“Jay Leno’s Garage” was Clayton Paddison’s garage on Wednesday morning.
Paddison is locally famous as a vintage-car geek with a hobby car-consulting business, Paddison Pre-War, in his tight carport near Lake Shore Elementary School. His fame spread across the nation in the summer of 2016, when he and his passion project, a working 1927 Model T Ford, were featured on an especially delightful episode of “Jay Leno’s Garage,” the car lovers’ talk show hosted by the comedian and former king of late-night TV.
What’s so delightful about it? Simpatico between Leno and Paddison is obvious during the show. TV royalty? Humble tinkerer? Pull them together over an open hood and they’re just a couple of dudes who love cars. Paddison is too sure of himself and his automotive details ever to come across as awestruck; he even corrects Leno on a fact or two.
“Suppose you’re a married guy with three kids and you want to do a little hot-rodding on a budget,” the clearly charmed star tells the camera. “This is the best way to do it. It’s a classic case of ingenuity and hard work.”
The episode was a classic case of screen chemistry. It proved so fun and popular, it got nominated for an Emmy award last year. (Take a look; the episode is posted at https://www.paddisonprewar.com/media.) It didn’t win the Emmy, but the unflappable Paddison won more attention from “Jay Leno’s Garage.”
On Wednesday, Leno and his crew of about 25 people swamped Paddison’s street, parking trucks, setting up orange cones and filming for a few hours in the garage and on nearby streets. The Columbian was asked not to crash the party, and we honored that request — but we swooped in as soon as possible to debrief with rising TV star Clayton Paddison and his wife, Julia. Meanwhile, neighbor M.J. Ambriz took pro-quality photos and shared them with us.
“Apparently I make for good TV,” Paddison said on Wednesday afternoon, after the hubbub was over. He and his wife were buzzing but exhausted, they said. That’s partially because they upgraded their whole home in anticipation of the visit from Leno.
“We did a year’s worth of remodeling in a month,” Julia said. The couple and their kids were up until the wee hours on Tuesday night before Leno’s visit, they laughed. Then they were up well before 7 a.m. to greet Leno and crew. So were many neighbors who’d been alerted to the visit.
What had happened was this: About a month ago, one of Leno’s producers called Paddison to ask the classic visitor’s question to this region: “How far from Portland are you?” (Leno himself should have remembered; he was just in Clark County a few weeks ago, doing standup to headline the opening of ilani’s new ballroom and performance space.)
It turned out that “Jay Leno’s Garage” was getting ready to hit the road for a tour of the Pacific Northwest, and Leno was keen to visit Paddison’s garage. “I think the actual words were, ‘We want to check in with you and see what you’ve been up to,’ ” Julia Paddison said.
But Leno also knew that, in addition to the 1927 Model T, there’s another amazing vehicle tucked away in Paddison’s garage: a massive 1927 Buick Master Six that’s been nicknamed Big Bertha. It belongs to a celebrity client whom Paddison doesn’t want to name; at 4,800 pounds it drives like a tank, he said. Leno was giving it a serious compliment when he called it “a good old girl,” Paddison said.
Preceded and followed by camera cars, Leno and Paddison drove Big Bertha around and up alongside Vancouver Lake. “Wake-up bumps” have been added to the dead-end road there where people used to drag race, Paddison discovered; those bumps ruined some of the audio recording.
Also making shooting the show difficult were motorized gawkers who saw something unusual going on and started tailing, and even invading, the show’s column of vehicles. “It wasn’t just a pain, it got dangerous,” Paddison said. “We were like, could you not?”
The show will air sometime in midsummer, the Paddisons were told. Meanwhile, Clayton Paddison is intrigued to know where his combination of historical automotive know-how and screen charisma might take him.
“It’s a lot of exposure,” he said. “Who knows where it might go?”
Paddison’s mother, Lori, came up from Milwaukie, Ore., for the occasion. “He’s been a ‘car savant’ since age 3” when he would pull his thumb out of his mouth to name makes and models, Lori Paddison said. “He’s followed his bliss and he’s realizing his dreams.”