Thursday, September 30, 2010

Bits of Metal: Part One

I have always been fascinated by metal.

These days, that might imply an interest in what some people call music, but I am referring to the substance, not the genre. I'm talking about steel.

Not just steel. I routinely pick up bits of metal from the sidewalk: wires, pins, springs, washers, tags, and many other things I have never identified. Many of these things fall off backpacks and clothing, but I also find a lot of earrings and pieces of jewelry that have broken or fallen off. Of course, I find a lot of coins, and I have no hesitation about stopping to pick up a penny--heads up or not--even if it isn't worth the time to some people, it is to me.

But my real fascination is not with coins or random bits of metal on the sidewalk. It's with steel. More specifically, automotive steel.

Admittedly, it didn't start with cars. It started with the metal itself. My first bit of metal was a tricycle when we lived in Abilene. It was no different than most trikes today: red and white with a red metal seat and red and white streamer flowing from the ends of the handlebars. I cannot count the number of times that I 'fixed' that trike. Every day it seems I had to turn it over and do some 'maintenance,' even if that merely consisted of looking at the wheel while turning the pedal with my hand. I guess I managed to take the handlebars off, but I really can't remember.

I do remember my actually working on my bicycle in San Antonio, where we moved from Abilene in 1967. Here we lived in an apartment. I had a green 'stingray' bike, with no gears and an 'automatic' brake that worked by slamming the pedal backward. This bike was a simple machine, but I longed to 'work' on it, so I fiddled around with all the moving parts: the chain and the handlebars were all that availed themselves.

It was here, in the Seven Pines Apartments in San Antonio, that I developed the desire to work on something more than a bike. This was in south San Antonio, which at the time was a very poor neighborhood. Men would come out to work on their cars after work and all weekend, and boys like me would come out to watch them.

After school and during the weekend, I saw engines and transmissions pulled out in the white dust of the caleche parking lot. I saw oil and spark plugs and air filters changed. I saw guys doing bodywork and interior repairs. Even before I realized it, this was something I longed to do.

But I didn't get a car for a long time. I had to make do with bicycles. My first bike after moving to Austin from San Antonio was an "Orange Crate". This bike had a very small front wheel and a regular back wheel (with a knobby tire) which made it seem very much like a "chopper" in 1969 (think easy rider for kids). It had hand brakes, three gears (in the hub, not a derailleur) and was a piece of shit.

For one thing, it was hard to ride. For another, it was hard to 'work' on. Everything about it was cheap and everything about it broke. It was useless for my paper route so I tried to sell it without luck. I probably gave it away.

In high school, I bought a relatively expensive ten speed, a Raleigh Record, which I rode a lot. My best friend McDonald and I rode from 30 to 100 miles every weekend during our senior year. I rebuilt that bike several times, including the wheel hubs and crank.

By this time, I was really ready to move on, and fortunately McDonald had the means: an Austin Healy convertible that he bought and wanted to restore. I don't know what model and year it was not how he came by it. I do remember helping him to rebuild the engine, night after night after school we would work till we couldn't stay awake. One day we finally finished it and even managed to take it out for a drive. McDonald decided to rebuild the transmission next, and the poor Healy never woke up from the surgery.

Next: Cars of my own.


d2 said...

Did you ever help Bill?

I, on the other hand, had no interest in working on anything. Now, ironically, I'm the handyman at our house...

I do enjoy watching you and am getting a vicarious thrill with the Green Ghia!

Anonymous said...

I finally caught up with your latest blog and was impressed with your experience and interest in working on old trikes, cars, etc. Maybe that Ghia will get done after all! Will you be able to sell the well-documented description of your repair work? Now if i had known you were going to get invovled in all this metal business, I surely would have saved my welding tanks for you! CAn't rmemeber what happened to them--perhaps Tom Athey inherited them? Does Steve have stuff you can use? Love and lots of luck!