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Keeping a promise: Gackle man competing in national motorcycle building competition

Hank Marcum looks over the engine and frame of a 1967 BSA motorcycle that he will enter into a national bike build-off competition Sept. 26-27 in St. Louis, Mo.

GACKLE, N.D. — When Hank Marcum enters his 1967 BSA motorcycle in a national bike build-off competition Saturday in St. Louis, Mo., he will be thinking of his late brother, Joey.


That’s because he will have fulfilled a promise to Joey, who died just before the competition started.

The semi-retired truck driver from Gackle is one of 10 people invited to compete in a national motorcycle building competition sponsored by Raw Bike and Rat Rod magazines. The magazines also invited 10 people to build “rat rod” cars as part of the competition. The winners of the bike build and the car build will have their winning entries shown on the front of both magazines.

The building portion of the contest started on Aug. 25 and ends on Wednesday. According to Raw Bike’s website, five awards will be given: overall champion, perseverance, penny pincher, road warrior and ingenuity.

Standing in the driveway of his Gackle home Friday afternoon, Marcum had the front frame and back end of his motorcycle welded together, and a whole lot of parts and pieces ready to assemble.

Marcum said he is creating a chopper out of a 1967 BSA, a British motorcycle, for the competition. He said he hoped to have the bike put together by Sunday so he could take it for a test drive before fine tuning it.

Marcum, his wife, Angela, and other family will trailer the motorcycle next weekend to St. Louis for the competition.

Marcum and Angela moved to North Dakota with their children four years ago from the Cleveland, Ohio, area. They lived for a year in Jamestown, then three years ago bought a house in Gackle. Their children were in their teens and have since moved out.

Marcum said the competition is a challenge because competitors had 30 days and a $3,000 budget in which to build their bikes.

Marcum said he has always built his own motorcycles as he never had a lot of extra funds to buy them.

“I’ve always rode (motorcycles),” he said. “I could never afford, you know, I was young with a family, I drove truck over the road, I couldn’t just buy a brand new bike. I would buy whatever hunk of junk I could find and just figure it out, get it to run.”

Marcum said he decided to apply for the competition when he saw an advertisement for it on the back page of Raw Bike magazine in January. Four months later he got a call from a television producer in California. Marcum said the producer tried to pitch the idea of a reality television show about the bike building competition to different television networks. The show idea didn’t happen, but Marcum said he learned he was one 10 people who would be invited to compete.

Marcum said the build has proved challenging for him in different ways, including the death of Joey in August and finding parts for his motorcycle.

While living in Jamestown Marcum said he found the “basket-case” BSA motorcycle for sale on the Internet.

“I bid on it and won,” he said.

That was two years ago. He got the bike and all its parts, put it in the garage and thought nothing more about it. He had talked about turning the BSA motorcycle into a chopper, but always had other things to work on.

As his brother dealt with cancer, Marcum said he would visit Joey as often as possible. Marcum said he told Joey about the build off and being invited to compete.

The last time Marcum and Joey spoke, his brother encouraged him to build the motorcycle.

“‘Promise me, no matter what happens, you finish that bike,’” Marcum said Joey told him. “‘You take it and you show it.’ I made a promise and I’m doing my best to keep it.”

The competition started at midnight Aug. 25, three days after Joey died. Marcum said he went into a deep depression the day Joey died, but three days later Bud Mullins, a friend from Ohio, kept sending Marcum humorous messages via Facebook. Marcum said the last message that Mullins sent, a meme of a young boy in a tuxedo looking very serious, read “If Joe said Hank can build this bike, then he can build it.”

“I just lost it,” Marcum said, “and I said to myself ‘Yeah, man, I can do this.’”

The build

Marcum said he handicapped himself a little using a 1967 BSA motorcycle as the basis for his build. He said his son left a 750 Kawasaki in the backyard that ran, but his heart was set on making a chopper out of the BSA.

“I hadn’t built a bike in over 20 years,” Marcum said. “I was a little scared. It’s a lot to build a bike in a three-month period, even over a year, but to cram everything into 30 days, that’s a whole lot.”

Marcum said he was only able to do the build because of the “never-ending” support of his wife, family and friends. He said he has “cannibalised” his son’s Kawasaki and taken parts off of old motorcycles he has kept for years. Marcum said he had a serious bit of luck when he discovered that the original front forks for the BSA had been damaged and were unusable.

“I didn’t know what I was going to do for a front end,” he said.

Marcum said he did some measuring and found that the front forks from an old Kawasaki he had in his garage fit perfectly onto the BSA.

Other items have been more pricey. Marcum said he spent $72 in specially made connector parts to run a fuel line from the BSA gas tank to the engine’s carburetors.

The motorcycle’s frame will be black and the fenders will be a complementary color. He sewed the leather seat cover, including hand-stitching the accent flames on the cover himself, and will be attaching decorative aluminum plates on either side of the frame near the seat, to give it a “rat rod” look.

Outside of his family and friends, Marcum said he got many of the parts for his motorcycle from specialty shops in Ohio, Nova Scotia and California.

“A lot of people have helped me along the way, I couldn’t have done this without them,” he said.

Marcum said he doesn’t know how his bike will do in the competition, but he is glad he completing the build and taking a shot.

“Bike building is a not a business for me,” he said. “I’ve thought about it, but for me it (the build) is about my love of motorcycles.”

Chris Olson

Hometown: Traverse City, MI College: Northwestern Michigan College and Michigan State University

(701) 952-8454