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2018, Jul - Aug

GARAGE STORIES 

By Lois Grace

What’s in your garage?

Amid the chaos, a home to vehicular gems and memories

As I hit the remote and the door goes up, I’m struck by just how much stuff one can cram in such a space. There are plastic storage bins on the floor. Two bicycles hang from hooks on the ceiling on one side. Shelves line both sides of this big, rectangular room, and all the shelves are full of boxes. Treasures and trinkets are everywhere. 

At one time, two motocross dirt bikes sat on the floor next to the shelves. A work bench sits at the rear of the room, on one side, and is stacked high with tools and coffee cans full of things and a radio with stereo speakers. Zip-up portable “closets” are arranged here and there. A shiny galvanized garbage can is placed next to the door to the house — it contains dog food. You can’t see the washer and dryer due to all the boxes and bins stacked on the floor near them, but they are there. 

And, in the middle of all this grand chaos sits a vehicle that has ruled my life for more than 50 years: a shiny blue 1959 VW Single Cab pickup named Vernon. 

I am describing our garage, of course. And I say “our” only because Rob’s name is on the house deed as well as mine, but none of his stuff lives inside unless you want to count the floor jack I gave him for Christmas several years ago and the case of oil that belongs to our Dodge Ram pickup. Really, just about everything in there is mine, including the roll-around tool cart and the tools within. They WERE his but he doesn’t use them anymore so I got ownership by default. 

Rob’s been remarkably gracious about all this, he really has. The only car that ever lived inside the garage that was even part his was our Saab. And the poor Saab got evicted as soon as the newly restored Vernon came home in 1989. 

A garage is a wondrous thing. It sometimes holds (as in my case) the most precious things I own. Nearly every other garage on our street in San Jose is nothing like mine. Those hold the debris of life; boxes and furniture and junk that don’t fit in the house. But those garages don’t shelter vehicles. In the house I grew up in, Mom and Dad always put the cars inside the garage. Of course, a few were always parked in the driveway too. With a family of six, there was never enough parking inside for all of us. 

Then there was the travel trailer and, later, the motorhome, both of which were parked in the back yard along with my older brother’s defunct Model A and several tiny Crosleys.

I spent many happy hours with my dad in that garage, fixing things and learning stuff and generally being his question-asking shadow. That garage was where I learned how to gap a spark plug and why it was done. That garage was also where I sat behind the wheel, usually in Vernon, while Dad primed the carb on a newly rebuilt engine. 

I turned the key and would hear the engine roar to life and consider what a miracle it was to think that just a few weeks before, that engine was nothing more than a pile of parts, and now it was sitting behind me purring and puffing that faint white smoke that new parts generate when they all work together for the first time. 

Mom would stand in the doorway clapping  and shouting “it’s alive!” while Dad would fiddle and fuss and goose the throttle. And this new-engine-starting event would happen just like this, every single time Vernon got a new motor (which was quite frequently in those days). What fun! What memories!

When Rob and I bought this house, it wasn’t even built yet. I’d go to the site a couple times every week and take photos of our new residence going up. The best part of the house, to me, was the garage. I had plans to make lots of happy memories in that space with my cars. And, when we moved in, that’s exactly what I did. Before we ever moved in, two cars found shelter there, and then we moved in around them. It was a nice house, but we thought we would eventually outgrow it and be gone to bigger locales.

Forty years later, we are still here. Having run out of space and outgrown the house 35 years ago, we stayed put because our families were all here. Not wanting to move too far away from elderly parents or our friends, we stayed put. The wild West Coast real estate market kept us here also, as we couldn’t buy anything nearly as perfect for us as this place. 

And, oh, the memories in this garage! In addition to Vernon, we had other vehicles that were at times both precious and irritating as hell. And thus the Garage Stories were born:

 • Rob was changing the oil on our 1978 Saab when the oil filter wrench ripped the bottom 

half of the filter nearly completely off. Oil spewed out, all over Rob and the floor … and he still didn’t lose his cool. He got the biggest screwdriver he had and shoved it through the remains of the filter, horizontally. That gave him a handle to twist with. Brilliant, right? 

Well, I thought so but all it did was remove the remains of the filter completely. It was about that time that I was doing something in the kitchen and heard a voice screaming obscenities at the Saab. I opened the door to the garage slowly to see a giant screwdriver come flying past my head and landing handle-deep in the drywall.  The Saab went to a new home years ago, a fact Rob celebrates and one I regret.

• We have had lots of VW fun in that garage too. In the late ’80s, our VW club had a tech session in there. One member brought her Bug, and the rest of us learned how to replace the rubber seals on the windows. I think one guy even did the scrapers on the driver’s door. We spent one Sunday afternoon sharing lunch, trading tips and learning that our cars weren’t nearly as intimidating as we thought. 

• Then, there was the time before Vernon was restored, and I was obsessed with stopping the little bits of rust he had. I bought a bottle of something called “Rust Mort,” as it had been recommended by a colleague to be the restorer’s Best Friend when it came to dealing with rust. 

Now, I’m not sure exactly what is IN Rust Mort that allows it to do this, but when it contacts rust it will convert it through some chemical process into a black metal-like substance. That sounded like the kind of magic I could do myself! 

I decided to start with the doors on my Single Cab and stripped them down to bare metal so the Rust Mort could do its thing. I was specifically focused on the inside of the door frame, as the drain holes on the bottom of the channel had been plugged up for many years and the rust seemed a little too comfy in there. 

I poured a liberal amount of Rust Mort into the channel and waited for the magic to begin. (I had taped off the newly opened drain holes already.) Sure enough, the liquid began to fizz. I was thrilled! If a little Rust Mort could do this, imagine how fast and thorough more would be! I reached around to grab the bottle and but knocked it over. Of course, the caustic stuff splattered all over everything, including my ’69 ORIGINAL PAINT Beetle parked next to Vernon! 

I ran to grab a towel and watched in horror as the Rust Mort (not caring what it ate through) began to fizz on Bogie’s fender. Thinking a towel wouldn’t be enough I sprinted outside for the garden hose, and it was right about then that I noticed my legs were starting to burn. No time for that right now, I needed to get the vile stuff off my Beetle’s fender! 

I hosed down everything within slopping distance from the bottle on Vernon’s bed and then, right inside the open garage door, I peeled off my wet jeans and hosed myself down. By this time my skin was a bright red, and my neighbor across the street had stopped his mower and was staring at me curiously. I stood there with the hose watering everything in the garage and waved at him. 

• One truly terrifying episode in 1989 featured the biggest earthquake we had ever felt in the San Jose area. The Loma Prieta earthquake struck us just after Vernon had returned from his second stay at the body shop for restoration work. We were soon to remove the engine for detailing and resto work and had taken his shiny, newly painted rear bumper off for that job. 

Meanwhile, I had taken all four of his original wheels to the paint shop to be refinished. Vern himself was perched on four jack stands, and that rear bumper was safely tucked under his rear end. After the shaking stopped (30 seconds that seemed like hours), I crawled out to the door that led to the garage to survey what I was sure was Vernon and Bogie’s demise. 

The noises that came from that room during the quake were truly frightening. To my great relief, both looked fine but I noticed a strange list to Vernon’s port side: his rear was suspiciously low. With the power out, I grabbed a flashlight and discovered that Vernon’s rump was sitting squarely on top of his new bumper. 

The quake had literally thrown his back half up into the air far enough to release the jack stands and when he came down again, the bumper broke his fall. Unfortunately, the new bumper was broken but at least my truck was safe. That was singularly the most terrifying event of my life, but it all worked out just fine. It’s only money, right?

• I am remembering, too, the time we got a new fridge and had the ice maker hooked up, which led to a leak, which led to a strange consistent wet spot on Bogie’s hood (our water heater is in the garage and the pipes go above the cars), which led to a lot of loud complaining and frustrating bursts of emotion, which led to both Rob and I finally looking UP to see wet drywall above my Beetle. 

All is well now, but suffice it to say that more swearing was done when the drywall all had to be sawed apart and then replaced to repair the offending leak. Ah, the joys of home ownership.

So many memories! Some scary, some funny, but all of them precious. For these reasons and so many others, I will never understand why the garage is oftentimes the most ignored and overlooked room in the house. 

So … what’s in YOUR garage? Maybe a treasured old vintage vehicle with family history. Baby clothes and toys in boxes belonging to your adult children, now with children of their own. Perhaps trinkets of your own childhood, toys that were special to you or things you are proud of. 

Whatever it is, I guarantee you also have lots of stories to relish. 

Lois Grace | vlkswmn@sbcglobal.net

ALSO IN THIS ISSUE:

  • MORE SCANDAL FALLOUT:  A former CEO is the latest VW executive to be indicted.
  • AUDI SQ5: Want a bolder Audi Q5? Consider the SQ5. It’s stuffed.
  • VWCLUB.ORG: More tips on making the most of your VWCA membership.
  • THE LITTLE TRAVELER: In a story for kids (and adults), a Beetle has a long, storied life.

PLUS OUR REGULAR COLUMNS AND FEATURES:

  • Driver's Seat - VW news & views by Cliff Leppke
  • Frontdriver – Richard G. Van Treuren
  • Small Talk - VW and Audi news - quickly
  • Retro Autoist - From the archives
  • Parting Shot - Photo feature
  • Local Volks Scene - A snapshot of local chapter activities
  • VW Toon-ups - Cartoon feature by Tom Janiszewski

LOGGED-IN MEMBERS CAN SEE THE ENTIRE AUTOIST ISSUE BY CLICKING ON THE COVER PHOTO ABOVE.

 

 

Autoist Archive

Jul-Aug | 2018
GARAGE STORIES

Gus the GTI, his battery low, is on the outside looking in when it comes to spending time in Lois Grace's garage.

 

May-Jun | 2018
GTI AUTOBAHN: VW's latest version is a shopping cart full of enjoymant

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Mar-May | 2018
ARTEON: VW introduces its stylish replacement for the CC model.

Volkswagen’s attention to detail is notable in its new Arteon sedan, which made its debut at the Chicago Auto Show.

 

Jan-Feb | 2018
ONCE A PRINCE, NOW A KING?

Volkswagen has upped the ante by inflating the 2018 Tiguan to almost mid-size capacity. Is it fit for a king?

 

Nov-Dec | 2017
FLAMING GOOD TIME

Hundreds of VWs of every stripe gathered at Foster Park in Kokomo, Ind. for the annual Oktoberfest.

 

Sep-Oct | 2017
62nd VWCA Convention Wrap-up

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Jul-Aug | 2017
Back To The Future Car

Cliff Leppke's 1983 Scirocco has notched its share of more than 333,000 miles in trips to Road America in Wisconsin. The latest covered about 3,000 miles during a whirlwind vacation excursion.

 

May-Jun | 2017
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Augustino's will get members rocking while the NIVA Club will roll out another lineup of VWs at its annual BugFest, part of the VWCA Convention in St. Charles, Ill.

 

Mar-Apr | 2017
Will VW See The Light?

VW once again evokes the memory of the beloved Microbus with its new concept called I.D. Buzz, which created quite a stir at the annual auto show in Detroit. (Photos by Tom Janiszewski)

 

Jan-Feb | 2017
Costly Mistake?

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Nov-Dec | 2016
WATTS OF FUN . . . . . . Meet the new e-Golf

Here's the car that, when you give it a charge, you'll get one back. In VW's first important pivot from its diesel scandal, the e-Golf provides an opening salvo in the carmaker's goal to electrify its fleet.

 

Sep-Oct | 2016
61st Annual Convention

What's an anniversary without a cake? This one didn't go far or last long as Club members enjoyed a variety of activities, including a Sunday car show and picnic, part of the 61st Annual Convention.

 

Jul-Aug | 2016
It's Time To Show Off

A couple of Karmann Ghias are resplendent at the Michigan Vintage VW Club's Festival in Ypsilanti, Mich.  The club held its 29th event in May, while Mid America Motorworks in Effingham, Ill., saluted the air-cooled crowd with a big show in June.

 

May-Jun | 2016
Windfall for TDI owners?

The scam was on as early as 2008, when this Candy White Jetta TDI Clean Diesel model, embellished with green plant matter, was rolled out.  In case anyone had a doubt, VW added the wording "Not a concept car."

 

Mar-Apr | 2016
Lost In Translation

VW CEO Mattias Mueller was in the hot glare of media lights at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, providing the company's latest response to the diesel emissions scandal.

 

Jan-Feb | 2016
VW's Game Plan

VW remains embroiled in a high-stakes game involving government agencies  and hundreds of thousands of owners of diesel models. The company's car on the road of Life has taken a big detour.

 

Nov-Dec | 2015
Engine with a split personality puts VW on the hot seat

The news in September was beyond belief for many VW and TDI enthusiasts: Volkswagen executives admitted that the company intentionally produced cars that violated clean-air laws.

 

Sep-Oct | 2015
Big bites of fun at the 60th VWCA Convention

Doug Narczewshi from Spring Valley, IL, looks over an assortment of water-cooled VWs on display at NIVA's Bug Fest event, part of the 60th VWCA Convention in suburban Chicago.

 

Jul-Aug | 2015
1969 Beetle gets a second chance to adorn the silver screen

Crew members working on the film "The Good Blonde" prepare for a shot on the California coast involving a 1969 Beetle owned by VWCA member and correspondent Lois Grace.

 

May-Jun | 2015
My Mom, the Daredevil

Around 1960, Cliff Leppke had no idea what was in store for him while being ferried about by his mother. Needless to say, his head was up and his eyes were open.

 

Mar-Apr | 2015
It's Show Time!

The Northeast Illinois Volkswagen Association has an activity-packed weekend planned for the 60th VWCA Convention in suburban Chicago.

 

Jan-Feb | 2015
Diesel Memories

Jack Pavie of suburban Philadelphia had to wait several months to get his 1975 Rabbit diesel, one of three models he enjoyed in the '70s and '80s.

 

Nov-Dec | 2014
Golf Lessons: Three new models charge up hatchback lineup

The scene at the Salamander Resort in Middleburg, Va., where Cliff Leppke and other media members ran the 2015 Volkswagens through their paces.

 

Sep-Oct | 2014
Having fun with miles per gallon

A morning commute for a 2012 Golf TDI has become a test on how high the fuel mileage will end up. It hit a high mark in July.

 

Jul-Aug | 2014
2014 VWCA Convention: Wagons, wagens and more - where the buffalo roam

In the VWCA's 59 years of Conventions, the setting in Hudson, Mich. was unique. Just ask VWCA's Tom Janiszewski, the guy driving the orange 1974 Camper.

 

May-Jun | 2014
New Beetle milestone: Though this 1999 model has shown it's flaws over 15 years and 90,000 miles, it's been a blast to drive

May 25 marks the 15th anniversary of my family's New Beetle ownership experience. It was on that day in 1999 that we took delivery of a brand new red GLS model from Kempthorn Volkswagen in Canton, Ohio.

 

Mar-Apr | 2014
Dune buggy with a twist at the Detroit Auto Show

There's a saying that everything old is new again, and since the New Beetle's production debut in 1998, that has been the car's underlying theme.

 

Jan-Feb | 2014
Back At The Ranch

At northern California getaway, Vernon and his family found plenty of ways to enjoy life