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Southern Rail: Threadbare memories

By Robert Filla

Back in May of 1972, I became the owner of my first Big Twin Harley, the dream of every 18-year-old at the time. I’d been hanging at the local Harley shop (35 miles away) for years, ever since I bought a bike there back when I was 15. I was the skinny runt who showed up on Saturday mornings, taking out the trash, volunteering to scrub greasy parts—anything to hang around bikers, listening to them spin their tales of travel and danger, scrapes with both lovers and the law. It was a brainwashing I actively sought, a cult I yearned to be accepted into as a member. And now I rode a Shovelhead.

That summer, the dealer asked some friends and a few customers out to his ranch for a weekend party and campout. I guess due to my loyalty (and obvious desire to live the life), I received a most-coveted invitation and was sitting in the shop’s parking lot a good hour before the doors even opened. My FLH dresser was so damn sparkly it almost outclassed the waif of a girl perched on the buddy seat. She was three years older than me, a college student at UT that worked part time as a model. (I found out later that a part-time modeling gig for a college student meant she took her clothes off for “private” photographers.) But damn she was cute, and the tiniest button of a gal.

I understood that a group of riders from Houston would be riding down to participate in the party. Rumors about them being an actual MC had been bandied about for weeks. Not wanting to look out of place in the presence of possible “celebrities,” I needed to update my wardrobe. I had the jeans and the boots, the mirrored aviator glasses with the loop earpieces. My blonde hair was of sufficient straggly length and my first attempt at a beard was well into its fifth itchy week. But… I needed a T-shirt—an official-by-God biker T-shirt. Licensed Harley wear was still in its infancy and it would be years before the lucrative MotorClothes would be envisioned. But there were alternatives.

I’d been a huge fan of motorcycle magazines for years, buying them in secret and ferreting them away from the prying eyes of parents who felt that full-sleeved tattoos, racing motorcycles at midnight and women who drank wine from a bota was not the ideal path for their eldest son. One of these “lifestyle” publications offered a series of iron-on transfers featuring a variety of engine designs, Flathead, Knuckle, Pan and even the new and revolutionary Shovelhead.

When the package arrived with that Easyriders logo on the front, I damn pissed myself. And as it turned out, it was a lot easier talking Mom into ironing the decal on a new white Hanes than I originally thought. So it was the Shovel, my cute girlfriend model and me decked out in proper biker attire, all shining like a new penny, sitting in the parking lot. Various local riders were pulling in, congregating for our departure to the party when I heard the first rumblings coming down the street.

All my pretense of trying to be cool fell to the pavement as a dozen-and-a-half burly men in cut-off jackets and gleaming choppers pulled into the shop’s tiny parking lot. They looked every bit like they owned the wind—and the world. Sliding off their machines with practiced ease, bear hugs and full-mouth kisses among men ensued. I was captivated by this mysterious world that I thought I knew. The 30-mile ride to the dealer’s ranch was the most thrilling event in all of my 18 years. The party was over the top, bike games and stupid stunts, tons of barbecue, beer, brown liquor—everything I thought it would be; everything it should be. And I was hooked. We left early, before dark. I’d noticed a few club members giving my model sideways glances and, although I wanted to stay, I figured it best to leave.

It’s a fond memory imprinted in my soul; one that helped dictate my life’s direction. It was brought to life again by a recent discovery. By the time you read this, I will have celebrated 40 years of owning that same Shovelhead. But guess what I stumbled across? Yep, the T-shirt Mom ironed for me four decades ago. Will it fit my carcass for my 40th anniversary ride on May 22? You betcha, even if I have to rip it apart to get it on.

 

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