“I can spend an entire day in the garage and not even notice it.”
“I love to get out into the garage and just tinker with stuff all day.”
Clay Benson, Austin, Texas – ’59 Cadillac Fleetwood 60 Special
“This garage is really my sanctuary. I come here, and you know, it’s my therapy. It’s sort of meditative, but when I’m out here, nothing else matters, and the world drifts away.”
Mark Scott, Valente, Texas – 1927 Scott Flying Squirrel, motorcycle
“The secret of happiness is this: Let your interests be as wide as possible, and let your reactions to the things and persons that interest you be as far as possible friendly rather than hostile. The world is vast and our own powers are limited. If all our happiness is bound up entirely in our personal circumstances it is difficult not to demand of life more than it has to give. And to demand too much is the surest way of getting even less than is possible. The man who can forget his worries by means of a genuine interest in, say, gardening, or the life history of stars, will find that, when he returns from his excursion into the impersonal world, he has acquired a poise and calm which enable him to deal with his worries in the best way, and he will in the meantime have experienced a genuine even if temporary happiness.” – Bertrand Russell
I was never a mechanic or a carpenter. But I loved to tinker with both. As a bad mechanic, I could change out starters, spark plugs, generators, fuel pumps and radiators, but that’s about it. And that turned out to be enough, as I learned some valuable lessons under a few of my old cars and trucks. One, that when I was working on them, I wasn’t thinking about anything else… and that felt good. Two, I was actually fixing something, usually making it better, and sometimes putting my personal stamp on it. And that also felt good!
I must have somehow subconsciously remembered all that when I retired and moved back to my Montana cabin. I had visited it and stayed in it from time to time over the years, but had rented it out several times, and it had changed. I remember one of my high school friends, Laurel McAtee, writing me about my cabin… “It looks pretty rough these days. If you’re thinking about moving back, you better roll up your sleeves.”
Laurel was right, but it was okay. I was so damned happy to finally be back home, I did roll up my sleeves. It didn’t take long to get the cabin back to its former self, with a few necessary changes. When the cabin was right, I started on the big garage. There had never been a door on it, and the boxes I had brought with me were all piled in there… and covered with new snow. Yeah, Laurel, I needed to keep those sleeves rolled up!
For starters I hauled all the boxes of my stuff to an upstairs storage room in the cabin. Next I sent all the boxes of my son’s stuff to him in California. I made 3 or 4 trips to the dump with all kinds of crap that was useless… everything from an old washing machine to a couple of tires and several large containers of old clothes.
Finally I had some breathing room in there, and slowly began to figure out that I now had my own garage! A garage and workshop, a space of my own to do whatever the hell I wanted to do with it! Pretty exciting stuff for a retired musician!
I moved a little table from the cabin living room to the garage. It became my new workbench. I brought a little metal outdoor chair into the garage, set it right in the middle of the floor, sat down in it and had a beer, little knowing I would spend quite a bit of time in that little chair in the next five years. Sitting there and looking around, I started to get a sense of what this garage might become.
I began bringing scrap wood to the garage and stacking it along the far wall. I knew that at some point this garage was going to need a front door, and I decided I could build it. I found an old cabinet at the dump and brought it back up to the garage and filled it with miscellaneous tools and tool kits. I needed to keep my wood scraps, but they were in the way for my plan, so I began building a long hanging shelf from the rafters that would hold my wood. It took some time and some beers, but I got it done, and it held all the wood up and out of the way.
I built a few more shelves and began putting my tools around where they would be most handy. Bought a new fridge for the cabin and put the old one in the garage for beer and snacks, with room in the freezer for extra fish. I bought five work lights at the Ennis hardware store and put them around the garage in the places that needed extra light. A few slabs of pegboard around the walls gave me plenty of room to begin hanging the tools up where I could see them and access them. It was starting to look like a real workshop!
The more I piddled around out there in my “new” garage, the more confident I became with the little woodworking projects. During my second year back in Montana I bought a used 4-wheeler, then a used snowmobile, then a second one. Now I really needed a front door! Took me three days to build it, one to put it together and two more days to hang it… took me three attempts to finally get it hung properly. I found that door-hanging is a definite skill unto itself.
I was putting a latch and a lock on my new door when my pal, Roger Williams drove up and got out to take a look at my new door. “Where’d you get that?” He frowned.
“I built it!” I said proudly.
Now he began smiling. “Really?! Think it’ll work?”
I knew he was jabbing me. “Hell yes it’ll work, I know how to build shit!”
“Yes,” he smirked. “Your carpentry skills are legendary…”
The Battery Shelf
My garage became a work in progress over the next several years. I built a special stand for my battery chargers, and some rolling wooden mats to put my snowmobiles on so I could move them around the garage easily. Then I built another shelf hanging from the rafters that could hold and store the two kayaks I’d purchased. Every time I thought the garage was finally finished, something else would come up and I’d have to add it or find a place for it. I crammed all my toys in there just to see if they would all fit, and they did!
Betty Johnson, my B, thought I needed a couple of signs to finish off the walls, and she bought me a few. Turned out they were just right, and touched off my sanctuary with levity and atmosphere. I especially like “My garage, my rules!”
About three years later it actually was finished… except for one thing. It had car signs hung up, hubcaps and old license plates on the walls, now it needed a few requisite “girlie” pictures or posters to complete the place. A bachelor’s man cave had to have pinups on the wall, right? And I was in luck. The Bale Of hay Saloon, our favorite bar downtown, had girlie pics in the mens’ room. When they closed down at the end of the summer season, they let me take two of the hotties for my new garage. The two fine ladies who owned the bar then said, “Sure, Stevie. Take what you want, we’ll have new ones next summer.” And with that, they gave each other a little wink. Yeah, ladies, I know… I’m just a guy. But the pics looked great in the garage!
A bitter-sweet memory now, my garage. But the memory always brings a smile, a smile for the seemingly endless days of piddling and frittering away those Montana afternoons. Over those six years my garage took on a personality of its own, and in my memory today, it remains as an old and trusted friend that I finally had to leave. I still miss it, and probably always will.
2 Replies to “A Sanctuary”
Such a cool story. And informative! Cool take on the “man cave.” Sheds light on my dad, his interests and his tinkering. He too was a Bertrand Russell fan. And also my partner, Martín, who took up pottery and recently built his own studio. Thanks, Steve! I remain your big fan, ~ Martha
Wonderful story! I throughly enjoyed reading it this lovely morning while sitting in my garden. My garden and my pup are my sources for the kind of joy you found in the garage. Thanks for the good vibes. ( By the way, did you take your signs etc. with you?)