“Old School” is a phrase thrown around a lot in biker circles these days.  Often you’ll hear it used to describe a modern-day chopper or bobber with old-time styling.  Andy Anderson has been riding Harley-Davidsons for 49 years.  He’s been “Old School” since “Old School” was new and has little patience for the “new school” of “Old School” bikes and bikers. “Unless you’re 50 years old, I don’t even want to hear the term ‘Old School’ come out of your mouth,” he says.  “Because ‘Old School’ was over before you were born.”

The affable, tattooed 64-year old bike builder and mechanic from DeLeon Springs, Florida, doesn’t own a cell phone, computer or a GPS.  His first motorcycle, purchased when he was a teenager, was a wrecked 1962 Harley-Davidson Panhead, which he rebuilt into a rigid-frame chopper.  He’s been riding Panheads ever since, and won’t ride anything else.  “I like riding real Harleys,” he says. “And the only real Harley they make is a Panhead.”  Harley stopped making Panheads in 1965 (they got their name because the valve covers looked liked upside-down cooking pans).  “I’d rather ride this than a brand new one,” Anderson says, pointing to the Panhead “rat bike” parked outside his shop. “You could give me two brand new ones, and I wouldn’t let this bike go.”

Anderson belongs to a small but devoted biker subculture known as Rat Riders.  Rat bikes, to the uninitiated, might look like rolling junk piles, painted flat black and adorned with seemingly everything but the kitchen sink.  And while his motorized marvel might appear to be a random collection of tchotchkes and Rube Goldberg-like devices, every piece is a point of pride; each trinket has a tale, which he will happily share with anyone curious enough to ask.  Take the military-surplus distress beacon mounted on the handlebar:  “If I decide to ride to Europe, and I sink, I put the little antenna on there, turn it loose on a rope and it beeps, and it sends out a beacon so they can find me.”  Or the hot dog cooker mounted near the motor; put three hot dogs in the metal cannister, and “in fifteen miles they’re perfect.  Cook themselves on my exhaust.”   And despite what I said earlier about his aversion to modern technology, Anderson once had “navigational assistance” on his motorcycle: “I used to have a small plastic globe mounted on the handlebars; my GPS machine.  I’d spin it around, point to a spot and say ‘I’m exactly right here!’”

Sawed-off shifter, golf ball hand clutch and golf club foot clutch

Anderson’s well-accessorized rat also features a sawed-off shotgun for a hand shifter, a ham can for its air cleaner, and a greasy rubber hand waving from the handlebars, which saves him the trouble of having to wave at every passing biker. “It started out a pretty stock bike,” he tells me,  “and things got to breakin’ and you need to put another part on it that maybe isn’t exactly right, but it’s OK.  And then you ride someplace, and a fella says, ‘I’ll give ya a horn.’… And that’s how it evolves.  A thousand people built this bike, not one.”

Anderson’s rat was born a ’62 Panhead.  The original owner had stored it in the basement of an Ohio motorcycle shop, covered with a blanket, which is where Anderson discovered it in 1987: “It was all red, bright red, original,” and it was love at first sight.  After a bit of haggling, Anderson traded it for the bike he was riding, and rode the Panhead home to Florida, where he took it to motorcycle shows.  “We placed in a lot of antique shows with it; stock antique shows as an antique. It was nice and it was like it came [from the factory], and my wife kept it clean for me.”

But like all fairy tales, this one eventually came to an end. Perhaps not fully appreciative of the idyllic life he led, one day Anderson slipped and did what he refers to as a “man thing:”  “I walked up, and I looked at the bike, and it was beautiful.  But I said to my wife, ‘You missed a spot.’  She said, ‘What?’ and I said, ‘You missed a spot right there!’”   Suffice it to say, that was the last time Andy’s wife cleaned the bike for him, and a rat was born.  “Well, I said, OK, I’ve always wanted a rat bike, and twenty years ago, twenty-one to be exact, was the last time the thing had water on it, other than rain.  And it evolved into this.”

Anderson estimates he’s ridden his rat more than half a million miles. Of course, there’s no way to know for sure, since the speedometer/odometer is long gone, just one of many pieces that have been part of the rat’s evolution.  “Things fall off, then more stuff gets put on.  It kind of evolves.  So many people give me such neat things and neat ideas.  That’s the basis of ridin’ a rat.  It’s not buyin’ a bike and ruinin’ the paint and throwing all the stuff on it that you can.  This stuff comes in stages.”

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Andy Anderson

Custom Iron

4950 US HWY 17

DeLeon Springs, FL 32130

386-985-4850

Canned ham makes a nifty air cleaner!

Every bike needs saddlebags

Every bike needs saddlebags

Rubber hand saves the bother of waving to other bikers

A patina like this takes years…

Chevy alternator mounted on fork is bike’s charging system

Pistol on kickstand

Kick start

About Glen Abbott
Glen Abbott is a New Orleans-based travel writer & photographer. He specializes in writing about motorcycle touring and travel, and his work appears regularly in Harley-Davidson's HOG magazine, American Iron, and other publications.

View all posts by Glen Abbott »

4 Comments
  1. Rockey Couarm

    October 29, 2013

    I moved to DeLand in 2003. I was lookin for a job and I saw a HELP WANTED sign in front of this little bike shop on the side of 17/92. I walked in grabbed the sign out of the window and handed it to the scruffy lookin ol biker dude behind the counter! I said I’m your man, he says Oh yeah ! We’ll adjust the pushrods and the chain on that ol panhead back there I’m riding it to Gulfport Mississippi tomorrow!, I said no problem. So I go in the back of the shop, and there sets the RAT,,, I’m thinking holy shit …I go back to the front and ask him Does that thing even run? He yells back can you adjust the damn pushrods or not!!! So I did, and the next morning he was Gulfport bound I couldn’t believe it!,, worked for him for a couple years and I can honestly say the Andy and Sandy are hands down some of the best people I’ve ever met, great employers and even better friends!! so if you’re ever around DeLand go see the crew at Custom Iron !! best bike shop in the state of Florida

  2. hendry

    May 22, 2013

    amazing bike

  3. hendry

    May 22, 2013

    the good job guys

  4. BONNIE

    December 6, 2011

    Took him years to make that bike look like that. When I met Andy he just had that bike done and it was beautiful! Turquoise and white with little palm tree pinstripe on tank. He and his wife are amazing people, there should be more like them in this world.

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