PORT AUX BASQUES – On an old desk inside the front door of Spencer’s Auto Ltd., a shiny metal figurine cobbled together out of used car parts greets customers. Red, white and green wires poking out of the top give the illusion of hair, and his huge ears sport tiny washer earrings.
This is Frank Spencer’s handiwork, part of the way he passed the time during the COVID-19 shutdown. The garage, like many businesses, has since re-opened.
“I do this stuff to take the boredom out of my job,” says Spencer.
‘This stuff’ is what he calls his mechanic art. Chains, keys, bolts, pistons, carburetor parts are all fair game. No two pieces are alike but they are all somehow recognizable as his distinct artwork. He likes to post pictures of them to Facebook, and that’s where Lew Skinner spotted them.
Skinner is a member of the Ducats band, and Spencer has been friends with the members for years.
“He said, ‘When you get time I want you to make me a guitar’. He meant one a foot long,” says Spencer.
Whenever he travels to St. John’s, Spencer likes to visit his old buddy. On one trip they were examining Skinner’s guitars, including a 1961 Fender Stratocaster.
“I just decided to make him a guitar, so I researched the dimensions on the guitar, and I decided that it was easier to make a full sized guitar than a little small one,” offers Spencer.
Some of the car parts Spencer used to make the guitar had been laying around for years. One part is from fisher Vern Prosser’s boat engine. Another belonged to Jim Currie, off the engine of his car he used to race in Stephenville. There’s a carburetor off the White Fleet.
“The White Fleet was a railway service crew. They had all their coaches painted white,” says Spencer. “So there’s representation there of the fishing industry, the railway, racing in Stephenville, and the elementary school.”
Spencer gave careful thought to each piece he selected to craft Lou Skinner’s guitar. The guitar strap is the centre of the seatbelt off a Dodge Ram snowplow. It took about four months, working as time permitted, to construct the 35-pound guitar.
It’s unfortunately not playable, but Spencer didn’t intend for it to be either. He turned away donations of guitar strings from musicians. Metal warps too much when it’s welded, he says, and anyway he wanted it to be mechanical, not musical. The guitar strings are made from the wire used in motors for automatic car seats.
“There’s 99 nuts in the neck,” he points out. “You can make it playable but then you wouldn’t have the appearance.”
In November, when he returns to St. John’s, he plans to get more photos of the guitar, circle the parts and on the back of the photos share the history behind it, and put it all in a frame as a keepsake that he can show people. When he’s gone, people will still know the story of the people behind the guitar and why that part was chosen to build it.
Nelson Cousins was a mentor for Frank Spencer. A talented mechanic, he also offered Spencer valuable life lessons and advice.
“Nelson was a wise man. I know he didn’t always appear to be,” says Spencer, “but he was a smart individual.”
When the unique guitar was done, Spencer had a friend deliver it to Skinner in St. John’s. A grateful Skinner then gave Spencer a guitar strap someone had made for him down in the United States back in the sixties.
“I got a pair of cuff-links, gold cuff-links, with Ducats 1957 engraved, and I told him I didn’t do it for that,” shares Spencer.
Skinner responded by cussing at him.
“He told me where to go!” laughs Spencer.