Bumper’s Garage is a motor culture origin story about the relationships that are formed around people’s hobbies, and how knowledge and experience are passed from one generation of enthusiasts to the next. Author Geoff Holladay, a lifelong gearhead from the High Plains of Texas, wanted to teach the value of working with one’s hands, and the reward of a job well done. We sat down with Geoff to talk about the origins of the story, what’s hidden in Bumper’s Garage, and what’s stored away in his own garage.
Iron & Air: Hi Geoff! How’s it going? Tell us a little about yourself and where you are from.
Geoff Holladay: I am good, thank you. Well, I am a cotton and winegrape farmer on the High Plains of West Texas where I assist my wife in the raising of two great little kids. I also spend a lot of time out at the airport wrenching on old planes with my uncle. I may have grown up in the family business of agriculture, but have always been hopelessly obsessed with all things motorized.
When did the idea to write a kid’s book come about?
Having kids of my own was a big push for sure. I was a little frustrated with the lack of mechanical accuracy I was seeing in their books and on TV. I got the feeling that some of these things were produced with the idea of, “Oh well, it’s just for kids,” and I felt that was insulting to children’s intelligence. Now don’t get me wrong, I love the movie Cars — I’ll never forget the chills I got in the theater the first time Lightning McQueen racked it off — but even then I wanted to do something more. There isn’t a lot of legit motor culture stuff geared towards kids, and I thought maybe I could fill that niche.
Did you have other ideas besides Bumper’s Garage before you landed on that?
Actually, I did. Initially, this was going to be a story about a kid who was trying to get into a junior racing league. The books, or adventures, were going to be based on different types of racing, each with its specific car, boat, motorcycle, or what have you. We recently finished The Big Book of Burnouts, which is a rhyming book for babies about burnouts that I’m putting out while I work on the next Bumper’s Garage books.
What was your main inspiration behind this story?
As I kept going back to work on the story and saw how it was evolving, I realized how closely parts of it resembled my life growing up, and the people who shaped it. I kept on that path for a while and decided the story I really wanted to tell was the one of the unknown local heroes who share their time, tools, and toys with younger generations, and how this keeps our hobbies alive.
I never really had a chance. Fast cars, dirt bikes, airplanes, boats, and heavy equipment were a part of my life from Day One.
What is family life like for you? How did that impact the story you wanted to tell?
I grew up in a very mechanically oriented family. I got it from both sides; I never really had a chance. Fast cars, dirt bikes, airplanes, boats, and heavy equipment were a part of my life from Day One. When I was born, while my parents were still in the hospital, my dad wondered aloud just how small a dirt bike he might be able to find. My maternal grandfather actually taught my paternal grandfather how to fly before my parents were even a part of the picture. All of these people — not just in my family, but friends of the family I could go on and on about — have left their mark on me, and it shows when you look in my shop. Most of what I know — the stuff that makes me a competent, capable human — came from them. The skills I pass on to my kids will, in large part, be the ones I received from them.
Growing up as a gearhead, it’s easy to relate to Steve as a child, Steve’s dad, and even Bumper to some degree; we all had a Bumper in our lives. Were the characters in this book based on real people from your life?
Absolutely. Not only were they based on real people, but scenes in this book and the ones to come are based on some of the places my dad would take me to as a kid. For example, the scene in the book where Steve and his dad first meet Bumper is an office very similar to one I used to spend a lot of time in. The guy owned a tire shop in our town, and his building was a wonderland for a gearhead in training like me. Bumper’s shop reminds me of my uncle Melvin’s shop. He is nearly 90 and still goes down to his shop every day and works on his projects. It’s kind of funny to look back on now because of the diversity of people and their interests I was exposed to.
Mark Morgan’s illustrations are beautiful. How did you connect with Mark?
Mark does a wonderful job. He and I are on the same wavelength when it comes to this project. He totally gets the vibe I’m going for with the story; the time period, colorways, and illustration style is all spot-on for what I had in mind. He may not know it, but I really have Jeremy Heslup to thank for making the introduction. I was writing the stories and thinking to myself where to begin on the illustrations — obviously a huge portion of a project like this. I had been assembling a list of artists who draw cars from a well-known art website when I received an email about a new video Jeremy had just released. In this video was a guy, Mark, who loves Porsches and makes quite a go of things as an illustrator. After poking around on his website a bit, I really liked the retro vibe his work had, so I took a chance and reached out. He had never done a project like this before but was up for the challenge, so we began. The whole thing ended up being way more involved than either of us imagined, but we’re both very happy with Bumper’s Garage and looking forward to finishing the rest of the books soon.
What do you think about today’s youth and the mechanical knowledge that seems to be disappearing somewhat?
Well, I think we’re all pretty quick to blame the youth themselves for what seems to be a waning interest in the old tech. Close behind is the issue of modern technology — phones and other devices — but I think there are quite a few other things playing a part here. There are more and more people scrambling for a finite amount of parts, not to mention the vehicles themselves. The cost of all of this has gone up so much compared to what it once was. I know a couple of my own vehicles I would hate to sell for fear of ever being able to afford to replace them. There just doesn’t seem to be the same pool of cheap, functional vehicles available that respond well to hot rodding. We just keep raising the bar. I am, however, looking forward to mainstream electric hot rodding in the future.
Ooh, I gotta ask, since you mentioned your shop a couple of times now. What do you have going on in your personal garage? What are the favorites you could never part with?
Well, the first thing I have to say about my shop is whatever is going on in there is extremely slow — but that’s okay! I kind of have a thing for old BMW airheads, so there’s a few of those kicking around. My most recent airhead, a toaster tank /5, was from the estate of another family member. He was an old Bumper for sure. Then there’s my ‘66 Mercury Comet, which was a family car, a ‘75 914, and then what I have to call my pride and joy. Bumper’s Garage is building up to this car as a finale in Book Three. I leave it to everyone’s imagination as to what’s under that last tarp, but I’ve known that car for over 30 years and finally had the opportunity to buy it about five years ago. That one is the real star of the show for me.
I love a bit of mystery, and I know my kids were very interested in what’s under that tarp. What else do you hope this book leaves kids with?
Wonder. I want kids to get that excited feeling and the anticipation of knowing what that machine can do when you turn it loose. It’s not just the kids, though — I want the adults and the big kids to feel it, too. Writing these stories has been like a trip back in time for me. I had forgotten how much that sense of wonder was a part of being a kid. I’m sure you remember it, too: what it was like to yearn for a bike or motorcycle, or even just a ride in that old man’s ’56 T-Bird, something like that.
Thanks for taking the time to talk and for bringing something great into this world for kids. Any parting words or advice to young parents out there trying to raise future gearheads?
Don’t be afraid to let kids make mistakes. Teach them the skills and let them have fun with it. The confidence of knowing they can put things back together again will help them out the rest of their lives.Bumper's Garage