Frank Kaisler has a razor-sharp wit and a memory like a bank vault. We sat down at his favorite diner last month while I inconvenienced the waitress by spreading a laptop, notes and photos all over the table. The patty melt was great, but our conversation was even better. Frank's recollection of detail and storytelling could fill a book, or several of them, so trying to condense this into a manageable and cohesive story was challenging. One common thread in many of Frank's tales was the pursuit of good friends and good times, all with customized motorcycles as the conduit. Most of the photos in part three of the interview were taken during Frank's first Laconia trip in 1974, an epic trip he still vividly recalls today.
Around 1967 or '68. This was the first year Frank "showed" his panhead. Note the axed oil tank and scimitars added to the rockers and axle plates. Sometimes Frank would repurpose the fender off his sister's bicycle on his choppers. This version of the machine showed up in the Letters section on Choppers Magazine in early 1969.
Frank on Crazy Ed's Servicar. Riding up to Jefferson, PA, White Rose Motorcycle Hillclimb around 1976.
I hit Frank with a few stupid questions like "What's the most memorable or rewarding thing you can recall from a life lived around custom motorcycles so long?" He had the same answer that Mike Parti did when I asked him the same question last year: "The friends." A simple answer, but also quite telling. Frank is proudest not of the machines he's built or the places he's been, but of the relationships he's formed with other like-minded moktorcycle weirdos. Many of those old friends are long gone, consumed by the lifestyle they loved or natural causes, but in Frank's mind they are far from forgotten. From his early years in Baltimore, Frank can list the names of guys he rode with and has stories about all of them. They worked together a lot of times, sharing expertise and equipment. Frank was a Harley mechanic, so I can easily imagine him solving his buddy's mechanical problems then just as he does now. Some of Frank's friends were known for other specialities, so they'd be the go-to guys when a sissy bar was needed, or to lend a hand on bodywork, paint or wiring. Sounds suspiciously like some friendly circles I could name today. That network of helping each other out brings out a man's true colors and you find out pretty quickly who's a giver and who's a taker, no matter what decade it is.
Frank riding in front, Flip on his Sportster behind with Bird riding on the fender. This riding shot was from Frank's first connection at Easyriders, Jake Roca, who had met Frank at Custom Cycle of Baltimore where he was working as a mechanic.
Laconia, New Hampshire, 1974. The year Frank first met Arlen Ness.
Will on the 45" trike Frank built. A year or two later they towed this bike to Daytona Beach behind an El Camino by making an axle/tow hitch and taking the front wheel off. Frank greased the rear wheel bearings at every stop, scared that the old 45 hardware had never rolled that fast! By the time they got to Daytona, the drums were packed full of grease.
The dude with the flatop was a farmer who lived behind "The Chalet" that Frank and crew rented for the Laconia trip. The kids look pretty well-behaved, heh? Note the Indian girder and dual VW back-up lights on Flip's Sportster. Left to right, Bird, Flip, Neil.
Problems with the Sporty had Flip on the porch rebuilding things until the rain started, then the party moved indoors.
Ed Kerr, Bird, Neil, Frank and Flip, Laconia 1974, at "The Chalet". All these dudes are still around.
As you can see, as much as things change, certain key elements remain constant. The struggling rider still modifies his bike for personal satisfaction, to create peer envy or to make money. Whatever the reason, it still happens every day, all around the world and we can thank trailblazers like Frank Kaisler for showing us the way. If there is anything to learn from Frank's experiences it would have to be that the idea is to have fun with your motorcycle, pull your own weight and be a good friend to the people around you. After all, you never know how long it's going to last.
Yet another iteration of Frank's venerable pan. The bike with the mags and prism tank? Yep, that's Frank's.
Ed Kerr's bike. Ed is one of the original Hamsters out of Carlisle, PA, home of The War College.
Many thanks to Frank Kaisler for letting ChopCult scan some of his chopper gold mine and re-publish it here for your enjoyment. Frank, here's to you!
Side note: these images are scanned from Frank's original prints. You can view larger versions here. Please don't post them around the internet without giving full credit to Frank Kaisler.