Friday, April 21, 2006

Starting Young

I think I've always been interested in taking things apart, either to fix them or just to see how they work. I remember taking broken stuff like old electric razors out of dad's trash in the basement and disassembling them further just to see what was inside. When I got a bit older dad would occasionally let me use his soldering iron, and I would pick old electrical parts out of his little garbage can and solder them to leftover pieces of wire just because it looked cool. I would pretend that this thing I built could pick up radio stations or turn on lights or amplify my voice.

Legos and Tinker Toys were early favorites, but one of my most fun toys for several years was a pretty nice Erector set. I was always building something to which I could mount the electric motor that had been supplied with the set. I usually built a car, but pop helped me build a windmill for my first project.

Dad was always helping me with projects. When I got my first bike - a secondhand Schwinn Stingray - he took the wheels off and put new bearings in them. He also got me a way cool silver sparkle banana seat with orange and black stripes running the length of it (it was the 70s, after all). When they had pinewood derby races in Cub Scouts dad helped me make the most awesome cars. They were always modeled after some old 20s or 30s race car. Then, in 8th grade he helped me make a steam engine from an evaporated milk can by looking at a rough sketch I found in a book. That was too hip - just too cool for words. You lit a can of Sterno underheath it, the water heated up, and it turned a fan blade. I mean, really, how many kids in eighth grade had their own bona fide working engine that they had built themselves?!

I got my first set of tools when I got my second bike. They were handed down to me from dad's dad when he passed away. I still have them. I think they were a hardware store brand. I got a much more serious tool set when I graduated from high school - Craftsman, and it was a really decent start. I still use them all the time.

Up until my sophomore year in high school I actually wasn't all that hip to cars. Dad always owned "Old Henry," his '27 Model T Tudor Sedan, but aside from that I didn't know too much about cars. I saw lots of pictures in his books and magazines and heard lots of conversation, but it was all surface information. When I took driver's ed, I mostly just hated having to get up at 7am all summer for it. I didn't even want to go to the license branch a month after my 16th birthday to get my real license. It's not like I was going to be given a car, so I guess I didn't see what was the big deal.

Some time after I got my license my friend Jason started bringing Hot Rod magazine to school. I liked some of the older cars - the 50s and earlier stuff - but mostly I thought hot rods were junk, because pop had his dead stock T, and it seemed like the thing to do was to keep a car "just like it was," rather than "butchering" one. However, because of those magazines, I realized there were some pretty cool cars out there. I saw pictures of '57 Chevrolets, and, man, were those ever cool. I asked dad if he had any 50s car magazines, and he found a few old car review magazines from the mid- and late-50s. I read that the '56 Chevrolet could be had that year with the Power Pack option, providing the owner with a "four barrel" and "dual exhaust." Those words - they were suddenly like magic; powerful, purposeful things that evidently gave "the new 1956 Chevrolet plenty of pep on the modern highway!" Well, I had a pretty good idea of what "pep" was, and I figured it probably had something to do with gettin' rubber. And buddy, that sounded good to me. Real good. The snowball had started rolling, and from here on out there would be no stopping it.