A Family Affair

As you know by now, my desk job tends to be the source for many new relationships leading to my vintage barn finds in Alaska. Part of that desk job involves going out to take pictures of clients’ houses to qualify them for home insurance. So one drizzly, overcast Friday afternoon I was out in a well-known area of Alaska. And I was in no hurry to get back to the office. I was more interested in drinking a cup of coffee and driving around. 

I noticed a yard sale about to kick-off adjacent to the house where I was taking pictures. There were tell-tale signs this was a man’s garage sale: lots of tools on tables made with sawhorses and sheets of plywood, gold mining equipment covered in tarps, and more. Then something caught my eye beyond the sawhorses and tarps.

Just beyond the garage was a tarp-covered object leaned up against a tree. I could tell it was a motorcycle because of its size and the two wheels that weren’t covered. So I thought, "Damn, I'm already here and there's no way I'm going to let that haunt me."

So I parked the car and walked up to introduce myself. I casually mentioned, "Oh, and I see a motorcycle over there." The gentleman running the sale said, "Yeah, go take a peek."  As I approached the bike I recognized the leading link fork as a BMW Earles fork. It had to be one of two models, and both of them were on my “must have” list. Sure enough, we uncovered the bike and revealed a 1968 BMW R60/2, the lower compression model used for sidecar use.

I raced home shaking with excitement as I retrieved my trailer and ran through the bank. After the bike was loaded I did what I always do: asked for the story behind my barn (or in this case, leaned-up-against-a-tree) find.

The gentleman I purchased the bike from had a friend that was in financial trouble. He asked if he would be willing to hold the motorcycle and tools in exchange for a short-term loan. Neither the now ex-friend nor the money ever showed up again. So the new-found owner palletized the motorcycle which he then stored in the very top of his warehouse.

And the top of his warehouse is where the bike sat for 11 or 12 years; out-of-sight, out-of-mind.  One thing led to another and he happened to pull the bike off of the palette, leaned it up against the tree, hosed it off, and put a tarp over it in preparation for the garage sale. And shortly after that, I happened to drive by. Talk about fate.

And that’s how the Louboutin bike build began.

We wheeled the bike into the waiting room of my office where it was displayed for clients to enjoy. After four months of kids crawling on it and the occasional adult reminiscing, we finally moved it out of the office to begin tearing the bike apart.  I thought to myself, “I could do this alone in my garage or I could make a party doing it.” I ordered pizza, brought beer; invited friends and the Sons of Winter Production crew joined us to try a new time-lapse technique. About 20 people were part of the tear-down party and you can view the short video at the bottom of this post.

The bike had a poor restoration attempted years prior and there was no remaining original paint. There was no way we could bring it back, so it was going to be a restoration/modification build. With Steve’s help we converted it to 12v electrical system, replaced everything with the latest gaskets, bushings, seals, and everything else along the way. So it was 100 percent new from top to bottom with all matching numbers.

It was a little over a year from when I purchased the motorcycle to when we unveiled it in the machine shop using the same “recipe” as our previous bike builds: three to five different people working together to bring a vintage motorcycle back to life.

The Norton build was our first opportunity to dress up in period costume and have fun creating some treasured family photos, kind of accidentally. The Louboutin build was our second opportunity. And it made me realize how this hobby had evolved into a family affair. My wife really gets a kick out the production side with all the costumes and the dress up, the hair and the makeup. Together we collaborate on the location and photographer for the shoot and sometimes I help with the logistics as far as reserving the space and scheduling. But she essentially handles the production side.

I pick and build the motorcycle and, of course, have some input for my wife along the way as far as colors and features. We decided to model this bike after Christian Louboutin, the French luxury footwear and fashion designer, and his signature red lacquered soles.

As I mentioned, this particular build became a family affair: everybody was involved from the beginning to the end. This being our first true family hobby really opened up flexibility as far as financial resources and time.

The Louboutin bike photo shoot set the bar high for us. Held in mid-November 2015 on 5th Avenue in downtown Anchorage, it involved an impressive slew of variables and logistics to create the photo shoot we were imagining. We filed permits to close down two lanes of 5th Avenue for several hours. We reserved parking spots and restaurants. We lined up people and 1950’s vintage cars (no easy task considering most vintage enthusiasts safely tuck their cars away for the season long before mid-November). We had period costumes to find as well as period hairstyles and makeup for the ladies. And the end result exceeded our expectations.

I may be fortune-telling, but I can only see my family’s involvement and the community of people included in the process of preserving pieces of our past becoming larger moving forward.

Press Links

KTUU News Clip - November 2015

Louboutin Time Lapse Video

Video Credit: Nomad Cinematics (formerly Sons of Winter Productions)