Keep on Rockin’ in the Wheel World

Pop and I had to replace one of Mavis’s rocker panels because it was totally rusted out.  This was a BIG deal and new even to Pop, but we both think the results are of rock star quality.  The rocker panel is the length of metal that runs from the back of the front wheel well to the front of the back wheel well just underneath the door.  It’s what you step over to get into any vehicle.  I’ve recently discovered that its name originates from back in the day when they were building horse drawn carriages.  Here’s a fascinating bit of info for ya from “A Practical Treatise on Coach-building” by James W Burgess, published in London in 1881.

“Proportion in carriages applies to both form and colour; as regards form, it regulates the sizes of the various parts so that the whole may harmonise, and dictates the adoption of contrivances for lessening the apparent size of those parts which would otherwise be unseemly. Thus, the total height which is necessary in the body for the comfort of the passengers is too great for the length which it is convenient to give it ; therefore the total height is reduced, and to give sufficient leg room a false bottom is affixed by means of convex rockers, and which, being thrown back and painted black, cease to form a portion of the elevation ; they are, -like a foundation, out of sight, and thus the proportion of the front view (the side is called the front in coach-builder’s parlance) is preserved.”

Well thank God!  I felt my original explanation to friends who were trying very kindly to understand (and stay interested) in my rocker panel story was much more understandable.  I told them to imagine driving their car over a very steep bump in the road.  It would surely get stuck at the top, rocking back and forth with the wheels above the ground on either side.  What it would be rocking on would be…you guessed it, the rocker panels!

Regardless, they do tend to rust out faster than any part of a car or truck and Mavis’s passengers side had seen better days.

Skills required to replace a rocker panel:  Metal cutting, accurate measuring, plug welding, tack welding, grinding, body filler work, sanding, more sanding, patience and a good attitude.  It is really really stressful because neither Pop nor I are psyched about making our first real cut into Mavis’s body and fucking it up isn’t really an option.  There are only so many YouTube videos you can watch before you gotta get in there and make it happen.

I think this part may mark the first fight Pop and I have gotten into during this project.  Ok, not a full out fight, but he was clearly irritated with me.  We were up under the back wheel well where I was showing him the inner patch for the back of the panel I had been working for like, 3 hours on, and felt I had messed up.  So both our heads are crammed into this 2×1 foot space, 2 inches from each others faces and I’m whining about this shitty patch and he’s telling me it’s “just fine” and I’m saying it’s unacceptable and I’m pissed and now he’s getting pissed.  We keep grabbing this patch out of each others hands tryting to show the other how it’s working or not working and dropping it and hitting our heads trying to pick it up and in the stress of this whole fucking thing Pop says, VERY sternly, “God Dammit Janet, stop being such a perfectionist!”  I mean, he’s not happy with me, which hasn’t happened often, or ever, in my adult life.

Years ago I would have immediately felt that stinging feeling in my nose just before the tears come.  Now, I was just so blown away with being called a perfectionist tears were beyond me.  A perfectionist?  I think the only other person who has ever called me that was my best friend Beth of forty years who is a trained psychologist and knows me better than almost anyone.  So really, what does she know?

Fuck.  I may be.  Never thought of myself as a perfectionist, but I do have to admit that there isn’t much space between, “we’re going to do this thing right to the best of our ability” and, “if I can’t do this thing right I have no abilities.”  I’ve been known to never start something because it may not turn out how I envisioned it.  After years of doing this to myself on a creative level, I now decide to rebuild a car?  Not sit and doodle out a sketch, not try some slab work with clay…no, rebuild a whole fucking car.  It was the black and white of it I was attracted to at first.  Either the car starts and runs or it doesn’t.  You’ve either succeeded or failed.  But like anything, there are so many levels of what is acceptable or what is ‘right’.  High-end, high gloss, big money Foos paint jobs or flat black spray paint applied in the hot sun in the backyard.  I’m cool with both for others, why not me?  Pop and I, we are not high end, we are ‘do the best you can do with what you’ve got’ because that is what he, and Momma, taught me.

This is a lesson.  Not one I planned on.  But as I write I’m realizing that I must stay true to my mission…which I didn’t have for this project until now.

Have fun, damn it.  Do your best, learn, be in the moment and enjoy the loving relationship you and Pop deserve to have with the added appreciation of being comforted by Momma with long warm hugs, morning chats and dinners from my childhood.  Love them both back deeply, be grateful and keep on rockin’ the rocker panels!

Here are shots throughout the rocker panel replacement process.  Please enjoy, Pop and I are very proud.

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Pre-surgery. Ensuring we’re working on Mavis’s correct side and the ‘implant’ is ready to go. It will need to be cut to size and drilled for plug welds. Note the very accurate Sharpie lines marking where we will cut the old panel out.

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Cutting out the ‘cancer’ as they call it. Back end.

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Front end.

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Cancer sucks.

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First fitting after the way too stressful first cuts.

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Inside of the panel cleaned up and rust treated.

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The front of the back wheel well area that was so bad we had to cut out most of it out and create patches. Always trying to save as much good metal as possible.

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Replacement panel after we drilled the plug weld holes.

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Woody on the torch!

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Welding in the ‘shitty’ patch, having learned my lesson.

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Plug welds done…not too bad!

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Front pre-fit a little scary.

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Back pre-fit looking good.

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Plug welds ground down and filler applied, dried and sanded.

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Front looking much better.

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This was tough as we needed to keep that horizontal seam but ‘hide’ the vertical one.

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Skim coat is the darker red.  Trying to use as little as possible.

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Front sanded, pre-paint.

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Back sanded, pre-paint.

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Prepped for paint.

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Done!

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Final back. Don’t even try to tell me you can see that vertical seam!!  

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Final front.

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Full on final shot!!

Oh shit!  I forgot to tell you about the outcome of the brake situation and Mustang Marty Miller!  It didn’t end well in terms of the brakes, but Marty’s cool.  Skip to the end of my last post to read about it.

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