When it comes to the ever changing realm of custom bikes and choppers there is a dignified sense of nobility that comes from sticking to your roots. Well what if those roots were literally at the start of it all? The beginning of the entire chopper movement, what then would you build today ?
After running a feature this spring on Ohio builder Brent Mayfield's survivor chopper resurrected and found by current Dayton local Eric Mills, we were contacted by a builder and painter out of Dayton who originally painted that bike back in the 70's when it was first built. That man was none other then Dayton chopper legend himself Kenny Anderson. Kenny worked for the "Chop shop" in Dayton doing custom painting in the 70's in the midst of the ever growing chopper movement. Mainly doing work for his friends and a very select few while building many of his own custom show bikes at the time he carved a nitch for himself in the area as a purveyor of the now popular perfect chopper stance. Extremely raked out, long, low, and fast hot rod choppers was the name of the game and still is. Kenny Anderson has spent decades holding on to that esthetic and building some of the coolest true to the period choppers and he recently finished the pinnacle of his style, a raked out custom painted 1948 Harley Davidson Panhead chopper like something straight out of a time machine. Everything about this bike just oozes 1970's classic cool. Except it isnt and a 70s survivor bike, it's a whole new piece built by the true survivor himself Mr. Anderson, who truly is the real deal. Born in 1952 and having built his first chopper in 1967 at the age of only 15, Kenny chopped everything he could get his hands on ever since then and along with his friends, helped to evolve the Midwest bike scene and fuel the custom bike movement that changed motorcycling forever. We were given the chance to visit Kenny's home shop just outside of Dayton, Ohio. A space housing his impressive shop with all his current projects and walls lined with bike show trophies and memories of the era of custom bike building that we have all come to admire so greatly. We got to spend an afternoon getting acquainted with every detail of his newly finished 1948 Pan head chopper as well as his newest Flathead chopper build and we got to dig through the archives of his incredible seventies memorabilia scrapbooks documenting some great Ohio chopper history. We actually had so much to speak with him about that for the first time on the Old Bike Barn blog we are doing a two part feature for Kenny's two newest builds and a peek into his archives. We now present you with feature number one.
So let's get started with all of the details about the Panhead build.
It's a 1948 Harley Davidson Panhead in a raked frame with a CCW girder front end.19" front wheel and 16" Firestone back wheel. '65 transmission with electric start and fueled by an 1 3/4 SU carburetor.
Any special help on the build you would like to note?
Well the build and paint was done by me, with the added tank art done by Steve Wright. Seat upholstery by Dennis Gambill. Motor work from Bob Huffman also help from Brent Mayfeild. Welding help from Chuck Glasgow and helping hand by Jim Kramer. Last, chrome plating by Dayton Wire Wheels and Metal Brite.
So there are so many neat elements and parts to this bike it's hard to choose a favorite but the primary cover is a really neat stand out piece, so let's talk about that. Where did you find that and who made it?
That's from Milwaukee iron, I actually bought it 10 years before I finished the bike and I saved it just for this. Randy with Milwaukee iron sold me that, he was big in the bike building for a while he was actually even on TV for it. Are you familiar with the V twin show in Cincinnati? Well that's where I first met him he used to build those old school flat trackers but with Evo motors in them and was always set up out there.
Well what about the front end that's another really cool part of the bike?
That is an early CCW front end that we used to buy when we were kids. I just happened to have a couple left, so I tear them down and rebuild them, redo the springs and bushings and of course re-plate them.
So everything on this front end and everything on this bike in general has been refinished and replated? It looks immaculate.
Yep everything was plated mostly by Dayton Wire wheel, and you know there's a lot of hand built stuff on this bike so it had to be. I built my own seat pans as well, then I have a guy here in town Dennis Gambrill's son who covers my seats, Gambrill upholstery is the shop.
So one question I wanted to ask, essentially, you began building bikes in the era where choppers really began. When did you first start building your very first choppers? Would it have been in the 1960s or seventies?
The late sixties was one of my first bikes I built, I've got a picture here on my wall this top picture here (points to photo) that's a 1959 sportster, that is the first Harley that I bought when I was 17 years old . You know we couldn't afford to have someone go build us a bike so we would just bring stuff home and use what we got and have something to ride so that 1959 came in a basket of parts and I bought that off of a good friend of mine here in town. He was doing about the same thing at the time, chopping bikes and making them his own. We were just dragging them home whenever we could find them. Well then that bike ended up turning into a whole other bike down the road and won several trophies as you can see in one of the photos here. I cut up the frame stretched it and built a bunch of parts for it put a 20 over front end on it and then I rode it all the time. Great bike. You know I wish I could find out where that one was today ! Haha.
So in that big push for bike building back in the seventies just how many do you think you had a hand in building? As in built for yourself or other people?
Well we pretty much just mainly built for ourselves I mean I did build for other guys, you know buddies of mine, but only where they just didn't have the ability at the time, I did so yeah, I guess I have helped plenty of guys in the area build a lot of stuff.
So you wouldn't say that you would have been a commercial chopper business yourself but you were a big part of the chopper community local to Dayton then?
Definitely, I mean I would think so. Me and my buddy Brent Mayfield, who you did an article on his bike back in the Spring, well Brent, I pretty much painted everything of his for many years. There is times a few other people did stuff for him but really most of his stuff was all painted by me. At the time he was building all of his own stuff the same way that I was. You know you go find a bike for maybe 400 or 500 bucks bring it home tear it down, do whatever it needed, get a long front and put on it, cut that neck and rake it out. I mean that's all that we rode back then. You would get a lot of people say "how the hell do you even ride that thing?" and honestly man I thought they rode great!
So you would say that was definitely part of the culture back then in your experience? It was maybe part of the "freak out the squares" objective while at the same time trying to out do your friends building the most wild bikes you could imagine?
Well, what I think we did more of was when we figured something out, like cut up one and raked it and it actually worked, well then everyone said "OK let's do that!" You know cause everybody used to talk about these numbers they always used to talk about rake and trail, don't go over this and don't go under that. haha Hell, I was never in that box, I would measure and be like 20 inches outside of where you are supposed to be and hell it would still ride like a million bucks! Everyone wanted to talk about front ends being "floppers" and you know that just has to do with getting your experience in for what you build and learning how to not create that problem. So we would rake something and the goal would be OK here's how I want this to sit and forget about all that trail business, this is what I want my bike to look like, and it just worked.
So with that mindset do you feel like most of the time you are building for the objective of a specific stance then?
Usually yes, I want it to be like this 48 Panhead here, level you know. I would pull the neck out pick a front end that I want to use in that bike and this one has about a 14 over I think for instance. Then I cut the neck and set it to where my bike is level but yet I'm still here running a stock kick stand. So it all evens out really well then on this bike I'm also running an old 600 rear tire on the back that's actually an old Firestone car tire.
That tire is quite impressive that's one of the first things I noticed about the bike that really stood out when you walk right up to it.
You had to make all that stuff fit you know. A lot of this stuff I built, that Fender had to be cut up to fit that tire perfect and even that oil tank too, I actually made that cause you can't get an oil tank in their the way I wanted, so I made the oil tank. I also made the Sissy bar too, made lots of things so it would all fit just right.
So for the oil tank you actually had to thin out one side of it?
Yep, the electric start transmission is a little higher so I had to thin this whole side out here to get it to fit then plate it. That inner primary was alot of work too. That's an old Harley enter primary and they are usually pretty ate up. Well my buddy Jim he worked on it a bit then I worked on it to get the pits and stuff out then I finally took it to Mike Barr who is another great guy here in town who has a plating shop. I was trying to get it polished up and done for a show here in town that we like to support. Well I was putting it all back together a day before the show and pulled it off but I had not even fired the bike up yet but it's ready to be fired. I also took it to The Columbus show and that stopped me up for a bit but now I've went back and did my little touches here and there and it's ready to go.
So would you classify this then as a show bike?
Yes, yep it sure is. Hell, even the ones we rode back then were show bikes. If you go back and look, I'll get out my scrapbook and show you everything we pretty much built were show bikes then. Although back then hell, that's just how we did it! We just plated everything heavy and did wicked paint on everything else, put some kind of nice seat on it and a long front end and bam. Today people might be like "Ah that's just a damn trailer Queen" but we still rode them, and well that's OK if a couple get trailered, I got plenty of bikes though and that don't mean that's the only one I got. Haha
So what would be a daily rider bike for you today then?
Well my 1968 sportster is a definite daily rider, my electra glide too.
So I know this term gets used a lot but I have to say this 1948 Pan really looks like a "survivor" chopper but it certainly isn't, it's actually just a continuation of your specific style that has survived all these years would you agree?
That's what we were building back then and you can see it in my books the only difference is there a few modern tricks done to this that nobody would even know I'm telling you though we just put them together and if they rode and start well then we rode those sons of bitches
So let's talk about the paintwork on this bike it really stands out and there's a lot of great details in there.
Well I did all the paint work myself in sort of the hot rod style that I have done on many of my bikes and then my buddy Steve Wright did the artwork on the top. He was actually the same guy who did the art with India ink back in the 70s on Brent's bike, the one in your feature back in the Spring. Me and him went to high school together and hes just a fabulous artist. I have a picture here on my wall of one of his 1st pieces right next to the iron head I built. That guy could do some incredible stuff with ink.
Is this sportster the one you referenced earlier the 1 that you built out of your 1st Harley?
Yup that's the one that was white then I went in there and change the whole bike to a honey gold
So this picture is you then with the bike if so that's pretty amazing you sure did look the part back then
We all were the part. We all were your typical long haired hippie dude's you know, just like you guys are today.
Well we are doing our best to carry it on. Haha
I know you are and i'm glad to see it! It was some really good times back then. The world was a lot better back then, period.
It's definitely easy for guys involved in choppers today to feel as though they grew up in the wrong era, so I can definitely feel that and I wish I would have been alive back then to see just how great it was.
Yep, back when motorcycles were dangerous and sex was safe. Hahaa
So jumping back to this artwork all of the artwork here in between your striping on the tank and the Fender that's all Steve's work mixed in?
All of this and all over the bike you got to really get down and look at all the detail that I had him put in there. We carried it out all over the tank, fender and the frame. We even stuck a couple broken teeth back here on the Fender that came out of the mouth of the creature and you'll have to see the little hidden pieces on the frame there's some neat stuff in there .
So what is the timeline of you building this whole bike?
That bike got close to finished in 2018, it sat on my bike stand for almost 10 years though putting pieces together for it just concepting, putting different front ends on and such, there are some bikes that look good left alone other than maybe some paint and I enjoy that but I'll tell you, this bike is really ME, I'm a hot rod chopper guy that's really what I craved and that's why I built that because I just needed to finish it. I mean I started it and life happens you know things get in the way, chasing women, silly things like that and I said one day fuck it, I'm gonna get out there and I'm gonna put this son of a bit together, so I kicked it into gear and started grabbing my parts up, took a big front end I had and put on it and finally put that CCW front end then I said, yeah that's it, that's the look. That's the look that I want and it started all coming together.
So would you say then this bike in relation to others you build over the years would be kind of like the pinnacle of your style then?
Definitely, I mean to me it just don't get any better than that. I mean if it's low, long it don't get any better. Hell, only way it would be better is with a longer front end and you know what I may even just build another one! haha.
........to be continued
(Check out our blog in a few weeks for part two!)
Photos and words by Mike Vandegriff