One of the things I remember about Whit, and that old Falcon, was that he and Jerry were always changing it. A different motor one month, try a different transmission the next, a constant search for a little more horsepower, or a better way to deliver it to the back wheels.
Some people look at working on cars, trucks or motorcycles as work. It is ‘work’, but for guys like us, it wasn’t so much work as it was a labor of love, of pride, of knowing you could make it just a little better than it was before you started.
Whit enlisted in the Navy a couple of years after we first met, and I’d run into him on occasion when he’d be home on leave, we’d have a beer at the Hotel and swap Navy tales, and he’d be gone again.
After his hitch was up, he and Jerry became partners in the garage. Then, when Jerry died, Whit took the place over. For the next seven or eight years whenever I’d get the urge to twist a wrench, do a little bench racing or spend a summer afternoon just hanging around someone who loved cars as much as I did, you could find me around the garage.
I remember one summer Whit had an old Ford pickup we called ‘Big Orange’. It sort of ‘belonged’ to the garage, and had seen at least one previous restoration. By now though years of being the ‘shop truck’ and plowing driveways each winter had taken its toll and the old girl was pretty tired.
At the time, I had an older Chevy Blazer that was also in need of some LC and a new paint job. In typical fashion, Whit and I worked out a ‘deal’, if I’d square up his truck and paint it, I could use his shop evenings to do mine as well.
For the next month or so, every night, and on the weekends we’d thrash on those two trucks. I don’t remember how much welding wire, brass rod, hammers, dollies, beer and ‘Bondo’ we used, but it was a lot! Slowly though, both trucks began to take shape. We painted his truck first, and as was typical on a Saturday afternoon we had quite an audience. In the middle of the paint job, someone (I think it was Greg’s girlfriend) hooked a shop-vac to the same outlet my (breathing) air compressor was plugged into… I can tell you this, it’s a strange sensation to suddenly not have enough air to breathe!
The paint job turned out sweet though, so sweet, that the owner of the local paint shop offered me a job squirting cars when we were finished. Seems he couldn’t believe it had been several years since I’d actually painted anything, and had not had a ‘booth’ to paint in. I didn’t have the heart to tell him I’d never had the luxury of a booth!
I think what I remember most of all though is that both Whit, and I, thought Collins’ would have been proud of his old truck when we finished.
When Whit’s daughter Brittany was born, he asked me to be her godfather. To this day, she’s my only goddaughter, and I still remember how honored I was he’d asked. I knew he asked because he felt that if needed, I’d step up and be there for her. I would have. Fortunately for all concerned he’s still with us, doing fine and so is she!
I still talk to, or email Whit from time to time. We exchange pictures and stories about what’s going on in our lives. We always talk of trying to find a way to get together and just have a little fun! The last I spoke with him he was excited, you see he’s converted a garage at his house into a shop, and is now doing a few ‘side jobs’. He’s found the fun in the process again; he’s excited about turning a wrench again. It was wonderful to hear that in his voice.
You see, so have I. I’ve turned my garage into a small auto shop, not for commercial work, but for those projects I want to do. Currently I’ve got an old Chevy pickup torn down to the frame, and I’m preparing to slowly put her back together for my wife. She’s going to have the sharpest ’78 Silverado in North Carolina when I’m done and one of the quickest too!
I have a hundred stories about Whit, I picked this one because the memory of that summer, the sweat, busted knuckles, frustrations, laughs and the eventual pride in a job well done is still very vivid in my mind. It captures the essence of how I view him. He’s a man that takes great pride in his work, his family and his friends.
The lesson in all of this for me has been:
Again, thanks for reading. As always I welcome your thoughts and comments.