Born to Build, Born to Ride

Story by Joe Higgins • Photos by Sam Girton

Earl Clark likes to have fun and, to him, having fun includes not just riding motorcycles but building them.

Courtesy of Sam Girton

Clark, of Athens, has been into motor vehicles for as long as he can remember and started building them at a young age as well. The influence came from his father, Garold, and Clark has been able to pass on the building genes to his son Wyatt.

“My dad used to drag race so I’ve been into cars since I was a little kid. Dad had a couple bikes too and that just snowballed into me growing up racing cars,” said Clark. “I got pretty handy too. I can weld. I can fabricate and I started building my own cars.”

Courtesy of Sam Girton

In addition to his father, Clark credits Athens High School teacher John Deno for laying the foundation for his skills.

“(Deno) had a really killer industrial arts class,” said Clark. “He taught us how to weld, machine and fabricate stuff.”

His son, Wyatt, a recent Athens High School graduate, was also a standout student in industrial arts.

Clark bought his first motorcycle in 1986, a Suzuki, and started building bikes in the 1990s. He continued to build cars but something about the open road and the open air offered by a motor and two wheels called to him.

“You just eliminate all the hassles in the world when you’re on one,” he said.

Courtesy of Sam Girton

Clark has built two motorcycles from scratch and has built or modified about a dozen others from his shop in Millfield. While he has an idea of what the build may look like when it’s complete, he admits to “making it up as you go along.”

“You have a plan for what you’d like it to look like but as you work in it and things come to you, it may change,” he said. “Things kind of take on their own identity as you work on it.”

“Building” isn’t only a hobby for Clark. His day job is that of a carpenter and construction worker. As of this writing, he’s building a house in the middle of town.

His pride in the builds is outmatched by his pride in his son. Currently, they are building an SS 396 Chevelle that Clark has owned since he was 19 years old. It’s all original and “a little rough” but the two have just finished rebuilding the motor.

“I enjoy teaching him stuff,” Clark said of Wyatt. “He can do stuff guys my age can’t do. He’s pretty handy. I’ll have him doing my work before too long!”

When asked, Clark said he just sold his favorite build, a Harley-Davidson Hardtail.

“It was bare bones,” he said. “I stripped it down, added a little bit of flare to the tank, put a Jesse James back fender on it and put a flare on it. It had a fat back tire. I took the front fender off of it and cut some of the brackets and drilled holes in the frame to hide all the wiring. It just looked like metal and a motor. It didn’t look like it would run but it was cool.”

Ready for something new, Clark traded a 1937 Ford hot rod he’d built for his new favorite motorcycle — a 2006 Heritage Softail with “a lot of cool parts on it.” He calls it his “dream bike.” An all chrome, black beast with airbags and “decked out just the way I’d done it.”

Courtesy of Sam Girton

“It’s cool,” he said.

Clark’s current project is restoring a 1958 Allstate motorcycle. Once sold by Sears and Roebuck and made in Austria, these unique items are rarely seen, especially in running condition.

“I’d never seen one in my life,” said Clark. “It’s not getting spark right now but with something like this, it’s going to be the coolest little thing running around town as soon as I get it running.”

From the build to the road, Clark sums up the feeling of riding one of his creations.

“It’s hard to explain but you just seem to forget about everything that’s bothering you. It’s freedom,” he said. “You can be out in the air looking around at all the cars, the house, the people … It’s cliché but it’s why I like it. You can just get on and forget about everything for a minute. It’s just the road, you and the motor.”

Courtesy of Sam Girton