Thursday, June 11, 2009

Going out in Style...

Harley Davidson Motorcycle Trike Hearse - Images by Ronan Gray

This was for a Beach & Bay article that I wrote about this unusual hearse (read more below). The guy was over an hour late showing up but that gave me time to set up lights fire a few test shots and vary the composition a bit. It was a really tight space and no option to move the bike. There was horrible background clutter in almost every direction so only option was to shot up in the direction with the least amount of distracting background elements. There's a busy street with a four way stop-sign right behind him too so I had to have him hold a pose while I waited for traffic to move.
Here's the nerd-out for my fellow lighting-nerds: .This was lit with two lights, both lumedyne classic heads. One in a small sb, (high camera right) to light him and the bring the chrome detail up. The second with a 70-deg reflector was positioned just out of frame camera left (and far to the rear of the scene) pointing slightly forward to bring up the whole shebang by a stop or two. Balance was daylight and I was under ambient by about a stop and a half or so. The rear light was one stop hotter than the front one.

Here's a link to the article as it appeared and here's my (unedited) submission. Thanks to Adriane (editor at the BBP) for tidying it up and making it more newspaper-worthy.

Beach & Bay Press, June 11 2009
Ronan Gray
Beach-area dwellers tend to exhibit a distinctly jaded attitude towards the odd, the strange and the weird. With fire-breathing jugglers performing nightly on the beach, armor-plated tornado-chasing vehicles parked in the neighborhood and kite-propelled surfers hurling themselves thirty feet skyward above the surf, its no wonder that a blasé attitude to the unusual pervades. It takes something truly unique to stop a local in their tracks or to hold up traffic in this town but that’s exactly what one local company managed to do for a few days last week. The macabre sight of a black, glass-sided, Victorian-style hearse pulled by a Harley Davidson was apparently enough to roust many from their apathy and attract a bit of attention on the corner of Cass St. and Diamond St. last week.

The Final Ride is a dark, black, custom-built Victorian-style coach complete with gilded carriage-lamps, crushed velvet interior and six-spoke, chrome wheels that is pulled by a black, chrome-detailed Harley-Davidson “trike” with matching six-spoke chrome wheels. “I can tell you anything you want to know about it except the price”, quips funeral director Douglas Trobaugh, driver of the Pacific Beach Chapel’s most unusual hearse. We are standing on the front lawn of the chapel next to the unique vehicle that has been stopping pedestrians and passing cars in their tracks. “I will tell you this though, I could have bought a couple of nice Cadillacs instead,” he adds.

The hearse and the three-wheeled motorcycle were both built by Tombstone Hearses in Bedford, PA where owner Jack Feather says he is working on the twenty-seventh one right now at a cost of roughly eighty thousand dollars. While most of the twenty-six previous ones have been for funeral homes within the US, he tells me that they have sent two to England, one to the Caribbean and one to Australia. With an estimated 10 million bikers in the States, the demand for the unique hearse is steady, especially in the mid-west according to Feather.

There are over 1.3 million registered motor cycle riders in the state of California according to the CHP *. “This one is the only one [of these hearses] in Southern California”, says Trobaugh who has been riding bikes since his father bought him his first one – a Harley Davidson dirt bike – when he was nine years old. Trobaugh has two brothers, Dave and Dwanye who are also bike riders. Their father John is still riding a Harley at age 75.

Demand for the Final Ride has been steady with about thirty services performed since the funeral home purchased it just over two years ago. In mid-April the funeral procession of a local Vietnam-vet created quite a spectacle in as a procession of over two-hundred bikers followed the Final Ride on a trip from the La Mesa Chapel out to Jamul and back for the deceased man’s last ride

However, its not just bikers who choose this unique tribute. “More than twenty-five percent of them have never ridden a bike”, says Feather at the factory in Pennsylvania. “Lots of little old ladies choose it.” Trobaugh says that the very first service he performed in San Diego was for a 94-year old woman whose family picked the coach for the old-fashioned style that harked back to the turn of the last century when she was born. Of the thirty funerals that Trobaugh has directed with the Final Ride, only six were for bikers.

Back on Cass Street a man approaches Trobaugh who is dressed in a black suit and a black leather jacket that, like the black helmet in his hand, bears the same El Camino Memorial logo that adorns the coach and trike. He asks if is it’s ok to photograph it. “I told my wife about it last night”, he adds after Trobaugh tells him to “go right ahead”. The hearse has been drawing the attention of normally nonchalant locals of all ages and generating a range of reactions. Ray Rios, Funeral Arranger at the Pacific Beach Chapel says that he has had to post a sign on the trike asking people not to climb on top of it for photo ops. “I’ve had people asking me if they can climb inside the coach to pose for pictures,” he adds with a hint of incredulity in his voice.

The Final Ride will spend time between Cass Street and the La Mesa office of El Camino Memorial, the owners of Pacific Beach Chapel. Visitors are welcome to stop by, check it out and photograph it. However, Trobaugh requests that people do not climb on board or in the back, no matter how interesting they may find the spectacle.

The Pacific Beach Chapel is located on the corner of Cass and Diamond in Pacific Beach.

copyright Ronan Gray 2009. All rights reserved. No reproduction without prior written permission.

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