SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. -- 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." For one NCO, however, his man-cave is a place in which to pursue his lifelong passion.
Staff Sgt. Raul Chavez grew up in San Antonio with one thing on his mind: restoring vehicles.
"When I was a 10-year-old, I used to watch a group of kids on my block ride expensive, classic bikes," Chavez said. "I didn't have a male role model who 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 to build his bikes. Then, as he grew up, he moved on to bigger projects, restoring classics cars. When Chavez turned 14, he bought his first restorable car and fashioned it to meet his own style.
"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."
At last, his hobby in restoring vehicles was born and, even after joining the Air Force 10 years ago, it continues more than two decades later.
"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's other projects include unique antique items such as toys, bikes and memorabilia. His most recent restorations include a 1940s Taylor Tot Stroller and a 1960 Murray tricycle for his son Jose. He is also prepping sheet metal on a 1960 Chevy Impala convertible and putting the finishing touches on a triple-black 1963 Impala convertible for his wife, Tech. Sgt. Alexandra Chavez.
"My garage is my man-cave or my home-away-from home," he said, 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 were also featured in magazines, Chavez said he does not do it for the fame, but as 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 said.
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 raise funds 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," he continued. "I think everyone should have a hobby that makes them smile and facilitates people interacting with others."