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By 1975 I had managed to blow up eleven Triumph motorcycles, one 450 Honda and a BSA Rocket 3. Hill climbs and 1/8 mile dirt drag racing in South Jersey down through Spotsylvania Virginia and out past Pottstown PA took its toll on them bikes but perhaps the rides up to the South Bronx by way of the New Jersey turnpike and the Pulaski Freeway with a tank full of blue colored 120 octane airplane fuel was not wise for those engines longevity.
As an Ironworker out of Camden NJ I was sent to disassemble a water tower from the top of a 5 story structure located in a shipyard between Gloucester and Camden NJ. These WW2 leftover structures were always an adventure that my co-worker Blue and I took full vantage of. On the 4th floor we found fire damage had taken its toll some time ago but as we looked closer, low and behold there was Harley parts. Some damaged beyond recognition, all of it filthy and what could rust did. We took everything that didn’t crumble to dust when we picked it up.
Big Chewy first stirred to life in the spring of 1976. She was black and what would normally have been chrome was painted silver or what I preferred to call “Gypsy Chrome”. This 1948 pieced together Harley Davidson Panhead had been conceived long before for at the age of 12 I had drafted her full scale on my bedroom wall. Mom didn’t take kindly to that engineering accomplishment. Perhaps if she were able to see what I can now do with CADKEY she would have been more encouraging. Funny how things come full circle.
Two weeks before Thanksgiving in the year 1979 I had enough of tollbooths and such so Big Chewy and me headed west. In Detroit an elderly black man seeing that I was not a local, invited me out of a snowstorm to share Thanksgiving dinner with his family. That was some diner with his rather large family all in attendance. In no time I was transformed from guest to one of the family. I headed to Chicago soon after but the wind and cold was more than I could stand. So when highway 69 presented itself I put the wind to my back and headed south, Anderson Indiana bound. I should point out that in 1979 there was no Harley Davidson boutec every 125 miles much less a Harley parts & repair shops so when the clutches burned up outside Anderson it was a handful of Indiana farm dirt thrown in between the clutch plates that aided my forward momentum. In the late night hours at 75 miles per hour heading west on Interstate 70 through Kansas I was introduced to something this city boy new not of. It was minus 5 degrees with a steady 30 miles an hour cross wind coming down out of Nebraska when out of the corner of my eye I saw something large coming at me broadside. I had only enough time to tense up before this 6-foot object and I collided. Somebody could have warned me about tumbleweed. I crossed the Continental divide at 11,000-foot elevation through the Eisenhower tunnel on December 13th of that year with 82 inches of snow on the pass still removing tumbleweed from my teeth. I was humbled by the vast nothingness of Utah’s canyon lands. Big Chewy and me had never seen that much nothing. What a site!
In the spring of 1981 on the ride home an elderly woman at a truck stop outside Gary Indiana approached us. It was 11:00 pm and she was wearing a purple bathrobe and pink fluffy bedroom slippers. She talked with me about the bike for some time and ended the conversation by suggesting that I patent my design and advertise for she felt I had something marketable different to offer. I cant help to wonder that if I would have taken Pearl Bailey’s advice that night if I would have found myself with my own TV show…….Na, Tom Lillie’s “Monster Bike” does not have quite the right ring to it.
Why Big Chewy for a name? My youngest, Amber Rose and I would go to the country store on Saturdays for a treat. She would ask if we could buy some chewys meaning the little red candy fish that her and I enjoy. When the paint shop called to let me know that the electric red paint had been applied and that I could come down and have a look see, Amber and I where out the door. When her eyes caught first site of it she declared “Daddy, that’s a Big Chewy” and there you have it from the mouths of babes.
Come 2006 we shared 30 years together that have a many stories wrapped around them. She has never minded when I look at other bikes.
Titled as 1948 homemade
96 Cubic Inches
Delcron cases, Truett & Osborn fly wheels, Crane cam and lifters, Molly valves, dual plugged, roller rockers, SU Eliminator carb, STD transmission case full of Andrews gears with a suicide shift arrangement, 3 inch Primo Belt primary drive. Performance Machine hydraulic brake.
I extended the frame1 foot up at the neck and13 inches back behind the seat post where a 2-gallon oil tank is mounted. The front end is 48” over stock that I made from 4140. If you’re wondering, the front end flexes like a rail or funny car at the drag strip.