Writer and Photographer / Jim Eichelman
Garry’s Garage… what images do those two words conjure up in your mind? Maybe you imagine a small town establishment where local characters congregate to pass the time, drinking soda pop and swapping gossip about local happenings. This was a place where attendants filled your gas tank, checked your oil and washed your windshield without you even having to set foot outside your car. And, the station usually housed a bay or two where car repairs were actually performed at the same place you got your fuel.
Some may think of the fictional town of Mayberry from “The Andy Griffith Show” where Andy, Floyd, Barney and others whiled away hot, sultry summer days at the local gas station while Gomer, the station’s attendant (sometimes referred to as a “grease monkey”), would service the infrequent customer’s car.
HE HAS A VISION
For White River Township resident Garry Gilbert, owning such a garage was a lifelong dream. “It’s something I’ve always wanted,” says Garry. The dream was a link to his youth growing up in Taylor County, Kentucky, where he frequented the local Ashland service station with his father and grandfather, the local county sheriff. It was also a link to the automobile that played a significant role in his life beginning in high school.
Garry’s love affair with cars began in high school where, like many young men, he was fascinated by the deep-throated rumble, power, speed and popularity of high-powered cars with big engines. He and his dad began taking cars to local (and some not-so-local) car shows. This was definitely a father-son activity.
After high school, Garry’s interest in cars led him from showing cars to racing them. He began drag racing at Indianapolis Raceway Park and continued racing for 23 years. He progressed beyond local racing to compete successfully at the national level, placing runner-up at the Fram Nationals in Atlanta in 1998. And as always, his dad was with him every step of the way.
Sadly, Garry’s father was involved in an unfortunate accident and did not survive. After his father died, Garry found his heart just wasn’t in racing anymore. “I’d come back from making a run,” says Garry, “expecting to see him standing at the trailer … and he wasn’t there.” Garry feared that his attitude toward racing would put the safety of himself and others at risk, so he left the sport.
LOVE OF CARS RUNS DEEP
But Garry didn’t lose his love of cars, so he began showing cars again. Soon, friends suggested he should put on a car show of his own. He felt up to the challenge, so he started a car show in Southport, attracting 154 cars.
He continued hosting shows, at first in Southport and then at The Gathering Place on Main Street. His shows were successful, and Garry admits he had a goal of hosting the largest one-day car show event in Indiana. After seven years of putting on shows, he succeeded by hosting a show at the Greenwood Airport, which drew 571 entries.
After that, though, he found that the stress of hosting successful car shows in addition to his regular employment was beginning to have a detrimental effect on his health and family. Reluctantly, he discontinued hosting car shows.
One bit of trivia about Garry is he spent 10 years driving a school bus for Center Grove Community Schools. The irony of a successful drag racing driver now responsible for transporting school children to and from school was not lost on his fellow drivers. They sometimes “gave me a hard time about how fast I finished my routes,” says Garry. But he found bus driving to be enjoyable and rewarding. A bond developed between many students and parents and their driver, Big Dog, as he was known. Many former students even recognize him today when they encounter him as adults.
But this story is about Garry’s Garage. Though it had been a lifelong dream, it was not until Garry retired and was free from the pressures of a career, racing and car shows that the dream moved toward realization. Just a few months ago, nestled on a wooded property in White River Township, a replica of a 1960s vintage Texaco service station was constructed.
The garage, built by Jeff Snodgrass of Snodgrass Enterprises in Morgantown, Indiana, is a very realistic replication with period-appropriate gas pumps, signage and other equipment acquired from various places around the country. Even the restroom fixtures are made from auto parts like pistons and radiator frames. Garry gives Snodgrass special thanks for his attention to every detail.
The garage provides the link that he sought to his youth, his grandfather and his father. But there is a not-so-obvious reason Garry built the garage. You see, he needs a “man cave” where he can spend time with his “babies” — a pair of restored, original parts Ford muscle cars. Garry owns a 1967 Shelby GT 500 (previously his father’s) with a 428 cubic inch, 355 horsepower engine and a 1966 Mustang GT 289 convertible. These machines are displayed behind a wall of glass inside the garage.
While the garage is outfitted with a lift and other equipment for serious auto maintenance and restoration, Garry finds he is only able to “tinker” now. Major work is left to others. Much of his time is spent on the comfortable couch in the garage, watching the flat-screen TV and occasionally glancing over at “his babies” behind the glass.
Once a year, though, Garry hosts a backyard barbecue for around 125 family and car buddies where friends bring their classic cars and park them by the gas station. A band is hired, and everyone has a great time, sitting around the fire, eating barbecue, listening to music and swapping car stories.
So if you are wandering White River Township and you happen upon a Texaco station straight out of the ’60s, you are not experiencing an episode of “The Twilight Zone.” You’ve just found Garry’s Garage. It’s an inviting place, and I’ll bet there’s even some Grape Nehi in the soda pop machine.