Howdy! Grab a chair an’ a beer! So, have you always been a “gearhead” or did something in life steer you in that direction? Maybe your dad, an uncle, an older brother? I was born into the gearhead world, and wouldn’t trade it for anything. All the years of building and riding motorcycles, and building hot rods and muscle cars has given me some of my best memories, and it isn’t over yet. When I was little, my dad had an old Harley Flathead 80 that he raced on the old Cotati track in Northern California. I remember riding on the tank as the world sped by, and those rides sealed my fate. All I ever wanted to do was build, repair, and race anything with wheels.
This evening I was sitting under the huge old tree in my front yard with Ken Abby, a brother from another mother, and a class A gearhead. We were talking about a few of the things that separate us from normal human beings, and the list is long… The conversation started with “yeah, a leg broke off my bed last year, and I need to go buy another one so I can get my jack stand back.” (He’s a bachelor, so he can afford one.)
We started talking about home repairs that get neglected because of shop projects, and he confided, “My shower curtain broke one of those ring things a while back, so I fixed it with a zip tie.” Now all of us married guys know that a repair like that wouldn’t last long when a wife’s involved, but to a gearhead, it’s second nature. When his daughter started dating, as soon as the prospective boyfriend cleared the front porch, he’d ask him, “What do you drive? Do you ride a motorcycle?” He’s even gone so far as to question new doctors about what they drive before he’ll let them touch him.
Now let me qualify this by giving you some history on the nefarious Mr. Abby. He was raised in a small Central California town where they roll up the sidewalks by 9:00 at night, and any entertainment had to be manufactured and implemented by the entertainee himself. Like me, his entertainment usually involved things that were A) dangerous B) against at least one section of the vehicle code, and C) sure to impress anyone in the vicinity when the “hold my beer an’ watch this” moment arrived, usually with an unwanted police escort. Yeah, back in those days, Crabby Ken Abby was Sanger’s answer to Evel Knievel. His antics are legendary, and any retired cops from the ’60s and ’70s can relate stories you’d find hard to believe if you didn’t know Ken, and his propensity to push two wheels past the limits of sanity. His hero and mentor in death-defying antics is E.J. Potter, the “Minnesota Madman” who stuffed a Chevy V-8 into a drag-racing motorcycle frame sideways, with direct drive. The beast had to be started on a stand, then kicked off the stand when the flag dropped. I asked Ken why he didn’t just buy a Boss Hoss, and he said, “Too tame. No challenge.”
Like most of the gearheads I run around with, we can’t leave anything stock. From chopping bikes at a young age to customizing and hot rodding our cars, everything has to be messed with to some extent. Some of us even have hood ornaments and straight pipes on our riding lawn mowers, and Ray has a Sportster engine in his golf cart. I personally built myself a 110cc barstool that’s a real widowmaker. Our motto is live life while you can until you can’t.
While we used to bar hop on weekends, barely remembering where we’d been come Monday, most of our weekends are now spent scrounging swap meets as far away as several hundred miles for that perfect part to complete another project. Here in California, the “Big Three” are Pomona in Los Angeles, Pleasanton in the Bay Area, and Turlock in the Central Valley. Need a head for a ’56 Pan? A tunnel ram intake for a big-block Mopar? How about a diecast model of your first car? Yep, it’s all right there waitin’ for us.
Another thing I’ve noticed is that we tend to name our dogs after the things we love. At least half are named “Harley,” with a few “Knuckleheads,” some “Sporties,” a “Ram,” and a bunch of other motorcycle- and car-oriented names thrown into the mix.
On a much sadder note, I’m leaving in a few minutes for the funeral of a good friend, and member of our little group, who lost his battle with cancer. Like most of us, Rick “Snake” Hatton had a foot in each world, motorcycles and hot rods. Over the span of his life, he’d owned, built, and enjoyed dozens of each. He was building cars right up until the end, trying to finish that one last project. He loved to race his “gasser” at Eagle Field runway drag strip, and terrorize the streets around the Clovis area with the wicked beast. His passing will leave a hole in our group, and a hole in our lives.
I guess some people think us gearheads are totally nuts, and maybe we are, but while many people’s memories consist of mowing the lawn every Saturday morning, and taking the wife to a flower show, ours involve speed, danger, and burning rubber, and we wouldn’t change a thing!