A Brief History of the Man Cave

Is there a history of “the man cave?” Probably not, so let’s try to write one.
We’ll make one up, okay? Because everyone knows about man caves, what
they are… but dare we ask why they are? Sure! The man cave can be a most
necessary item, depending, of course, upon the man, and his needs. Generally
speaking, guys want/need to have time to themselves, to work by themselves,
to watch sports that most of their mates aren’t interested in. The further truth
of that is that we need a place to sneak a drink or two, get away from our daily
responsibilities, or even to just have some quiet time to mull things over,
figure things out.

I’ve never had a man cave, never wanted one, mostly because I’ve always
had something better… a shop! That’s right, a shop in the garage! The shop,
often in a garage, is the precursor to the man cave.

Man Caves I Have Known

The best shops, in my estimation, are spaces dedicated to building, repairing,
designing… creative spaces that hold the tools the owner uses well and is
comfortable with. I’ve been in a dozen or so that had their own special
atmosphere, a quiet, creative ambiance that whispered to me of a special
place, with a special purpose. Jack Waller’s woodworking shop was like that.

Jack’s shop was in a fairly small shed in his back yard. There was a fantastic
pile of old wood and pieces of bare branches and small tress piled outside,
all waiting for Jack’s time and imagination to transform them into one-of-a-kind
couches, chairs, tables, hat trees, end tables and lamps. Inside the shop was
a small wood-burning stove in the back and every manner of wood-working
tool you can imagine… all crowded into the small space. There was usually
no place to sit, for this was a serious work space, not a place to sit around
and shoot the bull next to the tiny stove, though I would have certainly
enjoyed that. There was enough large tools in there that often Jack had to
move things around to use the thing he needed. But man, what an ambiance.

And the smell of fresh-cut wood and exotic stains that non-woodworkers (like
me) can’t comprehend…ahhh! Heavenly smells! Jack has a new, big, open shop
now with plenty of room for all his many toys, but damn… I loved that little shop!

My Uncle Tom Jenkin had a shop in his garage in Butte… all-purpose, as I recall.
But the memorable thing about it was that he was building a boat in it, a good
sized boat, from a kit, I believe. It took up most of the garage, and was never
finished while I was around, due to the fact that Uncle Tom worked in the mines
for all those years, was usually dog-tired on the weekends, and was remodeling
the bathroom and hallway of his house at the same time. And a lot of guy shops
are like that… I bet there are unfinished projects in almost 50% of them. I know
for a fact that there is an unfinished car or truck in almost every garage that
has a shop with car tools in it.

My cabin has a nice, big 2-car garage in it. When I moved back to it in 2005,
there was no door on it and nothing of any importance. A previous renter had
moved a refrigerator into it, and it still worked. Once settled into my place, I
began looking for things to do… hobbies, activities. For awhile there was
plenty of music to do with friends. And of course, fishing and cruising the back
country. But after awhile the music died down, and the out-of-state license
plates on the cars and trucks parked in my favorite fishing spots became
depressing. Little by little I started nosing around the garage, finding
places for my tools and toys, getting peg boards up on the walls until strangely,
almost magically, my empty garage became… my new shop!

Now I must remind you that our workshops often have little or nothing to do with
our building/repairing skills. It’s usually a matter of available space, and which
tools we can actually use for any practical purpose. If building and carpentry
abilities defined how much space each of us had, I would have a small kitchen
table with a hammer, screw driver, maybe a hand saw… actually I’m a little
better than that. I inherited a bunch of good tools from my dad, and from time
to time have felt obligated to at least learn how to use many of them.
Experience builds confidence, and over the years I’ve learned to try some
things that were beyond my ability, knowing the experience would serve me
well on the next project.

And once I got started on my new shop, it was all over. I got a bunch of usable
wood from a friend and built a big overhead rack to store it. That wood inspired
me to begin building a door for the garage… my god, if my tools were going to
be in there, I better be able to close it up, right? Not being a carpenter, it took
me three tries and several weeks to get the door built and hung, but I did it.
My friend, Roger, came up one day, looked at my new door.
“What do you think?” I asked, anxiously. “Not bad, eh?”
Roger scowled. “Not bad,” he replied. “But then your carpentry skills have
always been legendary!”

Once I got a lock on the new door, the rest of my tools came out of the
packing boxes, and the garage began to take shape. I found myself out
there every day, deciding where to put things, making the space more
usable, even more inviting. Attending the closing party of my favorite bar,
The Bale Of Hay Saloon, deep on a Saturday night in September, I
somewhat drunkenly asked Katy, the owner, if I could take a couple of the
Budweiser girls that had hung in the mens’ bathroom all summer. “Sure,
take any that you want. We have a new batch for next summer.” So I did.

The Budweiser girls added a welcome atmosphere to my new shop, as did
a few of the little signs Betty gave me. In the next two years the new shop
really took shape, with cool additions such as two kayaks, two snowmobiles,
two 4-wheelers, a radio and fridge full of beer. When I added a ’59 Chevy
pickup to the new garage, it was complete! I had, accidentally, built the shop
of my dreams!

From then on I was out there every day, puttering, messing with something.
The time passed so easily, and I actually learned a lot in the process. Turning
the lights and the radio on, pulling up a chair and simply looking around was
usually enough to kick up an idea as to what to do next. As I acquired my
arsenal of toys, my 4-wheelers and sleds, I needed to store them, and have
an easy way to move them around. Snowmobiles are heavy and unwieldy, so
I figured out a way to build some dollies to move the sleds around. Then
came some shelving, two additional work benches and more storage space.
It was so much fun!

In the afternoons I would pull up a chair, crank myself a beer and just sit,
look around, enjoy whatever was on the radio and plot my next project. It
turned out to be a therapy I thought I didn’t need. but man…. did I ever need
it and did it ever work!

On one of those timeless, soft summer afternoons I was nursing a brew and
contemplating a name for my old truck. I knew she was a “she,” what who,
specifically? She had been fun to drive and to work on, but several times she
had spit up gas and oil on my clean floor, and once the hood came down and
banged me on the head. Was she for me, or against me? Who was this truck,
anyway?? About that time, a Sting song, “Roxanne” came on the radio and I
was like, “Of Course!” Roxanne, for when she was good, and Roxie, for when
she was bad. Perfect! And besides, I’ve always loved Sting…


One mans’s shop, another man’s cave…

And therein, gentle reader, lies the history of the man cave – my man cave,
anyway. My shop on the island today is very small, but still functional. We
have a small garage, and it’s used as much for storage as anything else.
Yet the shop part is enough to build and to repair, and to provide the quiet
respite I still require in my extremely busy, work-a-day world. Sigh.
Well, it sounded good, anyway…

Steve Hulse

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