Red Hartman, a franchised Harley-Davidson motorcycle dealer from 1948 until 1988, is now riding knuckleheads and panheads along roads the rest of us will eventually visit. Red’s first shop was Cochise County Harley-Davidson Sales in Douglas, Arizona. Years later he opened Hartman Harley-Davidson Sales in Sierra Vista.
When Cochise H-D rolled its first hardly-ablesons out onto US 80 in Douglas, there were no golden arches shovelling out little patties of shit to the locals, no Walmart sprawling across a giant parking lot just north of the US/Mexico border. DC3s, 4s and 6s emblazoned with American Airlines colors painted on shiny aluminum skins roared in and out of Bisbee-Douglas International Airport just outside town. Twin stacks at the Phelps-Dodge smelter belched a plume of smoke that drifted far across Arizona…or, when the prevalent winds shifted, down into the Sierra Madres of Mexico. P-D headquarters was located in Douglas, those airplanes at BDI served businessmen flying in and out of the little border town.
Not much was happening in Sierra Vista back when Red opened that first shop. Not too surprising, as there was no Sierra Vista with its row of fast food palaces and car dealerships on Fry Boulevard. It hadn’t been founded yet. Instead, the town was known as Fry Township, a few dusty bars that served the GIs from Fort Huachuca and some homes for the civilians but the big box stores, the multitude of Wendys, KFC, big Macs, Toyotas, Fords, Chevrolets, Kias and all their ilk wouldn’t arrive for many years. Fry became Sierra Vista and was incorporated in 1956.
Red saw it all. He sold Harleys back when women seldom visited motorcycle shops and men wore leathers even in Arizona heat to protect against the hot pipes and burning oil that frequently spewed from the big twins.
First time I walked in the door of Red’s shop was when I rode into Douglas on an XLH Sportster on my way to Mexico. Drank a cold Coke and asked about what problems I might expect across the border. Back in the early 60’s I was referring to road conditions, places where I might get a tire replaced if necessary, other establishments where I might get certain things of interest to a young man. Crossing into Mexico wasn’t a big deal. A few immigration guys worked at the Douglas/Agua Prieta Port of Entry along with a few more 25 miles west at Naco. One of the Border Patrol senior officers told me (years later) that maybe six or seven green-uniformed officers rode their horses along the barbed-wire fence that marked the international line back then. Like so many other changes, years would pass before two-thousand militarized Border Patrolmen would operate out of the thirty million dollar Douglas Station…and another couple thousand more would call the even more expensive facility at Naco their base of operations.
My last visit to Red’s shop was in 2002. I wanted new handlebars for my ’01 FXDP, something lower than the pronghorns that came with the twin-cam police bike. Red had them. I stood talking to Red in his cluttered little parts and maintenance shop in Sierra Vista, a place tucked behind Oil Can Henrys on Fry Boulevard. Red no longer represented Harley-Davidson, Harley doesn’t support small dealerships like Red owned, at least not in this country. Instead, corporations pony up several million dollars and agree to build impressive shops with racks full of clothing, rows of shiny bikes and a ton of chrome accessories that make the new bikes more reliable, faster, better handling. Well, they make the new bikes more shiny, anyway.
Red smiled when I told him about visiting his shop in Douglas four decades earlier; he certainly had no reason to remember me. I was one of many, many young motorcyclists who rode through southeast Arizona on the main US highway. (It’s now AZ80, a state road that meanders through the border communities then back northward. I10, the superslab, stretches along 50 miles north of here.) I wish I would have stopped in again, maybe taken some photographs of the shop, but it closed not too many years later and I never got around to seeing Red again. There wasn’t much H-D stuff left, just accessory parts and a variety of smaller bikes in various stages of disrepair. Red was 91 years old when he passed away a few days ago, that would have made him about 80 when I saw him. I didn’t realize how old he was.
Sometimes I don’t realize how old I am, either.
My last Harley (at least I assume it was my last, see ) is gone, too. I have a BMW K1200RS and a Ducati 907ie, I still enjoy riding, but my fascination with the big Milwaukee twins long ago disappeared. I can’t afford the tattoos that seem an obligatory part of the “rough edge” of the Harley culture and I don’t fit the image of a RUB, a rich urban biker, replete with expensive leathers, dazzling motorcycle and curvy young thing accessorizing the package. Neither did Red Hartman.
RIP, guy. Ride Into Perpetuity, smoke belching out the pipes and oil dripping on the ground.