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Southern Rail: Trailer queen

By Robert Filla

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I rode the Shovelhead through the gate and pulled up to the registration table. After checking over the information sheet and talking to a few folks, it was determined that the bike should be entered in the Vintage Class. So they assigned the scooter a number and had me move to the proper location. While digging some gear out of my saddlebags, I noticed the owner of a mighty shiny Street Glide giving his bike a thorough cleaning—microfiber cloth, wax, chrome polish, tire wet—the full treatment. The Shovel was still wet from the previous night’s rain plus was packing more than 200 miles of road grit after yesterday’s ride from Houston to Corpus. So I found an old bandana in the bag and wiped down the gas tank and mirrors—done. Two hours later, Street Glide was still polishing while I was finishing my second beer.

The first bike show I ever attended was back in the early 80’s and it was quite a learning experience. Just coming out of the psychedelic haze of the 60’s and 70’s, custom motorcycle styling was an exercise in extremes. With 18″ over-stock springer front ends, sky-scraping sissy bars, rigid frames, 2-gallon gas tanks and spool front wheels (no brakes), every facet was stretched to excess. Heavy metalflake paint jobs (often with a drug culture theme) and the tiniest, most uncomfortable seats imaginable were the norm with the most sought-after headlight being a pair of Volkswagen Beetle backup lights that would cast a pale beam about a foot ahead of your front tire. It was a different time indeed.

I’d arrived early at that first show, helping a friend unload a truck full of parts for the swap meet that was being held in conjunction with the event. So I was able to wander over to where all the customs were being staged before the crowds arrived. There I watched in amazement as the owner of a tricked-out Panhead spent the better part of an hour cleaning out the tread pattern of his rear tire with a screwdriver and rag. Being of the mindset that the prettiest bike was a dirty bike, his maniacal dedication to eradicating every bit of grime and spot of dirt was bewildering. And then I noticed the 5″ tall spike that had been affixed to the gas tank cap, matching a series of similar spikes that festooned the springer and capped the axle nuts.

When I asked the Pan owner about the safety of that gas tank decoration, mentioning that it would fillet him like a catfish if he ever went ass-over-teakettle, he responded, “Oh that’s never gonna happen. Bike doesn’t run. It doesn’t even have any pistons or much of a bottom end and the tranny is just a shell.”

Stunned, I just had to mention what I’d heard to one of the bike show judges. He simply shrugged and said, “So? It’s a bike show, not a race.” Thankfully, shortly afterwards, the ride-in bike show was created.

About 15 years ago, while down on South Padre Island covering their BikeFest for Thunder Press, I was inspecting the ride-in bike show entries and noticed that the space reserved for the Vintage Class was empty. When I asked one of the rally’s main henchmen where the antique bikes were being placed, he told me there were no entries. So I walked outside, unlocked the Shovel and pushed it inside the center where the show was being held. I didn’t even have time to put the kickstand down before a judge walked up and handed me a trophy—a first-place win at the first show I ever entered. Yes, I was the only entry in that class, but a win is a win, no matter the circumstances. And my bike had pistons.

Fast forward a decade and a half and in early October this year I’m entering my second bike show, ever. And I’m still on the same 1967 Harley-Davidson FLH Shovelhead (300,000-plus miles), still entering in the Vintage Class. And actually… at the same rally (last year the South Padre BikeFest relocated and became the Corpus Christi BikeFest).

I wandered back to the Corpus show around noon to see if the judges were finished. Street Glide had a well-deserved trophy as did some other admirable entries. And the ol’ Shovel had scored another first-place win. But things were different this time. There was actually another bike entered in the Vintage Class this time around. It took second place.

So I’m on a roll; confidence is high. Maybe this bike show thing will become something of a habit, something I can do every 10 years or so. I’m up to the challenge. Hell, I’ll even take on two bikes next time. Just pass me that bandana, please.

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