Click here for Home
GOING THE DISTANCE
"THE CHINESE LAUNDRY CELLAR"
PHOTO BY GENGHIS
SALLY THE BITCH
This is the story that had to be told. It was 1989, when Snow and Sager were photographing my Harley 74, "Mabel", for a feature in Iron Horse magazine. The feature was to be titled, "Genghis Rides A Harley." We were standing around in the Village while Rob Sager was finishing up shooting another bike before starting on the shoot of my Stroker Shovel, when the topic of painting bikes came up. I said to Snow, "Yeah, I painted my old Sportster with spray cans in the cellar of a Chinese laundry." Snow said, "Yer shittin' me, right?" I matter of factly told him, "No, man. I ain't kidding. I painted the her in the basement of my parents' Chinese laundry in Queens." Here's the deal. To anyone who's not a Chinese-American, the very idea of a Chinese laundry is a mysterious and alien concept, which is totally outside the purview of these outsiders' life experience. Welcome to the world of the Chinese laundry, IH readers. Pile on top of that foreign experience the idea of painting a Harley in those circumstances, and you have a real mind-blower, man.
ve all heard enough about my 1971 Super Glide for the past 19 years in Iron Horse and my websites, so I thought that my Sportster deserved some time. The year 1971 was significant. It was not only the year that my Shovelhead was born, it was also the year that I disassembled my bike "Sally The Bitch" to mold her frame, and paint 'er. This whole project took eight months to complete, because I had no experience in disassembling a Harley or in painting. An experienced person might of taken just two weeks to do it. Man, talk about amateur hour.
She was called Sally The Bitch because she was a cantankerous 'ole biddy, who had a bad habit of kickin' back at my right leg with her kickstarter, that is when the kickstarter wasn't swinging through with no resistance at all when the ratchet failed to catch (both are bad, believe me)---guaranteed to ruin my right knee for life---which she did. It was one of those times a in 1969, when the kickstarting mechanism's ratchet didn't catch. I hoisted my body over the bike real high, then came down with full force on the kicker, and she slipped through with zero resistance. The result? It tore the medial ligament in my kicking knee. Man, wotta disaster. XLCHs had a chronic habit of the kickstarting ratchet not catching. allowing the kicker to slip right through---my Harley 74 never did this.
Other than being meaner than a lying Nancy Pelosi, Sally was an otherwise good bike that enrichened my life for the 18 years that I had her.
In 1971, my master plan was to disassemble Sally, mold her frame with fiberglass instead of bondo so that the molding would last without falling off, and then paint her candy apple red. The first order of business was to take her apart. My parents owned a Chinese laundry on Northern Boulevard and 87th Street in Jackson Heights in Queens. In the 1930s, my parents bought a three story building for---can you believe it---$5,000. They installed a laundry on the ground level, while we lived in the apartment on the 2nd floor. It was a railroad apartment with three bedrooms. We rented the 3rd floor apartment to Mr. and Mrs. Spagnuolo, a dynamite couple who I really dug. When I decided to embark on this project, I was living in a studio apartment on 3rd Street off of Avenue C in Alphabet City of the East Village. Stripping down Sally there was not an option, since my ex-wife and I lived on the 5th floor. The building was a walk-up without elevators. When I announced my plan to strip down my bike in the middle of their Chinese laundry, my parents were very accomodating.
Disassembling Sally was extremely difficult, since I had no idea what I was doing. I just started taking parts off, and storing nuts, bolts and parts in labeled coffee cans and cardboard boxes. By the time I finished taking her apart, Sally's parts filled half a room spread all over the floor. After stripping her down, the first order of business was to mold her frame. I would do this at home. I went down to Canal street where I found a purveyor of fiberglass, and bought a gallon of glass fibers and a gallon of resin. I remember reading in some chopper magazine, that one had to be careful with regard to not getting any glass fibers into your skin, eyes or mouth, since these are a bitch to deal with. So, I bought gloves, a face mask and goggles. Whenever I mixed up the fiberglass, I was dressed like a Centers For Disease Control technician in a HAZMAT suit. I also wore long sleeve shirts and a shower cap while working with the glass.
The two areas that I primarily wanted to mold were the neck and seat post area of the frame. Before I could do this, I had to file down (by hand, because I had no power tools) any protuberances. After I filed these thingees off, I globbed the mixed fiberglass onto the neck and seat post area with great gusto, making sure that I had enough on there the first time around. Because my time at home was limited, I decided to do the filing and sanding of the fiberglass at my job.
At that time, I was a retinal photographer at Beth Israel Medical Center on 16th Street and First Avenue in Manhattan. I couldn't do the work on the frame in my photography room, so I enlisted the help of a Joe, a coworker. Joe did electroretinograms (ERG), a diagnostic electrical test of the retina. His ERG room was used intermittently, since not many doctors ordered this esoteric test.
Whenever Joe's ERG room wasn't in use, I worked on Sally's frame there.
This portion of the project took the most time. After the initial filing and shaping, I then applied bondo to fill in any minor defects, and that went well. I'm a-tellin-ya, the bondo was a pleasure to work on after filing that tough fiberglass. After the frame was done, I was ready for the painting!
There was an auto parts store on 85th Street near my parents' store, called Aid Auto. I bought Kalifornia Kustom paint in spray cans. There was the primer, gold base paint, candy apple red paint and the clear paint. All in all, I think that I ended up buying more than fifteen cans of paint in total. I hung the frame, tank and rear fender from an overhanging pipe in the laundry's basement, using wire hangers and bailing wire. One thing I was fastidious about, was hosing down the basement's floor before painting, because the cellar was nasty with dust and dirt.
This was not a finished basement in some tony suburb replete with a pool table and bar, man. This was a dirty environment that "Dingy Harry" Reid could appreciate.
After applying the primer and base gold paint, I began applying the candy apple red. I made sure to wet sand after each coat of the candy apple red, so that the inevitable runs and high spots got evened out. By the time I applied the clear coats, and wet sanded those, the paint's evenness was perfect! All that remained to be done, was to rub it out first with rubbing compound, the finish it off with polishing compound. I've gotta say, the paint job came out perfectly. It had no ripples.
After waiting two weeks for the acrylic lacquer to cure, I polished the parts with wax, and man, did it look great! The paintjob had great depth because I applied so much paint. Then it was on to Sally's reassembly.
Putting Sally back together again was smooth and easy, because of the meticulous parceling and labeling of the parts I did in the stripdown. After I got Sally back together, I was absolutely amazed that she still functioned as a motorcycle. Hey man, everything worked! Here's what I believe: that I had the only Harley in the free world, ever to be painted in the cellar of a Chinese laundry. You tell me if I'm right or wrong about that. Later.