One November evening back in 1993, Bernie “Warrior” Tatro of Edgewater, Florida, paid a visit to his close friend Repo Artie. Bernie spied a long springer front end sitting in the corner of Artie’s garage. It had no neck stem, the top tree was gone and it was all rusty. Bernie asked, “Artie, what do you want for that front end?” Artie asked, in turn, “What do you want with that junk?” And Bernie replied, “I am going to build an old-school chopper with it someday.” Artie shrugged off the Warrior’s pronouncement. “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Gimme $75 for it.” Thus was the start of the striking old-school, kicked-out chopper that took Best Chopper at the Editors’ Choice Bike Show at the Broken Spoke Saloon during Daytona Bike Week 2013.
Bernie has been living in Edgewater for 30 years, but he started building show-winning motorcycles in 1969 when he lived in Massachusetts. He used to run the International Show Car Association series up north. Arlen Ness was a big inspiration to him, as well as Lou Falcigno from C&L Hop Shop in Fort Pierce, Florida. Back in the 70’s, Arlen actually helped Bernie build a Ness-style digger—over the phone! Around that time, Bernie became friends with Dave Perewitz whose bike-building style he also admired. Dave was from Massachusetts, too, and they became friendly competitors in in bike shows. Dave was also building diggers at the time, and the Warrior laughs, “I beat Dave in Dave’s first bike show back in 1977!”
He tells me that this bike, which he dubbed “Born to be Wild,” was the “Sportster chopper I never built” back in the 70’s. Now, how did Bernie get the road name of Warrior? He explains, “I was riding with my buddy Big John in New Hampshire, and my vest was flying behind me so I got the name “Winged Warrior.” Eventually the road name was shortened to Warrior.
A year after that fateful night in ’93, he brought the $75 AEE front end to fabrication specialist Painter Ken who made it safe and functional. Shortly after that, Bernie’s bud Pork Chop made a top tree. Now Bernie had a 24″-over front end. He started hitting swap meets to find original chopper parts, and it took him 10 more years to find a true flat-bottomed tank that was sectioned. Bernie’s friend Chris stretched the tank 9″, installed a new flush filler cap and petcock and fabbed hidden mounts underneath. The rear fender was cut and bent to the exact profile of the rear tire. Bernie’s bro, Macdaddy from Jacksonville, came up with a set of original trumpet mufflers and a short King and Queen seat. Ever resourceful, the Warrior used an old stop sign to extend the seat pan and make it taller.
Bernie the Warrior slowly continued to buy parts, such as the set of ported and polished heads offered on eBay by Mike at Sorenson’s Performance in Saskatchewan, Canada. Bernie has maintained close ties with his New England riding buddies, and his brother Mark in Auburn, Maine, made the battery box and cut a few inches from a Mid-USA oil tank to narrow it. Bernie acquired the wheels—a front 21″ spool hub and rear 16″ with stainless spokes—and then he and Pork Chop fabbed and stretched the Paughco frame, giving it a 52-degree rake and 6″ stretch, and kicked the centerpost back 3″ to accommodate the round oil tank. Pork Chop built the mounts for the oil tank, ignition housing, motor, chain guard, exhaust, rear fender, battery box holder and seat, with the seat upholstery done by Tony’s Upholstery in Edgewater. The sissy rail was fabbed by Pork Chop, the headlight is by Bates, and the handlebars, mirrors, Maltese taillight and hand and foot controls came from Mid-USA.
He reminisces, “Once a full pre-fab assembly was done, I sat on it, took pictures of it, took it apart and the project hit the back burner again. I sent out the rocker boxes to my friend Danny in Massachusetts, and then I countersunk all the rocker box Allen bolts. The following year I sent all my parts out for chroming. That ate up the budget that year. The next year I sent the motor to Dennis at Blackgold Cycles in Daytona Beach for a rebuild. The 1000cc Sportster motor with 10:1 compression has ported and polished heads with compression releases, S&S pistons, Manley valves, Andrews high-lift P cams, Dyna ignition and a Rivera SU carb and air cleaner. That ate up that year’s budget. The next year I sent the tank, fender and frame out for paint. Space Coast Plating did the chrome and my buddy Mike did the molding. The paint job, done by John McCarthy of McCarthy Signs in Hinsdale, New Hampshire, was brought to me during Bike Week 2008. Now I had it all: parts, chrome, motor and paint.” He laughs, “What’s the hurry at this point?”
It wasn’t until January 2009 that Bernie began final assembly. He recalls, “I worked on it for a few hours every night until Bike Week that year, when I had it finished. On Thursday of Bike Week I fired her up and left for Willie’s Old School Chopper Show, but I unknowingly over-tightened the steering head and could not safely drive it, so I was forced to turn around and come home. By the time I found the problem, I missed the show.”
Bernie has ridden the “stretcher” bike to many shows since then, and has taken home some sort of trophy or award from each. The spectacular paint job, featuring Ed Roth red metal flake with artwork designed by John McCarthy, attracts tons of attention wherever he goes, and Bernie won Best Paint at a midsummer show called “Black Sunday.” The bike was also an Editor’s Best of Show pick at the next Willie’s Old School Chopper show he actually did make it to.
The Warrior muses, “I find fascination in the ingenious things I have seen home builders do to a motorcycle. I built this bike as we would have in the early 70’s. No disk brakes—I used a stock drum for the rear and none for the front. Dangerous; yes, by today’s standards, but authentic as it would have been in the 1970’s. It was built at home intentionally against today’s trends and a throwback, if you will, to the antique past of choppers. I have proven across my life I do not need to quit and hit a couch; I can choose to stay active in the lifestyle I love—being a biker and building motorcycles.
He continues, “I find talking to the young bikers who have questions about the style of this bike and how it used to be in the old days of choppers very rewarding. They are the future and we never know if we will inspire a young biker to build his dream ride. This bike was built as a tribute to how a bike was built in the mid 70’s and to the men of hand-built motorcycles that inspire me. It is an expression of building a dream chopper that I envisioned starting with an old AEE springer front end considered useless and abandoned in a friend’s garage 20 years ago. Sadly, Repo Artie never got to see this chopper before his life was cut short. R.I.P., brother.” We think Artie would be proud.