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Story of a Sportster

Hello – I’m Jerry Horton, and I’d like to share with you the story of a Sportster. It started years ago when Tony and I met in elementary school and quickly became best friends – a friendship that has lasted throughout the years. As fate would have it, we married sisters; so, we have always shared major life events together as family. My wife Pam and I had two daughters. Tony and Tina had one boy and one girl. So, Lil Tony, being the only boy between the two couples, always enjoyed doing the kind of things the girls took no interest in.

Lil Tony was a gear head from birth. He rode his first battery-powered four-wheeler until he wore down the wheels. An advantage of growing up on a farm is there was always something with an engine to ride . . . a dirt bike, truck, tractor, or combine. He even drove a Sport Mod race car at our local dirt track.

He also grew up in church, even being a part of the youth group Pam and I led. The years of biblical teaching Lil Tony received shaped who he was; always respectful to his parents, humble, and kind to others. Besides the gear head stuff, Lil Tony was quite athletic, which made him popular in school.

I bought a ‘97 sportster when Lil Tony turned 18 with hopes of turning him on to the world of Harley Davidson Motorcycles. I love Harleys and hoped Lil Tony would catch the fever too. I also love being an active member of a motorcycle ministry called Bikers for Christ. I so wished that Lil Tony would experience the joy of being part of the ministry. But on Friday, July 25, 2014, while riding his four-wheeler, he suffered a traumatic head injury that claimed his life before he ever had an opportunity to ride the Sportster.

I considered selling the bike but decided instead to honor my nephew by customizing the Sportster and painting it to match his race car. But spraying some paint and chopping the fenders just wasn’t going to be enough. Instead, the paint job became a full-out build. I committed to the project when I purchased a Paughco hardtail frame and set about stripping the ‘97 Sportster to a bare frame.

I quickly learned that bolting the engine in the hardtail was the easy part. Wanting to create something different from the norm meant lots of cutting, beating, drilling, shaping, fitting, burning and welding, designing and re-designing.

First order of business after the engine was the chain drive conversion. We (my technical advisor, Tim Bennett and I) needed to establish the center of the rear wheel before we could fabricate and center the rear fender. We started the process by lining up the drive line. Sounds simple enough, but nothing is ever simple about a bike build. Stock parts rarely work outside of their stock configuration. The rear sprocket had to be aligned precisely with the front sprocket as well as ensuring the wheel was centered in the frame and the brake caliper and rotor fit correctly. 

Next, the rear wheel adjusters were cut off the axle plates and fabricated pieces were welded into the axle slots to hold the rear wheel in a fixed location. I know what you’re thinking, “How are you going to adjust the chain tension?” We decided to order a tensioner made of a skateboard wheel attached to a spring-loaded arm. Again, sounds simple, but after several attempts to locate the tensioner – in the end, the arm had to be lengthened to work properly.

On to the rear fender . . . cut it for length and to clearance the drive chain, made the front mount and fender stays which wrap around the fender and attach over the axle. The piece of fender that I cut off was used to fabricate one side of the electrical box so it would match the radius of the fender.

Then a host of components were fabricated . . . like the seat and tank mounts, battery box, fork stop, two-into-one exhaust collector, right side choke bracket, rear brake master cylinder re-location bracket and actuating rod, MX style pegs, and front brake rotor spacer. 

Also a few things got chopped off: the cam cover to expose the oil pump, the drive pulley cover, and front fender, and stock hand controls. And a few things got farmed out, like paint and leather work.

I learned a lot along the way, such as how to build an oven large enough to hold a motorcycle frame and then how to powder coat. I learned patience is a virtue that was sometimes lacking in my life. I learned some friends will go the extra mile or two or three to lend a hand. And I learned the satisfaction of pressing on to completion and seeing a dream become reality.

This is Lil Tony’s one-of-a-kind Sportster– even has his signature saw blade proudly displayed on the air cleaner. Yes, it’s loud and fast . . . just the way he would have wanted it! 

Lil Tony now resides in Heaven where he is hopefully doing what he loved most. Going fast!

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