The approach to the shop required passing through an iron gate in the middle of the eight foot tall wooden fence plastered with “No Trespassing” signs and at least one version of most others including “Private Property” and “Posted.” The most prominent sign was obviously home made as it used a rusted trunk lid from some type of old vehicle and had a decent drawing of a carbine along with “If you can read this you are within range.”
Once inside the fence, the shop could be seen to the far right of the property; back against the property line. The remainder of the area held a neatly arranged assortment of sedans and pickup trucks from the 30s to the 70s. A 1958 Chevrolet pickup with a broken windshield and after market side view mirrors set next to a 50’s something Ford pickup with a rusted out bed. The meat smoker slash BBQ grill was the only thing in the yard that did not have an accumulation of Alabama’s unique blend of rust, mildew and pollen.
The short concrete drive ran the full width of the large barn-like doors that were wide open and fastened against the wind with lengths of rusted chain. The first to come into view when arriving within only a few feet of the opening was the back wall nearly covered with auto license plates from all 50 states; some dating back to the 30’s and 40’s. A few odd looking plates from various countries were neatly included in the collection as well as a variety of U.S. Government tags forcing one to imagine how those might have been acquired.
The license plate collection effectively camouflaged a wall that was not the back wall of the shop as one might think but rather was the front wall of a small office from which one could escape the heat and noise of the activity in progress. Although it was a one man shop, various pieces of equipment, apparently automated, were working away. A milling machine was screaming atop what appeared to be small block Chevrolet heads and the electric hacksaw was working its way through a front axle.
Upon entering the doors, the full width and depth of the shop could be seen and the most distinctive sight was the cleanliness and organization. The faint smell of hot brake pads drifted in the air. Immediately inside the front door, to the right, stood a parts washing tub, three buckets of sand, three fire extinguishers and one of those oxygen mask that make you look like an anteater. Immediately beyond that, a black Harley Davidson FLT Tour Guide motorcycle. Running the entire length of the right side was an attached workbench; a small section of which was strewn with what looked like parts from the Rock-Ola jukebox leaning against the bench. Above the bench the entire wall was decorated with parts bins, tools hanging from peg board and a few Harley Davidson motorcycle posters.
The shop was wide enough to hold three vehicles comfortably but only the rightmost stall was occupied with a Chevrolet Blazer having heavy duty suspension components added. The center stall held one of those slow turning big fans in a homemade plywood box. The motor looked like it was turning a million miles an hour while the 48 inch fan blades turned at a much slower southern rate going whop, whop, whop; its purpose being to blow the heat and sand in your face as you approached. No chicken wire protected the fan blades and an assortment of bird feathers and squirrel fur attested to the fact the fan was a proven critter getter.
The left side of the shop appeared to have work spaces assigned to various tasks. The first ten feet or so had a couple of test meters, hydrometers, 6 and 12 volt batteries, headlight bulbs and a couple of battery chargers with spliced and taped leads.. Lots of electric switches and wires littered the area. Beneath was a floppy plastic jug marked “sulfuric acid” and about a half dozen one gallon jugs of distilled water. Continuing down the left side, the bench had probably a half dozen carburetors; some complete but most not.
The purpose for the far end of the bench was not easy to determine. The area had an assortment of glass beakers and test tubes and a couple of those gas burners like in high school chemistry classes. The wall above had a closed cupboard and the floor beneath the bench was fully occupied with cardboard boxes and propane tanks.”
Raven felt a tap on his right shoulder, “That’s him there.” Scott pulled a bit on Raven’s shoulder, who seemed to be headed for the rear of the shop. Raven noticed the tall, lean and goateed fellow coming from behind the wall of license plates. Now that the office door was open, Raven heard music. The guy was following along with the music, singing words from Bruce Springsteen’s song ‘The River’: “I come from down in the valley. Where mister when you’re young. They bring you up to do like your daddy done. Hey there, Scott. Who’s that you got there?” “Harley, this is my friend I was telling you about, Raven.” A quick fist bump was followed with, “Hey there, Raven. You look even bigger than you do on the field. That was a pretty bad hurt y’all put on the Bobcats last night.” “Thanks, they’re usually not too much trouble.”
“Scott was telling me you got a Chevy pickup you want to put a stroker in.” “Yea, I want something fast but I want to stay with a small block.” “ You’re not planning on running shine like your grandpa are you?” asked Harley with a laugh. “No, it’s just for playing around. How do you know about my grandfather?” “Everybody around here knows about Melvin. He’s kind of a legend. And, my daddy used to buy shine from him. He had a couple of bars in Birmingham that kept him pretty busy. He had a 40 Ford with a big old Cadillac engine; almost 500 cubic inches. Seems like once in a while one of them ambulances in Birmingham would come up missing and my daddy would come up with a Cadillac engine. You going to be using plain gasoline for fuel?” “Yea, why?” “Just asking so I’ll know how you want it tuned. Some people round here use some pretty exotic mixtures depending on what they’re doing.”
Scott said, “I told him what the rules were and what you said about the price.” Looking straight into Raven’s eyes, Harley started speaking slow like a cassette tape that gets in a bind and is fixing to break, “You do understand, right? Cash only, you never met me and you don’t know where this place is. Don’t bring the truck here. We’ll take care of that and everything goes through Scott. We’ll never see each other again.”