Sunday, April 17, 2011

In It For the Long Haul

In the late 1970s I found myself, a scumbag biker working a job I hated, with unused GI Bill benefits that were soon to expire. I had always been pretty much of a gear head, and once I heard about a vocational school program for motorcycle mechanics here in Minnesota, my future was pretty much sealed.

Once I graduated the two year program, the search was on for a job as a Harley mechanic, and let me tell you, the jobs were few and far between back then. After exhausting all the possibilities here in my home state, my soon-to-be wife and I took off cross country to visit her parents in the oil fields of New Mexico, with the objective of applying at every Harley dealership along the way. Of course before we left there was one thing which had become painfully obvious that I had to do in order for there to be a chance that it would be a successful trip; get a haircut! It seems that at that time the Motor Company was still fighting off the bad boy biker image that it so lovingly embraces all the way to the bank today. So it was adios to the five year growth of hair that I had accumulated since leaving Uncle Sam's service. An additional tight trim of the old beard made me look down right employable.

And it worked! We only had to get as far as Pueblo Colorado before I received a job offer. After a couple years in the dealership there, I found that there was not much problem getting hired at another. That old thing about having dealership experience on your resume was, of course, true. So after about eight years working in dealerships, and another eight or so in independent shops, I finally went on my own.

In all that time, I have seen a lot of shops come and go. Most of the Harley dealerships managed to hang on through the tough times. Many of the independent shops did not. A number of years ago, due to a convergence of circumstances, the Harley aftermarket really took off. It may have had a lot to do with the whole Orange County "American Chopper" phenomenon, or that may have been merely a symptom, but suddenly it seemed that everyone who had ever thrown his leg over a motorcycle was opening a chopper shop. Those were gravy days for most of those shops. They would appear one day out of the blue (as far as I could see) with fancy names, fancy (expensive) storefronts, and fancy bikes with fancy price tags. I always assumed that most of these shop owners had made their fortune in other lines of work, but could not resist the lure of how unbelievably cool it would be to mimic one of the Teutuls. Sort of like the classic mid life crisis, only with bike shops instead of Corvettes.

It didn't seem to much matter that many of these choppers started to literally fall apart after a few dozen trips to the local watering hole. It was painfully obvious to anyone paying attention that many of these shops had little regard for their reputation. Along about that time, most shops made it their policy not to work on anything older than an Evolution. Most dealerships wouldn't even work on them. I am proud to say that I never joined in on that fad. Oh, I admit I tried to talk a good number of potential customers out of rebuilding their Iron Head Sportsters, but my motivation was to keep them from spending more money on their engines than their whole bike was worth. The final word from me was always "if you plan on keeping the bike forever, and it doesn't matter to you that you are spending more on the motor than the resale value of the bike, then yes I will rebuild it."

Now with the economy back down in the dumps, most of those high dollar chopper shops are a thing of the past, so it hardly matters whether or not they built a quality product and stood behind their work or not.

So, why did I spend time working on older motors when there was plenty of low hanging fruit that would have been much more profitable? Well, I guess the reason was the same one that has led me to jealously protect my professional reputation over the years: because I was in it for the long haul. Whether by instinct or conscious decision, I knew that eventually those old Harleys would be desirable again, and I am beginning to see it happen. The young guns who bring in old Shovel or Iron Head parts today no longer have a fit when you give them a labor quote. In fact they seem genuinely pleased to deal with someone with experience on the old motors. I owe that in part to being in it for the long haul.

But the whole idea of "being in it for the long haul" also applies to another area of my life, and your life too, if you are a Christian. Phillipians 1:6 tells us "Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ" You see, this is why I am in it for the long haul as touches Christianity. It comes with the territory. It is God, not I, which started this work of salvation in me back in the spring of 1999, and the Bible assures me that he will continue working on me until either I depart to be with him in spirit, or he returns to be with us in the flesh.

Either way, it is a blessing that, as Christians, we are not left to our own devices to "maintain" our salvation, because as Paul said in Romans 7:18, "For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not." But praise the Lord, we do not have to depend on our own weak flesh; we are able to depend on him. 2 Tim. 4:18 tells us, "And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom: to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen."

Of course there are two sides to every coin. And the flip side to God's deliverance from hell is NOT to live as you like because you are heaven bound. As the apostle Paul would say "God Forbid!" The Lord leads us down a narrow path between the ditch of the fear of tripping up and losing our salvation on the one side, and sinning willfully on the other. That path on which he guides us so carefully has this marker on it from Phillipians 2:13" For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure." Roughly paraphrased, that means that God will make his children to do what he wants them to, but he accomplishes it not through fear, but by changing them in such a way that they want to please him. And that means that if you really are a Christian, you are in it for the long haul!


Kevin "TEACH" Baas said...

Well said Lee..the old iron will always bee cool no matter what fad or trend is in with the mainstream and your top notch work and straight up honest service will never go unnoticed and I am proud to call you a friend and have you building my knuck motors for the many thousands of miles I put on them every summer! Thanks again for all you do!

Dennis said...

Another excellent post, Lee!

St. Lee said...

Thanks Teach, I can always count on you to butter me up. So you are probably wondering why it takes me so long to get your motors done....

St. Lee said...

On the subject of being in it for the long haul, I met a guy the locals call "Bible Bill" last nite (I am out of town on an overdue vacation). He does street preaching 3 evenings a week. He has been doing it for over 23 years. Jane and I listened to his whole presentation and we found it to be rock solid gospel, not skipping over the parts some may find offensive. That's in it for the long haul! Very inspiring.

Dan said...

Yup, Amen..In it for the long haul.

Brad Ervin said...

About mid-sentence through my dissertation about my IronHead and what I needed , my finger planted in my parts manual, I looked up into a glassy-eyed expression I knew so well. I paused and said "Have you ever seen one of these?" To which, the factory trained tech said "Well, not since school."

Now, don't get any ideas; I'm no IronHead mechanic, I just love my IronHead. And I've stripped it down to the exploded parts view twice now, but there are some things best left to the experienced and I needed the flywheels fixed. This was my second Dealer and I was batting zero.

I drove 150 miles to the third and when I found the usual concrete and glass boutique I was a little dismayed. I was a lot more dismayed when I saw the kid at the counter. A few sentences and an old guy was there. I had finally found the old master. He shaved about a thousand dollars off my hide but I had all new bearings, a rebuilt crank, a new mainshaft, and a new pinion shaft. A bargain.

Is the old thing worth it? I bought it in 75 after someone ripped off most of my 900. We'll see. I'm just getting ready to paint (no, I'm not a painter either). I'm a little short in the in-seam and a little proud for training wheels (and, I like to be able to pick up what I ride) and the Sporty is just right.

I'm looking for the long haul and the long haul implies something to carry and somewhere to go with it. There's not much room on a Sporty and with 2 gallons it doesn't seem like you should plan to go far. Or, you have to be careful about what you carry and plan in shorter increments. Looking back over my time it seems I've been carrying a lot of worthless junk and with my eyes planted on the horizon I've missed a lot of scenery along the way.

Like you, I've found the right cargo and the right place to aim for (or, rather, I've been found and put on the right path). The bike won't get me there but what I have in the backpack will.


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