrees back there. One more quick comment: Love when you do a little research for repair tips and you see the guy/girl lift the car up on the rack, grap the pneumatic tool and start the work......I'd like to see the same repair with the guy/girl throwing some old sheets on the ground, attempting to shimmy under the car, dragging the old trouble light and trying to put it where you can see what your doing, and then attempting to break that nut, while on your back, no room to move your wrist more than 12 inch.....good luck. Loved the article.
  • 57
    Tom Sherman, IL February 4, 2016 at 09:50
    Sounds like a good time to me. If you were closer I would jump at the chance to help, although you probably want all of the fun for your self. Keep going and time will fly.
  • 58
    Danny Boy Chicagoland February 4, 2016 at 10:05
    While you are tackling your project, you will get busted knuckles, rust in the eyes, aching back and neck…but, when you are done you will have a smile on your face and stories to share with your fellow auto enthusiasts.
  • 59
    Rick St. Albert, Alberta Canada February 4, 2016 at 12:29
    I am restoring a 68 Firebird Convertible in my unheated garage. I applaud your drive and commentment. Most nights I pass on going out to work on the car and just think of Spring.... good luck!!
  • 60
    Tanya Kingsley February 5, 2016 at 19:57
    Wow, do I remember those times. You can never get warm enough and the tools are cold and never where you want them if you are lucky enough to have them. Little by little scrimping and saving things come together. Both car and shop but boy do I appreciate what we have now because of where we came from. Laying in the snow or hot gravel of an apartment parking lot, oh what date nights those were!
  • 61
    Joel Trafford New Hampshire February 5, 2016 at 08:52
    Dear Tara, I know It so well. I loved your reality and have lived it.I worked my butt off to get my old 24 x 48 heated shop with no chance of a lift because of low ceiling hite. So maybe a pit in the floor someday. Keep going you are awesome. Love the mouse nest part. Bin there too. Joel
  • 62
    Jim Hyatt Westbrook, Maine February 5, 2016 at 10:59
    Having been there and done that, I could feel your pains. Gotta just keep telling yourself "one day........"
  • 63
    Michael Kingsville, Ontario February 8, 2016 at 08:58
    Hi Tara There is light at the end of the tunnel and no I am sure it is not a train!! I feel your pain, having to endure with working in confined spaces (in my case a rock strewn driveway and a small workshop that no vehicle could possibly fit in) but now I have my shop! Built in 2012 - 3 bays and one with a 4 post lift! Yes it is still too small...but I have reconciled this with the fact that I could have built a shop with 10 bays and eventually it would be too small!!! Keep going - your project sounds pretty cool! Oh and the grinder to the thigh...been there done that with stitches! :) Michael!
  • 64
    Jim Bluebaugh Dearborn Heights, Mi. February 9, 2016 at 10:57
    I can relate for sure. I have a 1-3/4 car garage with 2 cars in it and still manage to get work done.
  • 65
    Keith Toronto Ontario Canada February 11, 2016 at 20:50
    I can relate how frustrating it is Tara,working on my 67 camaro rs convertible in my single car garage with Christmas lights an a scary electric heater has its moments.When you just want to scream, when you leave the wrench on the other side of the car an you have to shuffle to get to the other side,zero space. Good Luck with your car.
  • 66
    Marv Fremont, Ohio February 14, 2016 at 22:14
    Great article ! Tara, your story and the comments of others are inspiring. It helps to know there are others with the same objective & struggles. Luckily this winter is a lot better than the others. I'm now working on a 1963 LeMans convertible I hope to have finished by late spring. One last thing, rather than squatting, get a old piece of carpet, fold it once or twice and either kneel or sit on it. Does wonders to keep you off the cold floor. Good luck and God Bless!

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