Inside The Man Cave

In these garages, the tools are shiney, the beer is cold and the seat is always up

December 11, 2005|By ROB HIAASEN | ROB HIAASEN,SUN REPORTER

Oh, it's been called snide names - the landfill, black hole or doghouse. But a man's garage is his castle, his man cave, if you will. There are 65 million man caves in these United States and, at least, five garages in Maryland worth showcasing.

We asked garage aficionados to contact us, but a funny thing happened on the way to the Garage Story: several women wrote back, too. "I was getting tired of cleaning around tools, so to get me off his back he added the garage," wrote Pat Ecke of Chase. "How many garages have 6-paneled doors on their closets?" wrote Kay Schultz in praise of her husband Glenn's garage. Kathy Awalt of Cockeysville sent 10 snapshots of her garage, which features Caribbean murals. "At our house, the garage is a Girl's Dream Garage!"

Kathy Awalt, you're disqualified. We acknowledge that women use garages, but this is not their time. Give us men's Bungee cords, Folger's coffee cans, Vise-Grips, beer taps coming out of car grills, Natty Boh signs, "Fat Boy Drive" highway signs, two-post car lifts, air compressors, big ol' TVs, yard sale couches, Radio Flyers, and pegboards that will make your mouth water. Caribbean murals? Nice, but maybe next time.

From Pasadena to Edgewood, Ellicott City to Chase and Marriottsville, the following men (and one pug) invited us into their squarely footed garages - their great escapes where men can smoke cigars, honor Dale Earnhardt, and fearlessly leave the seat up.

THREE DOORS AND TOOLS GALORE

Since the first man stuffed his cave with antler bone hammers, flake choppers and flint blades, the question has been: Can you make a futon from the skull and leg bones of a woolly mammoth? In other words, can a guy ever have too many tools?

"Absolutely not," says "Little" Hap Owings.

"Never," says "Big" Hap Owings.

"I say yes," says Dorothy Owings, wife, mother, garage interloper.

The gang is all here in the three-door garage of the Owingses of Edgewood in Harford County. Bring a car all the way through, you can.

"I'd have bought the house just for the garage," says "Little" Hap. "A garage is like owning a convertible. Once you had it, you never get it out of your own mind." Pure poetry.

He's a maintenance worker for the state prison system; his father, "Big" Hap, is a former police officer. Both Harrys have enough power strippers, pad sanders, jigsaws, other saws, levels, drill bits and screwdrivers to build or fix about anything. They have a pegboard that, well, it's hard to talk about it without misting up.

The Owings men about live at the Home Depot -- or "Home" as they call the orange warehouse. Their m.o.: DeWalt power tools / Craftsman hand tools. Neighbors are aware of the garage's golden rule: "If you borrow something and break it, let us know."

"Little" Hap has run the cable out into the garage so he can watch the Ravens games on the RCA atop the refrigerator. Foldout chairs lean against the golf clubs. The garage is in a perpetual state of party preparedness. "I'd like to have another half-garage bigger," says "Little" Hap.

What's another trip to Home Depot?

A TRIP BACK IN TIME

Ken Shifflett waxes under his cars. The owner of a five-car garage in Marriottsville slides a mirror under his '66 Pontiac GTO to reveal a waxed exhaust system.

"Not many people do this," says Shifflett, who is retired from the state Department of Education. But not many people have a '66 GTO, '55 "Rocket 88" Oldsmobile and '69 "The Judge" GTO (with tachometer on hood) in their garage.

There's more to Shifflett's garage than three waxed cars (a sign in the '66 GTO does advise passengers: "Get In. Sit Down. Shut Up. Hold On"). His garage's refrigerator is loaded with Coronas, Yuenglings, and Bloody Mary mix. A phone and stereo are nearby. Dale Earnhardt posters -- check. Sexy woman on car poster -- check. Photograph of William Donald Schaefer -- check.

For many a past parade, Shifflett drove the former governor in his '55 Oldsmobile. In return, Schaefer sent him an autographed picture, which is still in vintage condition.

At 69, Ken Shifflett has all the garage he's ever wanted. He's got dream cars. And he's got cold beer.

"I'm set."

ALL THE COMFORTS OF HOME

If he is in there alone and you are quiet, you can hear him singing while he's fixing stuff," wrote Pat Ecke of Chase.

John Ecke, you are so busted.

But you got yourself a master bedroom of a garage. Hard to say what is cooler -- the mounted elk head, hand shuffleboard court, steel beam for hoisting car or boat engines, 180-inch screen projector, old high-speed wheel balancer, yellow and green fan lights (dangerously close to disco-like), or the men's room where the motto is, "Leave The Lid Up?" All good stuff.

Ecke is a turbine engineer specialist, which means he can and has installed piping that connects to a compressor that moves cool air all around his garage. In the winter, he just fires up the wood stove, as family and friends gather at the picnic table or on the couch to watch Finding Nemo on the 180-inch screen.

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