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Undercover Reporter Reaches Kennedy

4/13/2006


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Horse magazine and Bikernet have long sought to find the evil mystics behind the chopper world. The Discovery Channel followed suit with their research of Jesse James, Billy Lane, and currently Louie Falcigno. But a notorious figure has escaped the media attention. Pat Kennedy has been carving choppers out of crude steel since 1969.

PAT KENNEDY

Living in a small seaside village of Oceanside, California, he was a disgruntled freedom fighter who nurtured a reclusive nature with his brothers in a shop that continues to exist today. There he built an enclave of steel creativity in a side room protected by his dog, Bullseye. No one was allowed in the back. He came to work early and hammered on his projects late to avoid citizens and the curious. Then the government passed helmet laws and Pat could sense that his freedoms were waning. Mysteriously, he disappeared into the Arizona desert.

We had lost track of Pat shortly after his marriage to Brook, which took place in their Tombstone fort home. Darrell Pinney, their custom painter, tattooed Pat's wedding finger with his band of love. We were reasonably confident that a sharp investigative reporter could ride into a town of 1,300 and find the Kennedys.

Tombstone became a silver mining haven in 1877 when Ed Schieffel, the founder of the city, bought up the Toughnut, Lucky Cuss, and the Contention Mines where he discovered silver and ore. In January 1879, he kicked off the Tombstone Mill and Mining Company to the city's delight. By March of 1880, the first railroad from Tombstone to Tucson was completed. The city exploded to a population of 7,000--the size of San Francisco at the time. In 1881, the first telegraph was established. Tombstone was rockin'.

Then Virgil Earp, the brother of former Marshal Wyatt Earp, became the chief of police on July 4, 1881 and on October 26, 1881 the gunfight at the OK Corral shattered the town, which resulted in the deaths of Tom McLowery, Frank McLowery, and Billy Clanton. Virgil and Morgan Earp were assassinated shortly afterwards. By 1912, the Arizona territory reached statehood, but Tombstone was rocked by the Great Depression, two devastating fires, and floods that filled the mines like the touch of death to the city's only industry. The population in the desert berg of cactus and dry dirt roads dwindled to a handful of rattlesnake lovers and OK Corral followers.

We sent an equally reclusive moto-journalist, Renegade, on a 1948 Panhead with Baisely dual-carburetor heads, into the desert to find the Kennedy clan. It was rumored that they were hiding in the hills around Tombstone, Arizona, near a small, desert town on high ground near the border of Mexico. Renegade rode for six hours into Tombstone, the desert community south of Tucson, to find them.

Renegade's Pan broke down as he entered the town of a handful of dirt streets today. The vibration took its toll on the handmade carb linkage. He tinkered and waited on the wooden sidewalk near the post office that sported the Kennedy address. Brook Kennedy showed up the next day to pick up the mail in a mid-'50s Dodge station wagon and eyed the long-haired rider suspiciously. Renegade lacks social graces, but attemped to befriend the lovely Mrs. Kennedy. He can true a wheel and isn't a bad wrench when he isn't pissed off about something, so she put him to the test.

LACING

Brook has a nature for helping people, but Pat taught her toughness and suspicion of others. Renegade was offered tools and a place to work on his 54 year old ride in exchange for wheel lacing, before being allowed near their inner sanctum. Brook explained that they sold their home in Tombstone to a traveling doctor, but kept the small rental out back.

Renegade was given tools and a place to rest his head while Brook brought him a couple of 80-spoke wheels to lace and true. She watched closely as he performed the task on a bench that resided over polished hardwood floors in the small two-bedroom clapboard home that she and Pat had restored. Brook smiled; she had the tanned look of a countrywoman who loved the outdoors and wasn't caught up in the layers of make-up restricted to city life. She didn't need it.

WHEEL DEPT

After two days of testing on a variety of the specialized Kennedy wheels, which included 80-, 120-, 160-, and now 240-spoke wheels, Renegade was pulled from the bench and lead outside. Brook kept him alive with multi-colored chips and salsa, plus Chorizo and eggs for breakfast. Their line of wheels were carefully designed with the finest components they could manufacture, including stainless spokes in several varieties from twisted to diamond pattern and polished stainless hubs. Wheels are still available in chrome and in sizes from 15- to 21-inch. By the time Brook invited Renegade out of town--seemingly to their hideaway--he knew their entire line of high-quality custom wheels thoroughly.

She cut a dusty trail out of Tombstone while Renegade followed, and followed, until he suspected that he was being lured on a ride from which no man returns. The road was a straight shot over hot asphalt through the flat desert, scattered with Yucca plants and dried tumbleweed. For as far as he could see, it was open and barren until they turned left on a highway that parted with the desert and roamed into the hills.

It was as if he was being lured to a shallow grave. Had he laced a 240-spoke wheel and unconsciously missed a spoke? Or did his truing tolerances falter to his demise? He looked to his rumbling Panhead beneath him for a sign of well being. Some eight miles from the crossroads to nowhere, she spun right off the narrow two-lane highway as if she were attempting to lose him. Renegade envisioned the old ominous, Kennedy fort-like facility on Freemont Street in Tombstone, with 10-foot-high walls surrounding the stucco compound. He had lived the life of a biker on the run for over a decade, yet the site of the forboding structure gave him the chills as if he was at the gates of a penitentary. What would their next facility look like?

It was too late to turn around and find his way back to the highway. He followed the narrow path off the road and down the gravel lane beside the slope of the hill into a narrow wooded valley. He suspected that escape would be difficult. He couldn't imagine trying to leave on foot, running without his Pan beside him. The washboard road passed through a stream and the rocks slipped and slithered beneath his tires. As the road lifted, he could see a small country home loom up in the rugged oak trees ahead, and a man lumbered out onto the front porch without a smile on his face. He had the look of a knowing man, comfortable with the knowledge that he was aware of what would happen next. He wasn't a big man, but taut and agile with bright eyes surrounded by a full head of salt-and-pepper hair pulled into a ponytail. A narrow, gray goatee highlighted his tanned, rugged features. He moved to Renegade's side as our reporter slid to a stop in the sandy dry soil. Pat's T-shirt was missing its sleeves and his arms were covered with intricate black tattoos.

SHOP COMPOUND

"Come this way," Pat said, without introducing himself. Renegade pondered whether to lock his bike or run, but decided that it was useless. He followed Pat to the shop compound. "Let me show you around," Pat said in a gracious host-type manner as if Renegade was a distant friend who hadn't seen his new facilities. "I don't want to make a zillion parts," Pat said. "I sell a few and build enough to build five bikes a year." Renegade nodded and tugged on his own long black goatee as he followed tentatively.

NEXT PROJ

"I live to build motorcycles," Pat said. His blue eyes flickered in the blistering sunlight as if he had admitted to a long-term romance. It was the key to Pat's anti-social behavior. Renegade discovered quickly that Pat and Brook loved their solitary lifestyles. As Pat showed him around he was also confronted with their vast bike-building capabilities. Pat showed him the various stations were he fabricates, molds, primes, and paints each bike. Brook handles the artwork and graphics. She also laces wheels, runs the office, and performs the seat and upholstery functions.

ULPOSTERY

Pat is the mechanic, the designer, machinist for the prototypes, and he builds the frames. He has worked with one small machine shop on the coast that has manufactured most of his components and frame parts for the last 20 years.

As Pat showed Renegade the final assembly area where a couple of full custom choppers were entering their final stages, he turned to Renegade and his deep features turned somber. "We like to work with educated buyers," he said. "Guys and gals who know what they want and like what we build. We don't build bikes to look like what another builder creates. We're true to what we do."

MC ASSY RM

Renegade nodded in agreement and looked around the immaculate facility, which contained photographs of a myriad custom bikes for which Pat was responsible. He designed his version of long bike before many of builders saw chrome for the first time, and he stayed true to it. Pat even developed and worked with his machinist to manufacturer adjustable, raked triple trees for his wide glides and recently designed an adjustable raked springer for his own customers.

"Brook handles all the initial stages of dealing with customers." Pat's eyes brightened with relief that Brook could take care of all the negotiating and help customers through the process of ordering. Once a customer was proven to be reliable and sincere, Pat took over. "Some 50 percent of our projects are rigids, the other 50 percent are Softails. We don't build rubbermount bikes, but we work with virtually any driveline a customer wants." He even builds his own stainless handlebars and exhaust.

PAT KENNEDY ON TEST RIDE

Since escaping even deeper into the hills, Pat has devoted more time to quality components, focused on fine tuning his craft, and studied the materials he uses. The sky softened with rich Harley orange hues as Pat lead Renegade back toward the dual-carbed Panhead. Brook came to Pat's side as he looked at the rich sunset. Renegade fired the Panhead to life.

"When I close my eyes, I only see choppers," Pat muttered, as if a mystic staring into a crystal ball. He held Brook close as they turned and headed back toward the compound and Renegade rumbled toward the highway. --Bandit


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Reader Comments


Great article although its quite old. I gather the Kennedys no longer build bikes, sadly. I saw Pat in Sturgis on 1996 but was too surprised/starstruck to say anything. My loss. Great bikes and a great man. And wife.

Adrian Walker
Worthing, West Sussex, United Kingdom
Tuesday, October 24, 2017
Editor Response Yes, they were also very talented at working with homes and buildings in Tombstone, Arizona. I hope they still tinker with bikes from time to time.
--Bandit
I bought a PK Custom a few years ago from a buddy in need of a little help. He doesn't know much about it. I want to get more history on the bike and was wondering if there is a way to connect with Pat or Brooke? Any help would be greatly appreciated.


--Jersey Jay

Jersey Jay
leonardo, NJ
Sunday, May 24, 2015
Editor Response Hey Jay,

I will be glad to help. They can be a tad illusive. Drop me a note in a couple of days.
--Bandit
I went to St Patricks school in Carlsbad with Pat. He loved bikes then, as he does now. I am happy for him for not only realizing his dreams, but to reach and live them as well. To create and build what he and his wife, Brook, have is outstanding.

Congrats to Brook and Pat for doing it their way.............


Scott Geyer
Meridian, ID
Thursday, October 9, 2014
Editor Response Yes, an amazing couple. Now they are real estate developers in Tombstone, Arizona. I've tried to move there a couple of times.
--Bandit
I lived in Oceanside during the 1980s, and I worked for Santa Fe Railroad. You had t-shirts that said coming at you in 1980 or something like that.

Anyway, the Oceanside newspaper took a picture of me hanging on the side of a boxcar. I went down on my '82 wideglide, so I went to your shop and bought a Paucho rigid frame, and a Karata primary and drive belt system. I was very very happy with that set up and how easy it was to install.

larry milligan
albuquerque, NM
Wednesday, May 8, 2013
Editor Response Send me a shot of your bike for the news. Glad it worked out.
--Bandit
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