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Frank "The Real Deal" Kaisler, part 2 of 3

The Factory
Before it became popular to hate on Harley-Davidson and ride one at the same time, riders were deeply interested in what the Motor Factory was up to. Frank said he couldn't wait to get a set of shovel heads on his pan engine. If H-D came out with something new, guys with a previous generation machine would scrape and scramble to get that new thing (shovel heads, disc brakes, juice forks, etc.) onto their older bike. It seems the view was more optimistic and forward-looking rather than chasing any kind of retro appeal of days past. It went both ways of course, with Harley doing things like putting a Sportster front end on a Big Twin and calling it a Super Glide. That was a common trick guys had been doing forever by the time Harley got around to it. "Mostly we took things off and reduced the motorcycle down at first" Frank says. With little funds for hopping-up, the best way to make a bike faster, as well as easier to work on, was to remove bits deemed unnecessary. It's good to see some simple concepts have never gone out of style.
Friends
I hit Frank with a few stupid questions like "What's the most memorable or rewarding thing you can recall from a life lived around custom motorcycles so long?" He had the same answer that Mike Parti did when I asked him that last year–"The friends". Pretty simple answer. He's proudest, not of the machines he's built or the places he's been, but of the relationships he's formed with other like-minded weirdos obsessed with motorcycles. Many of them are long gone, consumed by the lifestyle they loved or from natural causes, but in Frank's mind they are far from forgotten. From his early years in Baltimore, Frank can list the names of guys he rode with and has stories about all of them. They worked together a lot of times, sharing expertise or equipment. Frank was a Harley mechanic so I can easily imagine him solving his buddy's mechanical problems then just as he does now. Some were known for other specialities so they'd be the go-to guys when a sissy bar was needed, or a frame molded, paint, electrical, you name it, someone had it wired and was willing to lend a hand. Sounds suspiciously like some circles of friends I could name today. That network of helping each other out brings out a mans true colors and you find out pretty quickly who's a giver and who's a taker, no matter what decade it is.Part two of three. The more things change, the more they stay the same...

 

Part two of three. The more things change, the more they stay the same…

The Factory

Before it became popular to hate on Harley-Davidson even while you owned one, riders were deeply interested in what the Motor Factory was up to. Frank said he couldn't wait to get a set of shovel heads on his pan engine. If H-D came out with something new, guys with a prior generation machine would scrape and scramble to get that new part—shovel heads, disc brakes, juice forks, for example—onto their older bike. Such a program and attitude toward progression seems more optimistic and forward-looking than the modern quest for retro. Things in Frank's days went both ways of course, and even Harley did things like installing a Sportster front end on a Big Twin and calling it a Super Glide. That was a common trick guys had been doing forever by the time Harley got around to it. "Mostly we took things off and reduced the motorcycle down at first" Frank says. With little funds for hopping-up, the best way to make a bike faster, as well as easier to work on, was to remove bits we deemed unnecessary. It's good to see some simple concepts have never gone out of style. 

 

East vs. West

Frank started out in Baltimore, Maryland, as an Editor-at Large-for Easyriders back in '72. After four years of covering events and shooting bikes he made the move to California. He was rattling off the changes he made to his bike each year: different frame geometry, tanks, paint, chrome, et cetera. It sounded like the bike changed every winter, and changed significantly; not just a refresh. I asked Frank if it was like this every year and if that changed when he moved to California. Yes, and yes. The bike got completely torn down and rebuilt, new paint and rebuild every winter in Baltimore. After the move his panhead stayed exactly the same for four or five years. Like most of us in the Golden State, Frank hesitated to spend the time needed to completely rebuild his chopper because he didn't want to miss out on too many good riding days.

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Frank's Bike, fourth or fifth generation 4 up 4 out, 22-inch over. Note axed tank, molded frame, scoops on dropouts and axed oil tank.

 

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Frank "Cosmo" Pendolifini's pre-unit. Cosmo was an important mechanical mentor to Kaisler.

 

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Various show bikes in Baltimore, circa early '70s.

 

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Laconia '74. Arlen Ness with the Silver Lady, one of his earliest diggers. Arlen has since found many early examples of his famous machines, but he's never been able to locate this one. Jim Davis built this bike out of 5/8-inch O.D. chromoly. Rear hub is a front Sporty unit with an aluminum hub welded to it for mounting the sprocket. This bike had the first twist clutch Frank had seen. Also, note the lack of an oil bag: all oil is in the frame. Ness shipped the bike to Perewitz and rode up with Dave and his crew. Note second oil cap in the middle photo, and note fins shaved off front hub used as rear. The rear wheel also had the brake switch inside the drum. Talk about neat shit!


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Arman Bletcher's Bike photographed at the Malibu ER Ranch. Late '70s or early '80s.


 

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Modernization. Frank's trusty pan, now a pan/shovel. Yes it's the one shown in various stages as the gold show bike above and the one with the brown Wassell in Part One. This was in the '80s some time, shot outside the Easyriders offices in Agoura Hills, California. Note split oil/gas tanks and modern upgrades like mags and disc brakes.

 

Side note: these images are scanned from Frank's original prints. You can view larger versions here. Please don't post them around the internet without giving full credit to Frank Kaisler.


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Comment with Chopcult (12)

Commented on 6-27-2011 At 04:07 pm
 

awesome photos. i really dig how you guys are putting some chopper history out there for us. thanks for all the work guys!

Commented on 6-27-2011 At 06:59 pm
 

that ironhead digger is the shit

Commented on 6-27-2011 At 09:50 pm
 

The version in that last pic is the best! All buisness, looks tuff!

Commented on 6-27-2011 At 11:41 pm
 

I wish this story was slated for 100 parts!! Great pics and great write up. I PAY for less with a magazine! Thanks CC.

Commented on 6-28-2011 At 12:03 pm
 

Nice. wish there were even more picts I could look at em all day

Commented on 6-28-2011 At 03:29 pm
 

mike, you said it. i really wish magazines did more write ups like this that really tell the story of how things got to how they are today instead of the same tech sheet bullshit we've all seen a thousand times

Commented on 6-28-2011 At 05:15 pm
 

Great stuff! People often forget just how much cool shit Ness did.

Commented on 6-29-2011 At 08:06 am
 

I wish I could have lived in the 70s..... everything seems to be cooler back then!!

even ness was!

Commented on 7-5-2011 At 02:00 pm
 

I remember the early Easyriders, before the mag got into high-dollar trailerqueens.....the good ol' days are looong gone....FTW,Shooter

Commented on 7-7-2011 At 12:29 am
 

It's impossible not to like or respect Frank. He rules. Stories for days, the guy has been there and done it.

Commented on 7-7-2011 At 01:04 am
 

I respect Frank and he is really a nice guy!

Commented on 1-24-2013 At 03:02 am
 

i could look @ armond bletcher"s & rooster"s shovelhead"s all day the two greatest shovel"s ever built in the world period !!!

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