A couple weeks back we ran an article on Dayton, Ohio's Kenny Anderson, a custom builder/painter who has lived here in the Midwest ever since the entire chopper movement began in the 60s and has been a part of it all. Working in Fred Millers "Chop Shop" in Dayton at the height of the 70's chopper craze he saw his share of just about every aspect of the culture. Fast forward to today, he currently has two 1948 bike projects in the works that covered two completely different styles and eras, the first a long and low Panhead chopper that we covered in his last feature and second an 80" Flathead bobber that was as clean as you can build one. So we spoke with Kenny about both bikes and his involvement in the chopper scene here in Dayton and in this interview covered some of his favorite techniques for custom painting. So now we bring you part two of our sit down with Kenny Anderson.
Let's get right into this Flathead build you were telling us about.
Well I literally just got this bike done in March before the pandemic started and I started getting bummed for a bit not wanting to come out here and work on stuff because you never know what's going on in the world currently from day to day but I pressed on and got it finished. The bike is a 1948 flathead Harley and it is an 80" motor, it's a "U" motor but we made it an 80" the rods are the same but it's got big pistons in it.
The last year we went on the EL Diablo Run and a guy we met rode his 80" flat head all the way down on the run and said that thing was just absolutely bulletproof. So it's really cool to see another like his right before us today.
Yeah they are actually really dependable motors I mean if they are built right flatheads are like a lawn mower motor you can just beat the hell out of them and they keep on going. Haha
Are you familiar with the Race of gentlemen? You would really fit right in with this bike over there in Wildwood.
I used to go to all of those type of events honestly, I've been doing this a long time and I still enjoy it but, these days I'd much rather be out here in the garage building stuff.
So with this Flathead build it really looks like a solid runner, do you intend for this one to be more of like a daily rider than your other chopper?
When I began building it I had every intention of it becoming a daily rider actually. It's got a stock front end, little shorter than what I normally ride and it's got a 1952 chassis best I could tell when I got it, all Harley parts for the most part. I try to stick to that the best I can but my front brake drum and a few other parts, well that all came from V twin, some fresh reproduction stuff.
So is the plating on this bike all fresh from Dayton wire wheel or was most of it already plated.
A lot of this was actually already done and everything on this aside from a good amount of polishing that either I or Jim did like my kicker cover here in a few other things, was already plated. I put this one together pretty quick. Brent Mayfield built this motor for me. I purchased it from him a few years back, we do some trading, I do paint jobs for him then he'll do something for me. He doesn't really do work for anybody but I've been a buddy of his for over 50 years now so, he did this motor and we traded labor. The pipes came already plated, my front and rear wheels came already plated too, it's a little less quality per say then the Pan head but it's still pretty good for what I consider to be a "street piece" or an everyday bike. You gotta love Paughco too for being one of the only places left you can get flathead upsweep pipes.
This definitely fits more of a daily rider or even bobber category and there's nothing wrong with that.
Yeah this is definitely a bobber which is simpler to build, not as much to them. This one actually came together pretty quick aside from an intake leak I had giving me trouble that took some time to work out. Had to tear stuff back down and fix my spigots in my cylinders because you don't really know until you get some pressure on them sometimes if they are gonna leak.
So let's get into some of the paint work on this bike, do you care to talk a little bit about the process you followed on that?
Well, the paint work on this was all done by me.
The striping work is really great and the iridescent gold in between it really makes the paint job stand out.
That's all gold leaf, you lay it on in sheets, it actually comes like that in sheets.
It really came out extra smooth. Really pops with the deep black.
Well I build-up my clear and my clear sort of finishes everything out and then Jamie Brown another friend of mine which is actually Eric Mills stepdad, he did the pin stripe work on all of this bike. The gold leaf though it comes in sheets, (Kenny reaches into cabinet pulls out a gold leaf sheet) You would use what they call a gold size which is like a glue that they developed specifically for the art industry and you just lay your design in then you start laying this on piece by piece. I've got a light fluffy brush I like to use and I use all of the gold crumbs that come off of the edges too, I try to catch it then I tap it back on by hand sometimes then brush it off. Comes out really nice.
So would most of these flames on the tank and fender be one big piece?
I would have started by laying a big piece on some place and then use the crumbs from that to finish up all of my smaller lines down on the tips of the flames. That color of gold leaf is really my favorite but they have all different kinds, aluminum, silver, green even, just all kinds of different colors.
I definitely can appreciate the way the leaf catches the light and it has a certain iridescence to it looking at it in different angles.
Again to me that's just the way that I like it it's old school, I've been doing it a long time. I just love what that does to a paint job.
So when did you start painting altogether, give us a little background on that?Well I really started out as a kid. I used mostly spray bombs when I started, I go down to the hardware store and get the old metallics and metal flakes and get to doing my thing, well I went from that to grabbing an old Sears gun and started to use paint out of a can and mixing it. Of course that was in the old lacquer days where lacquer was a little bit easier to work with because it was just paint with a little thinner. It wasn't like the paint's today that are all catalyzed paints, the lacquer was real inexpensive hell, I could buy enough paint for $150 to do 3 or 4 motorcycles back then. Even this black on the Flathead that's just a ditzler black that's $150 a quart now!
Does that come from the base being so deep or is that just the quality?
Well it's the quality of the paint for sure, I have tried using cheaper lines of pain and I really didn't care for it when I was done. I had to go back and re shoot most everything. I like to make sure I've got a lot of good base paint on. I've actually got a tank right over here with the original lacquer paints that I painted 46 years ago it's a candy purple on one side and candy blue on the other with these same type of gold leaf designs. I actually just bought this bike back from the original owner, the guy had passed away and his wife still had all of this stuff. She said that if I ever wanted to buy it that she wouldn't sell it to anyone else but me and so now I've got it and I am trying to restore all of the tins currently. I have the motor and frame and everything out back ready to put it all together.
That was actually a similar story with Brent Mayfields, bike the one that we featured back this spring, a widow ended up with the bike and then she sold it to a man in Kentucky and then Eric found it from him.
It's amazing that bike stayed intact that many years! When Brent built that in the seventies, I was working for a guy Fred Miller at the time his place called "Chop shop" and it was down here on 3rd street. I worked for Fred at the time when Brent wanted me to paint the bike so in small lettering on the tanks we were putting the words chop shop on everything I didn't always put my own name but everyone knew I painted for Fred so it was kind of ok to just put that on there. He was a great guy too by the way he had a really great shop, really meticulous guy and we did a lot of choppers back then, a lot of bikes came through there back in the day. He had that place probably mid to late seventies and he was a regular chopper parts supplier, he had front ends, wheels, tires, fenders, tanks, you name it he had it.
So all of these parts and bikes were sort of fueling the Midwest chopper scene then basically right? Sort of being distributed to everyone to help further along the movement?
Well yeah, I definitely would say so. A good example people would bring in their tins, set them on the counter and say OK I wanna paint job, me and Fred would look at it and a lot of guys would say well you know what I don't care what you do as long as it's blue or I don't care what you do as long as it's green and so on and we would come up with something that we knew that they would like.
So do you feel like when you had those kinds of jobs that's where you were able to really shine and define your style back then?
Yeah certainly cause you know I didn't have anybody telling me that they wanted exactly one certain thing on those jobs so I just kind of did my own thing. When we did have somebody come in that wanted a certain thing though we would really try and work with them and figure out what they wanted and make it cool. Sometimes it was a certain type of artwork or some type of thing like endless lines or panels and we did a lot of that cause that's kind of what people wanted back then. Looking here into my scrapbooks I'll show you I've got a number of different bikes I've painted in there, some for other people and some for myself (flips through photo book) now this one you are looking at here this Pan head that's the bike with the tins that I just got back that tank sitting over there that is this bike that I built back in 1973 as it was back then.
So what was the idea behind the purple and blue theme of that bike was it sort of like a split personality bike
Yeah kinda, I mean I just like to be different.
Well you guys clearly, and it especially shows digging deeper into your archives here, your personal builds between you and Brent and your work with Fred Miller's "chop shop" shows that you were a big part of the chopper movement here in the midwest. Meanwhile fueling and inspiring other people at the time to follow their passions in building bikes. You've really done some great things and we cant thank you enough for sharing this with us.
Absolutely, it was my pleasure.
We finished the remainder of the interview touring the grounds of his home to see the impressive collection of vintage motorcycles and memorabilia he has acquired over the years and finished by flipping through page after page of Kenny's scrapbooks detailing only a small portion of the work he had done fueling Dayton's chopper scene in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. A true Testament to the incredible work he attributed over the years and still continues to carry on today with his current builds. From start to finish it was a great honor to meet Kenny and dig deeper into his archives of a life well lived and the realm of custom choppers.
Photos and words by Mike Vandegrif