Have you ever known somebody who always seemed to be down on his luck, some-one who lives under a perpetual gray cloud? When I was in high school, we had a guy like that. If he didn’t have bad luck, he’d have no luck at all. Fittingly, we nicknamed him Chief Gray Cloud. Another friend owned a car that might as well have had bull’s-eye targets painted on its hood, trunk, and doors. It was constantly picking up dings, dents, and scratches in the parking lot when it wasn’t ground zero for minor fender benders. We dubbed that cage Bumper Car, and it gave true meaning to the phrase joy ride.
Motorcycles are prone to the same demonic possession, too. Case in point is — or, hopefully, was — Jay Bartz’s 2002 Fat Boy. The demonic episodes began shortly after Jay, who calls Fridley, Minnesota, home, bought the bike new back in ’02. One night, after enjoying the camaraderie of his friends and fellow bikers at The Joint, one of the Twin Cities’ favorite biker hangouts, he concluded it was time to shove off and head for home. “I went out to the parking lot, and there were five other Fat Boys besides mine parked in a cluster,” recalls Jay. “They were all stock and looked the same, I didn’t know which one was mine.” A brief bout of playing musical keys narrowed the choices until he finally located the right bike. “That’s when I decided it was time to do a little customizing,” Jay said. The most obvious fix was to replace the big Boy’s iconic disc wheels with a set of custom rims, so that his FLSTF wouldn’t blend in with the other Fatties in the parking lot.
“I took the bike to a guy who had just opened a new shop in the area,” Jay said. His prices were right, so Jay elected to do more than just mount new custom wheels. They tore the Fat Boy down for a major rebuild and makeover. That’s when the demons returned. “The bike just sat in his shop with no progress being made,” Jay recalled. The easy part — disassembly — had been taken care of. The hard part — finishing the custom work — was yet to be tackled.
But that was only the beginning of Jay’s woes. “I went to the shop one day, and it was closed — for good. I had to call the cops to get my parts, and when I finally got them, about half were missing,” he said. Other casualties included a bad job of powdercoating to the engine cases. “It started flaking off,” laments Jay. The gray cloud just got grayer.
But, as the saying goes, every cloud has a silver lining, and here’s where Jay’s story takes a turn for the better. “I took the bike to Donnie Smith’s,” Jay said. “Something I should have done in the first place.” Jay confesses that he’s always been a Donnie Smith fan, but he figured at the time that he couldn’t afford the seasoned builder’s prices. “I was wrong,” Jay continued. “The moment I walked into his shop, he treated me like I was a really special customer.”
So the exorcism of Jay’s Fat Boy began with Father Smith, in effect, splashing holy water on the bike. “They went right to work,” Jay said. “[Don]Tima [who works for Donnie Smith] and everyone started chroming parts that I would have never considered. They gave the bike a really
Yet that powdercoated engine remained a major concern for Jay. But Donnie had a solution, and he knew just the shop to make it right. So, S&E in nearby St. Paul, got the call for fresh powdercoating. Donnie used the downtime to build up the engine’s internals, too. Head Quarters heads now sit atop Screamin’ Eagle 95″ cylinders, and a S&S Cycle gear-drive cam assembly was installed, along with S&S pushrods, rockers, and lifters. A Feuling high-performance oil pump found its way into the engine as well. Donnie’s crew crafted the swoopy exhaust system, and a conical D&M air cleaner fits onto the Mikuni 45mm slide carburetor. Additionally, the stock five-speed transmission was disassembled so that a set of BAKER’s smooth-shifting cogs could be inserted.
Those various parts that Tima and the crew had earmarked for chroming were sent to Pat Obinger’s shop in Blaine, Minnesota, and Mike Bailey in nearby Coon Rapids got the call to splash on the deep black paint job. It was just the touch to complement the engine’s orange powdercoated cases.
But, for the most part, the custom fabrication and assembly took place at Donnie Smith’s Custom Cycles in Blaine. The Softail frame received the typical lowering treatment, and Donnie applied his signature extended fenders front and rear; the rear sheet metal was based on a modified B’Cool fender while the front is from Donnie’s fabrication shop.
You won’t mistake that stylish gas tank for a typical Fat Boy’s fuel jug, either. Ditto for the headlight assembly that combines a Harley-Davidson Night Stalker nacelle with some subtle changes by Donnie Smith. Indeed, a who’s who of custom component suppliers highlights the parts manifest bolted to the 2″-under stock front end. The mirrors hail from Paul Yaffe’s catalog, and Performance Machine supplied the hand controls that mount to the Carlini handlebar. Keeping with the high-tech theme, the familiar, tank-mounted speedometer was nixed in favor of a cleaner-looking Dakota Digital gauge.
About a year after Jay first rolled his Fat Boy into Donnie’s shop, the bike was nearing completion. Which brings us full circle to the custom wheels that Jay had decided to put on his bike in the first place to help distinguish it from any other Fat Boy that happened to be in the parking lot or on the road. His final choice: a set of Performance Machine’s Wicked Image hoops, both 18-inchers. Metzeler rubber was wrapped around the shiny wheels, at which point the bike was deemed ready to roll.
But Jay wasn’t. “I had some health issues at about the time the bike was finished, and I really didn’t have enough money to pay Donnie,” Jay said. Now here’s where the gray cloud’s silver lining might as well have turned to gold. “Donnie worked with me on that, too,” he said. And so our tale of woe has a happy ending. AIM
Words by Dain Gingerelli, photos by Bob Feather
Story as published in the November 2011 issue of American Iron Magazine.