Fast Talk with Jeff Smith: Horizontal Surfaces


I’ve been blessed for all kinds of reasons. I built my shop about 11 years or so ago because I had completely outgrown my little attached 2-car garage. Once the new shop began to take shape, I was really pumped about all the space I gained. I can remember thinking that I now have all the space I’ll ever need. Somewhere, someone was laughing because now it seems all that space has disappeared.

Of course that space hasn’t magically disappeared. It has just been stolen by the accumulation of more parts, engines, engine test stands, a hoist, more cars and then more stuff. Someone a lot smarter than me once said that we collect stuff to over-fill the space allotted – and then some. Somehow I’ve managed to pretty much fill a 1,200-foot lower level and a 700 foot upper level with enough stuff now that I’m back to squeezing in between cars to move around the shop.

Right now I know what many of you are thinking – “I don’t feel sorry for you – I have this little one- (or two-) car garage that I’m forced to l work in – I wish I had your problem!” And that statement has great merit. But unless we are graced with limitless work space, the challenge is always the same. I’ve noticed something recently that I think is a common affliction. It is the challenge of horizontal surfaces.

With a big shop, I should have lots of horizontal surfaces. These are necessities. But these areas go way beyond just a clean work bench surface. It’s also floor space to store stuff like engines, drill presses, welders, tool boxes, and all the dozens of other items too large to sit on a bench or in a cabinet. Cars and tools take up an enormous amount of space. It all seems to come down to open areas.

I went so far as to buy a couple of roll-around work carts thinking that I would use them as each job came in to hold tools and parts that were either coming off or going on the car. But both of these carts quickly became horizontal storage surfaces for parts that haven’t found a permanent home. Well, they actually have found a home – on the cart!

I also bought a series wall cabinets thinking that these would reduce the clutter on the work benches, organize my shop, and add more horizontal storage. That worked for awhile, but it seems the clutter has again invaded my one “dirty” work bench to the point that it is now near impossible to work on that bench. Part of the challenge happened because my buddy Ed Taylor donated a very nice ‘70s Craftsman bench top drill press to the cause. I don’t’ know how I ever got along without one as I use it all the time. I guess it’s a quality problem to have.

So I’m about to embark on a major organizing program because the clutter and lack of horizontal surfaces has become chronic. Even my El Camino is donating its bed as semi-permanent horizontal storage capacity. That’s bad. What’s worse is my ’65 Chevelle hasn’t run in a year or so and all of its horizontal sheetmetal now serves as a shelf. I now know how cars just get stuff piled on them. It’s happened to me.

I just counted and my obsession with engines now includes four iron block LS engines, four antique small-block Chevys (2-283’s, a 327, and a near-dead 350), plus two big-blocks, and another small-block on an engine stand that is about to serve as a dyno test mule. That’s 11 engines all taking up space. I’m not sure why I think I need two dead 283 engines. I have a fondness for the little Mouse motor. They’re actually pretty cool little beasts. But what I’m really doing is justifying their existence.

So the quest continues for useable horizontal surfaces. Just today I exported my buddy Tim Moore’s stack of race car tires that were occupying valuable floor space. We mounted them on wheels so they can now fit under his new circle track/road race car – which is a story unto itself. This means I gained a wonderful 30-inch diameter spot on the floor that will no doubt be instantly swallowed up by something equally non-essential that I won’t be able to live without.

It wasn’t all that long ago that my same pal Tim said “You know, there’s a very fine line between being a collector and being a hoarder.” Truer words were never spoken, Sadly, I think I’m on the wrong side of that line!

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