HSL marilyn liddle

Holton Secret Lab, By Marilyn Liddle

Sunday, July 25,2004

Visit to Holton Secret Lab

By Marilyn Liddle

Folded into one of the creases of wheat-covered rolling hills north of Pendleton, Oregon is a homestead, a ranch—that's Marcy's part. What looks like an old-fashioned gas station with bat and board siding, antique pumps and glass bottle coke machines next door is the front for Bill's lifetime passion—cars. Together, Bill and Marcy Holton are living the dream. To live on the family ranch, homesteaded in the early 1900's by Marcy's grandfather, where you can climb the hill behind the house and see the magnificent skies 360°, ride your horse at a gallop through fenceless fields and see coyotes looking for a meal is dream enough for any westerner. To combine this with a favorite hobby gone profession is about as good as it gets. No killer commutes, fractious bosses, or time clocks. Bill escapes all that by retreating into his secret lab.

Bill and Marcy showing a customer car at the Bend, Oregon car show.

It's this expertise that sets Bill above just any auto body repair shop. His life has been cars, and his experience qualifies him to do any custom work you can dream. He can take a sheet of metal and shape it into just the right curve; he can cut out rusted metal with a plasma cutter and then weld so seamlessly that you'll never see the patch. Bill will not tolerate any speck of rust; he doesn't even tolerate old paint. For him, the time and money invested is wasted when new paint is applied over old. "It's like pouring cement over sand." The newest service he offers is Media blasting, a paint removal system that fires plastic beads instead of sand. This removes any old paints without scarring the metal. "A paint job is only as good as what it is applied over," is his caution and he won't guarantee the job unless it goes through the entire, laborious process: First, he applies a sealer which etches into bare metal, assuring good adherence. Then there are 2 coats of primer (cross-linking), 3 coats of the base color and 3 coats of clear urethane. Between coats he uses 2000 grit sandpaper in 3 separate buff sequences. This meticulous attention to detail results in absolute perfection.

Going deeper into the secret lab, you come to the painting bay. Just outside hang more than 20 paint guns, many inherited from his father's shop, which range from 1 oz. to ½ gallon. The small ones are used for detail work, Bill's specialty. After the car is painted, the artwork is added and Bill's reputation for flame art has earned him the nickname, "Wild Bill." It's all custom, of course, his own idea. Sure, black and red streaming down the side of a 1946 Ford is an eye-catcher, but wait till you see flames done in his tone-on-tone "chrome illusion." It's hardly visible until you walk by and then the colors morph from green to silver with your movement. Truly a holographic delight! The paint itself is $600/pint, thus the 1 oz. spraygun. Bill will paint anything that paint will stick to. He's flamed Harley-Davidson gas tanks, motorcycle helmets, mailboxes, surfboards and antique refrigerators. How about painting and flaming your old high school football pads in your school colors? Groovy.

Bill and Marcy in "ranch mode" with "Maggie" the dog and "Leap'n Leana" the Jeep.

One of Bill's favorite memories was the customer who called ahead asking, "Can you fix my Model A?" When he brought it, he set the boxes of parts down and said, "Put it back together." He had removed all the rivets and had realized he had gotten in over his head and needed an expert. It went out on its wheels, under its own power and in the classic color. As Henry Ford, the car's inventor said, "You can have any color you want, as long as it's black."

Bill's real passion is to build street rods from the frame up. Unlike "kit" cars which are fiberglass reproduction bodies, these are steel, one of a kind, all custom work. "Radical custom," as he says. Just enough tradition to be recognizable, but every inch a unique piece of art. If you can sketch it, he can chop, French and tub it. He'll put in a roll cage, add louvers, drop in a killer engine and finish the job by installing the transmission, upholstery and wiring, making a pavement-ripping cruiser to be shown around.

Both Bill and Marcy want their clients to be a part of the construction process. They keep the owners involved by sending photos of progress made and will even drive their trailer to location to pick up the car and to deliver it after completion. When Marcy met Bill, she was driving a "64" Corvette coupe, he a "66" Corvette in yellow pearl. It was meant to be. The beginning of a great partnership. The beginning of Holton Secret Lab in Helix, OR where dreams can be realized.

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