It is not unusual for people to think I’m a little off. We are all entitled to our opinions.
Life is a series of lines on a to-do list. We get to choose which lines we cross off before we kick the bucket. When I joined the Texas Triumph Register, I had no idea the impact it would have. At the time, I didn’t even know I had a bucket list.
I suppose my list started while I was learning to ride a unicycle in the 7th grade. My school counselors were trying to help align my studies with my career goals. They insisted that my test results displayed abilities greater than my desire to move away, become a carpenter and ‘fix things.’
During college I was required to take classes I thought unnecessary—like PE. I chose bicycling. The final consisted of a pass/fail ride spanning 100 miles in one day. This is commonly referred to as a ‘century’ (something found on many bucket lists). The class taught us that any goal, no matter how ridiculous, is achievable if you carefully consider training, and understand where you are and where you want to go. Years later, I used that model to train to ride 150 miles with 10,000 other cyclists from Houston to Austin, Texas, and raise money for Multiple Sclerosis research. I opted, though, to ride my unicycle. Had I known of my bucket list, I would have crossed off ‘MS150 on my unicycle.’
My desire to build something culminated after I purchased some lake property. Since the property had no running water or electricity, I hauled water from the lake and mixed concrete in a wheelbarrow to lay cinder blocks. It took me an entire summer of working weekends to build a garage. I made it tall and large in case I was ever able to actually restore an old car. Had I known about the bucket list, I could have crossed off ‘build something.’
By this point in time, my life was almost 50 years old. I still had no expressed ambition, goals, or bucket list. But I did have a nice TR6 driver. It ran well and drove well. It didn’t come that way; I had to work on it until it did. And I joined the local Triumph club and read the newsletters. If I knew about the bucket list, I’d have crossed off ‘own a nostalgic sports car.’
TR3 for Free
So, I’m reading the club newsletter and there’s a message from an ex-member living in Mississippi. He is offering his TR3 for free to anyone who will come get it and promise to restore it.
Hurricane Katrina had made landfall very near his residence. A 20-foot wall of water surged through the community of Bay St. Louis hours before the storm and the effects were disastrous. Houses were torn from the tops of their pilings. Buildings and roads were washed away. A garage built to protect classic vehicles was no match for the force of the water. My TR3 only moved 80 feet. Three other cars from the same garage were found miles away. When the owner returned to his evacuated home, all that was left were concrete slabs.
I pulled a trailer out there and dragged the TR3 home. Parts that don’t normally wear or rust were ruined by the salt water. The body suffered damage when it drifted along with the garage, and rust never sleeps. Everything needed attention.
Seawater filled my gas tank since the cap was missing. Had the cap been there, it still would have filled with salt water for the same reason the transmission and differential were topped off. A vent, being at the bottom of 20 feet of water, will allow water to fill anything. The inside of the gas tank rusted until it looked like it was lined with burnt potato chips. The axle bearings appeared packed with rust rather than grease. The engine filled with water from several places. The down draft tube and oil cap breather allowed salt water to fill the sump. A broken radiator neck allowed salt water to enter the water jacket.
The carburetors, which took on the appearance of a block of rust, invited seawater to enter any cylinder with an intake valve opened. The exhaust system allowed water to enter cylinders with any exhaust valve open. Someone opened the drain plug on the sump and drained the salty oil, then filled it with diesel fuel to the top of the valve cover. This saved the crank and camshaft from rusting to death. The salt water in the cylinders caused the piston rings to rust to the liners.
The surge water contained a lot of sand. When I pulled the starter, sand drained out from the bell housing as if I had broken an hourglass. Watching it slowly pile up on the garage floor was the most disturbing event I had ever witnessed while working on a car. It was the defining moment when I knew this car truly was a Katrina victim. For it to become a hurricane survivor, it would need every tiny bit restored.
Four Years Later
Long after all the bearings had been replaced, the frame was repainted, the engine was running and the body work began, I witnessed the last remaining evidence of Katrina on my TR3.
I used an abrasive wheel on a 4-inch grinder to remove all the paint. I used a wire wheel to remove rust. While working on the floorboards, I came across a small bubble. Removing some paint and body filler I found what I assumed to be an original interior trim fastener. Somehow it managed to escape removal during all the previous paint and bodywork. Digging through a little more paint, I found the slot of the screw and twisted it out. Digging a little more, I freed the cup washer. When I lifted the cup washer I was amazed to find a droplet of water under the washer. The TR3 had been sitting in my dry garage for over four years. That droplet of Katrina water sought refuge from his ne’er do well friends above him that pressured him into sneaking around the threads of that self-tapping screw in the floorboard of the TR3. Without a great deal of pressure, that droplet of water had no way out but to rust out. I liberated that droplet of water, returning it to the circle of life and death, and welded the hole shut.
It took me three years to gather all the parts I needed while taking the car completely apart. I’ve been working on this TR3 for over six years now. I remember talking to a club member and telling him how much I learned about my TR6 from taking apart the TR3. I was interrupted with—“You’ve learned much about life since you got the TR3.”
My wife and I have set a long-term goal to drive this restored sports car from coast to coast. When we said that goal out loud, I came to the realization that I’ve always had a bucket list. It seems things find their way onto that list often with complete disregard of intention.
Goals are hard to come by and they are harder to complete. The day-to-day work seems insignificant compared to the goal, but most achievements are simply the result of many tiny little accomplishments.
I don’t know when the TR3 will be finished or when we’ll drive across the country. I do know I will cross those lines off my list. And I’m eager to find what lines appear next. My bucket list had been a mystery to me, but I am now aware of its existence.
About an hour into my 1st MS150 ride, a pick-up truck with a boom microphone and some cameras pulled along side and questioned me. The rain was pouring down hard. It had started to rain at the very begining of the ride and they asked me if I thought riding in the rain would make the distance more difficult. “No, I don’t think it’s going to rain, this is perfect riding weather.” Then they asked if I intended to ride all 150 miles on ‘that thing’ and I responded “it’s only 138 miles, lets not make a mountain out of a mole hill.” They moved to someone else.
By Jerry Gruss
Jerry is a member of the Texas Triumph Register