MARCO ISLAND — If you’re looking for your husband, you might want to check the old firehouse. In a warehouse-style building, behind a row of rollup doors, the gear-heads of Marco Island can often be found. Some days they’re tinkering under the hood of an old Chevy, others they’re simply gathered around a spindly table, ribbing each other and telling tales of days and cars gone by.
If the doors to the garage are open or the flag on the mailbox is up, the garage is open. If that’s the case, there’s a good chance your husband is in there. “All hotroders have a magnet for each other,” says Jim Humbert, one of the regulars at the Marco Island fire-station-turned-hotrod-workshop.
Pete Weidner, who owns the space, agrees. He says that if he opens the doors and parks a hotrod out front, it isn’t long before locals and visitors come streaming in. “I’ve had people from all over come in; someone from Denmark came in the other day and asked me how much for the Studebaker I’m restoring.” (It’s not for sale, so don’t bother asking.)
While people wander in and out, a few are there almost daily. These men are the Firehouse Boyz — also occasionally called the Over The Hill Motorheads.
What makes this group of a half-dozen-or-so regulars so unique is that each brings something different, and useful, to the table. Each has a unique specialty. “I’m an ASE-certified mechanic,” says Weidner, adding, “Jack Butte is an electrician, Jim Humbert’s a computer whiz, Dick Fricasse is an a/c guy; we’ve got just about everything covered.”
On Tuesday and Sunday mornings, the guys gather at the Red Rooster for breakfast and then invariably end up at the garage. “People like to play golf or go fishing, we like cars. Plus, it’s a good fraternity,” says Weidner.
Jim Humbert adds that if he didn’t have the garage to hang out in, he’d probably end up staying home all day and bugging his wife. Which, he jokes, wouldn’t end well.
Phil Dyskow, another regular, agrees. While Dyskow is only semi-retired, meaning he doesn’t get to hang out at the firehouse as much as he’d like, he’s still there whenever he can be. While Disco says that he enjoys just shooting the breeze with the other guys, he really comes to the garage to learn from Weidner. “He’s a bit of a legend. He’s forgotten more about cars than I’ve ever even learned,” says Dyskow.
Indeed, Weidner was practically born into his love of cars. Growing up, his father owned car dealerships, and Weidner eventually followed him into the business. Over the span of his career, he owned six different franchises, including Pontiac, Cadillac, Mercedes, Volvo and Mazda dealerships.
He’s collected classic cars for decades. At one point, Weidner had 31 hotrods stored in three different garages in his home state of Ohio. When Weidner and his wife were planning to retire to Marco Island, he knew that finding a suitable garage space would be a must.
Driving by the old fire station one day, Weidner walked in and made the owner an offer. The previous owner, who was about halfway through converting the space into an electric train museum, obliged. Soon, Weidner was moving his cars and his tools into the space.
“This used to be the firehouse, but apparently the crew got a girl and she needed a separate restroom and space to sleep, which is understandable. So they had to move to a different building,” says Weidner. He adds that it’s the perfect space for storing hotrods because, as a former fire station, it’s hurricane proof.
When he bought the space, he knew it wouldn’t be long before some like-minded men started stopping by. What he didn’t know was how talented they would be. Today, almost any problem he has with a car can be solved by one of the Fire House Boyz. He estimates that their combined know-how cuts the price of restoring a car in half. And for whatever they don’t know how to do, there’s the notebook.
Weidner pulls out a spiral-bound note pad, the pages dog-eared and yellow from years of use. He’s hesitant to even let it out of his grasp, saying, “Do you know how much this thing is worth?”
The pad has pages and pages of contacts, many of whom you can’t even find via the phonebook or a Google search. These are the names and phone numbers for Southwest Florida’s best painters, upholsters and body shop guys. Apparently, when it comes to finishing your hotrod right, it’s all about whom you know. And Weidner knows everyone.
But they’re all happy to know and help Weidner, both because he’s exceedingly pleasant — spend an hour with him and you’ll understand how this group of men can while away an entire day just chatting in the cool, rehabbed garage space — and because he’s exceedingly generous. Technically, this is his place, but he’s happy to share. Need to put your car up on the lift to work on something? No problem, just ask.
“Most car guys are nice guys,” Weidner says humbly. “We just help each other out.”