My passion for finding, preserving and telling the stories of the vintage pieces of our past was growing. The first three bike builds made me realize how much I enjoyed having my kids involved and out in the garage with me. The café racers displayed in my office became functional conversation pieces that helped build even more relationships that led to even more barn finds. I had to find a way for my family life, work life and personal hobby to overlap.
And that’s how the first annual vintage motorcycle show for the state of Alaska was born.
In March of 2015, I reassigned one of my employees part-time to help organize and manage everything for the vintage motorcycle show, held in conjunction with Colony Days in June. As we were putting the show together, we realized a lot of the guys that owned the vintage bikes we were hoping to attract were not 30 and 40 years old. They were 60 and 70 years old. Social media was not the world they operated in.
My biggest goal was to make sure the inaugural vintage motorcycle show was successful. And to do that, I had to have vintage motorcycles – 70 of them to be exact. So I turned to the original social network: inviting all these old guys that owned the vintage bikes to coffee and telling them about the bike show. I told them that we’d love to have their motorcycles and other vintage projects on display. I assured them we’d keep whatever they brought to the show secure and safe.
The day of the show arrived, and with it, my dossier of vintage bikes doubled and tripled. We had people from Homer and Kenai and Soldotna. We had people from Fairbanks. Suddenly, our little local event became a statewide attraction. And I’m happy to say we totally maxed out at 70 bikes. We even had people rolling up that morning, not realizing there was a registration process, with vintage bikes to display. The weather was great, and we had booze and music which makes everything better.
The show turned out to be a hub for vintage items, and those who appreciate vintage items, not just old bikes. Hundreds of like-minded appreciators of old stuff turned out from all around the state. It didn’t matter if they were into vintage gas pumps, signs, jukeboxes or barber chairs. There was something for everyone. I can’t tell you how many new connections were made that day, but there were a lot.
The show exceeded my expectations and turned out to be the catalyst for the transformation and rebranding of Northern Café Racers into what’s now Northern ReStory. It really helped me transition out of the small café racer niche I started in and move beyond more than just vintage motorcycles. My passion for finding, preserving and telling the stories of the vintage pieces of our past was solidified.
Don’t get me wrong, I love café racers. I love that they're clean and sporty. I love the attention they generate. They're just the coolest representation of what I call Old Speed. But I really got my world rocked with the vintage motorcycle show and a bike I now call “The Wrecking Ball.”
In the days leading up to the show my garage transformed into a staging and storage area for many of the vintage bikes that rolled in from around the state. And you can bet that my neighbors noticed the uptick in traffic.
One neighbor came over with a yellow Post-It sticky note, and said, "Hey, I grew up with this guy since the first grade. He's got MS, he's tied up in a wheelchair and he's not able to ride bikes anymore. I can tell by all the vintage motorcycles rolling in and out of your garage that you appreciate old stuff.” Then he handed me the sticky note. On it was written: 1964 Harley Panhead Arlen Ness Chopper. He asked, “Do you want it?”
He explained that the Panhead came to light when Willow was struck with wildfires in the summer of 2015. His friend with MS had the bike in a storage unit close to the fires and needed help moving it and other items out. So my neighbor went to help, and together they pulled out hunting gear, moose racks, motorcycles; all this cool stuff that had been sitting in storage for who knows how long.
So I drove out to take a look at the Panhead. The 1964 Harley was chopped in the 1969-70 era. It had a magneto, cloth wrapped plug wires, lacquer paint and a juice brake with a 12-over raked front end. It was period appropriate with a coffin tank. It was a time machine straight out of the ‘70’s.
I knew I had to have this bike.
When my neighbor asked me if I wanted this motorcycle I thought, "The last thing I need is another motorcycle. How am I going to get this into my house and stay married?” I flipped through my pre-nup agreement to see if there was a motorcycle clause in there. Of course, I don't have a pre-nup, but you can understand my dilemma: how was I going to acquire this motorcycle and not sleep on a couch for the next two months?
I got home and told my wife, "Hey, there's this really cool bike; I’ll trade anything for it. I'll hook your car up with an auto-start and I’ll brush off the snow all winter long. I'll do whatever it takes but there's no way in hell that motorcycle is going to be on my radar and wind up with someone else."
We got the chopper. It was awesome. The thing was sitting in storage since 1981. No shit, it wasn’t registered and I got the original plates. It was just sitting there. Maybe it was started on and off over the years, but you can imagine all of the issues that come from sitting idle for 30 years.
So we started chipping away at the list of everything needed to bring this Panhead back to life: changing fluids, belts and gaskets, upgraded magnets, bearings and more. With the help of Ron Harvey and Harvey’s Custom Classics, we got it back up to speed and transformed into just the coolest motorcycle.
That was the summer of 2015 when we got the Panhead on the road, still with a few gremlins, but rideable, nonetheless. I got all kinds of thumbs up from people at stoplights and it was then that I realized that I was definitely not inside the little café racer box anymore, I was just flat-out into old stuff.
The vintage motorcycle show provided the opportunity to help me clearly see that I was outside of the motorcycle box. I was into any barn find and the relationships that helped make those vintage discoveries. It transcended motorcycles.
The relationships that were developed through the show that summer reinforced what I’ve always known: I’m a people-person.
I love communicating with people. Going out to coffee and having omelets with guys that are 40 and 50 years older than I am. Chatting with them about where all this vintage stuff comes from and discovering the stories behind them. It’s important that the stories of how the items came to Alaska and where they’ve been are whole-heartedly preserved. Maybe there’s a family story behind an item. Or maybe the significance is not that the item is a big geographical Alaska thing; maybe it's just a third or fourth generation item.
Whatever the story, you can be sure that Northern ReStory will do its best to preserve and share it with you.
As for the transformative summer of 2015, I’m incredibly thankful that a vintage motorcycle show and a wrecking ball bike paved the way for me to genuinely live my passion in all areas of my life.