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Memories of a former employee....
by Lenny Cenotti

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In Memory of Thomas M. McMullen

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That’s me..I’m 32 years older and hair is a lot grayer!

"[Memory is] a man's real possession... In nothing else is he rich, in nothing else is he poor."
~ Alexander Smith
     Thanks to Tom McMullen and my years at AEE Choppers, my "Memory Bank" is filled with a wealth of happy memories. While my life has certainly had its ups and downs, where I acquired and lost much, no one can ever take away my most valued possession, the memories I will share with you in my posts to this Blog.  One more thing before I begin... this Blog is not a magazine article, it will not have statistics, technical specifications or on the most part specific dates. I am simply sharing my memories of a happy, almost magical time in my life and dedicating it to Tom McMullen, who made it all possible. Read and enjoy!

     When I look back on it all, I am still amazed. I went from hanging around a hot dog stand for 10 years at a place called Savin Rock in West Haven Connecticut, to working for the most famous custom motorcycle parts manufacturer in the world at that time, and living in Orange County California in less than 10 days. AEE Choppers was in all the Chopper Magazines, their catalogs were on the newsstands all over the world, and they even were in a movie. Normally I would say... “it was like a dream come true”, but the truth of the matter is, I never in my wildest dreams imagined anything like what I experienced over the years, thanks to AEE Choppers, would ever happen to me.

Monday August 02, 2004
Probably More Than You Really Wanted To Know
 
     Actually, it all really began July 5, 1968. At that time I was working in the Parts Department of a Ford Dealership in Hamden, Connecticut. One of the mechanics in the shop spread the word around that he had to sell his 1967 Triumph Bonneville. I talked to him about it and the price was pretty good, about $800 as I recall, plus he even agreed to deliver it to my home on Saturday. Having grown up in the muscle car era of the 1960’s, I had been through the various stages of cars... stock, custom, hot rod, truck, van, 2 brand new cars, but no motorcycles yet. A number of my friends were starting to buy motorcycles at that time, and no way was I going to be the last one to get one, so I figured, what the heck, let’s do it!

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My first bike “67 Triumph Bonneville

     I had purchased it sight unseen, but he did describe how it looked and how it ran in great detail. Also, he was one of the best mechanics in the service department and kept his tools, working area, and the customer’s cars spotless, so I knew the Triumph would be in excellent shape and it was. I was really excited that morning when I got out of bed. After what seemed like an eternity, the mechanic pulled into our driveway with my Triumph in the back of his pickup truck. I paid him, he unloaded it and then explained the controls. Seemed fairly simple, so I hopped on, fired it up and carefully rode down to the end of the block and back again. This was the first time I had ever been on a motorcycle, it felt great and it was even easier to operate than I expected. Later, after changing clothes to something more appropriate, I went for a longer ride. This was better than great, this was “awesome!” I was now hooked, and a wonderful metamorphosis began to take shape that would change my life forever and open up doors of opportunities that I didn’t even know existed.  At the Ford Dealership where I was working, everybody was clean cut and wore uniforms. No beards or 

long hair.  There was no written rule regarding beards, it was more like an understanding. Before you know it, my sideburns and hair started to grow longer. Soon there was a mustache. Someone mentioned it to the Parts Manager... “Ever since he got that motorcycle, etc.”, but the Manager stuck up for me because I was good at what I did. He said... “Yes, he’s got a mustache and sideburns, but they are nicely trimmed.” That didn’t last long though. Soon, I started adding accessories to my new Triumph. A little chrome goodie here and there, new mirrors, new grips, then before you know it, I had it stripped down for paint and chrome, bought a peanut tank and sat in the back of “Ben’s Chop Shop” customizing it with some putty and a lot of sand papering
     Naturally I had to have ape hangers, and fenders chopped to the legal limits. After the paint work was finished, I had my first chopper! Pretty basic I’ll admit, and it wasn’t a Harley, but it was my first motorcycle and we had some great times together.  Sure, I had my share of snapped chains and broken rear wheel spokes, but I got to be pretty fast at replacing them. I remember the first time the chain snapped, I didn’t know what the heck had happened and it was pitch black at night. I figured it probably was the clutch or the transmission. I had to walk it home to my workshop where I could see what I was doing. That was one long walk from where I was. The longer I walked, the heavier the Triumph got. Funny, I always thought of it as being a fairly lightweight bike, but not that night. After that, I started carrying a flashlight and a chain repair kit

ct2ca350x231     It wasn’t long before my mustache connected with a newly grown goatee, and after a lot of soul searching, I decided to turn in my resignation at the Ford Dealership. The plan was to take a year off before my trip to California. I figured I had a chopped bike, a number of other vehicles, and no money problems. I could sell off my vehicles a little at a time, except for my 1963 Ford Econoline Window Van. I had gotten it for a song where I worked and had rebuilt the engine and fixed it up inside turning it into a homemade mini-camper for my trip to California.
     1969 was the best year out of all the 26 years I lived back there. It was the time of Woodstock, Easy Rider, motorcycles - especially choppers - were everywhere and a lot of biker movies too. Some were pretty good while others were really bad, but they all were about motorcycles so we watched them anyway. A bunch of us would all myeconoline280x210go to the drive-in theater when they had Buck-Night Biker Specials. A whole carload got in for one dollar, and they ran 2 or 3 biker movies back to back. It was a time when owning a motorcycle was like belonging to a huge Brotherhood of Bikers. Whenever motorcyclists passed each other they waved or gave the thumbs-up sign even though they didn’t know each other. It was a time when choppers were works of art and a way of life. I have more happy memories from that one year than I can fit in this Blog. There was the run to Old Orchard Beach, Maine then to Sherwood Island and endless rides by the beaches from West Haven to Woodmont and on to Milford, not to mention all-nighters in the back of my van.
     I remember one day right after summer when everyone was back to school or work and the beaches were pretty much empty. I rode down to a small beach I like in West Shore after a quick stop at a liquor store across the street from the beach. I parked my bike under a tree, and walked out to what was left of an old pier. I sat on the end of that pier with a bottle of Ripple Pagan Pink... hey, it was cold, cheap, and money was getting a little low. Besides, it tasted OK and didn’t get you so loaded you’d crash and burn on the way home (which I had already done once before and was down for a month). I sat there for hours. I just kicked back, mellowed out, and enjoyed the view of the beach, the water, clear blue sky, the smell of the ocean and how good my bike looked under the tree and thinking to myself...“Ahhh, life is good!” Later that night it was party time down at The Rock as usual. It was a great year, especially the summer, but when winter came, I was quickly reminded of why I wanted to go to California in the first place. 

     Finally on February 7,1970 I loaded up the van with what I thought I might need on the trip... tools, sleeping bag, cooking gear, etc., but unfortunately no room for my Triumph. That was a tough decision to make. Leaving my family was the most difficult part though, but since I was only going out there for about a four-day visit, I’d be back soon enough, or so I thought.
     Probably the most important thing I brought with me was an updated resume with letters of recommendations. I brought it just in case the van broke down somewhere between Connecticut and California (which it did twice with electrical problems) and in case I had to get a job to raise the money to live on and get it fixed. I had learned to be prepared for anything that could possibly happen. Real smart move on my part too, because as it turned out, that resume is what got me into AEE, but more about that a little bit later. After a year of no income, even with selling off my other vehicles I didn’t have enough money or credit left to stay much longer than four days. I had no idea what I was going to run into on the way out to California in the dead of winter and what it would cost me. As it is, I got pulled over and searched as soon as I hit the New York border for no apparent reason, which wasn’t unusual back in those days, and my journey had just begun. When he was finished, he wished me luck and I was on my way once again.
     I spent the first night sleeping in the back of the van behind a gas station in Pennsylvania. When I woke up I found I was snowed in and it was really cold, so I made a pot of coffee then dug myself out.  Later I ran into a blizzard in Indianapolis and couldn’t go any further. I stayed in a motel this time, but a while after I left, I realized that I had left my credit card there and I wasn’t about to turn back. Later I stopped at a phone booth and called them. They agreed to send it to me when I got to California, which they did. The next day I hit snow and fog. I couldn’t see a thing, got lost and almost ended up in Lake Erie. I won’t go into the entire trip, but it was an adventure I won’t ever forget, and if I had it to do over again, I most definitely would pick a different time of year to do it.
     When I finally made it to Oklahoma, once again I ran into more snow. I managed to find a junkyard that had the parts I needed for a low price, and I fixed the electrical problem that had been plaguing me once and for all. No more driving full speed at night with no headlights and no more dead batteries. Before long I had gone from snow to the desert. That was one long ride. I had picked up a big bottle of water, a spoon and a large jar of Tang that I drank as I drove through miles and miles of desert. Soon I arrived in Barstow and I knew I was almost there. I was finally in California the land of sunshine! I had gone from snow, cold, trees with no leaves and grey cloudy skies to the land of palm trees, orange trees, avocado trees mountains, lakes, the Pacific ocean and summer practically all year long. I still had a ways to go to get to Santa Ana in Orange County but I was tired, needed to get cleaned up and get the van washed too, so I decided to spend the night in a motel there. The next day I hit the road again and before you know it I was in Santa Ana eating my first chilidog. I found a pretty good, centrally located and reasonably priced motel, The Aqua Motel on 17th Street. I must have sent out about 50 post cards the first day. I fell in love with Orange County as soon as I got there. Inside, it felt like I had finally come home at last and it was where I was meant to be. I still feel the same way 34 years later. And have never felt it anywhere else.
     I had planned to stay there for four days, but the money was going fast. I went across the street from the motel to a phone booth to call home, but when I looked down at the shelf under the phone, I found a wad of bills, some change and a Zippo lighter. There was nothing else, no identification, no wallet, nothing but the money and the lighter. Talk about a miracle! Just when I needed it most, too. On my third day in California I decided to drive down to AEE Choppers. I read their magazines, their catalogs, saw them in a movie once and bought parts from them through Ben’s Chop Shop. It was a “Must-See” for anyone interested in choppers. I figured I’d buy something for my Triumph while I was there. It was located in a small industrial area. I pulled into their parking lot and walked in. I felt like I had made a pilgrimage to Mecca. This was chopper heaven.
oldaee280x205     When I walked in I saw Rose, who was Tom McMullen’s wife and co-owner of AEE Choppers, standing behind the parts counter waiting on customers. Suddenly it dawned on me... “they didn’t have a parts counterman and that was my specialty!” I introduced myself to her, mentioned that I noticed she didn’t have a parts counterman, handed her my resume and asked if I could be of service to them. She gave me one of those... “Yeah, right, like I’m really going to hire a transient biker who just got here, is staying in a motel and has a van to put all the parts he’s gonna steal from me in before he heads back to wherever he came from”... looks. She took my resume and pawned it off on Jim Clark who was doing the magazine work, figuring he’d blow me out the door. A few minutes later, to Rose’s utter amazement, out walks Jim Clark with Tom McMullen, We shook hands, talked for a little bit while Tom sized me up, and then he hired me on the spot. I could tell Rose was really pissed off. When Rose was angry about something you definitely knew it. Tom and Jim walked me out back to show me around and right there in front of me was a duplicate of the Easy Rider bike that Peter Fonda rode in the movie, which I had seen about a dozen times. While I stared in awe at the bike, Rose came in and asked Tom to come out front for a minute. A little while later Tom came back over to me and said that Rose had said the salary we had agreed on was too high and she cut it by fifty cents an hour, no doubt figuring that I wouldn’t go for it and would leave. What she didn’t realize was that I would have paid them to let me work there if I had the money. I smiled and said... “No problem!” Tom smiled, we shook hands again and Tom continued to show me around. Tom took me out the back door and to my amazement there were his two pet cougars. They were absolutely beautiful! He took me inside the caged area and I got to meet them up close and personal. It was quite an experience. Later we went back in and Tom showed me around the parts counter area explaining how things worked, where everything was and what he expected from me. I couldn’t help looking over at the Corvair powered Trike and the Mindbender, two of Tom’s more famous bikes. 

Before you know it, it was time to shut down and call it a day, and what a day it was. It looked like Rose had finally (albeit reluctantly) accepted the fact that I wasn’t going away anytime soon. I was so happy and excited I felt like I was going to explode. I could hardly wait until I was back at the motel where I could phone home and tell my family all about it. I now was an employee of the most famous Chopper Parts Manufacturer in the world at that time, and it was only my third day in California! As I laid there in bed unable to sleep, my mind racing with memories of the high points of the day, I just couldn’t help thinking to myself once again... “you know, life really is good!”
Friday, April 08, 2005 A Period Of Adjustment

It’s been said that two of the most stressful things we experience in our lives are moving to a new home and starting a new job. Normally, that would be true. I know because I have done both many times, but I have to tell you, I was feeling no stress at all. In fact, if I was feeling anything, it was joy and euphoria and I had just moved from Connecticut to Southern California, and that is just about as far from home as you can go and still be in the contiguous United States. Of course there were major differences between where I had spent the first 26 years of my life, and here in California. Naturally one would expect that I would have to go through a period of adjustment. It was cold, snow was on the ground, the trees were bare, and you wouldn’t be seeing flowers, grass or leaves on the trees anytime soon. People were all bundled up with layers of clothes trying to keep warm, and there was nowhere to go and not a whole heck of a lot to do until spring, especially if you were a motorcycle enthusiast. It was pretty bleak.
     When I arrived in good old Orange County, everything was green. There were flowers and trees everywhere, orange trees, avocado trees, eucalyptus trees, and the one tree that always came to mind when I visualized California, those beautiful palm trees. There were tall ones, short ones and different varieties of them, each beautiful in its own way. There were other trees too, plus rich green lawns and beautiful plants that I had never seen before like the aptly named bird of paradise plants. Then there was Saddleback Mountain, the beautiful blue Pacific Ocean and the Pacific Coast Highway with all kinds of motorcycles cruising down the long road filled with great views of the Pacific Ocean and places like Laguna Beach, which is one of my favorites. There were choppers, dressers, plus a large variety of imported motorcycles, and most riders were wearing only t-shirts… in February!!! I said to myself, “Wow, this really is paradise”!

     At that point I could have kicked myself up and down the Coast Highway for not bringing my Triumph with me, especially since it did fit easily in the back of my van, and I had already installed mounts for securing it for long trips. Instead, I decided to use it as a mini-motor home during the long trip across the country to save money. Hotel/motel rooms would have put a major dent in my budget leaving very little for when I finally arrived in California. But it all worked out for the best. It just inspired me to get myself a Harley just as soon as was humanly possible. If I had brought my bike, I wouldn’t have needed to buy another one, so it may have been years before I could justify buying a Harley. Before long though, the day I was waiting for came and I got my Harley from the Highway Patrol at a great price too, thanks to Tom. That’s another one of the many things he did for me, but more about that in a later post.
     Now that I had a job in California there were some things I had to do. I had to get a California Drivers License/ID, have my van inspected, registered, and get California license plates, and I didn’t

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My first chopper!!!

have a whole lot of cash. Then too, I couldn’t keep living in a motel which costs a lot more than an apartment would , so I was going to have to get an apartment as soon as possible. That turned out to be a little bit more difficult than I thought it would. As soon as I had saved enough for the deposits and first month’s rent, I started looking for my new home. One weekend as I was looking in the Orange County Register Classifieds and circling ads for apartments to check out, I found one that seemed perfect. It was just the right price and the location was good too, so I jumped in my van and drove down there. It looked pretty good so I walked over to the Managers Apartment and rang the doorbell. An elderly Hispanic lady opened the door, looked at me, leaving the screen door closed and locked. I explained to her that I saw her ad in the paper and wanted to rent the apartment. I even told her I had the money right in my pocket and had a great job too. She then looked me over one more time and then glanced over at my van, hesitated, and then said she was very sorry, but the apartment had already been rented. I climbed back in my van disappointed and more than a little bit suspicious and drove back to the motel.
     When I got back to the motel something told me to call her just for the heck of it and ask if the apartment in the ad was still available. I called sounding as professional as I could. As you probably guessed, she said it sure was, and asked if I would like to come down and look at it. I almost lost control due to my East Coast Italian temper, and was ready to drive back down there and express my displeasure about being discriminated against up close and personal, but I calmed myself down and decided it wouldn’t be a smart idea. Besides, she was an old lady, and she surely wasn’t going to rent it to me if I blew up in her face, so what was the point?  All of a sudden I got a feeling that finding an apartment might not be as easy as I had hoped. Probably because I was fresh in from about 3,000 miles away, about six foot tall weighing in at around 250 - 275, with a beard and dressed like a biker, (which was just about the only clothes I had since I originally had come here for only a four day visit). As luck would have it though, the people I had come out here to visit, my old friends Tom and Roe Taylor, had a friend who was Manager of an apartment complex located in the same area as the one that previously had turned me down. They told him about me, vouched for me and he agreed to rent it to me at an even better price than the other apartment. It was perfect and I had a lot of good times there.
     I now had my first apartment and couldn’t have been happier. I checked out of the Aqua Motel on Seventeenth Street in Santa Ana and rushed back to my new apartment as fast as I could. Moving in was a piece of cake as I didn’t have anything to move. As I proudly stood there looking around, reality set in and it suddenly occurred to me that while I did have an apartment, I didn’t have much else. No pots, pans, dishes, cups, food, sheets, blankets, pillow cases, a shower curtain, toilet paper, etc., but I didn’t care, I would take care of all that in time, for now I was just happy to have my own place. I was now officially a California resident. So, all things considered, it was not stressful moving into my new home at all.
     As for the stress of starting a new job, there wasn’t any. In fact, it was quite the opposite. I was like a kid in a candy store. I would walk through the warehouse looking at row after row of shiny chrome sissy bars, tall ones, short ones and a variety of designs. There were also rows of racks holding chrome handlebars, all kinds of shapes and sizes from the ever-popular ape hangers and pull back bars to short racing style bars. There were shelves full of seats, tall ones short ones as well as mid sized ones. My favorite was the King and Queen seats. Then there were the springer front ends that AEE was famous for and racks full of all kinds of chromed exhaust systems for just about any taste and motorcycle.
     Back at the front customer counter, where I spent most of my day, was a large variety of parts and accessories displayed on the walls around me and in the glass case under the counter. In front of me was the beautiful Corvair powered Trike and my favorite, the Mindbender. Every once in a while they would change the pipes, seat and sissy bar on it and it always looked great.
me_tom__rose     One of my favorite memories was the night Tom called me and asked if I would like to go with him on a ride up to see some friends of his in LA at the LA Rattlers Clubhouse. I rode back to the shop and he told me to roll out the Mindbender and then said I was going to ride it! At first I was in a state of shock, I couldn’t believe it, but that’s how good Tom treated me. What a night, I loved everything about the Mindbender, the rumble of the exhaust pipes on the knucklehead engine was music to my ears and it ran great. The King and Queen seat was extremely comfortable and the paint and chrome glistened in the night-lights as we rode down the well-lit streets side by side. I couldn’t have been happier. It was like a dream come true. We went on other runs too, but more on that in later posts.
     I had previously held many parts counter positions. Some gave you a complete uniform, some a shirt and a hat, but I never worked at a place that gave me a shoulder holster, a snub nose .38 and a sawed off, chrome plated shotgun! Obviously, this wasn’t going to be just another ordinary parts counter position and that became more obvious almost on a weekly basis. Tom had all kinds of surprises for me down the road.
    I remember one day when three of us were standing behind the parts counter talking. Brent Farlie, who still is a friend to this day, and I can’t for the life of me remember the third guy’s name. All of a sudden my .38 fell out of my holster and hit the floor. We all froze watching it fall. It was as if it was all happening in slow-motion, and we were all positive it was going to land on the hammer, go off and shoot one of us. Each one of us was in a state of panic wondering which one of us was going to get hit. Luckily it didn’t go off. Later I asked Tom for a different holster, one that fit the handgun a little better and it never happened again. I will never forget the day a gun did go off. I was out back in the warehouse at the time checking out an order when I heard the gunshot loudly echoing throughout the building. The sound came from the office area. We all immediately stopped what we were doing, froze, and looked at each other, each one of us thinking the same thing, but... more on that in a later post. I guess I rambled on more than I had originally planned, but I don’t get to post as often as I would like to due to circumstances beyond my control. Plus, it’s hard not to, because I have so many wonderful memories of my days with AEE, the happiest time of my life, and I owe it all to Tom.

November 26 2006
     The very first time I walked into AEE Choppers the first thing that caught my eye was the Corvair Powered Trike. It was a thing of beauty. I had seen it in the magazines and even saw it in a movie once, but never thought I would actually get to see it in person.  As lucky as I was to be working at AEE, there was one guy that was even luckier than I was. He actually won the Corvair Powered Trike in a contest! Can you imagine what that must have felt like?
     A fellow Biker named Don Parnell won it. Unfortunately, fate sometimes plays some pretty cruel tricks on us, especially in Don's case. You see Don was in a full body cast at the time and there was no way he was going to be able to ride it for a while. It was a major accomplishment just being able to sit on one of the seats.  Don eventually traded his bikes for horses and now owns three fine horses. Don is fighting some really serious health issues right now, so how about taking a moment or two to ask the "Man Upstairs" to help our Bro' Don and his loved ones in this their time of need. Thanks.

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Me handcuffed to the motorcycle - keeping an eye out!

Hang in there Don... you are in our thoughts and prayers.

UPDATE: December 25, 2006
Don Parnell is no longer with us. His suffering has ended. He crossed over yesterday, Christmas Eve Morning. I've been told he had quite a party before he left with long time friends and family, reminiscing about "The Good Old Days" and the great times they all had together.

Rest in peace Don... see you on the other side.

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