Recently I was heading to northern Wisconsin (Up North to those who don’t know) with my brother so we could make our Uncle Bob’s vintage truck road-worthy. It didn’t need much, just tires, a blast of some carb cleaner and a few other miscellaneous items before we were to run it down the road to make sure nothing else broke.
My Uncle Bob was always a cool guy. He was my dad’s younger brother and ever since I was a kid he had the air of James Dean to me…cigarette hanging out of the corner of his mouth, an old truck (yes, even back then), a certain squint to his face and an attitude that exuding “cool”. He was awesome.
As I grew older, as is typical, I didn’t’ see Bob quite as often, but when I did see him our visits were still amusing and full of excitement. There was always great banter and when that side of my family gets together there is always a full helping of fun, if not a little trouble mixed in for good measure.
During these visits Bob and I would update each other on whatever we might be doing with our own vehicles at the moment. His pride and joy was his 1963 GMC and mine was my “Monty Green” Golf GTI that continues to undergo alterations in the almost decade that I’ve owned it. These would be our starting points in automotive-conversation and then we would discuss any other hair-brained projects we might be attempting.
This past spring I had an opportunity to go and visit Bob so I could buy his auto-related “leftovers” from his many years of messing around with that old GMC and other ‘60s C10 trucks. He was having some health issues and had decided to clean house. While there, we talked about doing a little clean up on the ‘63 that he also had decided to sell. We planned for me to do the necessary repairs, clean it up and take some good photos to prepare a proper classified ad. He and I agreed that it would be wonderful to get the truck rolling again and give my Aunt Ginnie one more ride as this vehicle had played such a significant role in both of their lives.
That weekend was very educational for me and I learned a lot about Bob that I never really knew. I always knew that he was okay with my affection for all things VW…even when I was a kid you couldn’t shut me up about the brand. Bob had never said a discouraging word about that. What I did learn that weekend was that Bob had, in his younger years, traveled extensively in a bus with his guitar and Ginnie.
Lookit that "beatnik" :D
But, most importantly, that weekend solidified in my mind that Bob was a friend to anyone who shared his love and enthusiasm for cars. I was in awe of his knowledge of the inner workings of those trucks, and anything relatable. Although we came from very different generations, we had so much in common. We were bound together by so many things, but most of all our shared love of one simple thing…automobiles. How they work, how to fix them when they don’t and how much fun they can bring you. No matter what badge might adorn the front end. I can’t help but hope a lot of who I am today is because Bob rubbed off on me when I was a kid. I would be flattered to be compared with him.
That weekend we also took a drive to visit a guy that Bob knew had a ton of old VW stuff scattered throughout a few barns and fields that he owned. I am always up for a treasure hunt and I believe I took one of the most important photographs of my life on the property we visited. It was a wonderful weekend all around.
Bob and Ginnie stopped by my house shortly thereafter just to say “hi” because they happened to be in my neck of the woods. Bob and I, of course, immediately snuck to to the garage to have a beer and when Ginnie came out she exclaimed, “Oh Joe D! Your garage!!” Yes, it’s a mess and after running around this summer to different car events I hadn’t had any time to pick up in between the few small projects I worked on. Okay, you couldn’t even walk through the garage but Bob’s reply practically melted me. He said, “What’s wrong with his garage?! It looks like somebody does stuff in here. It’s perfect!” Ironically I have said the exact same thing to my poor wife several times since we’ve been married. It seems any time I create more space in the garage I just acquire more projects!
(for the sake of my lovely wife I won't post pictures of my garage. She would die, or I would.....)
I asked Bob to hop into the green car with me so I could showcase my current engine setup. I was satisfied with his ear-to-ear grin as I pulled hard through every single gear. The supercharger screaming away as were not so gently pushed back into our seats. This was a moment to be cherished…even more so for me now as Bob unexpectedly passed away shortly thereafter.
My Uncle Bob, that life that was so full of joy and energy, was extinguished not due to his health problems, but because he fell down a set of steps and never woke up.
The smile on his face is undeniable....
So that is why it was so important for my brother, Jon, and I to get the truck running right again. And we did just that. I took Ginnie for a ride that evening in the pouring rain. We drove down Highway 8 and I swear I could feel Bob in the truck with us. There are very few things that have been as important to me as that mission was that day.
In loving memory of Robert Patrick Riley- 6/24/1948- 9/17/2016.
May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind always be at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face, and rains fall soft upon your fields.
Love you Uncle Bob.
I promise this won’t always be of such a somber tone, but I thought it might be good for you to know a little bit about me. Thank you for your time and welcome to Inside Lane!