12 December 2007

Gunner's Great Garages: Heavy Duty Hot Rodder's Heaven

Rex Evchuk, of Iola, Wisconsin, has been a serious hot rodder since he grew up in Milwaukee years ago. Later, he brought his enthusiasm for the sport to north central Wisconsin, where he established Waupaca Machine Repair, a thriving metal-fabrication business.

Professionally, Rex handles some heavy-duty projects for large foundries and mining operations. He also has a heavy-duty collection of hot rods and muscle cars and a heavy-duty garage built specifically to build and maintain such vehicles. His huge workshop building is used only for “tinkering” with the cars. He has a separate L-shaped garage to store 11 vehicles. However, his workshop is Rex’s hobby getaway.

“This is a true workshop,” said Rex. “With emphasis on the word ‘work.’ We really build hot rods from the frame up and there are a couple of oil stains and overspray marks on the floor to prove it.”

Rex points out that his shop was purposely built for working on his hobby vehicles — hot rods, muscle cars, Corvettes and Harleys. “You gotta be serious about building cars to put up a place like this,“ he said.

“And I can tell you, at night when other people are watching TV, Old Rex is going to be out in the garage working on his cars.” (Of course, there’s a TV in the garage just in case Rex needs “company.”)

To prove how serious he is about his hobby, Rex made a frame jig with posts that go four feet down into the ground, reaching below the Wisconsin frost level. “The ground may move and even the concrete floor may move a little, but any frame we build is going to be straight, square and true,” Rex pointed out. “I want my cars to track dead straight ahead and I want them to be as safe to drive as possible.”

Currently, Rex’s 60 x 110-ft. metal-walled, post-frame building, manufactured by Cleary Building Corporation, of Verona, Wisconsin, is divided into three main sections. There is a 20 x 40-ft. “small shop” that is heated all the time in the winter. It has a parts-storage loft above it.

There is a 40 x 40-ft. “large shop” which has a heating system, but is not kept warm all the time. It houses the frame jig and an in-ground hoist. Finally, there is a 60 x 70-ft. cold storage area where Rex keeps his non-hobby work vehicles and equipment. Counting the loft above the warm room, he has 3,200 sq.-ft. of space for his hobby pursuits.

The front of the building has a 12-ft. wide overhead door that leads to the small shop, which is walled off from the large shop. There’s a window for the small shop, since Rex appreciates having some natural light in all areas of his building. A service door and a larger overhead door (16-ft. wide) lead to that large shop, which has two front windows. Three restored antique gas pumps and two old-fashioned gooseneck pump lamps decorate the front of the building.

A large Mobil sign decorates the front wall of the large shop and heavy-duty restoration equipment lines both side walls. There are work benches, parts cabinets, oil drums, tire changing machines, band saws, jacks, engine stands, large grinding wheels, professional-grade hose reels, sandblasting cabinets and other machines and furniture.

More than a few of these items were purchased at repair shop or car dealer auctions and reflect many years of service in their paint scratches and dings. But they all work and they all work well. Keeping machines in good repair is a part of Rex’s lifestyle.

Rex actually has quite a bit of memorabilia decorating the large shop, including a Red Crown Gasoline sign, a traffic light, neon signs, tin signs, posters and banners. But the size of the building itself dwarfs the decorations, except for the giant Mobil sign.

One corner of the small shop holds several giant red tool chests and a matching metal workbench. A shelf full of repair manuals hangs above. Cabinets along the outer wall are dressed up with automotive decals and stickers. Also set against this wall is another grinder, a parts washer and a hydraulic press. Racks holding different gauges of electrical wire hang from the wall.

“I think every hobby shop should have a warm room that is well insulated and always kept heated,” said Rex. “That’s what I have in the small shop and it allows me to work on small projects. With the room heated all of the time, I can have a sink and running water to wash up.” Rex says he likes to keep the warm room “open in winter” so he has a place to service his modern cars.

Along the inner side wall of the large shop is a staircase that leads to the additional parts storage space in the loft above the adjoining small shop. “This setup gives me a nice clean storage room above the heated room,” says Rex. “One winter I laid out all the parts for a ’36 Ford in this storage space, with each part carefully labeled. Then, I restored the car piece by piece before assembling it downstairs. This system worked absolutely great.”

Like any car hobbyist, Rex never have “enough” space, no matter how much he has. He recently purchased a 4-post lift from another hobbyist and its sitting in his non-hobby storage area near a couple of shelving units that hold an engine block and other car parts. “I can’t do much with that lift where it is, except roll it around,” he says. “So I’m going to add another 20 x 40-ft room adjoining the small shop and this lift is going to go in there.” This just goes to prove that even a heavy-duty hot rodder’s heaven is never quite done — it’s always a work in progress.

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