Portland: Working Without a Garage

I talk a lot about not having a garage. Ask anyone who knows me, and they’ll agree. I won’t start out a conversation with this fact, but I will usually circle around to it. I’ll talk about projects I’m working on, or things I wish I could work on. Maybe housing prices will come up, or my current living situation and my hopes for what comes next. Then I’ll mention it: my wish for a garage.  All of this stems from living without one for over two years now.

How did this happen? I ask myself this all the time.

The short story is, I lost my last garage because the landlord didn’t want to rent the space to me anymore. I thought I’d find another garage no problem. The current house that I was renting was so cheap that it didn’t make sense to move into a new place that had a detached garage. But I always drive by people’s houses or industrial spaces that had seemingly empty garages. Surely these people would want to rent it to me – it would be like free money!

It turns out these spaces aren’t empty – they are filled to the ceiling with crap. I don’t know why people fill their garages with crap. People have clean homes and terrible garages. They are like a staging area for a dump run that never comes. Plastic Santa Clauses and empty flatscreen TV boxes. Maybe a lawnmower in the corner. It makes me sad, because even if you aren’t into mechanical projects, the garage can be used for so much more than garbage storage.

I’ve called about a lot of garages, but mostly people just want you to store your crap in there. They don’t want you to actually work in the garage.

So it’s been a few years that I haven’t had a proper, secured indoor garage space. Luckily, I’ve made it work ok, as most people in major cities probably do. I’ve been spoiled over the last 10 years with really cool garage spaces, and I know I’ll have one again. In the meantime, here’s how I build, maintain, and tinker on projects sans garage.

Basement Workshop


The duplex that I rent has a basement, and it’s been a lifesaver. This is where I can securely store my tools, parts, and other things that made up the work area in my last garage. As you can see in the above picture, I’ve even done some motorcycle work down here. That’s a 1966 Honda CL160 that I finished up in the basement. A few winters ago, I also rebuilt my Vespa Primavera engine down there, too. It’s just one set of janky stairs away from the ground floor, but that 160 is the biggest thing I can get down there.

I run a small dehumidifier down here year-round, and it really helps to keep it dry. I’ll miss this basement workshop when I move, but I won’t miss having to run up and down the stairs to grab tools, parts, and other things while I’m working on projects in these next two areas.

Behind The House Lean-To

One of my 350’s and my Primavera

My main auto project actually runs ok so it can live on the street – titled and tagged. However, my two-wheel projects need their privacy and a dry storage area. This small section behind my house has been pretty nice. It’s off a driveway that only my neighbors go by, and I put a small fence up so you can’t see it from the street. My friend Kevin helped me (twice) to build a lean-to so they don’t get rained on. I even do work back here from time-to-time. I can shuffle 3 or 4 bikes back here, but in winter it looks like a tarp city. I can’t complain though – I’ve seen a lot of people’s bikes parked on the streets year-round. This has been a pretty good storage area.

Since I took that picture right after completion, I’ve added a gutter and cleaned it up even more. I’ll be back there most of the summer.

The Street


And finally, in the great tradition of shadetree mechanics, I do a lot of work on the street right outside my house. I’ve replaced an oil-pan gasket on the Honda CVCC, did an electrical overhaul on my pickup, and routinely clean and tinker on the cars right on the street. I’ve only had a few dirty looks, and those people can go piss up a rope because I always clean up after myself and run a pretty tight ship. Until I get a garage that allows me to drive a car into it, the street is going to have to be my weekend work area. For the time being.

It’s a challenging time to live in Portland, for me and a lot of other people. Things that I took for granted are now out of reach to most people of normal income. But I’m pretty lucky to have what I have, and people have done a lot more with a lot less. I’ll keep doing the best I can with what I have this summer, and see where I land in the fall.

Quick note: A few of these pictures were taken with a new lens I’ve been messing with – the Canon 28mm f2.8 pancake lens. It’s light, compact, and works well with the Canon 60D and it’s crop sensor. I hope it inspires me to take my camera out more and take more photos of cars and motorcycles that I see around Portland. You can follow Last Vehicle on Instagram to see if I actually do.

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