by Sandra Lewis    Sat, Jan 13, 2007, 03:29 PM
My neighbor, Phil, retired yesterday from the City of Garland after 25 years of service.

I can’t imagine what that is like.

I haven’t done anything besides live for 25+ years straight. I still have a few years to go before I can say I’ve been a mom for 25 years and I can wait on that one.

Phil is a tinkerer when he’s not working.

He spends most of his time in his garage, driveway, and backyard with various projects. He has rebuilt numerous cars and engines, is always customizing his wife’s current ride, a 280 Z (I’m not sure about the year) with a Corvette engine that’s been restored to a bright yellow, and there’s always some house repair/upkeep to keep him busy.

But his projects aren’t always so mainstream.

I’ll never forget looking out my kitchen window early one Saturday morning to see a structure much like an oil derrick rising into the air from Phil and Margie’s backyard.

It was a West Texas windmill.

Phil had grown up somewhere on the western side of Texas and had a hankering for a windmill. However, in the five and a half years since he erected the structure he has never attached the windmill blades.

Can’t find the right size blades he says. He did, however, hang a light from the top of it during the holidays to illuminate his backyard, and has a couple of blades stuck in the lower latticework.

I have to admit I was a bit annoyed that morning by the clatter created by its planting and the permanent change in view from my kitchen window, but now I can’t imagine looking outside and not seeing it.

There have been other uniquely Phil projects over the years.

There was the canoe trailer built with and for his friend Eddie that doubled as a picnic table (pictured below), and the wagon he built especially for his outings to the flea markets. It was impressive. He welded two wagons together for extra length and attached wheels on the front and back that turned a special way so as to shorten the turning radius.

But hands down my favorite Phil project because I’ve benefited from it over the years is his smoker.

I had noticed two old bathtubs sitting in Phil’s driveway and I chuckled when he explained what he was going to do with them – build a smoker. One would be the lid; the other would be the body.

I’m not sure if anyone else would have seen a smoker (pictured below) in those two old pieces of iron, but Phil did. Had I been able to foresee the results I would have kept my chuckling to myself and offered to help him finish the project sooner.

Phil’s smoked brisket is divine and every Christmas since the birth of the smoker I’ve been the recipient of a succulent smoked turkey. It makes my mouth water to just to write about it.

He makes his own rub and gave me a jar of it so I could give a try at smoking a brisket on my own. I have yet to do this and hope I have some rub left when I have time for this experiment as I take a little taste of it every now and then when the mood strikes. I might save myself from nibbling it away if I stashed the bottle at the back of the cabinet somewhere.

Phil (pictured above) is in charge of smoking all the meat for our yearly neighborhood block party. He stays up all night to accomplish this task and is exhausted by the end of the evening. That’s ok because with the help of a couple of beers (and maybe a couple of extra) no one’s seen a 50-something-year-old man dance quite like that.

I’m sure Phil did some dancing last night after his official retirement and he’ll be dancing from here on out. I asked him what he thought this next Monday morning was going to feel like and he said he wasn’t sure. I think I’m in shock, he said.

I have a good view of Phil’s driveway from my home office window. I don’t think he’ll break out into dance without a party, but I will be keeping an eye out for his next project.

With more time on his hands than he’s ever had I may see blades on that windmill yet.
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