St. Paul, Minn., Mar. 29–30 — Since 2004, the Donnie Smith Bike Show has showcased the unique, and sometimes wild, creations fabricated by aspiring young builders via their school’s “chopper class” programs. The experience-hungry young guns head to St. Paul to pit their builds against other students from all over North America in the annual Donnie Smith Chopper Class Challenge (DSCCC). These ambitious builders seek out parts donations, hold fundraising events, document the many hours spent wrenching away, and absorb the knowledge fed to them by their mentors to create their dream bikes—all while keeping up with the rest of their schoolwork. And believe me; the builds they come up with will amaze you.
This year’s DSCCC felt the effects of a harsh economy, and an even harsher winter. Only two schools, Eden High School (New York) and Mitchell Technical Institute (South Dakota), were able to produce the funds to bring their chopper class builds to the Twin Cities. According to Scottie Ard, DSCCC director, schools that participated in the past like Parham High School (Minnesota) and La Crescent-Hokah (Wisconsin) weren’t able to attend after partaking in S&S Cycle’s 55th Anniversary Student Build Challenge last June. Other schools also succumbed to the economic and atmospheric conditions and just couldn’t raise the funds to participate. However, to help pick up the slack, students from Sturgis Brown High School (South Dakota) and Bloomington Kennedy High School (Minnesota) were on hand to show off their handiwork alongside Eden and Mitchell, despite not being entered in the DSCCC.
Without question the most unique of the student builds was that of Eden High School’s chopper class. In a nod to their industrial hometown in New York, the mechanical masterpiece is powered by a three-cylinder Shibura diesel tractor engine salvaged from a barn fire after the tractor had melted around it. After a complete teardown and rebuild, the diesel powerplant was the centerpiece to their industrial-themed work of art.
“We live in a rural area and are all into diesel engines, tractors and trucks, so we thought the diesel would be pretty cool and kind of show-stopping,” said Max Schreiber, Eden Chopper Club president. “We added a few other touches like railroad spikes for footpegs and iron grates for floorboards to keep the industrial theme going.”
Instructors Steve Jones and Matt Saramak head up the chopper program at Eden HS. “This is my first full year; I don’t know how Steve did it by himself,” said Saramak. “It’s such a huge undertaking. There were plenty of nights where I wanted to scream at some of these guys, but you stand back now, look at what they’ve done and it’s very rewarding as a professional and as a teacher.”
From the farm to the café
The other school entered in this year’s DSCCC was Mitchell Technical Institute from Mitchell, South Dakota. The Mitchell club started in 2008, and has been competing in the DSCCC every year since. This year the students from Mitchell took a junkyard-donated ’79 Honda CB650 and turned it into one striking café racer.
Led by first-year instructor Chris Degen, Mitchell started the build by tearing down the engine and replacing the gaskets before handling minor maintenance issues to get the motor running. The bike features a Sportster tank cut down and fit with knee cut-ins, wrapped exhaust, clip-on bars, a café quarter fairing and a remarkably clean maroon base coat with white racing stripes. It couldn’t have weighed much more than 400 pounds and appeared to scream, “I’m fast!” while sitting on display. A nice touch was the #68 number plate paying tribute to the year Mitchell Technical Institute was founded (1968).
“We have a good time and the guys really enjoy working on it,” said Degen. “We get to go through the whole process of stripping the bike down to bare metal and recreating it the way we want, and then we really get fired up when we start to get the bike looking like something. Some of our kids are pretty young and haven’t been to a city as big as Saint Paul before, so this experience is pretty rewarding for them.”
The supporting cast
Sturgis Brown High School (SBHS) was on hand to unveil the 2014 Buffalo Chip Student Build Challenge Legends Ride auction bike that’s auctioned off in Deadwood after the annual Legends Ride during the Sturgis Rally. Starting with a 2014 Street Glide donated by Black Hills Harley-Davidson, the custom build was designed by Keith Terry (Terry Components) and built by the SBHS students under the tutelage of instructor Chad Hedderman and Randy and Nick Cramer of Dakota V-Twin—and it was jaw-dropping.
Terry went back and forth with big-time industry players to ensure they’d have what they needed in time to complete the build. “No matter how early you start it, it’s always a diving catch in the end zone to get it done,” said Terry. “This year we made it even harder; we pulled the motor, transmission and everything out, stripped it down, painted the frame; it’s a complete build starting from top to bottom, and we really went into the performance side.” The beefed-up bagger sports an airbrushed graffiti paint scheme over a fire engine red base coat. When asked about the idea behind the graffiti, Terry simply said, “I’m from Los Angeles; it was an easy decision.”
Rod Woodruff, president of the Buffalo Chip, says all monies raised go directly to two beneficiaries: the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum and the Black Hills Special Olympics. “If we were going to do this, we didn’t want to just donate some money that goes into a kitty because no one can get excited about that,” said Woodruff. “I wanted to see something physical to benefit the kids to show the people where their money goes. The first year, we were able to make a down payment on a bus for the athletes. The second year, we had the bus at the Legends Ride with all the kids in the bus. This year, we’re burning the security paper on the bus and buying them a second one.”
Also present at this year’s show was the school that was the originator of the “chopper class”: Bloomington Kennedy High School from nearby Bloomington, Minnesota. Kevin “Teach” Baas formed the Bloomington Kennedy chopper class close to a decade ago, and although the students have not competed in the DSCCC for the past few years, that didn’t stop them from showing off their talents. With the club this year was the bike they presented at S&S Cycle’s 55th last June featuring the hefty X-Wedge engine. Kennedy HS senior Andee Nestaval explained the original build, along with a few changes that had been made since the bike debuted last June.
“I spent three or four class periods one day just looking at the pieces trying to figure out what to do with it,” said Nestaval. “Teach was sitting on it and said, ‘Why don’t we turn this into a race bike and possibly do the Bonneville Salt Flats with it?’ S&S donated the motor, Rolling Thunder donated the frame, we threw on some drag bars and the offset springer front end, and we had the front wheel for a while and thought it would be perfect for this bike, so we used it.” Arizona True Wheel did the rear wheel, and Zack from Zack’s Custom Paint executed a perfect scheme to match the S&S colors for the 55th anniversary presentation.
One could go on forever regarding each of these student builds. The quality of craftsmanship is top-notch, and the leadership from the instructors is invaluable. If you’re lucky enough to witness the builds, the interaction between the students and interested spectators, and the determination these aspiring builders possess, you’ll know that the future of the motorcycle industry is in good hands.
Keep an eye on www.thunderpressed.wpengine.com for expanded features on each of the student builds.
(This article Peering into the Future was published in the June 2014 issue of Thunder Press, North edition.)
2014 Donnie Smith Chopper Class Challenge Awards
3R Award (Recycle, Reuse and Rebuild): Eden High School
Best Presentation: Mitchell Tech
Design and Innovation: Eden High School
Technical Excellence: Mitchell Tech
Traveling Award: Eden High School
Overall Award: Eden High School
High School Build Open Class: Sturgis Brown High School