Tuesday, March 19, 2013

72 Hours from Nowhere to Somewhere and Back

Last week, I went to the Grass Valley, California area to pick up my NEW CAR!!! Rick Smith (a longtime racer buddy, who now has my old Anglia race car - the "BTU") recently got a new daily driver and gave me his old one - a '98 Honda Civic (though it may be a Hyundai, or a Hyabussa, or a Dipshitsu, or something else - I have a lot to learn about modern cars). The Honda gets 50+ MPG vs the 12 MPG I'm used to with my Bi Polar Bear station wagon. My quality of life has improved by 38 MPG overnight, and those gallons don't even have to be real gas. You can probably burn urine in these things.

As luck would have it, Rick was delivering yet another car to a friend and was headed my way anyhow, so he picked me up and provided free transport to pick up my new free car! If the Big Three provided such customer service, there would be no more wars. Bottom line: Rick Smith = HERO!

Our trip to Grass Valley in Rick's pal's car (a Kia, or Lexus, or something like that) was uneventful, but for hours of adding greasy thumbprints to an enormous touch-screen, built right into the dash. We never figured out how to make it do anything, but we found it to be baffling entertainment, regardless. Picture two crusty old hippies playing a seven hour game of Pong at 70 MPH. We couldn't make the radio work, either.

                        We finally arrived at Rick's acreage at sundown and I clicked some images...

Rick worked like a dog for decades to build this place from scratch, in between electrician gigs and teaching in public schools. There was nothing but deer and trees here when he bought the property.

 Rick's new driver, parked in front of his house. I think the car is a Toyota Hybrid, whatever that is. It also has the Jumbotronic touch screen (with a full menu of beeps, bongs and blips), which is apparently impossible to turn off - very distracting while navigating rural twisties at warp speed. It has an engine, but it only exists to sporadically charge the battery pack. Bizarre.

                                      The garage, where I finally saw Rick's latest project...

Although Rick has built and enjoyed many a fine hot rod over the years, he always yearned for a car like the ones that people dropped off at his dad's wrecking yard, where Rick grew up. He picked up this veteran '33 coupe with unknown history and is now building a tribute to the cars that once spun his adolescent crank. The body was crudely chopped and gas welded together at some stage in its journey. Rick gets giddy just talking about it. He's having an absolute blast in this garage!

The following morning, we hit the local gearhead circuit to nab photos for various projects I'm working on. Here's some out takes of the day's adventures. I'm withholding hard data (and the best shots) until I know whether or not there's any money in these stories.

Our first stop was at Ken Stephens' shop. That's Ken in the top photo. The chassis is for a lucky customer's '35 Ford pickup. This guy has serious skills.
Ken won the weekend's Best Engine Stand award with this gem, which he even demonstrated for us. The Duntov 30-30 cam in this crate 350 sings a sweet song. Hopefully, Ken's neighbors are music fans.

Ken built all of the above '32s, and we couldn't find a single inch in any of them that wasn't worked to 100% perfection.  Ken hides plenty of clever trickery in each car to discover, too.

Okay, this Model A isn't quite finished to the above standards. But then, Ken didn't build it. Yet.

Mr. and Mrs. Bob Duncan were our next hosts. You might not recognize Bob here without his trademark black top hat. He's a regular on the salt, usually with the Buzzards Race Team '34 coupe.

But we came to see Bob's Willys pickup, captured here in winter hibernation mode. Bob's dad ran the old Duncan and Shores Willys A/Gas coupe, before they switched to the ex-Chuck Finders' pickup. When Bob found this truck in Ohio and discovered it was also a Finders (1980ish) build, he pounced on it and built a tribute to dad's rig. This one hammers both street and strip. Hard.

Glory-days leftovers.

We hit Bill Brothen's place just as he was formalizing plans to drive his '34 (with '33 door tops) to Bonneville. I can't wait to shoot this sano streeter with the Buzzards' nearly identical race version (now fortified with Hemi power) on the salt. Yes, Bill's a Buzzard, too. Membership is apparently a prerequisite for Grass Valley citizenship.

While we drooled on Brothen's tin, Bob Duncan rolled up in his driver. The '57 Ranchero does tow duty for the Buzzards. We were invited to stick around for some roadster guys who were enroute, but as you can see, the shadows were growing.

We walked in on Craig Wallace to find him doing that voodoo that he do. It's my understanding that Wallace did the body and paint chores on every one of the above cars (all steel, like the Deuce 3-window on the rotisserie), and I know he's done a zillion others. His work has been renowned for decades. But that isn't what he's most famous for...

Wallace built this A-bone tudor to win and it's one obedient sedan. He had already been a hero to me, way before we met and kicked off a dragstrip friendship, several years ago. I was even lucky enough to tag along for part of Craig's dominating Championship streak, and I still proudly wear the hat to prove it. Wallace has taught me more about racing than anyone. And I know he's sandbagging...

Some of Wallace's street cars. He builds them from scratch, alone - except for the late model ('56) Ford, which was a father-son build. Craig and wife Stephanie hit the road in style, as time allows.

For a fitting finale, we checked in at Paul and Shelley Andersen's, to help install the freshly painted hood (squirted by you-know-who) on Paul's '39 Ford sedan-convertible (yeah, that's a real thing - look it up). Paul takes some flack for the length of the build, but the wait will be so worth it! Shop photos don't do it justice at all. This thing is definitely studio worthy.

After such a grueling day, Rick's couch was beckoning to me. But of course, we stayed up all night jamming and bench racing, instead.

And now, the moment you've all been waiting for! Ladies and gentlemen: Behold the 1998 Honda Civic LX!!! This magnificent machine has over a quarter million miles on it and is still tight as a drum, thanks to Rick's strict adherence to an anal retentive maintenance schedule.

                                              That name again: Rick Smith. Badass Hot Rod Hero.

Upon waking, I poured $24 of bargain-basement rotgut gas into the Honda and headed north to the Pacific Wonderland. Six hours later, I arrived home with a quarter tank still showing on the gauge! I can get used to this. Bonus: Nothing is stealthier than a silver Honda 4-door. I'm the Invisible Man. Nice.

One-handed tourist snapshots, taken at speed (by professional driver/photographer on closed course, of course).

I used up the remainder of the week searching for shelter, but finding none. It's still rest area parking spaces for me - which means no electricity, and therefore, no work getting done on my many writing assignments (This blog entry is being typed on a friend's computer, in a big sweaty hurry). But I did manage to get in some more work on the recording project at James Drive Studio and a bit of labor on the Model A project at Custom Metal...

Now Rob and I are down to the tedious job of mixing the album. There have been some long nights lately, but at least I have some excellent second-rate reading material ("Elapsed Times" is Car Craft's Hot Rod Deluxe knock-off. But it's a riotous good showcase for my favorite writers. Ro McGonegal is the Editor, so you know it's a paper party that pulls no punches).

Dr. Lockjaw and I closed up last week's framerail tapering pie-cuts, and tacked 'em down. Pay no attention to the Hemi-powered '53 Stude in the background. We'll do the finish-welding on these rails next week, then make crossmembers! I really like crossmembers!

Later this week, I have a meeting with some people regarding my new publishing company. Hopefully, next week's blog will feature some good news regarding my next step to financial independence. I'll also have some behind-the-scenes reporting on my new life as a homeless veteran in the modern age. Until then, take good care of each other and savor every moment you get.

This week's bonus shot: Scotty Fenn's gift to humankind, being towed up to the line. One of my alltime favorite images.