In the early days of America’s Industrial Revolution, citizens of Rochester, New York, toiled tirelessly to keep this great nation’s industrial complex running strong. Guns, heavy equipment, housewares and appliances rolled off Rochester assembly lines for generations, and workers took pride in their jobs. After WWII, however, US servicemen returned to Rochester and hundreds of American cities and towns like it wounded, weary and unemployed.
One such hero was Corporal Frank Betrug. Before the war Frank operated a punch press at a Rochester job shop that made pots and pans. When he returned from Germany in 1945, his beloved factory was shuttered. Apparently, the heavy equipment used to make Dutch ovens also made great bombs. No war, no jobs.
Corporal Frank Betrug, US Army circa 1950s
Undeterred, Corporal Betrug bought a Harley-Davidson from military surplus and rode south. Like so many adventurers who blazed a path before him, Frank’s freedom ride ended short of its final destination. After meeting a girl in Littlerock, Frank settled down and started a family.
To support his wife and new daughter Frank opened a small engine repair shop. Business boomed on the wealth of experience Frank had gained as a mechanic in General Patton’s motorcade, and by 1977 the 57-year-old grease monkey and new grandfather owned a prosperous motorcycle and lawnmower dealership in Razorback country.
Betrug’s Hogs and Choppers was solid enough to survive a recession in the early ‘80s, but Frank’s daughter and five-year-old grandson were not. With only part-time work at her dad’s shop to sustain her, the mother of Frank’s mischievous grandson found comfort in drugs, alcohol and a steady stream of shady boyfriends. Mom’s poor choices took their toll on the youngster, and according to Frank Sr. when the boy entered kindergarten in 1984, "He never really had a chance."
As the years wore on Frank tried to reshape his surly grandson with summer jobs, private tutors and motorized toys, but the damage was done. In 1994 the tenth-grade dropout was arrested for running meth for an outlaw motorcycle gang. This was not the life Frank Betrug had dreamed for his family.
After two years in a halfway house in Bentonville, Frankie Betrug Jr. emerged from the Arkansas penal system a different man, with the tattoos and made-for-TV "gangsta attitude" to prove it. This is the story of how misguided energy and stereotypical notions about what it means to be "tough" or "cool" can drag men down a path from which there is seldom any return.
“When I got out of juvie I didn’t know what the fuck I was gonna do. I was a skateboarder as a kid, but that ship sailed when I started lifting weights in the yard. A friend in the industry got popped for boning a minor at the X Games, so all my shoe hook-ups were fucked. Whatever. When I kick you in the face with a steel-toed boot, you'll know it."
Long, low and outlandishly proportioned are words that best describe Thug Factory's style. This early XS650 shows telltale signs of Frankie's emerging aesthetic
“I learned a lot of stuff hanging out at gramp’s shop, but I was never down with his shit. Too many rules. ‘Clean your mess! Put away your tools! Stop stealing food outta the employee refrigerator!’ Grandpa might have been a badass in Korea or wherever, but he’s a dick.”
“I started Thug Factory with some tools one of mom’s boyfriends stored in our garage. Crutch was a club guy who promised to show me how to strip chrome plating in the bathtub if I didn’t rat him out to my old lady. I came home one day and a tweaker was suckin’ Crutch's dick! I milked that fuckup for months. Thanks for the torch, dumbass!”
“God I hate cops. There ain’t a pig in Littlerock who’ll pull me over when I’m shakin’ down an old shovelhead. If they do I’ll kill ‘em. In case you haven't noticed, I'm swole up like a motherfucker.”
“Thug Factory grew slow at first, but customers eventually came around to what I'm doing. Brass knuckle kickers, pike-nut Mohawks on Nazi helmets, spiderweb handlebar gussets… I invented all that shit.”
A member of Frankie's rap crew models one of his company's more popular cut-and-sew originals: Thug Factory's "Def Row Murder Mask"
“I’m into hip-hop. We gotta crew that hangs at the shop weekends, and I set up a recording studio in grandpa's dyno room. Our beats are dope. Suckers best not step to the mic—I’ll fuck ‘em up.”
“I see the whole ‘70s chopper thing coming outta Cali, but I ain’t with it. I like my choppers fuckin’ hard, know wha’ I’m sayin’?” We just finished a tight Sporty with jockey shifter and hand clutch. I made the shifter out of an old sword one of my boys stole from an Applebee’s. The gas tank looks like the fuckin’ A-bomb they dropped on Germany. It’s sick.”
Frisco fags will tell you different, but super tall apes are here to stay. We can’t keep those motherfuckers in stock. Last November I made four pair of our Gorilla Killa bars and they sold out in like a month. Clockin' them Benjamins, bitch!"
“I change my hair all the time—works great for hookin’ bitches. I did the psychobilly pompadour thing for a while, but I got tired of fucking fat girls with paper umbrellas. The Mohawk's pulling pussy hard these days, but I think I got herpes from a goth chick at an MMA fight in Branson, Missouri.”
According to Frankie Jr., Thug Factory's "Grim Creeper" hoodie features removable sleeves "for gettin' your swoles on at the gun show"
“We kill it with apparel. All our designs are hardcore, with skulls and brass knuckles an' shit to show pussies we mean business. The MMA crowd is into our shit. I’ve fought a couple of those dudes, but they ain’t so tough. Fuck with me and I’ll give you a beat down with the sledgehammer that hangs off my saddlebag.”
Throughout my conversation with Frankie Betrug Jr., I couldn’t shake the impression that this sullen outsider will adopt any posture or follow any subculture if he thinks it will burnish his self-image. When I asked the buff bike builder to discuss the homosexual activities known to occur between inmates in youth prison, he refused to speak on record. During an impromptu skate session with employees in the back alley, I couldn’t help notice Frankie's Vans didn't have a scuff on them.
Not every Thug Factory custom is embued with the younger Betrug's so-called "bone death" style. This customer bike for '80s hairband frontman Vox Populi of Crucifux features styling and paint inspired by the musician's guitar
Texans of similar dubious integrity are sometimes described as being “all hat and no cattle.” After spending the better part of a weekend trying to take Frankie Jr. as seriously as he takes himself, I came up empty handed. Only after filtering through the reams of biker bravado this misguided tough guy regularly spews on his blog could I start to make sense of the myth behind the man. To learn the facts about today's chopper scene as one modern motorcycle rebel sees them, follow Frankie Junior's personal rants here.