My sanity was questioned the day an ugly pile of angle iron and wood, murdered Volkswagen and Kawasaki was dragged into my yard. I thought it was absolutely beautiful. My husband and all his bros thought I was nuts...all except for one. The tall, quiet man who had given me this trike. He had built her himself, even ridden a few times, but the lack of weight on the front end, and difficulty of combining just the right parts, and the temptation of his comfortable Goldwing were just enough to earn her a seat in the secluded bug graveyard beyond his house. He had originally pictured a strangely cute replica of "The Beverly Hillbillies truckĒ hence the wooden moldings around her entire body. I immediately pictured Peter Fonda / Herman Munster.
I have to admit that my husband was amazing...he didnít laugh with everyone else. He listened to my endless tirades of ideas, sometimes nodding and murmuring in agreement, or perhaps shaking his head and trying to hide the look of bewilderment in his eyes. Of course he'd weathered the storm before. He had endured the countless attacks of my paint gun and imagination to his Sportster and various trailers, tanks, and fenders. He was used to it...but I donít think he understood the fire that kindled within me due to this forlorn creature with vines knotted through forks stained with paint and tree sap. I had fallen in love.. possessed wholly by this ugly pile of bed rails and rust.
I immediately began my research, pouring through web sites and magazines for inspiration. I couldnít find it. There was nothing that caught my eye... nothing that looked like me. William probably answered a million questions about VW parts, torsion bars, and motorcycles in general. Most of the time, heíd laugh and shake his head, but answer the best he could.
One Sunday, Steve and I rode into town for a late breakfast, and happened upon a distant friend who was rebuilding a Yamaha. Amidst our discussion, he mentioned having this rare Italian frame with a cool front end for a trike. We stopped by his house that afternoon to check it out, and he comes out of the house smiling, holding a beat up old shoebox.
He says ĒThereís something Iíve gotta show yaíll,Ē and takes the lid off the box.
Inside there was a tiny model of a wooden c-cab trike, with tiny lanterns, and iron cross mirrors and taillights, and a long, sleek twisted chrome front end with huge rockers. He tried to give me the model, swearing it had been in his closet for years, but I couldnít take it...I didnít need it. I could already see my scooter taking shape. That afternoon, we brought her to my Dadís shop, and prayed he didnít faint from laughter the next morning. I knew if anyone could help me build what I could see, Daddy could.
For all the people who wonder why in the world I chose body work, the answer is simple: because my Daddy did.
I grew up as his shadow, his constant companion as soon as I could walk. Iíve been told he bragged of how I could tell a Ford, Chevy or Dodge truck before I was three. I read Truckiní and VW Trends while my classmates poured over Seventeen. I have been trained as a nurse and dental assistant, but the scent of paint and the cool softness of freshly sanded primer lured me back to the shop, and soon coaxed my husband in as well. Daddy always let me believe I could do anything I set my mind to. My Mom was always there with encouragement too, but I know she would have preferred batons or pom-poms to airplanes, Chevy trucks and mopeds. I respect my mom, because I know I drove her crazy...still do, for that matter. I mean really, motorcycles?!
Well, he did laugh like hell when he saw my latest project. Then he mentioned a metal heart shaped shelf he knew of that someone was throwing out, and how it might be nice to have some pieces of curved metal bars.
It wasnít long before she was parked right in the middle of the shop, and he was sitting there, staring and frowning, occasionally asking me to measure this or that.
He never actually TOLD me what to do, just suggestions or ideas. Sometimes I would tell him what I wanted something to look like, and he would tell me what I needed to do it. I mustíve put two thousand miles on our truck as I ran from three different metal shops, a boat plant and countless stores and lumber companies, digging for steel rivets instead of aluminum, sheet metal that would be lightweight but sturdy against the vibration...so many little things. Steve went home every night for a month with welder burnt eyes. It was about this time she was named ĒHell-ga.Ē
(Get it...VW, German...hence the iron cross motif...)
I still was having problems with that rusted up Kawasaki front end, the only salvation a funky set of twisted chrome ape hangers. I began digging for a piece of Harley. After a half a dozen inquiries from people who either didnít have one or wanted an ungodly price, I finally found something I could afford.
I could just imagine R.D. smiling as he laughed at my plight, then told me that he had three I could choose from for $100. We left the shop that evening at around 6:00, and it was already dusk, the air cold and damp. An hour later, R.D. turned on the porch light of his shop to see us in. The first front end was probably from a raked Panhead...decent, but not what I was looking for. I asked him if he had one with rockers.
ďIf you donít mind diggin' for it.Ē
He grabbed a flashlight and headed out the back door. Over the fence, ignoring the sleet, and through the mud later, a huge piece of metal became visible through the pine straw and vines. I stared at the long rusty twisted bars, and curving rockers. All of the bolts looked like tiny steeples, and the triple tree was still attached to a scarred, mutilated piece of frame. I looked up at R.D. and told him it was the ugliest thing Iíd ever seen. Then I started pulling the weeds away and motioned for Steve to help me pick it up.
Three months, alot of pinto beans and sleepless nights later, she was pieced together, and starting to look like a vehicle. The meadow green twisted bars reached winding fingers through the gold rockers, and the deck plate floor boards reflected the chrome skull on the shifter. I'd lost 35 pounds and had permanent saddle bags under my eyes, but i was mesmerized by what she was gonna be. Shiny maltese cross mirrors and tail lights waited expectingly in boxes, and the Camaro wheels, fat tires, and mudflaps gleemed brighter than the gold letters that read "AMY" that belonged on the back. She just needed to be painted.
When I heard about the Easyrider Bike Show in Memphis, I became obsessed with being there. When she was still primered out 48 hours before the show, and I still had three or four insurance jobs in the shop, I almost gave up. But when I looked out the front door that cold Thursday night and saw all of our bros and sisters standing there in ragged clothes with pizza and beer, tears welled up in my eyes as I realized we were gonna make it. After 4 more hours of body work, I began painting the rest of the meadow green metallic and black at around midnight. At 3:30, I set down my paint gun, and looked up at my mom standing in the door of the paint booth in her nightgown and house shoes, shaking her head, but grudgingly admitting it was absolutely beautiful. We were gonna make it. I think I fell in bed an hour or two, and then came in the next morning to paint the cars. From 4:00 that afternoon til about 3 Saturday morning, we wired up the lights, added the brass lanterns, four foot long fringe on the grips, stereo, and interior pieces, which i cut out by and upholstered by hand...each tiny piece of diamond tuck and roll. we pushed her out of the shop and up on the icy trailer. I stood there, cold tired and dirty, and stared at the lifesize version of my buddy's model. We had 4 and a¬ half hours to pack and make the 200 miles to Memphis. Well, we made it, and I still had green paint staining my nose and hands...I was the last scoot to roll in, and I got lots of attention. I did not bring home a trophy that day. That weekend was the beginning of my writing career, however, thanks to Hell-ga, and now, lots of pictures and trophies and miles later, I guess you can say the rest is history.