Cars and music keep life’s motor running

Scott Swanson

Steve Magnolia is not bored.

He’s puttering in his garage, with some blues music reverberating off the walls.

“Government Mule,” he tells a visitor who asks about the artists.

Outside the back door, two Louisiana catahoula leopard dog hounds – another of Magnolia’s specialties, with his wife Edie Wilcox – peer in, tails wagging.

This is what Steve Magnolia is all about at age 68.

Magnolia polishes a 1977 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme that’s sitting, gleaming, in the middle of the garage floor. He’s just finished a loving ground-up restoration of the car, which has eight original miles on it. Forty-six years old, and basically undriven.

He got the car in 2004 from a friend’s family car dealership in Rochester, N.Y., where he grew up, when the dealership closed following his friend’s father’s death.

“When the old man passed on, I got ahold of my friend to, you know, give him my condolences about his dad passing away,” Magnolia recalled. “He said, ‘Yeah, and all I’ve got to do now is figure out what to do with these three cars he’s got sitting down here.’

“I went, ‘Really, what three cars?'”

Turned out the longtime car dealer had purchased two brand new Cutlass Supremes in 1977 and a 1978 Olds Toronado when “large-body cars” became history in the United States.

“He bought them and just put them aside because he thought they were going to be worth something down the road,” Magnolia said. “They had a total of about 32 miles on all of them.”

Magnolia, who’s always been a car buff, bought the vehicles and had them shipped to Oregon. He’d restored other cars, from a 1934 Dodge pickup to “I think I’ve done four or five (Olds) 442s.”

“It’s always been a bad habit, for many years,” he said, dryly. “A very expensive bad habit.”

These cars, he said, were “virtually new,” except that they’d been parked in a corner of the lot for a quarter of a century, hardly moving, to the point that the upholstery and paint had become somewhat sun-bleached and the tires were essentially rotten, and the vehicles suffered from surface rust. He had to locate and install some new bumpers, thanks to the neglect and mistreatment over the years.

“The chrome plating on these cars in the ’70s was the pits,” he recalled. “It was terrible.”

“The worst is that the guys who plowed the car lot during the winter thought it was fun to see how much snow they could pile on top of (the car),” he continued. “They did this from 1977 to 2005, when I finally rescued it and got it out of there.

“And that’s how I ended up with cars that had virtually no miles on them, virtually a brand new car.”

When he took the 403 engine apart, the journals, he said, still had blue stains that are common to brand-new cars.

Because the Olds had sat so long and, essentially, been neglected in the Northeast ele-ments for some 25 years, he spent a lot of time cleaning up the rust and working on most everything else.

“I pulled it apart to basically fix everything,” he said, “but I didn’t have to do a thing with the engine, other than replace every gasket and seal that I could get to without getting into the lower half of my motor.”

He had experience, because he’d fixed the other two and sold them, Magnolia said.

“This car is not perfect, but I’m gonna drive it,” he said, patting the fender.

Actually, this isn’t his first Olds Cutlass Supreme.

“I got out of high school in ’73, and I bought one of these brand new from the same dealers in ’77,” he said.

When he took this car’s paperwork into the Department of Motor Vehicles office to register it in Oregon, the clerk was shocked.

“She says, ‘You’ve got the certificate from General Motors to the dealer?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I’ve got everything.’ There’s nothing I’m missing, documentation-wise, for the car. I’ve got every piece of paperwork. The documentation for this car is ridiculous.”

Music’s been Magnolia’s other big, near-lifelong focus. He grew up as a “roadie” for his father, Pat’s, band, The Chuck Alaimo Quartet, which toured the Northeast, playing “everything from blues to standards.”

Pat worked for Eastman Kodak for 31 years “besides being a musician.” However, he was adept at that, playing drums, bass and the vibraharp.

“I picked up the music thing from him,” Magnolia said.

After high school, he went to work for Kodak as a design drafter in facility engineering. In the mid-1980s, he moved to San Diego, Calif., to take a job with General Atomic, making uranium and thorium fuel rods for nuclear reactors. Then he went to work for Honeywell as a civilian at a submarine base, designing launch and return systems for torpedoes under contract to the U.S. Navy.

In 1993, he moved to Corvallis to take a job with Hewlett Packard, where he worked as a chemical mixing technician. He stayed there until he opened his own music store, Magnolia’s Audio and Music, in Lebanon in 1999. He moved it to Albany in 2000 and kept it open until 2010.

He has also provided sound for many events throughout the mid-valley.

Magnolia has lived in Sweet Home with Wilcox since 2013. They met in 2007 when he was a deejay on Tuesday Blues Day with KLOO-FM in Corvallis and Wilcox called to sell him her Oldsmobile after hearing him discuss the cars on his show. She encountered him again after buying a guitar and visiting his store. Her sister was learning to play harmonica, and Wilcox needed her guitar restrung.

Their first date was the Portland Waterfront Blues Festival. Wilcox went on her first “blues cruise” in 2011 with Magnolia.

Edie likes to garden in their backyard and, of course, there are the Catahoulas, Sam and Gracie.

Magnolia said he stopped being an active musician for a time when his two children were growing up, but started attending Calvary Chapel in Corvallis when he arrived in Oregon in 1993 and ended up playing with the worship team.

“That’s what got me back into music,” he said.

He’s had his own bands, the most recent being Simplistic Souls, throughout the years, though none are active now. In 2012 he and Edie organized a three-day Harvest Moon Blues Festival at Cheadle Lake Park in Lebanon.

He’s still a musician.

“Actually, we’ve been asked to put something together and we’re going to play the last night of the Woods Roadhouse,” Magnolia said. “We’re doing that Sept. 30 out there. We’re gonna put something together to do that. Luckily, I’ve got the players and I just have to get them all rounded up.”