Master of the “man-cave”
By Staff Sgt. Stephenie Wade, 375th Air Mobility Wing, Public Affairs
/ Published September 11, 2012
SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. -- This article is part of a feature series on military members and their families unique hobbies by Staff Sgt. Stephenie Wade
If you ask, most men will tell you that their man-cave is their sanctuary. The "man-cave" is mostly a place to hang out with friends or simply "be boys." The term man-cave has a different meaning for this Staff Sergeant.
SSgt Raul Chavez grew up in San Antonio with one thing on his mind....restoring antiques. When Staff Sgt. Chavez turned 14 he bought his first restorable car and fashioned it to meet his own style. At last, his hobby in restoring vehicles was born and twenty-one years later it still continues.
"When I was a 10-year old, I used to watch a group of kids on my block ride expensive, classic bikes," he said. "I didn't have a male role model that was mechanically inclined to teach me a trade nor did I have the funds to build a bike. I knew that I would have to work hard to acquire one."
Through much hard work and many mowed lawns, Chavez earned enough money to buy tools and materials. Then, as he grew up, he moved onto bigger projects, restoring classics cars, the "Heartbeats of America" so they are referred to. His vehicles of choice, Chevy Impalas.
"The first car I rebuilt was a 1976 Monte Carlo, which I made into a functional convertible" said Chavez. "To gain experience and to afford my new hobby, I got my first job as a car-shop aid at a local paint and body shop. I learned my skills by watching someone else do it or by experimenting with the equipment myself."
By the age of 24, Chavez was painting commercial airplanes in a maintenance facility in San Antonio.
"Even though I am now working as a Power Production Craftsman for the United States Air Force, my hobby has become a lifelong obsession that I cannot leave, he said. "For the past 21 years, in my spare time, I find projects to restore to keep me busy in my man-cave, not just car restorations."
Chavez not only restores classic cars but also unique antique items such as toys, bikes, or memorabilia. His most recent restoration was a 1940's Taylor Tot Stroller, a 1960 Murray tricycle for his son Jose, and is also prepping sheet metal on his 1960 Impala Convertible.
"My garage is my man-cave or my home-away-from home, he says laughing but it is also the place where I work on my projects and have my "me" time, when my chores are done of course."
Even though many of his restored items have won awards at shows and have also been featured in magazines, Chavez says he does not do it for the fame but a way to stay occupied in a positive way. He enjoys teaching others his trade, as well.
"Whether it is a group of kids working on bikes or a group of grown men building toys in my man-cave, my hobby has also given me the opportunity to meet a lot of good people with the same interests."
He has also led a local car club in San Antonio for five years. The club has allowed him to provide mentorship to local students and to fundraise to help the local community.
"I really enjoy teaching others the skills that I have learned," said Chavez. "I like teaching my fellow Airmen how to work on their own cars to help them save money on repairs or maintenance. Having a hobby is a great stress reliever. "It helps me stay resilient and I am blessed to have a family who also shares and supports my hobby. I think everyone should have a hobby that makes them smile and facilitates people interact with others."
Chavez is currently in the finishing stages of building his wife, Tech. Sgt. Alexandra Chavez, a triple, black 1963 impala convertible with a 283 motor.