Now that’s some calling card! Ron Finch’s ‘Chopper at Large’ was attracting plenty of attention in front of the Broken Spoke Saloon in Laconia.
The Discovery Channel was filming a bit on Finch for its upcoming special on the 2013 Laconia Rally.
shooting a piece for the Discovery Channel whose crew was in town fliming a special on this year’s rally. Ron and Ruth recently traveled to the town they went to school in for a special screening of the new movie about Ron’s lifetime achievements, shot by Danny Grinnell, called “That’s All You Get.” Ruth said about 500 friends and fans packed the theater for the premiere. When Ron finally broke away from the TV crew, we got a chance to sit down with him to ask a few questions.
What brings you to Laconia?
Well, I was out here a few years back, rode here on my bike, and rode in the rain the whole time, so on and so forth. It wasn’t the greatest turnout. So actually this is the second time I’ve been here. And I did have a good time the first time I came here but there was a thing where, it was different. So this year, I go to this Blackthorne Resort quite a bit in New York, and this group of guys I know tried to put something together here, put up a tent and a bike show, and asked me to come up. So I came up. And it was OK but I had to move down here to the Broken Spoke. As it is, it did rain here, which I think is a tradition in Laconia.
MCUSA’s Harley – “I know, I’ve been getting drilled all week.”
I just got in, so you got the worst of it. I brought the best weather I could with me. And so now, I’ve got this giant motorcycle which is called ‘Chopper at Large.’ I used ’49-’51 Chevy pick-up rear fenders for the gas tank and I used an old hair dryer like from beauty salons in the ‘50s for the headlight. And I used truck wheels. Then I was up in this place in Oscoda and they gave me some cylinders, it was an airplane museum. The asked me if I ever use any airplane parts, so I went over to the place, the museum, and they said “Yeah, we’ve got some stuff here. We’re sure you’ll give it a good home because we don’t really know what to do with it.” And I said we’ll give it a good home, I’ll do something with it. So they gave me these cylinders for a Pratt-Whitney engine, which is a radial engine, and I used those for the cylinders on ‘Chopper at Large,’ which is the first thing that I did. They worked out very well so I completed the engine and had them in a little cart. And they had another bike show up there in the fall so I took the engine up there and the guy that gave me the cylinders, he was just ecstatic. He just loved it. So I had it on a little cart I made because I needed it to have it sandblasted and powdercoated and it was just easier for me to paint it if I could turn it around. He was so thrilled he went into town and gathered all his buddies , they came out with a couple cases of beer, and were just “Wow, Whoa.” So then they gave me some more, some gears and a turbine thing. Well, the turbine thing I used for the clutch and then I used a coffee maker for the primary side with a Chinese cooking wok and a ring from a stool, and if you look at it you see different things.
You didn’t cause any wrecks coming out here with that thing did you?
No wrecks, but close. What happens is if you’re on an expressway where there’s two lanes, people pull right alongside the bike, and they’re taking pictures. At that point, OK, that guys taking a picture, then he goes on, then the next guy
comes up , he’s taking pictures and sometimes it will get to be a total traffic jam with at least 10 cars backed up. Then the guys, you go from a peace sign, to a thumbs up, to someone flipping you the bird. So that’s kinda cool, ya know?
You’re one of the most creative people I know. Where does your inspiration come from?
I don’t exactly know, it’s just kind of a gift that I have. I love to work. I don’t watch a lot of TV and I’d rather be doing something at the end of the day. I mean, it doesn’t have to be a ‘Chopper at Large’ or anything because I also create this (points to his Metalife artwork). So it’s kind of good for your ego even though I’m not on an ego trip at all, and I just have fun doing it. The smaller stuff is kind of like therapy as I’m sitting down in the basement in the evening. I’ll just sit down there and just weld along and think about what I’m doing, so it’s a fun thing.
Do you ever sketch out ideas or is everything just in your head?
No, I just sketch them in my mind. I start going with it and then I may change partly down the road but it’s usually for the better because once you start concentrating on something it kind of tells you what to do. Sometimes it doesn’t talk very loud, it’s just a little whisper.
You’ve been around long enough to see a lot of trends come and go in our industry. What do you think of the current state of the motorcycle industry?
I think it’s OK. We went through the spell where all the, I don’t like to call them yuppies but that’s what they are. So they all had the bike for the status symbol and all that and that’s when the price of bikes went up. Now it’s kind of coming back down more to reality. At the time when bikes weren’t available, there were so many people buying them, that’s when the prices actually went up. Now it’s getting back, in my mind, thinking that it’s more like the true motorcycle
It’s work like this on Finch’s build called ‘Captivator’ that distinguish him apart from anybody else.
Finch has made his own castle in Auburn Hills, Michigan.
riders, not just a status symbol, a “Look at me, I got a Harley sitting in my garage next to my Porsche.” There was a point there it seemed like to me everybody was sitting there on their computer going to page 67 in the catalog and going, OK, I want to buy one of those and I’ll put it with one of these not necessarily because it looks right, it’s just that, because it’s chrome and it’s got a little flash to it, a little flame, and that’s not what it’s about. The creativity is what I like, when you look at somebody else’s bike who created it with their own hands, without help from, I’m not saying nothing against a CNC machine and lasers and all that, but the way it originally started it was like a true craftsmanship thing that didn’t have to have all this elaborate, million dollar equipment. You could take a hand file and a band saw and a grinder and do it which to me is more gratifying than programming a machine and having the machine do the work. I got access to that stuff and do use it occasionally, but it’s more gratifying to just do it with your own two hands.
Besides the ‘Chopper at Large’ what have you been doing recently?
I’m building a fish. It might sound strange, but that’s what I’m doing. The guy that I’m doing it owns a place where they work on semi-trucks and he’s got a contract doing fire engines and stuff for the city. So he asked me that he’d like to have everything to do with the components of the fish are mechanical things. So what I did, I used connecting rods for the backbone of the fish. There’s 40 of them that go from large to small. And then there’s all kinds of wrenches incorporated into it and gears and chain. It’s 10-foot-long and has a curve to it.
Are you a little crazy Ron?
Well, sometimes it pays to be a little crazy because you know why? It keeps you from going insane. People say that I’m crazy and I was also voted the “Most Unlikely to Succeed” by my school because I was always working on motorcycles or skipping school and riding around in my car and there were like, you can’t do that, you’ve got to go to school, you’ve got to get educated. Which you do, you do have to get a certain amount of education, but there’s more than education you get in books. With that, to a degree, I’ve tried a lot of things, some of the things I’ve tried, that was a really dumb idea, then other ones, not so dumb. So it’s just a matter of personal perspective.