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Southern Rail: One bumpy ride

By Robert Filla

Southern_Rail

The year was winding down, the Mayans were wrong and winter was setting in. It was the perfect time to put the final touches on my project bike sitting out in the shop. It was actually finished and already had several thousand miles on the rebuild but, as anyone who maintains a garden or tinkers with hot rods knows, some things are never really finished. Since perfection can be such a brutal mistress, there’s always something that could use a little tweaking. For this enterprise, it was the seat.

It had a seat. Well, at least it looked like a seat. It rode more like some devious Edgar Allan Poe torture device—hard as a rock, with no spinal column support and little character to set it apart and make my baby stand out in a crowd. So I removed it, made a few phone calls to some local builders and settled on an upholsterer 30 miles from my shop. I took it in, told him I needed some type of padding that was a little more forgiving to my ancient frame, to build up the scooped-out lumbar section (that currently only hit me about mid-butt crack) and then to cover it with some cheap vinyl that I could easily rip off and use as a pattern when reconstructing one from leather. (I’d already fabricated a set of saddlebags and wanted the seat to match my earlier work.) No problem, he said. Come back in a week and see if you like the cut of the padding before I cover it. Although the price for rebuild was almost one-and-a-half times the cost of the original seat, I was willing to fork over a little extra scratch to get my rigid in sofa mode.

I called the shop a week later and told the owner I was headed his way. When he responded with a very drawn out, “Uhhhhhh…” I knew something was wrong. And then he hesitantly responded, “Did you already come by and pick up that seat earlier?” That’s right; he’d lost my damn seat. The one part on this entire bike I trusted to someone else was missing. He had the original leather top cover, but somehow (somehow like “in 17 years this had never happened” somehow), somehow he’d lost my seat. Or gave it (unfinished?) to another customer, or accidentally threw it in the trash, or something. He sounded like the kid standing in front of his schoolteacher and saying the dog ate his homework.

“Call me back in a few days after I look for it some more,” he said. It was the two longest days of the entire project.

Two days later it was confirmed my seat was MIA. Shop owner told me to buy another one, bring in the replacement and he’d do the work for nothing. Plus he offered to pay for the second seat. Maybe this was gonna work out after all.

Nope; not to be. The seat was no longer being manufactured and since I’d designed the entire layout of the frame and rear fender using that first seat as a template, no other seat would even come close.

Since that wasn’t an option, Seat Dude told me to make a seat pan pattern, bring that in, he’d have one fabricated by Seat Pan Guy and we’d start over from scratch. So I sketched out the template and took it to the upholstery shop. A week later he has the seat pan. I needed to bend the passenger section to match the curvature of my fender so my third 30-mile trip to his shop was to pick up the pan. Trip #4 I took it back. Trip #5 was to inspect the foam work.

Finally on trip #6 I picked up the finished product. And in fitting fashion to this tale of torment, it was nothing like I’d requested. But you can’t beat a dead horse. Well ya can, but he ain’t gonna win many trophies. Plus there was no further mention of reimbursing me for the original lost seat. Disgusted, I left, much to the delight of Seat Dude.

So two months into this mess, I’ve got one corner of my leather shop heaped with discarded sections of foam, empty cans of contact cement and still no product finished to my satisfaction. I’m getting there, but it’s a slow process and one discipline I’ve never attempted. I lace and true my own wheels, perform engine and transmission rebuilds, design and fabricate parts, weld, wire, plumb and paint. And now, after 40 years of motorcycle maintenance, I do upholstery. I don’t like upholstery.

 

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