I’ve been thinking a lot lately, probably just like everyone else, about how the times they are a changing. But that’s just how life goes, things just always keep rolling…but I admit, I do find myself reminiscing more than usual lately. These days I have been enjoying digging up fond memories of some earlier times of our motorcycle ancestry, recalling all the cool old-school shops that used to inhabit this country and the characters that frequented them. They were all different and unique for sure, but in most ways they were all the same. So with this bit of writing I decided to pay a tribute to all the independent shops that are still trying to survive. Shops that have been around before the Motor Company morphed into the sprawling behemoth it is these days. Small-town shops that were thriving back in the day when XLCH Ironheads and Superglide shovelheads still sat out front and you were greeted upon arrival with a friendly nod and the sweet smell of 50 weight oil and exhaust.
You would find the usual regulars huddled around a bike, discussing the best way to adjust pushrods with a young fella who had just bought his first Ironhead Sportster. Then after the lesson, give him shit for riding a sporty. I was that guy, heck I think we were all that guy at some point in time. Debates raged on whether an S&S or Linkert was a better carb and there was always that one guy who ran a Weber or Dell’Orto pitching his two-cents in. The matter of who the most bad-ass painter and pinstriper around was always discussed. At the top of our list we always had Pino Tafoya. Pino could free-hand airbrush an Aztec warrior or lay down some heavy metal-flake flames then stripe them with his eyes closed.
There was and still is a wealth of knowledge stored in these old-school shops that randomly dot America. There still remains some Gray-haired Harley wizards dutifully turning wrenches, keeping the knowledge alive. These hallowed places, trying to tough it out, need your support now more than ever…This is a profile of one of them.
This is a true of a slice of Americana. Blue collar, hard-working, honest Americana.
This is Fast Eddie.
The sight of a weathered Harley engine bolted to a post and a stretched chopper front end fabbed into a mailbox let you know that you have arrived at Fast Eddie’s Dixonville Cycle. Home to Douglas County Oregon’s Harley-Davidson custom and restoration specialist.
The jingle of the brass bell on the door announces your arrival as you enter one of the last mom-and-pop motorcycle shops around the area, a rare place where you can take a step back in time before old-school Harley repair shops became mostly extinct. An antique cash register, still ringing up sales, sits on the front counter. Parts ranging from new in the box to the rare and antique line the walls and fill the shelves. If a needed item is not in stock, it can be found the old fashioned way — by thumbing through a parts catalog.
A peek into the mechanic’s area reveals a variety of motorcycles with their gleaming chrome and polished aluminum, glossy paint with gold leaf, dull sand-cast aluminum and shiny brass. The scent of gasoline and leather, tires and oil drift about. The sound of classic rock tunes sets the mood.
A metal lathe from the 1920s is still spinning and machining a custom part. The vintage valve-honing machine, built before there were even model numbers, dutifully performs its job. Snap-On wrenches from the 1940s are still turning bolts.
Here, in the midst of this functional homage to an earlier day, you will find another throwback hard at work.
Master mechanic Ed Halkyard could be plying his trade rebuilding an 80-year-old Harley motor, fitting some fresh chrome pipes on a Twin-Cam or just performing a routine maintenance. More than 40-plus years of experience has armed Halkyard with the skills and know-how to solve almost any problem with any motorcycle, be it a newer Harley or an old Indian.
At any given time, Halkyard’s vintage shop houses several bikes, some perched on lifts being wrenched on, others tucked away awaiting parts. The phone rings often, and when it does Ed will drop what he is doing to grab a catalog and look up a part or dispense some needed advice. Halkyard considers his customers as friends, and that philosophy gives his shop a welcoming feel. When Halkyard introduces people, shortly after providing their name, he recites the type of bike they ride. He keeps a large mental rolodex of everyone’s ride and remembers pertinent facts about them. “Bikes sort of have a personality, like people. There is something unique about all of them,” says Halkyard.
It’s easily noticed that everything has its place at Fast Eddie’s. It’s not a huge facility, so no space is wasted. Old and specialty tools hang on the walls. Rows of manuals sit on shelves, tattered and oil-stained from years of dedicated use. Halkyard still routinely pulls out a repair manual, even if he has done a job countless times, just so no detail has a chance of being overlooked “It’s important to take the time to do the job right every single time, no cutting corners,” he says.
Wall space not occupied by tools or parts sports an antique sign, weathered poster or motorcycle curiosity. The back wall has become a memorial to friends who have passed — Tripper’s old Levi vest, Guyron’s custom license plate, Alan’s plaque. Born and raised in San Francisco, Halkyard grew up around motorcycles. His parents rode because it was cheap transportation. In the ’30s and ’40s, Eddie’s father was a parts runner for Dudley Perkins, one of the country’s oldest Harley dealerships. A picture hangs on the wall of his mom at Hap Jones’s birthday bash in 1944. Halkyard also remembers being babysat as a kid by champion dirt track racers while camping on the infield at the Sacramento Mile. Early on, motorcycles emerged as the custom frame around which the rest of his life would be built.
Halkyard, who has never advertised his business, attributes his success to a loyal client base. “I’m grateful for the support all these years; I’m truly a lucky guy to have such great customers,” he says. Those customers are welcome to visit the shop to check on their bike’s progress. He often uses these moments to show folks something about their ride. Customers may even be handed an antique, oddball tool and asked to speculate as to its use. After owning and riding all kinds of bikes, including several Triumphs and the occasional Yamaha, Halkyard settled on Harleys in the ’70s. “I stuck with Harleys over Triumphs because less parts fell off them,” he says with a grin. Eddie is particularly fond of Knuckleheads. He currently owns a 1938 with sidecar and a 1947 classic bobber, both of which he meticulously restored.
He is especially proud of his ’47 Knucklehead bobber. It took more than 10 years of collecting parts and fabricating one-offs, then designing and hand-building the frame. Halkyard says people are often curious about the flappers on the bobber’s upswept exhaust, something normally found on an old tractor. “I tell folks it’s been Oregonized; those flappers keep the rain out of my exhaust pipes,” Halkyard explains. Since he rides year-round, rain or shine, they’re a necessity. Halkyard says his most challenging job to date was the detailed restoration of a rare 1933 Harley factory racer, one of five ever built. The job took years of research, followed by Halkyard having to locate or hand-make period-correct parts before the restoration could begin.
Eddie believes in keeping the old iron on the road, believing these bikes are part of our American history and heritage. “What better way for folks to see a classic motorcycle than to have it motoring down their street?” he asks.
Halkyard says he is proud to have raised his kids in this lifestyle. “You will get some interesting looks, though, when dropping your kid off to school, riding a classic Harley with your youngster in the sidecar,” he says with a smile. His son Matt grew up riding in that Knucklehead sidecar and of course his first bike as a kid was a Harley Hummer. Matt has his dad’s love for motorcycles and builds some kick-ass choppers of his own.
The passing of time has brought an untold variety of motorcycles through the shop doors of Dixonville Cycle. Bikes continue to change as the years drift by, and the techniques needed to work on them must evolve as well. With that in mind, Halkyard continues to learn new skills and tackle fresh challenges. But after decades of turning wrenches, Fast Eddie is planning on semi-retiring. He asks customers to give a call before stopping by to check if he’s open or maybe out for a ride. To help fund his new relaxed work schedule he is also putting his 38 Knucklehead with sidecar up for sale.
Like his old Knucklehead, Halyard has remained steadfast and dependable and made Dixonville Cycle a local institution. So every workday morning, just as he has for almost 30 years, Fast Eddie unfurls the U.S. flag into the breeze, sets it in position at the front of his shop and flips the door sign to Open. Then he’s ready for another day devoted to keeping our American iron on the road.
Till next time,
Blane / @blanejohns