We've interviewed the man and we've marveled at his machines. Now it's time to get inside where Wes White lives. This is Four Aces Cycle in Pacoima, CA. Wes's workspace has doubled as his home, his cash cow or his sanctuary for years. Now he's opening it and himself up for a closer inspection. Class is in session.
So what happens at your shop—do you build complete bikes for strangers, tune and service for friends, work strictly on your own stuff or is it really just a tree fort for grown men?
For years my business has been mostly customer motor and transmission rebuilds for the build-it-yourself crowd, with some new and used parts selling and bike builds thrown in. I also do a little tune and service and a lot of top ends. Another favorite is the "bring it back alive" project where a guy brings in a bike that used to run and I get it back on the street. Those are a pain in the butt. I have said repeatedly that whatever bike I’m working on will be the last thing I build for a customer, but someone always talks me into it. The best way to get over this hump is for me to say to myself, “Oh yeah, build what you want.” That is how my chrome-framed green bike came along
Do you consider it a hobby, art, work, lifestyle or what?
Merle Haggard once sang, "I'm 41 years old and I ain't got nowhere to go when it's over." That is where I am at today, and I happen to be 41 years old too! Vintage motorcycle restoration and repair is my third career and the one I can live with the best and want to do forever. My other careers sucked, so call it my life, not so much a style. I like to think some of the stuff I do is art or at least artistic.
How many hours do you spend at the shop in a typical week?
Lately I have been here by 9 or 10 a.m. and I leave at midnight. Doing everything in a business is tough, and I get customers knocking and calling at all hours. During regular business hours I pack boxes, do the bills, et cetera. I consider 6 p.m. the second shift when I can relax, turn the music up and get some uninterrupted wrenching time. I spent the last few years only doing 8 or so a day, but that just doesn’t work for me. I guess I’m like a shark. If I stop, I might die.
What do you see happening in this space in five years?
Five years form now I am going have a couple more DVDs under my belt, one technical and one documentary type at least. I would love to make half my shop an office for those endeavors. I would like to continue to do motors and such, but I am going to stay away from the customer-driven builds completely. I will build bikes, but I am going to build what I want and then sell it.
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy: Wes White tempers his 24/7 work compulsion with a healthy appetite for tequila and the occasional outlaw chopper ride with friends. EDR 2008
How is your workspace defined?
Grinding and welding take place in the back of the shop next to all my shelves of used parts. Motor rebuilds and bench work are up near the front at my personal workbench. I have a couple of lifts behind me and that is where assembly work takes place and where full bikes go for service or motor work.
Any quirky rituals or work habits that you practice in your shop?
I am pretty messy when it comes to disassembly—fairly organized when it comes to assembly. So a lot of nights after taking apart a motor, I will go home and leave a big mess. I am one of those guys who makes a BIG mess then cleans it up all at once. I try not to work when I am on the phone or when a customer is here, because it is distracting and that is when mistakes get made. Also, I never let the customer see the drawer full of hammers that I know I’m going to use on his bike.
Who else would we find in your shop on a typical Friday or Saturday night? How about crunch time on Tuesday?
I have had a variety of guys through the shop over the years to help me out. Chris Hamilton and Danny "the Snake" Milligan were great help but they moved on for a variety of reasons. My longest lasting part-time guy is Jeff Leighton, builder of awesome bikes. I am proud to say that I influenced him some. You might find him or Frank Kaisler around here sometimes helping out. If it were crunch time, they would both help me out if I asked
What is it they say about one man's trash being another man's treasure? Pirates of the Caribbean have nothing on Mr. White when it comes to priceless booty
What do the neighbors think?
Most of them think I am that weird biker guy in #16. I fixed a kid's go-kart one day, he was the son of one of the machine shop owners in the complex, and I got some Christmas cookies out of the deal, so I have at least one ally
What kinds of work do you like best?
I have to say, I like motors. They are compact and have a good beginning, middle and end to them. They can be frustrating when they fight you, but for the most part they are my favorite type of work
What's your favorite thing about your shop?
It is my space, the place I practically live, the place I feel at home in. It shows a lot of my personality that you won't find anywhere else
Is there anything you hate about your shop?
It is hot in the summer and cold in the winter!
Any tips for the novice shop operator or bike builder.
Be organized and look at as many different resources as possible. Never take anyone’s opinion at face value. Trust but verify: that’s what my old boss at the Feds used to tell me
Wes and his fellow LSR addict Chuck will make their fifth assault on Bonneville with vintage iron in 2010. Wes has some tricks up his sleeve for that adventure that are guaranteed to stir excitement. Stay tuned
What would you tell a seasoned builder if he asked for your advice on setting up a new shop?
Lock the door. Don't answer the phone so much.
Anything else you want to add?
Maybe a little Hunter S. Thompson:
"Some people will tell you that slow is good—and maybe it is some days—but fast is better. I've always believed this in spite of the trouble it's caused me. Being shot out of a cannon will always be better than being squeezed out of a tube."
You can learn more about Four Aces Cycle on their website.