I have a thing for redheads. Perhaps the reason I fell in love with my husband had something to do with his red 1957 Chevy Belair. Motorcycles should be black. Cars should be red, unless they are black. When I became part of the Langdon family, I was allowed to play with some of the family’s fleet of cars, including my mother in law Joyce’s Coca Cola red 1968 ragtop Firebird. The car always had this annoying whistle at idle but it was easily ignored… until Joyce parked it in the fall with a big backfire. I pulled it out in the spring to pick up my little sister Ashleigh from the airport in style, and deemed the car undriveable. This sparked some heavy debate between my husband and me. Should we pull the engine and fix it? When will we have time to do that? We knew there was a 250 Sprint 6 built for it and that it was sitting in my in-laws’ garage. I mistakenly assumed it was ready to be installed, and since Joyce agreed to allow me to drive the car in the Coker Tire Challenge in September, I was really driven to get the engine done. Ashleigh was here visiting, and helped us pull the engine. When Steve removed the exhaust manifold, it came off in three pieces. The old inline 6 was just worn out.
The engine compartment was completely coated in old oil and other miscellaneous fluids, prompting us to do a thorough washing of the entire engine area. Unfortunately, we were a little over zealous with the power washer, and blasted some of the clear off the body of the car. All I can say is thank God Steve has good, talented friends. Ted, the auto body teacher at the vocational school where Steve teaches welding, spent days sanding, spraying and buffing the car to its current state of beauty. You know how it is though… the old emblems looked like crap next to the fresh paint. The mirrors were pitted; the turn signals were clouded. The quick engine swap quickly turned into a mini restoration.
I have to admit, I enjoyed most of the project. Every new piece of chrome that was installed made me a little bit more excited. Reinstalling the interior and detailing the black vinyl made the rest of my hectic world disappear. During those late summer nights, even the frustration of scraping my knuckles was a welcome relief from the normal stress of the day.
As the Woodward Dream Cruise neared, the push to get the car done was quadrupled, including a few all nighters from my husband and me, along with our friend Brian, and my sister Ashleigh. Ashleigh moved here in July, and has been helpful throughout this project, but she was especially helpful during the all nighters, supplying us with Taco Bells and an extra hand. We didn’t get it ready for the cruise, due to complications with the drive shaft, amongst other things, but we were so close I could feel the wind in my hair. Steve finished it up while I was on a business trip, and by the time I got home, everyone had driven her except me. I cannot express how happy I was the first time I sat behind the wheel and was able to go through the gears of the newly installed T5. What followed next was a roller coaster of emotions.
When Trish and I went to Ventura for the Primer Nationals, the engine had no compression, and we were hoping to find a different car, and even contemplated canceling the Coker trip. The next weekend we were in Frankenmuth, Michigan dealing with a rained out show, and feeling pretty down, as we hadn’t found a replacement car, and as far as we knew the Firebird wasn’t working out either. However, Steve and Tom, my father in law, worked for hours to get the car running, and Wednesday morning, Ashleigh and I headed out to the 700-mile drive down I75 to Chattanooga, Tennessee, home of “Corkyville.” Trish had to stay behind, as one of her cats had been poisoned and she had to take care of Rex.
The first part of the trip, from Detroit to Cincinnati was relatively uneventful. We had a fun lunch with our good buddy Vic, complete with a good hour or so of friendly chat, since we were doing so well on time. Until I hit the key! Nothing. So, Vic jumped us, we went to the gas station, and he jumped us again. We limped the car to Vic’s home, where Archie (our GM certified car mechanic friend) was called to meet us. We spent a few minutes checking the charging system, and Archie noticed the red wire running to the external voltage regulator was broken, leading to an internal short. We headed up to Smyth’s Auto and picked up a new voltage regulator, and a new battery as the old battery was ten years old. The alternator was charging fine, so we were back on the road!
The next few hours were beautiful! Ash and I were going through such beautiful mountain towns along I75 nearing Tennessee, and feeling like we had to be getting close to Chattanooga. We stopped for gas in Berea, KY, grabbed a quick bite to eat, and blasted out for the last leg of the trip. Ashleigh was falling asleep, I wanted a Red Bull, and I realized that my dash lights were no longer working. My turn signals were running slow, the headlights were dim, and we had to pee so bad that we pulled into the first gas station we found, a Conoco. We filled up the car, but they didn’t have a restroom. The attendant wasn’t able to speak English and when I heard the “no” come out of his mouth, I had no idea where he was telling me to go. The only other place open at midnight in West Hills just outside Knoxville was a Wal-Mart. We got a jump to get from Conoco to Wal-Mart, where there was a nice bright parking lot and a pretty clean toilet. We picked up a meter to check the alternator, and headed back outside into the balmy Tennessee night. To make this trip even more comical, I have a pretty severe allergy issue, and we happened to be at a Wal-Mart that was positioned next to one of the largest hay farms in the region, and it had just been bailed that night. I couldn’t stop the sneezing, was dead tired and refused to stay the night in that parking lot. We needed another jump, and so I asked these farm-looking guys for help. Their one -legged woman friend hopped into her truck and drove it over to jump us.
We got the car running again, went back toward the Conoco station, and camped out in the car in the Autozone parking lot. Needless to say, sleeping in a ’68 Firebird does not work real well with the stock interior, as the seats don’t recline. We weren’t sure about the neighborhood, so we had the car locked up as best as we could. It was a beautiful sight at quarter after seven when Dennis showed up to open the store. At 7:30am, Don allowed us in to use the restroom. We started up the car, and tested the alternator. It was reading 10.5 volts. Believe it or not, Autozone actually had the correct alternator. We just had to swap the pulleys! They helped us out with tools to swap out the parts, swapped the pulleys for us while Ash and I had breakfast, and about 20 minutes after we had the alternator in hand, we were back on the road.
Thursday at the Rally headquarters was full of reuniting with old friends, meeting new friends, and being schooled about what rallying was all about. We were amazed at the Southern hospitality! Everyone had a suggestion and a hint… so they really shouldn’t have been too surprised when on our first day we were only one second off on one of our timed legs. We were super stoked, but nothing compared to us receiving our ACE stickers on Sunday! Believe me, this was no easy task! We had some serious obstacles to maneuver through on the races. To begin with, neither Ashleigh nor I had ever had any kind of road rallying experience. Next, our speedometer is stock, and has a gear compensation box attached, due to running a 5-speed transmission. We learned that 47mph=50mph, and everything else was an educated guess from there. We had a Chihuahua run into the middle of the road, and sit there staring us down, causing a pretty significant time delay. There were about 15 vehicles filled with slow pokes taking their time at a stop sign. It took us 50 seconds to get through a 15 second stop, and yet, because of friends like Irene, Billy, and so many others, we were able to learn how to compensate in other timed areas to make up the difference.
We finished 4th in our class, 36th overall. We were a little over six minutes off in our timed rally over three days. Not too shabby, and Ashleigh and I were still friends at the end of the road course.
While in Chattanooga, it wasn’t all about the rally. We spent some time up at Corky Coker’s farm, chatting with Casey Coker-Cunningham and visiting her beautiful little babies. The boys were a little over a month old, and absolutely adorable! Our friend Jamie, from Honest Charley’s Speed Shop took us out on the town in downtown Chattanooga. Between the Redneck-Italian wedding murder dinner, and causing a ruckus in the quiet streets of a quiet Tennessee town, it was a night to remember!
After the awards reception in the amazing Coker Museum, watching so many of our friends receiving super cool awards, not to mention the cash prizes, Ashleigh and I are already counting down the days for the next Coker Rally. And the next one will be bigger and better than ever, going from Chattanooga, all the way to Vermont, right near where Ashleigh graduated from High School! Rallyers, watch out. The Fitz-Matson sisters will be back again!
In Casner Illinois, right next door to where Meghan Ackerman grew up, was a place that most little girls wouldn’t care much for: a junk yard. But Meghan wasn’t like most little girls. She spent her days amidst the old battered cars in the yard of Casner Motors. She’d sit behind the wheel, and climb under the hoods. She learned the parts of the motor and what made cars tick. Meghan says she didn’t like the newer wrecked cars that lived in the junk yard. She associated the big, older cars in the back of the yard with style and safety because their wreckage seemed less severe. She’d leave her toys there, and her mom would have to walk next door to fetch them from the old cars and return hood ornaments and hub caps that Meghan would bring home. Christine, the owner of Casner Motors, didn’t care if she was there, as long as she stayed out of the way, and would even dish out a free soda now and then if Meghan climbed the soda machine to the top. She developed a strong fondness for hot rods and older cars. She’s owned several older cars, including her very first: a 1964 Plymouth Fury with a 318, push button automatic, not an easy car for a young woman to drive! But all of them have led her to where she is today, with the love of her life: a 1957 Cadillac named Marilyn.
Marilyn used to belong to a friend of Meghan’s family – a guy who was like an uncle to her. As soon as she laid eyes on her, she wanted this car. Meghan helped him work on Marilyn because she knew a lot of mechanics and places where vintage parts could be purchased. A few years later, after the passing of Meghan’s Mom, she received a call from her “Uncle.” He said he needed to sell Marilyn, but before he put an ad out, he thought he’d offer her to Meghan first. Without hesitation, Meghan said, “She’s sold!”
In the six years that Meghan has had Marilyn, she’s done very little to her. She’s close to perfect being stock! She lowered her 3.5 inches, added new pipes and a pretty pink and teal pinstripe job by a fellow Throttle Gal: Dy.
Marilyn is Meghan’s main mode of transportation. She moved with her down to New Orleans and then back to Illinois, after Hurricane Katrina. The two have traveled all over, only making short stops in small towns when something on Marilyn finally breaks and Meghan needs to fix her before motoring on. Meghan says that she feels the best when she’s behind the wheel of Marilyn. “The way she sounds, and the way she drives, nothing inspires me more than driving that car. The sky could be falling, bank negative, and I get in my car, start it, and I get goose bumps when she goes into 3rd gear.” Meghan knows every little noise and nuance of Marilyn – more than her mechanic even does!
Meghan’s love for motors doesn’t stop at cars. Back at her dad’s place she has a 1973 BMW motorcycle with a sidecar. She says it does need a little work, but with a little T.L.C. and elbow grease, she knows she could kick it to life.
Upon her return to Illinois, Meghan joined Paddy’s Car Club out of Decatur. She met these guys at Bomber Bash in Peoria, Ill., where she was doing some pinup work. Two weeks later she was in! She joined with the goal of finding like-minded hot-rodders, and that’s exactly what she got! Paddy’s Car Club members are some serious hot-rod lovers. There are few rules: your car has to be pre-1964, has to be running and they travel as a pack to every show. She’s got the mechanic side of things down, but she’s really looking to expand her skills in upholstery.
Meghan lives the hot-rod culture full time. Her job is traveling with Bare Ankle Burlesque. (Check them out on Myspace: http://www.myspace.com/bareankleburlesque). According to their online profile: Bare Ankle Burlesque is a traditional style burlesque dance troupe inspired by the buxom beauties of the late Vaudeville and Burlesque theaters. Based out of Decatur Illinois, these three lovely ladies have it all, beauty and brains not to mention miles and miles of leg! Meghan performs as Miss Audra Von Tanz, and she and her fellow, tattooed, near six-foot-tall beautiful cohorts travel from place to place in the safety of Marilyn. She says that the best part of Bare Ankle is that they are all tease and no sleaze; they are classy – just like Marilyn. In the coming months Miss Audra will be participating in the Viva Las Vegas contest. You can check out their Myspace for more information and to even book the Bare Ankle girls and we urge you to go online and vote for this fellow Throttle Gal!
As far as Marilyn, Meghan has few plans for her. She works well the way she is; but maybe someday Meghan would like to bore her motor .040 over. She travels fast the way she is though. Meghan says, “She goes 90. It just takes her a minute to get there. This car is heavy and long!” She tends to go pretty fast in her, as Marilyn’s slight shimmy around 65 says she wants to go faster. Somehow Meghan is able to convince most police officers of this if she’s pulled over for speeding.
Maybe it’s the love that she gets, or her Voodoo “mojo bag” Meghan put in her glove box, or Meghan’s bond with her, but Marilyn continues toting Meghan around with her fellow rodders from Paddy’s Car Club, and the Bare Ankle Burlesque ladies. She’s a strong ol’ girl!
Perhaps it was her roots in the junk yard, or her growing up around her dad’s tattoo shop: Tantric Tattoo in Decatur; whatever it was, Meghan is a Throttle Gal through and through.
Being told she couldn’t do something because she was a girl only seemed to fuel the fire inside Athena “Chickie” Ransom while growing up. She was always really close with her dad because of their mutual love for bikes, so he always encouraged her to do whatever she wanted. This kind of support helped push her to be the diehard kind of builder, rider, and mechanic that she is today.
Athena – known as “Chickie” in the bike industry, is the owner of Vagabond Choppers. She is known for her choppers that are finely crafted, fun to ride, and have the perfect, tough stance and persona with just the right amount of feminine touch.
She was born in Illinois, lived in California but moved to Florida at seven where she grew up. She started riding at fifteen and about that time began learning how to work on bikes as well. She learned the mechanical end of things from one of her first boyfriends and after hours in several of the bike shops where she worked in the parts departments over the years. Every Throttle Gal starts somewhere!
Athena attributes her love for bikes and her family’s biker status to her dad, “Chicago Phil”. He and his brothers have been riding choppers since the 60’s, so Athena was brought up in the lifestyle learning about the culture, the mechanics and the love of riding from them. “When I was a kid my dad had long stretched choppers that my mom would not let me ride. They never seem to stop as quick as she would like, (now I know why, the old drum brakes were not like the disc brakes we have today).” After her parents’ split, at the ripe young age of fifteen, Athena remembers going into a biker bar where her dad was a bouncer, after she was roller skating one night… That was a big no-no with her dad. She was never allowed in the bar on a Friday night after ten because of how crazy stuff got in there, topless chicks, bar fights, drinking, etc. But she did it anyway. She had to find her dad after she was left at the skating rink alone, so brave little Athena marched into the bar… And that is where she met John.
John was a no bullshit biker at the age of 25 with, what Athena describes as “the most righteous Shovelhead I had ever seen.” She fell in love with his chopper, and the rest was a joke, as she puts it. Somehow, Athena’s dad actually let her date John. Ass, gas or grass was a reality for Athena at 15, but stubborn Athena wasn’t about to give up more than gas money to ride John’s chopper, so he continued to ride her around on it, in hopes for more. “We dated and I would have to wax the bike every Friday after work so I could go riding, and I still paid for gas. Occasionally I would find him some grass too… But he still wasn’t getting any. A couple of months later on a Friday I was tired of waiting for him to get home so I moved his bike to detail it. He lost his mind, then he realized that I could handle it, so it was okay to come over cook dinner and wash and wax the bike before he got home. Then I did it… I was waxing the Shovel and saw a loose nut, my dumb ass went right to the garage got a wrench and went to tightening it- just as John was pulling in the driveway. He went cuckoo, got mad and would not talk to me for a week. I managed to smooth it over… Yeah! He finally got some… It was all I could think of at the time, and of course I got him to teach me the basic principles of motorcycles.”
At that time, there were very few aftermarket parts, so Athena would watch John cut up parts and make his own. She got a job in a local bike shop owned by a guy who was a drag racer with the fastest gasoline Sportster of the 80’s. That’s where her education really began.
Just after her 17th birthday, Athena and John were in an accident on the Shovel, and it was totaled. As a passenger she got an insurance check about six weeks later for $10,000. So she took John right out and bought him a brand new Heritage Softail. When they came home, there was the Shovel, all busted up. She asked John what he was going to do with it. He said that if she could put it back together, and make it run – it was all hers.
Athena says the rest is history. That was 1985 and she rebuilt that bike in front of a garage full of guys (John and his friends). If she asked a question, she had to put a dollar in a jar. They were sure she was going to end up paying for the bike that way. But unfortunately for them, Athena paid attention while at work in the bike shop, and silently watched them all wrenching. In 1987 she finished the Shovel with only $33 in the jar, and $15 of that was from wiring. She’s been wrenching ever since. She and John were married for 12 years, and had two beautiful children together. Though they divorced, they remained friends until he passed in 2006.
Athena’s aforementioned closeness with her dad is shown in many ways beyond wrenching together. Phil was disabled after falling twenty-two stories from the Sears Tower in 1989. He was caught by a safety rope, but the jolt from the fall broke his back. At the time he was told he’d never walk again – but he is obviously where Athena gets her stubborn nature, because today he does walk – and even rides every once in a while.
Phil wasn’t Athena’s only source of inspiration. Her mom was a strong woman who battled Lou Gehrig’s disease for several years, until her passing in 2002. Athena quit her jobs in 2000 to care for her mom full time. The years that followed were difficult but their family’s strength and love pushed through in the end. Athena recounts the situation, “My mom lost everything due to an unfortunate situation. Her roommate at the time saw her rapidly deteriorating and took advantage of the situation. He took her to the courthouse and married her even though he knew that she could not speak or sign her name. I fought him for a year in court to prove what he did, and to get custody. As a result, the courts absorbed everything she had worked for her whole life. I’ll never forget the final disbursement of her assets, my best friend Patzy went with me- when they handed me a check for $1100.00 Patzy looked right at me and said, ” I’ve got bail money!” I wanted to lose it but knew that I could not jeopardize custody of my mom. She still had me and my two wonderful children, and even my dad was there for her after all those years. We loved her and took good care of her until she died in our home in November 2002.” While caring for her, Athena started college to get a paralegal degree. She went part-time while Patzy sat with her twice a week. “My Mom always wanted me to be a lawyer not a biker, but she did love the fact that I rode big cool choppers that I built myself. Before my Mom got sick she would let me take her around on my chopper every once in a while.”
After Athena’s mom passed, she returned to school full time to complete her paralegal degree. Being that straight-A student paid off, as she took up an internship at a small law firm during her education. However, somewhere inside she really missed motorcycles. As an intern Athena found herself working on a big case which resulted in a nice little bonus when it was all settled. That bonus didn’t stay long in her pocket – and went straight toward Athena’s true calling.
With it she opened Vagabond Chopper Company in Deerfield Beach, Florida. He best friend at the time, Don Ransom, left another known builder to come help Athena out. Athena and Don had been close for years and after working together, they realized they were made for each other. They were married in August 2004 and Athena says that someday, after her children are all grown, she and Don plan on hopping on their choppers and finally riding off into the sunset. “Don is the love of my life. He has my heart and could crush me at any time. I trust that he never will,” says Athena. She feels that he has a true talent with motorcycles and no one was pushing him to do anything more than just assembling or wrenching. So with her gut instinct of Don’s innate talents, Athena puts him right next to her, 24/7/365 – to help with her bikes, and be her partner in life’s challenges. “He is my heart and soul and his love and support has been the key to all of my life successes.” Pretty inspirational love story!
When asked what her muse is, Athena answers quickly… “The wind, the road, the good people you have the fortune of meeting throughout your travels. My ever longing inside voice that says: This is where I was meant to be- on my chopper. I was raised around motorcycles and have always enjoyed the wind in my face and the breeze on my knees. There is an extreme serenity when I am on my chopper and it allows the internal me to get my shit together mentally and keep moving forward in life (externally) with a positive mental attitude.” She has built many bikes in her lifetime, but her favorite to ride is her Pink Heart Flamed Chopper, titled “Heart of a Vagabond”. This beauty is a rigid chopped frame, with Athena’s Heart parts collection on it, a Jaybrake hydraulic foot clutch set up, glass heart shifter, smooth Metzler tired, 20 inch apes and a girder front end. This is one smooth, mean little chopper. She says her favorite she’s ever laid wrench to is one she built called “Puzzled”, or Texas as she calls it, as it was built for the ROT Rally Big Texas Chop Off. “I cut up so much stuff and made cool stuff out of old shit. It rides so smooth and is truly a one of a kind.”
But being a woman in the bike industry isn’t always easy. Many of us Throttle Gals, who ride or drive, understand the hardships we sometimes face from a select handful of knuckleheads who think women aren’t their equals. Athena is fortunate enough to have experience and be real… no bullshit. She really does work on and build bikes, and because of that she’s really earned the respect of her peers. She says that on occasion she’s gotten the “It goes like this sweetie”, while working. It only fuels that fire. “But then I will cut up whatever it was and use it for something off the wall, and next time I see that person, they remember my name, AND ITS NOT SWEETIE!” Other than that once or twice, it’s been good for her. She takes a razzin’ from her colleagues in the industry but it is with love and respect that they have fun with it, and like that it does not bother her. “I always tell them that I have boobs and a round butt and use it to my advantage. Everyone laughs and we keep having fun with it. As a chick who has grown up around motorcycles and bikers, I have learned the difference between a condescending prick and boys just funning and being boys, so I am already at an advantage. The way I look at it, my passion is no less than any other person/builder because I am a chick and I truly love motorcycles, so I feel that everyone respects that about me.”
Somehow this woman is able to manage her time as a builder, business owner, wife and mother of three. “It’s a challenge to make it all work,” she says. “I am usually in the shop until 11 or midnight. I start in the shop at 11 am, but I am up until 2 or 3 am getting laundry done, housework, etc.” She is also able to toss in a few other passions on that busy schedule: roller skating, shooting, and horseback riding, to name a few. And she says she’s looking for an old beat up ’67 Malibu or Chevelle to work on, as she sold hers to build a chopper.
Athena is one Throttle Gal that won’t be held down! This busy “Chickie” just keeps pushing on. She’s encountered a lot of hurdles in her life, but leapt over every one of them and kept right on going. You can find her traveling on her chopper all across the country. She hits most of the major bike rallies and events, with Don right next to her. For more information on Athena, her upcoming projects or purchasing bikes or parts: check her out online: http://vagabondchoppers.com.
Although we are still on hold pending restructuring, we are going to ramp up by posting stories here on the site for your enjoyment. Some will be from published issues, to allow non-subscribers to experience what we are all about. We will let you know what issue each story is out of, so you can purchase the back issue if you wish to have the copy in print.
We will keep you updated.
Yes, it is going to come out… but no, it hasn’t yet. We hit a few snags, and need to get through the snags to produce the printed magazine again. We are hoping to be back up in print in the next month or two. We appreciate your patience and support! It will be worth waiting for! 🙂 In the meantime, check out the new merchandise we have designed and produced!
You may not realize this, but we print all of our own shirt in house… literally! Support your Throttle Gals! 🙂
Hey there! Just wanted to let you guys and gals know that we have a working blog that we update regularly. You can access it at www.throttlegals.blogspot.com. This is our base site, where you can support us and check out our sponsors… but for up to date TG stuff, check out our blog, and our facebook page!
Ashleigh, Trish and I have been working overtime to come up with new fun designs for you gals and guys to love! Check out our new merchandise, and old favorites.
We are putting issue #4 to the printer, and are really excited about it! Issue 4 features Ashley Webb and her Roadster, a Rock and Roll Sportster rider, Lawnmower racers, and a SWEET paint tech! Can’t wait for you all to see it! 🙂
The afterparty was a freaking BLAST!!! We rode back to the hotel 20 miles in the rumble seat of Larry’s ’32 AV8 Roadster. Although it was a bit chilly, Ash and I sang a TON of our own versions of classic songs to forget about the frigid wind. The Honeybees were fantastic, and we can’t wait to see them again!