Howdy! Grab a chair an’ a beer! Gettin’ older may not get you smarter, but it does make you think, an’ when there’s a lot more time behind you than in front of you, it makes you remember the things that have made your life what it is now, an’ what it would be like if only one little thing hadn’t happened to drive you in the direction you’re going. In my case, that one little thing was a basket case Honda 50, back in 1962. One night, my dad came home with several boxes of parts and a repair manual that he’d gotten from a guy at work. Knowing how dead set my mother was against motorcycles after my infamous ride on the tank of his old Harley Flathead 80 when I was about five years old, he snuck the boxes into the garage, and told me, “If your mom asks, tell her it’s mine.”
After weeks of work, I finally had the little bike up on two wheels and running, and at 13, I was pretty proud of myself for getting it together. Mom was still not a happy camper, but finally relented, and the little red bike became officially mine. The first thing I did was take a hacksaw to the muffler, creating a rather raucous noise from the little 49cc beast. Me and my buddy, “The Varmint” (aptly named by my dad), used to buy every magazine we could find with stories about the Hell’s Angels and other bike clubs and their exploits, and dreamed of building our dream bike; an “80 stroker” Panhead chopper like the ones in the magazines. We both wore black Levis and T-shirts and on that little Honda, we felt like “leader of the pack.”
Dad worked every day, and mom went to the local community college, so I used to sneak the Honda out at lunch and ride it back to school. I was the only one at my junior high with a “motorcycle” in the bike parking lot. That was when I learned about the effect a motorcycle, even a dinky one, had on girls, and “gimme a ride!” became common. After school, me, the Varmint, and the Potter brothers used to ride the thing home, with Varmint pushing as fast as he could run, then jumping on, usually unmercifully bending the tail light down.
At one point, I’d taken the Varmint shoe shopping at a nearby Kinney shoe store for Beatle boots, and when we left, I decided that the extra weight was perfect for an extended wheelie. As the front end came up, the Varmint went back, and I caught his feet under my arms. I rode the wheelie all the way across the parking lot, the Varmint yelling very nasty epithets, with one hand holding a bag of shoes, and the other swatting at the ground. It was remarkably euphoric for me, but not so much for him.
Another time, we took it hill climbing at a construction site. There was a big pile of dirt about 10 feet high, and being the sole owner of The Beast, I took the first shot at it. As I neared the top, I saw that the back side was a sheer drop of about eight or 10 feet. I came back down, handed Varmint the bike, and told him, “Take it wide open; it’s flat on top!” As he reached the top, he slowed, and seeing the sheer drop, came back down, then opened the throttle and took the hill wide open, shooting off the back side into space. The landing was rough, but he and the bike both survived to ride another day, no thanks to me.
In the two years I had the little bike, I had to replace three pistons, but it rarely let me down. I eventually traded it to Terry, the oldest of the Potter brothers, and moved on to bigger bikes, and more two-wheeled stupidity, going through a succession of British and Japanese bikes before getting my first Harley a few years later. I often wonder what a different life I would have had if not for that little red Honda, and I don’t think it would have been nearly as much fun as it’s been.
For me, building is almost as much fun as riding, and I remember my first ground-up build of a true old-school chopper. It was a 1961 Panhead that I bought from the Varmint more than 30 years ago. At the time, I really liked the style of Kenny Boyce’s pro-street bikes, and he had some influence on the style of mine. I sold it to finance another build, and don’t know what ever happened to it. If you’d like to see pictures of some of my builds, and you’re on Facebook, just type in Buckshot’s Madtown Customs, and check ’em out.
Looking back, I’ve built and ridden some great machines over the years. Several Panhead choppers, Shovelheads, Evos, and Twin Cams. I have a room full of show trophies, with two from the Easyriders shows, including Best of Show for Reggie’s pink trike. I’m very proud to have met, had the honor of riding with, and becoming friends with, some of the biggest names in the industry, and I cherish their friendship and inspiration as one of the highlights of my life. Yeah, that little Honda kick started me on the road of life, and my life has been richer for it.