TOM FUGLE RE­MEM­BERED

Re­mem­bered

Street Chopper - - Contents - WORDS: MARK MASKER PHO­TOS: BILLY CHILDRESS AND JOSH KURPIUS

The Chop­per World Loses A Leg­end

Ithink that ob­ser­va­tion sums up chop­per cul­ture bet­ter than any I’ve ever heard. Chop­pers aren’t about what rolled out of a fac­tory or off of an assem­bly line, to be rid­den stock. We learned that les­son the hard way be­tween 2000 and 2005-ish when start-up com­pa­nies all over the place flooded the world with mass-pro­duced “pro­duc­tion cus­toms” that didn’t even look all that dif­fer­ent com­pany to com­pany.

While the gen­eral public flirted with the chop­per im­age and did its damnedest to cor­rupt chop­pers into poseur- dom in the main­stream, the OG chop­per builders kept on keepin’ on. They worked out of their garages, which were of­ten stuffed to the gills with hoarded parts, hand­craft­ing what­ever the hell they wanted to ride, us­ing skills honed over decades of blood­ied knuck­les gained through hard lessons learned by grinder and cut­ting torch.

Tom Fugle was one of those guys, and the chop­per world lost a part of it­self when Tom died Sun­day, De­cem­ber 18, 2016, at the busi­ness end of can­cer. If you’re hold­ing a copy of this mag­a­zine in your hands, you prob­a­bly know who Tom was. At the very least, you’ve seen his work or the chop­pers of oth­ers who were in­flu­enced by it.

The leg­endary builder co-founded the El Fo­ras­tero Mo­tor­cy­cle Club in the early 1960s, along with Har­lan “Tiny” Brower. Tom was born on Jan­uary 10, 1941, in Sioux City, Iowa, the son of Salmer and Ber­na­dine (Schu­macher) Fugle. Tom grad­u­ated from Cen­tral High School in Sioux City. He mar­ried Con­nie An­der­son in 1969, and to­gether they had a daugh­ter, Natasha. Con­nie and Tom later di­vorced. Tom started dat­ing Jen­nie Dec­ora on July 4, 1998, and they got mar­ried on Oc­to­ber 23, 2016. Fugle and the leg­endary Dave Mann be­came very good friends. When Mann passed away in 2004, Tom de­liv­ered a eu­logy.

I would say Tom was an artist more than any­thing else. His medium hap­pened to be chop­pers. Peo­ple all over the world re­quested he build chop­pers for them, from Italy to Ja­pan and parts in be­tween. In ad­di­tion to his fa­mous work cre­at­ing truly unique bikes, he spent a good deal of time run­ning a print shop and sell­ing leather ac­ces­sories. Later on, two doc­u­men­taries fea­tured Tom: 21 Days Un­der The Sky (which is on Net­flix) and an­other by Jesse James called His­tory Of The Chop­per.

Tom was also an in­vited builder at Born-free 6, and the same chop­per he built for the event would later be shown at the in­fa­mous Yokohama Hot Rod Cus­tom Show in 2014.

Tom wasn’t a house­hold name in the tra­di­tional sense. He was more like one of those artists who real- deal en­thu­si­asts all know and many try to learn from or em­u­late. A lot of us, in­clud­ing many younger builders, cite him as an in­spi­ra­tion for their work.

Jeff Wright in­ter­viewed Tom for Street Chop­per mag­a­zine back in 2011. It’s a great chance to hear from Tom in his own words, and you can read it be­low. RIP, Tom.

“Riding­amo­tor­cy­cle­doesn’tre­al­ly­mat­ter­tome.any­body­can­gooutand buyamo­tor­cy­cle,butwith­a­chop­per,youbuildit.it’syouridin­git. You’reshowingoffy­ourart­workev­ery­wherey­ougo.” —Tomfu­gle

WHAT GOT YOU INTO MO­TOR­CY­CLES?

When I was 14, I had a friend who lived next door. His dad had an old Army sur­plus In­dian mo­tor­cy­cle with a drive­shaft, for use in the desert. I was at his house, and his dad asked if I wanted to take it for a ride. I said, “Yeah, what do I have to do?” “Get on it and go,” he said. He showed me a few things and told me not to ride in the street but take it to the va­cant lot. The bike was big and heavy. It was a pretty scary ex­pe­ri­ence for me. I had never even been on the back of a mo­tor­cy­cle, let alone tried to ride one by my­self. The only bike I had ever rid­den was my bi­cy­cle and a doo­dle­bug.

WHAT’S YOUR HIS­TORY WITH BIKES?

I was 16 when I got my first mo­tor­cy­cle. I traded my bi­cy­cle for an In­dian Chief, which did not run. I pushed it home. Got to coast it down­hill about three blocks. That’s the only time I got to ride it. Not know­ing how to fix it, I took it to a shop. I waited a long time for them to fix it. Fi­nally, I went to get it. It was still not fixed, and they wanted to charge me $35 for a stor­age fee. I left it there.

In the fall of 1961, a friend stopped over and told me he was buy­ing a Sport­ster. We went to check it out. Sit­ting right next to it was a 1956 Har­ley-david­son full dresser. It had 3,000 miles and looked brand new. They wanted $800 for it. I bought it on the pay­ment plan at $25 a week. That is the most I’ve ever paid for a mo­tor­cy­cle. I paid it off in the spring and chopped it within the first year. This was my main bike for many years. In the ’60s I bought many bikes for any­where from $25 to $150. I used these for parts. In fact, I bought three dif­fer­ent bikes at $25, $35, and $75 and built a ’36 Knuck­le­head chop­per out of their parts. I later built a Shov­el­head mo­tor and put it in my ’56 frame. Built a rub­ber-mounted rigid-frame Evo­lu­tion chop­per, which I still ride to­day.

WHAT MO­TOR­CY­CLES ARE YOU CUR­RENTLY WORK­ING ON?

It’s ac­tu­ally a show bike. A bike that I had back in the ’60s. I’m re­build­ing it. I’ll be us­ing a ’56 Pan­head mo­tor. It’s strictly for show. The tank holds about a quart of gas, which is enough to ride into and out of the show. I plan on hav­ing it done this com­ing year. I also have to re­build the bike I’m cur­rently rid­ing. It’s been to­gether for over 15 years, with thou­sands of miles on it.

WHAT DO YOU DO FOR FUN?

I ride and build chop­pers, which is al­ways fun. I also col­lect things. Con­se­quently, I have lots of in­ter­est­ing things, past and present. Kind of a keeper of his­tory. I do have some in­ter­est­ing hob­bies, and I’m usu­ally do­ing some­thing most of the time. It’s hard to put my fun into words.

WHY DO YOU HATE CANADA?

’Cause it’s not part of the United States.

WHY DID YOU STAY IN THE MID­WEST?

I’ve al­ways lived in Sioux City, Iowa. We’re in the cen­ter of the coun­try here. I travel a lot, so it’s al­most equal dis­tance to ei­ther coast and down the mid­dle. Also, I know so many peo­ple here— most of them for many years.

I KNOW YOU WERE A FRIEND OF DAVE MANN. CAN YOU TELL US A STORY ABOUT DAVE?

Back af­ter meet­ing Dave in Kansas City in the early ’60s, he’d of­ten send me some of his orig­i­nal paint­ings, the early stuff he did. He moved away and I hadn’t seen him in some time. In the mean­time, I had de­vel­oped a tech­nique for re­mov­ing ink from pa­per and putting the im­age on dif­fer­ent items. For ex­am­ple, I would put a pic­ture onto a rock; it would look rough as if it were hand painted. So I took one of Dave’s pic­tures, the El Fo­ras­tero Cave Party from the Roth set, and trans­ferred it on to a rock. Later in the ’90s, I was in Kansas City and went to see Dave. I brought him the rock. He and his wife were

stand­ing there. I told him that since he al­ways gave me paint­ings I wanted to give him a paint­ing that I did. So I handed the rock to him, and his wife said, “God, he can paint al­most as good as you can.” I said to his wife, “I can paint just as good as he can!” Then Dave said to his wife, “I painted this!” She said, “I’ve never seen you paint on rocks be­fore!” We just stood and looked at each other and laughed.

WHAT ABOUT TINY? DO YOU HAVE A STORY ABOUT HIM YOU CAN SHARE WITH US?

Har­lan Brower, a.k.a. Tiny the Beau­ti­ful, is an icon. He was one of my men­tors and very best friends through my life. He was such a unique per­son that one story would not do him jus­tice. We’ll save them for an­other time.

AF­TER A LIFE­TIME OF FREAK­ING OUT THE SQUARES, WHAT FREAKS YOU OUT?

The fact that a lot of bikes are go­ing back to what we built in the ’60s. Builders are chop­ping all kinds of bikes with old- school ideas. It freaks me out to grow older and see my past come back in such a big way.

WHAT’S THE LAST THING A BIKE BUILDER HAS DONE TO IM­PRESS YOU?

It im­presses me that guys like you [Jeff Wright], Bill Mize, and oth­ers have built their bikes Fo­ras­tero style. Also, hav­ing been told by Mochi from Ja­pan that he and his friends Gak and Hata Chang got in­spi­ra­tion from the ’56 Pan­head chop­per [Only One Love] that I had built in 1964. They were de­sign­ing and build­ing a chop­per specif­i­cally in ded­i­ca­tion to that bike.

DID PEO­PLE LATCH ONTO TRENDS AS QUICKLY BACK IN THE ’60S AS THEY DO NOW?

Yes, they latched on as quickly as now. As trends go, they mean noth­ing to me. I’m do­ing the same thing I was do­ing 50 years ago. What was pop­u­lar last year has faded to­day. Trends change with time. What I do is time­less.

WHAT’S YOUR FA­VORITE HAR­LEY MO­TOR?

My fa­vorite is the Knuck­le­head. It’s nos­tal­gic look­ing. Per­for­mance­wise, I like the Evo­lu­tion.

IS IT TRUE THAT A MO­TOR RUNS BEST RIGHT BE­FORE IT BLOWS UP?

I’ve heard that be­fore, and I’ve seen some of them run­ning good when they blew, but I’ve never had that ex­pe­ri­ence. Seems like every time I blew one up it was run­ning bad [laughs].

BLONDES, BRUNETTES, OR REDHEADS?

Well, I’ve been with them all. I couldn’t see the dif­fer­ence. Even­tu­ally, they all turn gray.

WHAT KIND OF MU­SIC DO YOU LIS­TEN TO?

I lis­ten to all kinds. Rock ’n’ roll, rock­a­billy, blues, coun­try. There’s only two kinds of mu­sic: good and bad.

FA­VORITE BANDS?

I like AC/DC and some oth­ers, but mostly singers like Gene Vin­cent, Mickey New­bury, Lefty Frizzell, Ge­orge Jones, Jimmy Reed, Lon­nie Mack, Steve Earle, et cetera.

IS THERE ANY­ONE YOU’D LIKE TO THANK?

Thanks to Moose, John Paulsen, Humphrey, and all my club brothers for mak­ing it pos­si­ble for me to ride the bike I do to­day. To you, Jeff Wright, for your sup­port on the Church of Chop­pers site.

WHO WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE IN­TER­VIEWED IN THE NEXT STREET CHOP­PER?

Moose.

LEAVE US WITH SOME­THING.

I love to build and ride chop­pers, as it is an ex­pres­sion of my art. I guess that’s be­cause I’ve al­ways been artis­tic. I feel that those who ride stock bikes must be autis­tic. So what I’m try­ing to say is: “Ride chop­pers or fuck off!” SC

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