My Coney Island Child | The Vintagent

Bob Peterson grew up in Edgewater, New Jersey lower than twenty miles from New York Metropolis. He remembers as a child in the course of the early Sixties being intrigued by teams of bike membership riders just like the Aliens[1] he noticed on the freeway close to his residence. The no-frills, chopped-down fashion of the bikes the Aliens rode was each radical and spectacular. They projected a seductive sense of energy as they break up lanes and blasted by way of the site visitors. He received his bike license and began to study in regards to the tradition of bikes.

Bob Peterson together with his Coney Island Child, a closely modified 1975 Harley-Davidson FLH Electra Glide in ‘Coney Island fashion’. [Mike McCabe]

Right this moment fifty years later, Bob rides a 1975 FLH Shovelhead that he custom-made into what known as a Coney Island fashion bike. He has added stylized, chromed deco-looking entrance fender add-ons however extra importantly behind his bike’s spectacular customized seat rail[2], an elaborate tail rig configuration of a number of dozen small, ornamental runner lights. Coney Island fashion bikes have a historical past that cuts throughout totally different racial and ethnic teams and thru totally different New York Metropolis neighborhoods. Some name them ‘Rubbish Wagons’ or ‘Rubbish Barges’ however all of them are identified for his or her elaborate tail rigs and light-weight assemblies which can be impressed by the unbelievable lightbulb shows and romance of the historic 1900s to Sixties Coney Island amusement parks- Dreamland (1904-1911), Luna (1903-1944), Steeplechase (1897-1964).

Luna Park on Coney Island in 1906, with sufficient Edison lamps to be seen 50 miles at sea. [Mike McCabe Collection]

“Coney Island first grew to become a showcase for the wonders and promise of the machine age. A 300-foot tall statement tower with steam-powered elevators was dropped at the Island, in addition to an Inexhaustible cow whose mechanical udders allotted limitless drafts of milk. In 1876 the recent canine was invented there, and 5 years later, the rollercoaster. At night time there was “electrical sea-bathing beneath the hiss of primitive arc lamps.”[3]

In 1902, Scientific American documented the newest craze of motorcycle-paced bicycle races on small banked tracks, the forerunners of the Wall of Loss of life. [The Vintagent Archive]

The Electrical Tower at Coney Island’s Luna Park was a 200 foot tall orgy of vibrant gentle created by greater than 20,000 incandescent lightbulbs. The whole Luna Park amusement park had greater than 1,300,000 lightbulbs that might be seen 50 miles at sea. Thomas Edison patented his first recreation changer gentle bulb close to his residence in Menlo Park, New Jersey in 1880, nevertheless it was the carnivalesque entrepreneurs of Coney Island’s amusement showcases Dreamland, Luna and Steeplechase Parks who used it to push again in opposition to the darkness, lengthen the day and create a brand new entrepreneurial dimension. 300,000 folks visited the parks effectively into the night on Saturdays in the course of the Thirties. After WWII in 1947 that quantity swelled to greater than 2.6 million folks.

1914: the primary vertical ‘Cylinder of Loss of life’ was constructed by board monitor racer Purple Armstrong, who was searching for incomes potential in the course of the low season. It was arrange in San Francisco, and a bigger model was constructed on the Panama Pacific Worldwide Exhibition in 1915. [The Vintagent Archive]

The glowing lightbulb above somebody’s head got here to represent an ‘aha second’ of ingenuity and contextualized different late 19th to early 20th improvements, the inner combustion engine, the car and the bike. The crowds at Coney Island have been having enjoyable however they have been additionally being educated in regards to the risk-reward of working 5 and 6 days every week at tough and sometimes harmful manufacturing jobs── for those who survived, the weekend was yours. The novel notion of consumerism was gestating at locations like Coney Island. You would save after which spend your hard-earned cash to purchase some happiness on the increasing assortment of mass-produced merchandise.[4]

A extra substantial model of Purple Armstrong’s vertical wall was in-built late 1914, and re-named the ‘Whirl of Loss of life’, seen right here with Purple Armstrong driving an Excelsior board monitor racer on the banked portion of the monitor.  Observe the Edwardian apparel of the group. [The Vintagent Archive]

The bike labored its method simply into Coney Island thrill tradition and the psyche of spectators bent on risqué leisure. Banked cycle racing tracks had been round because the late Eighteen Eighties in Europe and the USA, and it was pure that bikes – initially as pacers – have been included within the enjoyable.  In line with the New York Instances, banked cycle tracks appeared at Luna Park on Coney Island by 1911, with bike pacers, bikes, and vehicles included in thrill reveals on the 65degree banking.  The period of board monitor racing started in earnest in 1909 underneath entrepreneur Jack Prince, and banked tracks quickly appeared all around the nation, together with Brooklyn’s Brighton Motordrome (1912) and the Sheepshead Bay Speedway (1919).  There have been arguments for years about ‘who constructed the primary Wall of Loss of life’, however analysis by The Vintagent has produced the earliest photographs of a vertical Wall, in San Francisco in 1914, the ‘Cylinder of Loss of life’, constructed by board monitor racer Purple Armstrong as vaudeville leisure and employment throughout racing’s off season.  The ‘Wall of Loss of life’ gained instant recognition, and shortly smaller, moveable carnival motordromes have been transferring from fairground to fairground, all around the USA. Whereas the earliest bikes used of the Partitions have been ex-board monitor racing Indians and Excelsiors, by 1928 the bike of selection for the Wall of Loss of life was the Indian 101 Scout with its 37ci (750cc) motor.[7]

The entrance finish of Bob Petersen’s Coney Island Child, a 1975 Harley-Davidson FLH Electra Glide with ‘bat wing’ fairing and many equipment. Observe the -stock- monumental eagle sticker on the fairing. [Mike McCabe]

Model, date and magnificence, bikes tackle the patina of the time they exist in. Bob Peterson’s ’75 FLH Shovelhead with its elaborate, hand fabricated tail-end gentle meeting and different bikes within the Coney Island fashion like Ernie Barkman’s ‘Black Swan’ 1950 Panhead are personalised statements that play creatively with an interpretation of historical past── some actual, some mythological. Issues made by people are cultural and historic footprints- A historical past and time line to the inventive selections of the making. Motorbike selection is part of this course of; from established model households to the idiosyncratic, vernacular kinds of explicit folks and locations.[8]

The saddle of Bob Peterson’s Harley-Davidson. [Mike McCabe]

“I used to be born in 1951 in Edgewater, New Jersey,” Bob Peterson stated. “Throughout my teen-years I’d watch the fellows from New York Metropolis who would come over on their bikes, and they’d journey round and all that… they have been driving on FLH’s however they have been most likely Panheads again then. You’re speaking late ‘50s or early ‘60s. I used to be ten or eleven and I used to like the best way they adorned the bikes up with all of the lights and chrome… I beloved it a lot I’d take my bicycles and do stuff to my bicycles- Put huge white mud flaps on them… put a pair lights on them although they didn’t work… enhance it with some lights. Quickly as I used to be sufficiently old to journey a bike, I stated, “I gotta get considered one of these”. I began out with a 1971 Sportster. In fact my dad and mom have been in opposition to it, step by step as I received older they have been into it. As time went on and I received the cash, I went in for greater bikes just like the 1200 FLHs. I began adorning them and that’s my factor. I seen how a few of the golf equipment dressed up their bikes. That’s the place I received the inspiration from. And I attempted to maintain it going as a result of it’s a dying factor now.  I adore it. Lots of people don’t prefer it however that’s my factor.

The tail finish of the Coney Island Child. This chrome simply may get you residence. [Mike McCabe]

Choppers got here in in the course of the late ‘60s and ‘70s. Earlier than that, all of them had huge bikes like this. Then the late ‘60s got here alongside and in the course of the ‘70s they chopped them. They took huge bikes like this and so they chopped all of them up. This fashion bike went on the again burner. All this additional stuff on the bikes was hung up in garages or it was thrown out. I went to flea markets all around the nation. If I didn’t take these things, it could have been thrown within the rubbish. I made quite a lot of it however the trays for the lights have been made by some after-market guys again within the ‘60s. There was an organization in New York Metropolis referred to as Bosco Brothers and so they began making off these things… however they handed on. They made quite a lot of the customized components. The particular exhaust trumpets, that’s all made. The remainder of it I made. The seat rail is customized made[9]. Thank God I saved quite a lot of this from the junk yard. It could have been all thrown out.

The guts of the Coney Island Child stays a reasonably inventory FLH 74ci ‘cone’ Shovelhead motor, with an authentic inventory paint job in Glowing Burgundy. [Mike McCabe]

“Now, bike tastes are altering once more, that chopper theme is altering and these bikes are coming again. And we wish to attempt to discover all these things that’s nonetheless hanging in folks’s garages and no matter is left, and no matter wasn’t thrown out.  Oh ya, as a child I’d see these bikes dressed up with customized exhaust methods on them… Take the seats and a welder would make totally different seat rails… Guys would put their girlfriend’s identify or their bike’s identify in there. After which the deal with bars had customized deal with bars with curly-cues in it… I’d watch them and that’s the place I received the inspiration from. I finally did my very own once I received older and extra educated. Nevertheless it was very good to see them take an everyday inventory bike and make their very own theme… their very own customized, what every particular person needed. Like mine… that is what I needed. Not what everybody else desires… however that’s what I needed… That’s the place I received the inspiration. You customise… You utilize your palms, you utilize your mind. You customise your individual bike. I need my very own ideas, my very own concepts… what I wish to do. I put all these lights, the seat, the exhaust system, the radio, all of that I put in there myself… to what I like. It’s not what lots of people like, it’s what I like.

Different Coney Island fashion bikes: that is the Black Swan constructed by Ernie Barkman. [Mike McCabe]

“This fashion was Brooklyn, the Bronx, Harlem, these have been the fellows that began it. Totally different golf equipment in Harlem just like the Mercury Riders (Fifties), Bronx Aliens (Sixties), that they had all them bikes again then. Like my exhausts… They was referred to as Bronx Trumpets. I am going to swap-meets all around the nation and attempt to discover these things. It’s very, very exhausting to seek out it. And now it’s getting very costly as a result of the fashion is coming again round once more. Again within the ‘50s none of these items was made for this customizing function… You needed to make your individual stuff. Just like the curved gentle mount on my bike, I needed to go to a welder, warmth that steel up and bend that piece of steel round a propane tank. Then I went to a chrome man and had it chromed. Chroming could be very costly. All of this customizing comes from a sense to push again about being nameless… To make one thing the best way you prefer it.

The dramatic and really illuminated rear finish of the Black Swan. ‘The solar shines out of our behinds!’ [Mike McCabe]

“The entire Coney Island theme… Ya, they name it that as a result of when Edison invented the lightbulb, it was displayed and realized at Coney Island. And that’s why they name it a Coney Island bike, due to all of the lights. This fashion began within the ‘50s after the Struggle (WWII). Within the ‘40s after the Struggle no person had any a refund then. As they labored and received cash I suppose they began adorning ‘em and dressin’ them out nice- put totally different do-dads throughout them, customized exhaust methods. That’s why I name my FLH my Coney Island Child. As a child I by no means went to Coney Island. It was too far-off for a child from my space to get there. The Palisades Amusement Park was my model of Coney Island. And don’t overlook these bikes have been huge within the Bronx, in Brooklyn, Fordham Avenue within the Bronx, the fellows used to hang around there with these bikes again within the ‘50s and ‘60s.

The Coney Island fashion was well-liked with all races: right here’s a Black rider on a closely adorned Harley-Davidson Duo-Glide FLH Panhead within the late Fifties. Probably he was a part of an all-Black ‘costume membership’ driving extremely modified cruisers. [The Vintagent Archive]

“My bike is unquestionably not an outlaw bike. Again when bikes like mine have been well-liked, the entire outlaw bike factor was nonetheless taking form. In 1947 there was the Hollister Riot in California after which the film The Wild One (1953) with Marlon Brando. This modified bike tradition. Again then some guys went for the outlaw factor and others went for what folks referred to as a ‘Turnpike Cruiser’, they referred to as them. A ‘Tavern to Tavern’ bike. You’d journey to a different city and meet with one other group. They’d all have these bikes. You don’t go 90 miles an hour on a motorbike like this… You go good and simple… good and simple with them. They weren’t geared to go that quick.

‘Willie’s Latin Factor’, previously seen within the Nationwide Motorbike Museum. Clearly, Latinos appreciated Coney Island fashion too. [Mecum Auctions]

“Again when these bikes have been well-liked, you didn’t have the tremendous highways they’ve at present the place all people’s doing 70 and 80 miles an hour. 65 miles an hour… that’s cruisin’ on this factor. Particularly with all of this on the again… the wind will get again in there and the again begins shimmying… This bike is about 1000 kilos… In some unspecified time in the future as you grow old you drop it and may’t choose it up. I’m fantastic with it now. So you are taking it good and simple… 45-50… No hurry. Decelerate.

Precursors of the Coney Island fashion embody Black ‘costume golf equipment’ of the Forties and ’50s…that weren’t at all times restricted to Harley-Davidsons! This Ohio membership photograph from 1954 contains two Vincent Collection C Black Shadows and a BSA A10 Golden Flash, all closely accessorized. Even two-up, these laden Vincents would blow off a Panhead in a road race. [The Vintagent Archive]

“Ever since I used to be a child, it was the entire thing about these bikes… Dressing them up… Cleansing them… the roar of the motor. It’s one thing in your blood… Solely factor I can say- way back to I can keep in mind, six, seven, eight years outdated, watchin’ guys go round on the road… It’s simply one thing you want. It’s in your blood.”

‘Might the Fashion be with you’. Thanks Bob Peterson for sharing your story of Coney Island fashion modified bikes! [Mike McCabe]

[1] The Aliens MC was an early bike membership situated within the Bronx, NYC. The membership later ‘patched over’ to a membership situated on East 3rd road within the East Village. A key Alien member, Mardo Bennett is credited together with his design improvements of early chopper bike kinds in addition to the ‘Axed’ Alien fashion gasoline tank.

The 1percenter membership Aliens MC within the Sixties, earlier than they ‘patched over’ the Hells Angels. [Austin Johnson Archive]

[2] Bob Peterson’s seat rail was customized fabricated by Ernie Barkman.


[4] Burton Benedict, The Anthropology of World’s Gala’s: San Francisco’s Panama Pacific Worldwide Exposition of 1915. 1983

[5] Joe McKennon, ‘The Pictorial Historical past of the American Carnival’, 1977.

[6] On the time (1911) the New York Instances described the brand new Wall of Loss of life attraction as, ‘the largest single sensation at Luna Park’.

The 1911 New York Instances report on the banked picket motordrome at Luna Park. [NY Times]

[7] ibid.

[8] Ernie Barkman, proprietor/fabricator of ‘Black Swan’, 1950 Panhead Coney Island fashion construct commenting in regards to the fashion: “Coney Island MC style- Historical past of an Accent Expression to Full Gown Harley Davidson bikes”:

“Guess you possibly can say it began with including 2 or 4 additional marker lights for blinkers in your Panhead. That appeared satisfying and also you added 4 extra hooked for additional brake lights.
Now Joe says that appears nice, I’m including a lightweight bar over my rear license plate, and an additional set of horns. And so it began, extra lights, extra bling, extra chrome, greater horns, added spot lights. There was no stopping the pattern to get extra stuff. Individuals made cash customizing bikes and making an attempt to out- do the following particular person. The 57 automobile fashion influenced the tail fins seen chrome plated on the rear of those bikes. Rear chrome decks have been subsequent making a spot for rows of lights, and chrome shift knobs for present. I as soon as seen a man with rows of bike trophies bolted to the rear of those kind cabinets on his Panhead. Prolonged exhausts with ideas that resemble rocket ship tail fins. Guys would have over 100 added taillights and AM radios, the truth is, I knew a man with a small moveable TV between the handlebars. Talking of handlebars 18” excessive with chrome scroll work or a reputation of the bike in Chrome letters. Seat rails grew to become mounting factors for added rails and house owners names welded within the seat again, or hearts and different scroll work. Chrome hub caps, some with little lights within the spokes, to not point out huge white wall tires. Customized paint jobs became an acid journey of colours and candy design. Pinstripe went from easy to extravagant with some fairly outlandish reveals of the painters skills. You had so many lights you wanted a particular generator from a police bike with additional amperage. Some guys ran an additional automobile battery within the saddlebag for the added juice. If two rear view mirrors was good… why not 4 mirrors. Generally you’d see fox tails off the rear for fashion. There was no finish to the creativity a proud bike proprietor might muster up! I keep in mind within the 60’s going to hill climbs, and scrambler tracks and looking out through the bikes for the large Coney Island Fashion dressers with my Dad.
So why name them Coney Island Fashion?”

Ernie Barkman’s extraordinary Black Swan. [Mike McCabe]

“On the flip of the final century the invention of electrical lights was displayed in a spot referred to as Luna Park in Coney Island NY. There have been giant shows of electrical lights for guests to see. And as folks appeared amazed by this glorious invention they have been heard to say…. Oh! Take a look at the Coney Island show of lights! Therefore the Coney Island saying caught when outdated people children seen the sunshine shows on the rear of those bikes. Right this moment solely a restricted variety of these are left as a result of so many have been stripped for choppers and bobbers that got here shortly after this fashion. Visiting bike museums and private collections of those will be seen in restricted numbers. A method that must be continued and loved for the following technology so that they can also perceive…. In the event that they put down their telephones lengthy sufficient. LOL
Might the fashion be with you.

[9] Customized seat rail fabricated by Ernie Barkman.


Michael McCabe is a New York Metropolis tattoo artist and cultural anthropologist. He’s the writer of New York Metropolis Horsepower, Kustom Japan, New York Metropolis Tattoo, Japanese Tattooing Now, Tattoos of Indochina, and Tattooing New York Metropolis. For New York Metropolis Horsepower, Mr. McCabe spent two years discovering and documenting underground customized bike and automobile garages within the Metropolis, as fast gentrification put their tradition underneath great strain. He interviewed and photographed New York Metropolis customizers about their private histories and inventive sensibilities.