I came to Alaska with the Air Force on my 20th birthday in October 1963. I heard there was going to be an earthquake and I wanted to be here for it (HA). I worked in supply primarily with vehicles and aircraft that were out of commission for parts. At my discharge in March of 1967 I went to work as a warehouse and inventory manager for Universal Services – an oil and exploration service provider
In 1971 my ’68 Triumph Bonneville motorcycle was stolen – it was recovered that fall but was pretty much beyond repair. It was nearly impossible to get parts for so I decided to build a “chopper” out of it. I bought a “Chilton’s” repair manual and the few motorcycle magazines that were available at that time. There were ads from various parts suppliers in California and many stated “Dealer inquiries invited”. Upon learning that I could buy parts wholesale if I was a dealer, I wrote to several of the companies. They responded with “send a copy of your business license and pictures of your store with signage”.
I sold the Triumph for $250 and bought a heater for my 1-car garage; a 4 X 8 sheet of plywood which I painted with the words “Barry’s Custom Cycle” and nailed it above the door; a $25 business license; and 6 sheets of peg board. I converted the back room of the garage (which was a wood shed) to my show room. I hung the pegboard and painted it red white and blue. I took pictures, had the film developed and sent them off with copies of my license. A few days later I was getting catalogs and price lists in the mail. I still had enough money to put a small ad in the Anchorage Daily News – and Barry’s Custom Cycle was born.
Also in 1971 the TAPS was moving full steam ahead and Harley-Davidson put an ad in the local paper looking for a dealer for the Anchorage area. I sent HD a letter and they sent a District Manager to interview me. Of course, the response was “we can’t have a dealer in a one car garage in a residential neighborhood. If you get into a commercial building, contact me again”.
Through 1972 my part-time business was doing quite well. My boss at Universal Services got wind of it and made me an offer (threat). I stayed with Barry’s Custom Cycle. Of course, my first winter without a job almost put me in bankruptcy.
The oil and TAPS booms caused the housing market to explode. I had equity in my house so sold it in 1973 and leased a building in Spenard next to Chilkoot Charlie’s. I converted two back rooms into living quarters for my family.
In 1974 I sent another letter to Harley-Davidson. They sent the District Manager back to Anchorage that fall to see my operation. He signed me up as a dealer with our contract starting in 1975.
Though my business was doing quite well during the summer months, I could not get through the winter. I took my first job on the pipeline and went to work for Bechtel as a “materials coordinator” at 5-mile camp north of the Yukon River.
A biker buddy “Indian Randy” started his own business – Polar Storm Insulation. He got the bid to insulate the water tanks and all the plumbing at the new camp at Valdez. There were not enough union insulators in Alaska to do the job so he was able to get me on as an insulator helper making 3 times as much as I was with Bechtel.
In the winter of ’74 – ’75 the owner of Chilkoot Charlie’s made my landlord an offer he couldn’t refuse. I put everything in storage and got back on with TAPS through the Operating Engineers. Between mechanics jobs I leased a building on Chugach Drive just off Spenard Road and hired a friend and his wife to manage it for me while I continued with TAPS. I kept working as a mechanic through June, 1977 when the first barrel of oil made its trip through the 800 mile pipeline from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez.
When you walk in the front door of Chilkoot Charlie’s there is a bar on the left and a bar on the right. The one on the right used to be my parts counter – the dance floor was my service area and the bathroom behind the bar used to have a shower and is the one we used while living there.
Had it not been for TAPS all of this may have just been an unfilled desire to become a Harley-Davidson dealer.
Written by House of Harley-Davidson founder, Barry Matteson