Few skilled tradespeople can have their cake and eat it too like mechanics. Most of the mechanics we know head home from their day job and slip out to their own garage where their “real” work begins: rebuilding car engines, working on their motorcycles and customizing their trucks.Meet Garrett Neuman
We work with thousands of mechanics across America, but Garrett Neuman is special. Garrett is a young man from Ham Lake, Minnesota, with a cabin in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, a history of volunteering with Boy Scouts and Lyon’s Club, and a hard-earned Master Technician degree. Not to mention, he has a job he loves ten minutes down the road from his current home.
Something else you should know about Garrett to truly understand the man and his passions. It’s what Garrett has waiting for him each night at the end of his day job shift.
“Well I always have a few projects of my own going on. Right now, I’ve got a 1980s 3-wheel ATV I’m restoring. And a sweet 1960s Bombardier. I only have to rebuild the carburetor on that one. I also have a vintage 1947 Willy’s pickup that my grandpa carted home from WWII. My dad kept it up until I inherited her. That leaves just my two pickup trucks, one’s a ’83 Isuzu Pup and then my ’91 Ford F150. That’s it.”How big is your garage
It’s a question that mechanics like Garrett get a lot. Garrett told us his current garage was only big enough to work on two vehicles at a time. The rest inhabit the yard but that doesn’t stop him from working on them, even in the colder months. And it gets cold in Edina, Minnesota.
To get maximum use of the space, and keep him off the cold ground during the deep freeze of winter, Garrett already knows what his next addition to garage will be. “There’s a shop not far from me that’s closing up and they’ve got a lift I’ve got my eye on. That will be a great addition.”Tools are personal
Tools are the lifeblood of a mechanic’s life and career. We learned from Garrett something we didn’t know about tools — many mechanics bring their own tools to their day job. Tools are as personal to each professional mechanic as they are valuable. Garrett figures that by the time the typical mechanic retires they’ve amassed between $100,000 and $200,000 worth of tools. That sounded like a lot of tools to us and we asked Garrett how far along he was towards numbers like that:
“That’s a good question. My toolbox alone must hold a good $6,000 worth. I imagine if you factor in the rest, I must be pretty close to about $70,000 by now.”Sharing the love
Garrett has a rule about tools. He never lends them out. Ever. He has another rule, he told us. “I don’t ever work on friends or family’s vehicles. I welcome them to bring their vehicles over and work on them at my place and use my tools. I’ll walk them through anything, but they have to do the work. The reason is simple: If anything goes wrong, they have only themselves to blame.”
But Garrett seems extraordinarily generous with his time, his garage and his tools, saying close friends and cousins often drop by to hang out while Garrett works on his many projects.Meet Gonzalo Ruiz
2,000 miles away from Garrett in Edina, Gonzalo Ruiz lives and works in Bakersfield, California. And although Gonzalo and Garrett are different in many ways, they share a deep and common bond — their passion for their vehicles.
Like Garrett, Gonzalo — Chalo to his friends and family — spends a few hours most nights in his garage working on his pet projects. In Chalo’s case, his current project is customizing the suspension for his prized 2007 white Silverado.
“I’m starting with the suspension because that matters a lot in a truck like this. My garage is my shop. My newest addition is a press I use to compress the springs attached to the struts. It’s a specialty tool I came by through luck when a neighbor showed up said, ‘Hey, can you use this?’. I grabbed it fast,” Chalo told us.Restoration dreaming
Like so many mechanics, Chalo has a bucket list of dream projects he’s working towards. Next up is his second 2014 Silverado truck which needs some front-end suspension fine-tuning. “I’m leveling the front end. It looks cooler but also handles better, especially if I’m carrying loads,” he said.
We asked him what other projects are on that list. “Well I’ve been dreaming for years about taking a ’61 or ’62 Impala and restoring it from the frame up. I’m constantly on the lookout for the car. A friend spotted one a guy was selling here in Bakersfield, but by the time we got to him it was gone. Those oldies but goodies go fast. So, the hunt continues,” Chalo mused.Tools and friends
Like Garrett, Chalo often has friends over to hangout when he’s working on his projects. Chalo is known to lend his tools to friends in need when they’re working on their own projects. But it doesn’t always work out as well as it should.
“Yeah, sometimes, my friends will bring back a tool I loaned them, thank me, and that’s it. Until the next time I need the tool and realize they didn’t exactly return the tool in the same condition it was in when I loaned it out. I’m thinking about maybe changing my lending policy — tools are expensive!”Learning journeys
The top mechanics we work with all share a similar dedication to their craft along with a passion for their own projects. What they don’t all share is the same path to becoming excellent at their craft. Garrett Neuman figured a more formal training was the right choice for him and he enrolled in a master's program to get it. Not every mechanic we work with gets a degree in diesel mechanics, so we asked Garrett to know what motivated him to pursue his degree.
“In my case, I not only wanted to learn everything I could, but figured that a degree would always increase my value in today’s jobs economy. So I enrolled in the master’s program at North Dakota State College of Science. I took advanced classes in almost every area — engine, steering, suspension, brakes, AC, transmission, hydraulics, fuel systems, and power trains. It’s designed as a three year program, but I did it while working, I took my time and completed the course. I’m glad I did,” Garrett told us.
Gonzalo Ruiz took a different path to get to where he is today at his dream mechanics job, like Garrett, a lucky ten-minute drive from his home garage. “When I was a real little kid, my older brother worked on airplane engines. I would hang around him for hours, watching and learning. By the time I was ten, I was helping him pull motors and he was even letting me do oil changes on my own. I loved it then, and I love it now. My job is what I like to do, whether I’m doing it for pay or doing it on my own back home in the garage.”
Mechanics are a fortunate type of professional. Not many of us get paid for living out our passions. For Garrett Neuman and Chalo Ruiz, and almost every one of the thousands of mechanics we work with, it’s a passion so strong they get to move seamlessly from their paying jobs back to their projects waiting for them at home.