Wax On Wax Off

Pop’s got a lot of old gear head buddies which is a great thing because not only do we have a line on parts, information, where to get our upholstery done or engine bored, but we have access to skill sets that are invaluable.  Pop’s friend Curt is a fellow bad ass and an excellent mechanic who knows how to paint cars.


Curt in his garage.

For the first four days in Kentucky we helped Curt strip, sand, prime and paint his wife’s car.  Yes, I had driven almost 1,500 miles to work on my car and painting a car is usually the last thing you do when rebuilding, but you have to grab these opportunities to learn when you can.  Besides, it was cool to meet a friend of Pop’s and Curt is a great guy who shares my affinity for the f-bomb.  Smaller in stature but strong, Curt has a slow, thick drawl and peppers his speech with sayings that crack me up.  “Well, shit the bed Fred,” was one of my favorites but it was even funnier when I thought he was saying, “Well, shit the bedspread.”  I’ll be adapting that one for myself.  Neither Pop nor Curt can hear that well and with paint masks on, compressors popping off and fans blowing, there was a lot of “WHAT?!” going on.  Curt would yell something unintelligible while spraying and Pop and I would just look at each other and shrug.

But we understood enough to learn a great deal about painting a car.  Curt’s wife Lori is a mail carrier and in these smaller towns you use your personal car to deliver.  Her white Dodge ‘Casper’ was a good car whose exterior had seen better days and Curt was taking the week to focus on the project.  The first step was to scrape any loose paint off the car which pleased me greatly.  I LOVE stuff like this.  Remove paint and stain from an old piece of furniture?  No problem.  Help you strip wallpaper?  Don’t mind if I do.  Detail clean something with a toothbrush?  Yes please.

Scrape, wet sand, tape and prime.  According to Curt I am an excellent taper, which is a good thing because after you prime, you pull the tape, wet sand again and re-tape the whole thing for the base coat.  We put on two base coats, which is the color coat, then two top coats which is the gloss.

I say ‘we’, but Curt did the spraying.  He let me try a little bit on the primer and apparently I wasn’t aggressive enough.  I think I put more paint in the air than on the car.  Pop and I are planning on painting both his Firebird and the Mav eventually.  I’m going to help him set up a paint booth in his garage and he’s already done a little spraying on his wheels.  I just can’t imagine spending weeks sanding and smoothing the car and then fucking it up within two minutes of painting it.  These are things to worry about down the road though.  I told Pop we’ll just practice on his car.

Curt’s garage was filled with all sorts of toys, current and of yesteryears.  The most recent pride and joy was Lil’ Big Rig.  Lil’ Big Rig (and it must be pronounced as such) was a 1992 Dodge D250 chassis with a ’96 model Peterbuilt cab and a ’98 Dodge dually bed.


Curt also rebuilt a 1950 FLH 1200 Harley Davidson pan shovel with a 1950 model front end and he thinks the frame was 1960 something.


Most exciting to me though, behind the garage, in a shed the American Pickers would consider a sweet, sweet honey hole, Curt had an 1967 BSA.   Brother Mathew, I have found your motorbike.  We just need to get Curt to sell it to us and we’ll fix it up.  Done!


Toys aside, Pop and I were good students and learned a great deal.  Curt ended up with a painted car and I ended up with a new friend.  Lori was thrilled and Curt was obviously proud to have been able to do this for his little lady.


Curt and Lori with Casper, refreshed.

So, onward to the Mav, right?  Wrong.  Back at the P’s the Bird was still taking up space in the garage, up on stands with no back brakes or wheels.  Pop had worked hard, but there were still more things to do to be able to move it. I’m jonesing to work on the Mav and here I’m sanding, polishing, scraping and observing instead!


I’m like, you gotta be karate kidding me.  These two old farts have been giving me the ol’ wax on wax off treatment!  But, here’s what I also did in the remaining days of that first week.  I learned how to put a gas tank on (then take it back off and put it back on), put together drum brakes, pull apart those same drum brakes and then put them together correctly, bleed brake lines and diagnose brake issues which led to replacing a master cylinder.  I can now jack an entire car up and get it on stands, take wheels off and put them on and put a car on rollers to move around a garage.  I learned a lot of the tools needed to be able to grab a 3/8 inch drive ratchet with a 6 inch extension and 1/2 inch socket when asked and how to use an impact wrench.  So when we did get the Bird on the ground and started (first try) after 6 years on stands, I was feeling pretty darn good and more than excited to get started on the Mav in week two.


Pop’s garage.  Firebird on stands, Mav waiting patiently.

Cigarettes and Diesel Fuel

One of my favorite smells is a mixture of cigarettes and diesel fuel. T’is true.  Pop drove a truck for a living and wasn’t around much when my sister and brothers and I were young.   Pop coming home was a big deal. Shit, Pop being home was a big deal. He once picked me up from the nurse’s office at school after a pre-Brownies ‘lunchbox to the head’ incident.  I hadn’t known he had come home during the day and freaked when I saw him; arms wrapped around his neck, big hugs and probably some (more) tears.  The ladies in the office must have thought I hadn’t seen him for weeks and I probably hadn’t.  When he would come home after bedtime, I remember being woken up with a rough hand on my forehead and the smell of cigarettes and diesel fuel in the room.  That was a good smell.  Pop was home, at least for a little bit.

Pop messed with cars as a kid, dropped out of high school and joined the army.  He was going to be a mechanic but ended up being a recovery and evacuation specialist.  They drove wreckers and 10 ton Dragin’ Wagons that hauled army tanks.

1963 Germany

Pop with a 10 ton M123 Tracker “Dragin’ Wagon” (844 cubic inch Leroy V8, 5 speed transmission, 2 speed transfer case) – March 1963, Germany

He had a project going on in the garage all the time that I can remember. He rebuilt a Triumph 500cc Daytona into a chopper with a Springer fork that his welding buddy Wally up the street raked at about 30 degrees.  He thinks it was a ’63 or ’64. This all I learned later, but at the time I just knew that it had a sparkly blue gas tank with two lace stripes down the center and riding on the back of it was the best thing in the world.  I was really young.  My head must have bobbed around on my little neck under the weight of the helmet, which sounds adorable, like a baby bird.  It had a tall, metal sissy bar that I’d constantly bang the helmet on when we took off due to the wobbly neck thing.  My job was to throw down the hand signals when called out, “Gimme a Ralph…gimme a Louie!”  I recently asked him why a Triumph, and he said the British bikes were popular then, Triumphs and BSA’s.  Then I asked why the chopper.  “Those were the thing man, I mean, who wanted a 500cc Triumph back then?”  Uh, me?!  He ended up selling the chopper to a buddy named John, who was an Outlaw rider in Chicago at the time.


The only known photo of the Triumph – July 1981

There were always engine parts and oily rags around.  He forever had grease under his nails and in the cracks of his big, gorilla hands that would never fully wash off.  (We used to say we were going to cut them off, polyurethane them and sell them as ashtrays.)  He’d run boat engines in a metal garbage can filled with water.  He worked on all of our cars as we got older, because he was usually the one to have found them for us.  He’d haul them back home from the rust free areas of the states.  Change the oil, tweak them, tune them, diagnose any issues, etc.  I remember him tasting stains on the driveway to determine what exactly was leaking.  Yes, safety wise, not so concerned I guess.  He seemed to always have a cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth directly over whatever engine he was working on.  You’d watch the ash get longer and longer…then he’d flick it off to the side at the last minute.

The last project car he had was the Firebird.  He got it in the 80’s and still has it.  He used to take it to the drags with his buddy who did the body work and said it could do 91mph in 15 seconds and that it was “not bad for a sleeper.” The Bird is currently completely pulled apart in his garage in Kentucky.  He has been saying he is going to get it running again for the past 10-15 years…but nothing.  I guess you could say he’s stuck.  And me, today on my 46th birthday, have to admit that I’m also a bit stuck, been feeling this way for over a year now.  Something must be done.  Hence, project ‘Pop my Ride’ has officially begun.