By Bill Ganahl
I’m sitting down to write this on the one-year anniversary of my dad’s death. It feels like it’s only been a few minutes. I also don’t know exactly what to write. My dad would know what to write, and he’d make it interesting and unexpected, and probably funny. I’ll do my best. I have, literally and metaphorically, very large shoes to fill.
So, I’m going to make this about me. Mostly because I want to, but also because I am the product of my dad’s life-work that I know best. And though there is clear evidence that his influence has guided the course of my life and shaped the person I have become, it has never been as obvious to me as it is right now, after he is gone. I’m not sure why so many of life’s lessons tend to be ironic but, to use one of many modern phrases that my dad did not like very much, it is what it is.
Some of you attended Pat’s memorial at Dave Shuten’s shop at Galpin Ford in Van Nuys, CA. Beau Bockman and Dave, along with many others, helped my mom and I throw a pretty epic celebration of life for my dad, amongst the people and cars that he spent his own life championing and celebrating. It was the best and saddest day all at the same time.
One of the many nice things Beau/Dave and co. did for us at the memorial was to arrange a slide show to be played through a projector on an entire wall of the shop. My mom and I scoured through thousands of photos, not from my dad’s historic photo collection, but from my parents’ personal family photo albums, and came up with about five hundred photos that I had to scan and digitize in order to play through the modern projector. The photos aren’t professional, and some aren’t great, but they’re a record of my parents’ lives together and, of course, my life with them.
As I scanned through all of these photos recently, just to reminisce and think about my dad, it really began to hit me how much of himself he imparted to me. It sounds obvious and inevitable as I say it out loud, but it’s one of those things that happens without you realizing it. Many of us, especially as kids, actively try to avoid it as we attempt to become individuals, on our own terms. I wasn’t necessarily a rebellious youth, but I definitely viewed myself as someone who was forging his own path.
These photos are documentation that I was wrong… and I am happy to realize it. I was already proud to be continuing in my dad’s footsteps, at least in terms of participating in and contributing to the culture of custom cars. But I now feel as though I’m keeping his legacy alive, and I cherish that responsibility. It will always keep me connected to him, and I know that I’m celebrating him every day that I walk into my shop and participate in this culture and community.
Another thing these photos evoke, though, is that my dad always reminded me that there’s more to life than just cars. He was a surfer, an avid hiker, a photographer of non-automotive Americana, a huge fan of music, a guitar player, a traveler, and much more. He didn’t give advice very often, but this is a life lesson that he imparted as much by example as by preaching: be well rounded. As I spend 60 hours a week in my shop, I need to remember this advice a little better sometimes.
I’ll leave you all with a few stories as you scroll through these photos. First, while all these photos are of me with my dad, there’s one that’s just me: I’m swinging a pickaxe in the backyard of our family home in Glendale, CA, where I lived from age 7 until I left for college at 17 years old, and where my mom still lives today.
This was taken on my birthday… maybe 12 or 13… I’m not sure. I woke up that day and my dad, first thing in the morning, told me he had a surprise waiting for me in the garage. I ran out back and opened the garage door and there, with a ribbon on it, was a brand new pickaxe. Slightly confused, I came back into the house for breakfast and my dad informed me that I would be digging trenches in the back yard for a new sprinkler system. And then he took a picture of me doing it… for posterity.
If you’re feeling sorry for me, allow me to change your mind. Another two of the photos show my dad handing me a pair of keys, and then me standing next to his bronze ’60 VW in the garage. That was just a few days after my 16th birthday, and that’s him giving me his car for my birthday. After a few beers one night at dinner when I was in my early teens, he made the comment that I could have his Veedub when I turned 16. Well, my dad was a man of his word, and when I turned 16 a few years later, he gave it to me. Simple as that. I eventually sold this bug and bought the ’50 Shoebox that would be my daily driver for over 15 years, and that I would later give to my dad before he finished it and it was featured on the cover of The Rodder’s Journal.
There are also a couple photos of my dad cutting my hair. I had a pretty stellar bowl cut from the time I had hair until I was old enough to protest. I had completely forgotten about all this until I saw these photos. What I’m reminded of is the intersection between my dad’s hot rod, do-it-yourself mentality, and what I’ll call… frugality… If something could be done yourself, there was no cost/benefit analysis necessary: the answer is you always do it yourself. That doesn’t mean he wouldn’t pay someone to do the things he couldn’t do, but there weren’t too many things he couldn’t do. So, I had to suffer a few do-it-yourself haircuts, and my first bike wasn’t a brand-new Mongoose. But I also had the only off-road dune buggy go-kart in the neighborhood, and my first car was a Hot VW’s featured Cal Look bug. I’m not complaining.
I also want to tell a quick story about a photo that is conspicuously not in our family photo album. When we lived in Anaheim, where I was born, my dad went through a phase where he tried to build and “flip” a few cars. I’ve always said the Ganahl motto is “buy high and sell low” so, needless to say, none of these projects proved lucrative. And to make matters worse, when he was finishing up a ’40 Ford sedan in black lacquer and color-sanding it, I decided I wanted to “help” and grabbed some 36 grit sandpaper and went to town on a fender. I was probably four or five years old and I don’t remember the incident, partly because this was not a milestone that my dad felt inclined to document (hence, there are no photos in the family album), but also because my dad didn’t fly off the handle and punish me for it. It was an example of his ability to accept that I was a little kid trying to help his dad… and it also exemplified another Ganahl motto: Any job worth doing is worth doing twice.
In keeping with his mandate to be well-rounded, my dad (and my mom too) encouraged all of the random interests that I picked up throughout my childhood. One of those interests that arose partly from always having guitars around the house was my desire to become a rock star. My dad only had acoustic guitars and I wanted an electric. So we struck a deal: if I was able to get straight A’s on my next report card, my dad would take me out to buy an electric guitar. I was a C student throughout elementary school, so this wasn’t a slam dunk, but I must have wanted that guitar pretty bad because it was the only semester I ever got straight A’s. We went to all of the guitar stores on and around Sunset Blvd in Hollywood, and my dad bought me the cheapest imitation Stratocaster they had. We painted it black-and-white checkerboard (because I was wearing Spicoli Vans shoes at the time, not because of Cheap Trick). Always customize everything. Sadly, I did not become a rock star.
I will end with this last gem, which illustrates the unpredictable nature of my dad’s reaction to my youthful transgressions. You never knew what you were gonna get; sometimes he would fly off the handle, and other times he would laugh and blow it off. Before he handed me the keys to his ’60 VW on my 16th birthday, I had my learner’s permit and would take any opportunity I could to drive any car my parents would let me (and a few times when they weren’t exactly aware…). On this particular occasion, my friend Chris and I wanted to go to the store for something and our moms both came with us. Because I had my permit, my mom let me drive us all there in her brand new ’93 Honda wagon. While we were trolling through the parking garage looking for a spot, I somehow ended up turning the wrong way down a one-way. I decided to pull a quick evasive maneuver and backed the car straight into a concrete pilon, so hard that it shattered the entire rear window out of the hatch-back. The car still had the dealer plates on it! When we got home I remember sitting in my room waiting, terrified about what my dad was going to say when he got home and learned that I had destroyed mom’s brand new car. I heard the front door open, he and my mom have a short conversation, and then he opened the door to my room, poked his head around the corner, and said, “so I heard you flunked your driving test,” and smiled. He took the car down to the Bistagne Brothers body shop and had it fixed. I still consider that one of my few “get out of jail free” cards my dad afforded me over the years.
I’m so happy my dad shared some of his great stories and photo collection with all of you through this medium. It took a little convincing to get him to do it, and my wife, Sabina, did all of the layout and computer work for each and every post (including this one) in order to get him to agree to all of it. The whole purpose was to let him tell the stories that he wanted to tell, without the restrictions of publishers, advertisers, art directors, etc.: unadulterated Pat. He grumbled a little about how much work it took, but he also had stories and ideas saved up for months and months. He claimed he was retired, but I think one of his great pleasures in life was communicating and sharing hot rod history and culture with you. He took the time to reply to almost all of the emails and letters he received. He would talk for hours with people at shows and on the phone. I don’t think he would admit it, but I feel he enjoyed engaging with people about these stories as much as he enjoyed researching and telling the stories. Thank you for taking the journey with him and, through him, with me. RIP Dad.
Below is a slide show of 34 more photos from the Ganahl family album. It will run automatically, or feel free to hit pause on the right and go through them yourself.
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