F O R T Y – T W O _ Y E A R S

After years of lusting after a motorcycle (but drinking and drugging away any motorcycle money I might have saved) I finally got sober, got my finances together, and toddled down to the Harley shop to pick out my bike. The sales manager must have decided I wasn’t a serious prospect, because when I announced I was there to buy a bike he flapped a hand at the door to the parking lot, said ‘The used bikes are outside,’ turned on his heel and walked away.

April 11th, 1979 to now: 42 years of true love!

I left, naturally – damn if I was going to spend my money with an asshole like that! – but as I was driving away I noticed a Harley parked at a used car lot two doors up the street from the dealership. I called a friend of mine named Wayne Agee – an experienced chopper builder, attorney and motorcyclists’ rights activist – and he very kindly went with me to scope it out.

What we found was a 1974 Harley-Davidson FX (kickstart-only) Superglide shovelhead with 8,000 miles on the clock, box stock except for 6″ overstock fork tubes. The salesman swore it was his personal bike – a story I dismissed as sales-speak at the time, but later learned was the absolutely truth. No matter. It was a Harley-Davidson Big Twin, and the prettiest thing I’d ever seen.

1974 FX 1200 Superglide as described in full-line sales brochure.

I didn’t have my motorcycle license yet, so Wayne test-rode the bike for me. The price was right and he gave it an enthusiastic thumbs-up, and I was sold! I went straight to my credit union to arrange financing, and the next day, April 11th, 1979, I went to take possession of my very first motorcycle. A five-minute tutorial on the machine – clutch up there, brakes here and here, shifter over there, one up and three down – and I was on my way.

1974 FX 1200 Superglide as it appeared on April 11th, 1979, at Northwest Hills Texaco, Austin, Texas.
My 1963 Buick LeSabre is in the background.

I passed a motorcycle safety course when I was in the service – a requirement if I was going to ride a motorcycle on base – and took rides on other people’s machines whenever they were dumb enough to hand me the keys, but I was basically ignorant of riding technique. Of needs, I taught myself to ride by spending every possible moment on that bike, cruising the Farm-to-Market roads that snake across the Texas Hill Country west and south of Austin. I quickly realized I was born to this life; to be in the saddle, in the wind. Nothing before or since has brought me such pleasure and peace of mind, or felt so right.

1974 FX 1200 magazine advert. Note stylish matching helmet and brown leathers.
I never had either of those things.

I began calling my shovel ‘The Bitch’ long before The Grateful Dead released their In The Dark album in 1987, but a couplet from the song ‘Tons of Steel’ describes her to a T:

“It’s one hell of an understatement to say she can get mean
She’s temperamental; more of a bitch than a machine!”

However, the name was given tongue-in-cheek because, even though any machine will act up one way or another, if you own it long enough, The Bitch has been a stout, faithful steed with plenty of heart and class.

September, 1979, Labor Day Weekend Harley Drags at Little River-Academy Raceway east of Temple. I stripped the tank emblems (which I could kick myself for, now) and replaced the stock saddle with a low-ride LaPera king-and-queen. I traded the stock headlight assembly for an original Bates unit I found on my very first trip to Bud’s Motorcycle Shop, replaced the stock buckhorn handlebars with broomstick drag bars, and installed foward controls and highway pegs to accommodate my long legs.

The Bitch has been through a lot of changes over the years. I began by turning her into stripped-down cruiser, above. Then I converted her into a fat bob, below.

December 1979, on Congress Avenue, Austin, Texas, just south of Town Lake. I still had the drag bars, but I replaced the stock one-piece fuel tank with the more traditional-looking two-piece ‘fat bob’ tanks. These were the 3.5 gallon size commonly seen on early Police motorcycles. I loved the look, but unfortunately, the older fat bobs were prone to cracking and leaking. A lapful of gasoline at 60 MPH is never a good thing, and as a result, I never kept a set of the original fat bobs for very long.

Next, I built her into a version of the FL Sport – a dresser sans saddlebags and windshield – using the wide-glide forks Wayne sold me, and pieces sourced through his ‘chopper shop’ (which, as it happened, bore a striking resemblance to his law office). The photo below shows the project about halfway to completion.

1980, at Bud’s Motorcycle Shop, 2612 East First Street, Austin, Texas, just before I completed the makeover to a stripped-down dresser. I had removed as much of the chrome trim as I could, replaced the 3.5 gallon fat bob fuel tanks with a 5 gallon set, swapped the narrow FX front forks for the wide glide I bought from my friend Wayne, and traded the Superglide rear fender for the longer, wider Electra-Glide tin. All that was left at this point was the dresser covers for the rear shocks and the aluminum nacelle and full-sized headlight for the front. Then that damn rigid framed panhead showed up!

Just about the time I finished that project, with a full aluminum headlight nacelle off an old Electra-Glide, a friend let me throw a leg over his rigid panhead, and I was in love. The rigid was so much lighter (and cleaner looking) than the stock swingarm frame, and I just had to have one.

1980, in early winter, at Bud’s Motorcycle Shop, in front of the
tin building that housed Bud’s original East Austin shop/showroom/office.

By then I was working at Bud’s Motorcycle Shop, and Bud helped me find a 1954 wishbone frame. I swapped the engine and transmission into the wishbone and slapped on some get-by fenders and fuel tank, above. Meanwhile, I sourced fresh tins for the bodyman, so I could keep riding while I got everything painted and ready to go. After some dithering around I settled on a bright blue the same color the Austin Police Department used on their cars – a close match to an original 1954 factory color Harley-Davidson named ‘Glacier Blue’.

1980 at the Terrace Apartments off South Congress Avenue in South Austin, Texas. The Bitch when I first put it in the rigid frame, prior to the complete makeover I had planned for it. I rode it like this until I was ready to tear it down and rebuild it. Note how dingy the aluminum on the engine and front forks looks.

I took the shovel apart, rebuilt the engine, polished every bit of smooth aluminum I could get a buffing wheel or elbow grease to, and put it all back together.

1980, The Bitch in Glacier Blue, the day I completed the makeover.
Note the shiny aluminum. That was a lot of work!
The Bitch in Glacier Blue, in the yard at Bud’s Motorcycle Shop, 2612 East First Street, Austin, Texas, where I was a proud Known Associate for 36 years. That rear fender was from a swingarm dresser with the hinge welded shut – a concept by Dave Hobday, a fellow employee at Bud’s, skillfully executed by a bodyman named Paul, who was quadriplegic after a motorcycle wreck. Paul did the paint and body work for a number of custom builds at Bud’s shop, and in return we built him a three-wheeled shovelhead adapted to his disabilities. He later took the trike back to his home state of Massachusetts where he rebuilt it, doing most of the work himself, and did such a fine job that it ended up featured in Easyriders back when that was still a rag worth reading.

I caught a lot of flak for that paint color the whole while the tins were hanging on the wall in my shop area, but once I put it all together I received nothing but compliments. As an added plus, I never had a car pull out in front of me the entire time I ran that color. They might not have been aware of a motorcycle in traffic, but they noticed that cop-car blue!

1980, enroute to a party at Lake Buchanan, shortly after I completed the
Glacier Blue makeover. That is the smile of one very proud bike builder!
1980 at Lake Buchanan, Texas.
1981 at Lake Brownwood, Texas, with Lea, Bill Jones and Debbie.
1982, a ride to the annual Black Hills Classic Motorcycle Rally at Sturgis, South Dakota, and below, a visit with my sister-in-law in Lusk, Wyoming, on my way back to Texas.
1983, a ride out to see the Bluebonnets blossom.
1983, Bluebonnets and Indian Paintbrush at the roadside southeast of Austin.
1984, Memorial Day races at Little River-Academy Raceway.
1984, at a scenic overlook near Kingsland, Texas.

I made other changes as the years passed. I went back to black, changed fenders and tanks, ran a pogo-stick saddle and windshield for a while, added a sidecar so my stepdaughter could ride in safety and comfort, and put on mile after mile after mile…

1985, at the Flea Market on Highway 290 east of Austin.
1986, at J.B. and Dana’s house on Romeria Drive, Austin, Texas.
1986, at J.B. and Dana’s house on Romeria Drive, Austin, Texas, with my stepdaughter’s mother.
1987, at home on Wilmes Drive in Austin, with the sidecar for my stepdaughter. That’s her tricycle in the grass, and our roommate’s chopped Honda in the shed.
1988, at Redwood Lodge, Lake Whitney, Texas.
1989 Southeast Texas enroute to an ABATE Texas function.
1990-11-18 at Benny and Carol’s house in McGregor, Texas.
From left: Carol, Benny, Michelle, Bill and The Bitch, Laura, John and Clifford.
1991, on a solo ride from Austin to Estes Park, Colorado. I pulled into the visitor’s center in Estes Park, to get directions to my brother’s mountain-climbing school, and noticed a familiar motorcycle pulling into the parking lot of the fast food restaurant across the street. In town no more than five minutes, and who should I run into, but t was the man I had ridden to Sturgis with – a man I hadn’t seen in almost a decade – in Colorado for a vacation with his wife! How’s that for a small world!?!
1991, T.R. and Kimberley, with their motorcycles parked behind them.
1991, heading up into Rocky Mountain Nat’l Park.
1991, atop Rocky Mountain Nat’l Park, at 12,000′.
1992, riding through the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Colorado.
1993, July 4th, a solo ride to meet up with a friend in Lake Eufala, Oklahoma.
1993, Labor Day Weekend, a group ride to Lake Eufala, Oklahoma.
From left: Paul, Jeff, Peno, Bill and Melissa B.
1994, July, ride through Four Corners region of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah.
1994, on IH35 in Belton, enroute to the annual Tri-County Toy Run.
1995, on the bridge over Royal Gorge, Colorado.
2000, with Jackie on the back, at Monument Cafe, Georgetown, Texas, for breakfast with our friend Tina.
2001, in Crawford, Texas, with Randy and Tina.
2004, January, a winter ride on a back road near La Grange, Texas, with a high of 47 degrees.

In July, 2004, at the age of 48, I fell 35′ from a billboard structure, when a piece of the board came loose. I rode the ladder I was standing on all the way to the hard rocky Hill Country earth, and ended up with an open compound fracture of my right leg, numerous fractures in my left mid-foot, and a burst fracture of my L-4 vertebra, which caused catastrophic nerve damage to the cauda equina that controls everything south of the waist, and I mean everything!

After fourteen days in hospital, numerous surgeries and a near-fatal hospital-borne infection, I went home to a wheelchair and a rented hospital bed, with lots more to come. Still, at the end of October I limped out to the driveway, kickstarted The Bitch and took it for a ride around the neighborhood.

2004, Halloween, and my first time on the bike since my on-the-job accident that July.

I’ve probably made smarter choices in life, but it seemed important at the time!

2004, Halloween, and my first ride after my accident.

A lot has happened since then, including another makeover of The Bitch and a return to A) another blue paint job, B) another set of fatbob tanks, C) another pogo-stick and D) another windshield, all to accommodate my back and leg injuries.

2008, and yet another makeover: late-model fat bobs (less likely to crack and leak) with a traditional pogo-stick saddle, and a windshield to save my back muscles having to fight
against the wind at highway speeds, but…
…my body no longer wants to cooperate.

The pogo-stick and windshield arrangement was good for a while, but remember the nerve damage I mentioned? Yeah, that nasty nerve damage has come back to haunt me.

One of the nastier tricks it plays on me (and the nasty tricks are legion, believe me!) is that my right knee gives out with no warning. It’s been doing it since I first got out of the hospital, but that particular trick has become more frequent as the years since my accident go by, to the point where I can no longer feel safe riding a two-wheeler, so…

meet my new wish-list! I can either pony up the $25,000 to $30,000 people are asking for late-model Harley three-wheelers, or stick my dearly beloved Bitch in a three-wheeled frame like the one Paughco offers, One way or the other, I have got to get back in the wind!

Watch this space for updates!

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