AMERICA’S BONES CALL TO THE RIDER | “GHOST TOWN, U.S.A” — A FILM BY SCOTT TOEPFER

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Yep. Back-to-back Scott Toepfer action. It’s that good. Ghost Town, USA is a short film that Toepfer did for the Harley-Davidson RIDEBOOK campaign that brought together folks from different artistic / lifestyle backgrounds to celebrate life on the open road, and the history of American motorcycle culture. Here photographer & filmmaker Scott explores America’s past through the lens of ghost towns and the haunting lessons they hold.

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“The visitable ghost towns across the Western U.S. are few and far between today. Most have either decayed beyond recognition, or have turned into gift shop trinket towns selling $10 keychains and fake gold. Thankfully, Bodie, California has a different story. A gold mining town established in the late 19th century, it quickly became one of California’s largest cities – and as any famed mining town would, it was filled with saloons, brothels, and other establishments of ill repute. Much of the town burned in the fires of 1892 and 1932, forcing most of its remaining residents to leave one of the toughest towns in the west. When the last of the residents left in the 50’s, the California Park Service took over in ’64 to preserve the structures and share its history… with us, and a few hundred other tourists daily.”   

–Scott Toepfer

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HARLEY-DAVIDSON | AMERICAN IRON, INGENUITY & PERSEVERANCE

The folks at Harley-Davidson were kind enough to invite me down to Milwaukee, WI for a tour of the museum, and their storied archives. This trip had deep, personal significance for me, as I grew up on the rumble and roar of Harley. There is no other sound or feel like it. It quickens the pulse, raises the hair on your arms, and brings a pie-eating grin to one’s face. The distinctive “potato-potato” idle of the v-twin is iconic to the brand, and resonates deeply within many loyal riders who have made their lives one with Harley-Davidson. It’s the personal stories of these cultural icons who forged their destiny with Harley-Davidson, evolving together through the decades, that I love– and that are a source of inspiration and pride to this day.

In my mind, there is no other brand that better epitomizes the American spirit of Independence, ingenuity, and perseverance than Harley-Davidson. Hands-down. The cultural impact they’ve had on America (and around the world) is undeniable and evident all around us. It didn’t start with Easy Rider either, it goes back much further in time.

My mind immediately races back to the early days and the numerous innovations H-D had on franchising and branding. The following success of their notorious and ballsy “Wrecking Crew” racing team (that risked life & limb for victory on hostile dirt tracks and battered, oil-soaked wooden board tracks with dubious, improvised safety gear) further cemented Harley as the one to follow. I think of the soldiers returning from WWI & WWII–  maybe they rode a motorcycle in wartime, or were pilots looking to replace the thrill of flying, and coming home they bought a Harley-Davidson because they yearned for an intense, physical experience of freedom and speed that only a Harley could give them. A lot of those same servicemen who fell between the cracks of what society or themselves deemed “normal” formed the first motorcycle clubs that would inspire Hollywood films, fashion, music, art and attitude to this day. And yes, 1969’s Easy Rider which became the iconic counter-culture biker film that drove the chopper / Harley customization craze for decades to come, and created a look and lifestyle that many would influence for generations to come. Hell, my stepdad was nicknamed “Hopper” after his character “Billy” in the film because of his dark looks, and that suede vest with fringe that would whip in the wind as he roared down the road on his ’79 Low Rider. Two things he impressed upon me– never ride a Sportster (chick bike), and never use your electric start (for pussies).

The point is, Harley-Davidson and those who ride them are a breed apart. There is a profound connection between man and machine that is beyond words. It’s more than a motorcycle— a Harley has a soul. A mighty soul born in a crude wooden shed over 100 years ago.

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ca. 1903 —  William S. Harley and Arthur Davidson built their first motorcycles in this simple structure. Harley-Davidson’s very first “factory” (if you can call it that)– a wooden 10′ x 15′ shed that sat in the back yard of the Davidson family home. In 1907 Harley-Davidson was incorporated and the company was valued at $14,200. (Rewind– Harley-Davidson was started in a freaking 10′ x 15′ shed?! That’s the American “can-do” spirit in a nutshell, people. When I first heard that, I realized there are no excuses for anyone to not get out there and make it happen.) — Image by © Harley-Davidson Archives
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1939 — The original shed was later transplanted to the new Juneau Avenue factory (built in 1906, and still the site of  Harley-Davidson’s corporate headquarters) as a symbolic reminder of the company’s humble beginnings. (The lesson– Never get so big that you don’t remember where you came from, folks. And never start acting like a big company– especially when you are one.) Tragically, the original shed was accidentally destroyed in the early ’70s by a careless crew doing clean-up at the H-D factory. — Image by © Harley-Davidson Archives
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THE ART OF THE CLASSIC AMERICAN HAIRCUT | TOMCATS BARBERSHOP

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Our friends over at  R E L I C  put together a nice little short on the guys that run Greenpoint, Brooklyn’s own Tomcats Barbershop. It’s a place where you can roll up on your Harley, and step in for a period-perfect ’40s or ’50s barbershop haircut by a guy who not only talks the talk, but walks the walk.

The film was produced in collaboration with the Harley-Davidson Ridebook and pays tribute to the great American brand that, “…impacted the early identity of American culture in everything from the way people began to dress to how they wore their hair…” Amen.

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