14 August 2007

Gunner's Great Garages 7

John Sloane’s garage is his “work” shop. Most of us work all day and rush home at 5 p.m. so we can tinker with collector cars in our home garage. John does just the opposite. He is a Product Specialist at The Eastwood Company in Pottstown, Pa. The biggest part of his job is tinkering with collector cars in the garage at work. He spends so much time there, they call it “John Sloane’s Garage” even though Eastwood technically owns it.

Eastwood has a long history of selling specialty tools and products to “shade tree” automotive restorers. When the company moved from Malvern, Pa. to Pottstown, owner Curt Strohacker figured it was time to build John Sloane a “dream garage” so that he could tinker on the best of them with the best of them.

Although Eastwood once had an Automobilia Department, the garage that John Sloane created is not a dressy one decorated with signs and posters and toys. Instead, John told Curt that what he really needed was enough room to work on collector cars (some of which can be quite large), additional room for tools and equipment, neat and functional shop furniture so his jobs could be photographed for books and catalog covers and good lighting to help with photography and video production (as well as to make the restoration projects easier to see).

The sturdy wooden work benches in John’s garage at Eastwood headquarters appear to have been locally-constructed just for him. The wood they are made of is unfinished, but it is real wood that can support heavy items, like large body parts and old engine blocks.

John‘s garage at Eastwood actually has two separate rooms. One is set up to function as an R & D (Research and Development) department where new tools and products can be put to the test under “real-life” conditions. There is a work bench near the center of this room that uses 4 x 4s as its legs and has upper and lower 4 x 8 plywood sheets. The upper sheet of plywood serves as the workbench surface and the lower one helps create a roomy storage area. The top surface also holds a vise and a small lathe.

Against the wall behind the bench is another workbench of slightly lighter-weight design. It is also made of plywood. Shelves and storage spaces are built into it, below the bench top. Various hand and power tools are kept in the storage spaces. There’s a small drill press on the bench. Other tools from face shields to C-Clamps are mounted on white pegboard on the wall behind the bench. For safety there’s a fire extinguisher and a phone that can be used to call for help.

Additional tools are kept in a standard red, rolling, double-deck, 20-drawer tool chest and cabinet. The R & D section of John’s garage is also equipped with a hydraulic press and a metal panel-rolling machine. The concrete floor is finished in an oil-resistant gray epoxy. The walls are painted white, which makes the “garage” look even bigger and brighter. The only decorations are two calendar pictures of cars — a red ’57 Chevy and a turquoise late-‘50s Corvette. (And we always thought John Sloane was an MG fan!)

The R & D room also holds an Expandable Walk-in Oven for a powder coating system, which is a type of restoration aid that Eastwood pioneered. The company markets powder coating systems that range from small units with standard guns and infrared heating lamps to large setups with professional type spray guns and walk-in curing ovens. If you haven’t figured it out yet, John Sloane has some neat “toys” to play with in his great garage.

As mentioned, John’s Eastwood garage also has a second room, and this one is set up for actually doing hands-on restoration work on a vehicle. At one end, there is a large overhead door that permits all different sizes of vehicles to be driven inside. The shop also contains tools and supplies for doing regular body work, plus a metal shrinker and stretcher, a tubing bender, a planishing hammer and an English wheel — a quartet of sheet-metal fabricating machines that any hobbyist would love to have in his or her garage.

As if to prove that he doesn’t just sit around his garage all day singing, “Oooohhh, what a lucky man I am!” John offered to demonstrate the use of a bulls-eye pick to straighten metal with accuracy. He went outside, quickly removed a front fender from his own MG Midget, and brought it into the R & D section of the garage to show us how to use this handy, low-cost (about $75) specialty tool. He purposely punched a little ding into the sheet metal, then used the tool (which looks like a long ice pick) to remove the ding in a minute or two.

John was careful not to use the pick on Curt Strohacker’s maroon MG TD roadster that happened to be in the shop the same day. Curt explained that some work on the fully-restored car had been done right there in John Sloane’s garage. As Curt put it, “When I built this garage I gave John a great place to work, so I figured I’d better bring him a great car to work on.”

The work shop had plenty of room inside for such a small car and the sealed concrete floor was protected from those inevitable oil drops that MG owners talk about all day on their Internet newsgroup. In short, we’d say that John Sloane has a great garage right there at work. No wonder he arrives to his job on the early side almost every morning.

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