Photos and words by Jake Steele
How do you eat an elephant? The answer is, “One bite at a time.” Of all the old timey expressions I've heard, this seems to be the one that really rings true when it comes to building a hot rod. And whether you're working on your first project, or your tenth, it is easy to get distracted, or to become overwhelmed by the scope of the task at hand. I've been there myself, many times in fact. There were countless projects that were abandoned by teenage and early-twenties me. I'd become overwhelmed, disenchanted, or just downright pissed off and I'd just give up. It sucks to admit it, but that is the reality of my early hot rod career, a lot of failures. The plus side is that hopefully someone can learn from my mistakes by taking a simple rule I've learned and applying it to their lives. Ready? Here it is: Two hours a night.
“Ok, so what the hell is that?..” I'm glad you asked: It is the simplest path to you driving down the road in a bitchin' hot rod you never thought you'd be able to build. Bold statement? Maybe. But, hear me out. Now, I'm not smart enough to have invented this rule. Honestly, if left to my own devices early on, I'd have barely adhered to it. Two hours a night came to me via my friend, Robbie. The shorthand version of the story is that I wanted to build a certain car. I had one lined up, had the money and all the big ideas in the world for it. The problem was that I lacked the properly equipped space to do it, not to mention some specialized knowledge. He offered both a stall in his shop, as well as his brain to help me along through the process. There were two rules: 1) set a goal for completion 2) set aside two hours a night to dedicate to the project in order to reach that goal. It may sound stupid, but those two things were like hearing the answer to a long-pondered riddle, one that's answer was so obvious it was silly. All I had to do was commit to it. With my car taking up space in his shop, a level of urgency forced that commitment. That's when I figured out how helpful and easy this simple guideline really is.
Why is this two hours a night thing so important? It's simple: Being hands-on every day, even for just the two hours, is the gateway to staying focused. It also encourages breaking these enormous projects up into smaller, more manageable tasks.. This in turn makes the entire process more enjoyable. Most everyone probably already attacks their projects in a somewhat similar fashion, breaking things up into sub-categories. The mistake I see people make and have made myself, is that they keep it too broad: “I will focus on the chassis first.” That's great, but the rule of two hours a night requires a more specific and compartmentalized approach. Instead of going out to the garage to work aimlessly on one very general thing, break it into something very specific. “Tonight I'm going to make the bracket for my new steering box and get it bolted in place.” Setting goals and having a specific task in mind for the evening is enormously helpful when it comes to staying focused. I remember spending all day at work thinking about the one or two things I knew I was going to do that night and knowing that by the same time the next day, I would be on to my next task. It became a ritual.
“How am I supposed to find two extra hours every single night??”
Well, you're not going to. You have to make the time available. This is going to require you to commit to giving something else up. I'm sure you work, have a family, responsibilities and commitments just like everyone else, right? And I would bet that just like everyone else, you most likely fancy yourself as a pretty busy guy; I did too. Here's the kicker: I wasn't. Neither are you. If you want to take a good hard look at it, you're likely wasting a lot of your time. That hour after work where you sit in your lounger and sulk about your day over a beer or five? That's an hour that could be spent in the garage. You can even bring the beer with you.. The hour you spend frantically scrolling through Instagram or Facebook to see what you missed all day? You're flushing an hour of garage time down the toilet so you can stare at other people's cars and wish yours was as cool as theirs are. Ironic? Yeah. Avoidable? Yup...
Maybe I've got you all wrong. Maybe those examples don't apply to you the way they did me. Even so, I guarantee you, you have the two hours available to you each night. Even if you have to split it into two non-consecutive hours. An hour between the kids' baseball practices and going to bed an hour later is still two hours. You will be surprised when you start to really take a look at what you're doing with your time, I know I was.
Another important thing to remember is that if you somehow find yourself with more than your two hours of time, don't fall into the trap. It's very easy to push too hard. This inevitably leads to burning yourself out. And the next day on your way home from work you find yourself thinking “Man, I hammered on that thing until 2AM last night, I'm not doing SHIT when I get home.” Before you know it, you haven't worked on your car in three days, you don't remember where you left off and you're whole process has gone out the window. Now you're right back to winging it like a schmuck, just like I did for so long.
So, take all of that for what it's worth. All I can say is that it has been extremely helpful for me. It may not work for everyone, but I think it is an effective approach that is reasonable enough to apply to most of us. Some guys would rather make excuses, those are the guys who will be finding themselves spectating at car shows or drag races for a long time to come. The rest of us will be at out driving and enjoying these old cars and answering the normies' question of “Wow, how long did that take you?” with: “Not long, just two hours a night.”