by DAVID SNOW
Photos by Snow
ANIMAL MOTHER: The before picture.
Can’t really say when it dawned on me that I was one of those Harley elder statesmen defined within the culture as a “greybeard,” but at age 57, it is undeniable. The reason I did deny it, is that I lack the wisdom necessary to be a genuine Milwaukee Gandalf. However, the world has shifted beneath me and whether I deserve it or not I AM that eccentric, cantankerous old coot that mainstream Harley consumers consider marginal at best and irrelevant at worst, riding a machine that nobody knows or cares about.
When you have to explain the significance of a real XLCH (as opposed to a post-’69 CH that has no real significance) to supposed Harley people whose eyes glaze over after a few seconds, who start tapping their phones, who don’t know what a magneto is, who don’t even know what a kickstarter is, you know you have outlived your own personal primetime. Usually most inquiries, when clearly headed into the predictable dead end of ignorance, are quickly concluded by me with…..
“Ah, it’s just an old Harley.”
This idea of being a greybeard, makes me think about first riding Harleys back in 1981 on my brand new ‘82 FXE. I was 24 and had been fascinated with Harleys even before I got my first Honda at age 19. I read HST & the available histories, read Roger Hull’s Road Rider and Lou Kimzey’s Easyriders and in general tried to inform and educate myself so I wouldn’t be just another stupid wannabe. Back then, the term referred a guy who dressed in Harley gear without actually owning a Harley which could be a risky proposition. Unlike today, you didn’t wear a Harley shirt unless you had a Harley. I saw HD tees ripped right off the backs of Honda riders. As long as you were honest and not presumptuous, most of the hardcore Harley guys didn’t care what you rode and would talk to anyone about their HDs, past and present.
To me, a greybeard was some gnarly longhair on a Knucklehead. In 1982, a Harley that was the same age as Animal Mother is now, 46 years old, would’ve been a 1936 Knuckle! Hard to believe that a ’69 CH is as remote from today’s Harley scene as a ’36 Knuckle was in ’82, but it makes some kind of sense— both happen to be Harley’s only all-iron OHV motors. Since I’d cared enough to educate myself on the subject, I knew the significance of a 1936 Knuckle, as did most Harley people of the era, again, unlike today. That culture is long gone, like the Horse Nations of the plains Indians. All that’s left are isolated bands, and a few diehard renegades still riding relics and living the old ways.
I’ve mentioned before that I first saw Animal Mother in a used car lot over ten years ago. I never had any first hand experience with a magneto CH, although the wife and I rode a 1969 XLH from Brooklyn to Laconia and back in the early ‘90s and couldn’t wait to get back on our Shovel. But when I saw that mag CH in the car lot I was captivated and thought of Barger, Rayborn, Riley, Payne, Neilson, Spider Summers, Danny Lyon’s “Brucie and his CH,” “Funny Sonny Packing With Zipco,” The World’s Fastest Motorcycle—- names and thoughts and associations that don’t occur with battery powered Ironheads, or any other Harley for that matter.
I well know that none of this has any meaning for any but a meager few and I also knew well enough ten years ago to be intimidated by a 1969 XLCH and passed on her until she popped up again my life a few years later. As I’ve said before, Animal Mother has been my most rewarding and satisfying motorcycling experience.
Photo by Snow
ANIMAL MOTHER: The after picture.
I feel fortunate to have found her. I was sitting at a light Thursday morning on Animal Mother, about a mile from the main gate of the local AFB. I was on my way to my mom’s to meet with the family and get ready for her funeral, so I guess I’m in a frame of mind to mourn the fact that all things must pass. Over the racket of the CH I heard what I thought was a siren and proceeded to swivel my head and then checked the rearview. An airman on a new FLH-style HD had pulled up staggered behind me and his radio was blaring. I turned to see the rider checking out Animal Mother and he started paddling up beside me, trying to shout over his radio.
I couldn’t hear much, but I did hear, “Is that a Harley?” The light changed and I left him in the dust, banging into third before he’d cleared the intersection dragging both feet. I rode the access road to mom’s and after a couple of minutes the airman flew down the adjacent freeway. I could still hear his radio and saw him turn his head, probably still wondering if that was a Harley. Whatever, it was definitely some kind of renegade riding a relic…