Harley Bob, Character Extraordinaire
Posted on October 21, 2019
Hoodsport, Wash. – You never know when or where you’ll run into colorful characters.
Idaho has its share. I’ve been fortunate to have spent time with the likes of Free Press Frances, Buckskin Bill, Dugout Dick and other unforgettable individuals.
In other states, it’s been my good fortune to have met a man who was traveling all the way from England to Idaho for the sole purpose of seeing Hells Canyon, a woman whose pet was an albino alligator, and a man who helped Ernest Hemingway save the manuscript to “A Farewell to Arms” from a fire.
And the most recent, “Harley Bob” McFarland.
McFarland lives in Hoodsport, Wash, on the Olympic Peninsula. His home overlooking a scenic channel of Puget Sound is across the street from the library where I go to check out books and movies while on vacation there. As I was leaving the library one day, he was sitting on his porch with a goat in his lap. Clearly this was someone I had to meet.
“Is the goat a pet?” I asked him.
“Yes. His name is Rudy.”
“Why a goat?”
“Because everybody else has a dog or a cat.”
A “goat crossing” sign warns visitors of Rudy’s presence. A sign on a fence features a silhouette of a goat and the words, “I can make it to the fence in 2.8 seconds. Can you?”
Rudy did his best to butt or hook me with his horns whenever I ventured too close to his owner. Diverting as he was, however, Rudy was but one of many things that set Harley Bob and his home apart from the ordinary.
He also has a pet named Mrs. Smith. Mrs. Smith is a chicken.
Gracing a porch is what I initially mistook to be a samovar but is actually a homemade smoker, made from Coors beer kegs.
Parked outside his shop is a 1949 Austin that looks like a junker, but will do 80 mph in 8.5 seconds. Painted on one of its doors are the words, “Shine Runner.”
“Shine” would be moonshine. Harley Bob’s moonshine is in demand. He gives it to a few select connoisseurs, who give it high marks.
“Moonshine doesn’t get any better,” one of them told me.
The Harley Bob nickname comes, as you might expect, from his passion for Harley Davidson motorcycles. His is nearly 40 years old and runs perfectly, due to his skills as a mechanic. The Harley is part of a vehicle collection that includes the Shine Runner, a 1928 Ford hot rod pickup, a 1938 Bantam coupe, a1955 Ford pickup and a 1941 Willys coupe, a story in itself.
McFarland has been a tool junkie virtually all his life. He grew up in Tacoma and has spent time in Hoodsport for as long as he can remember. His brick mason father brought him and the rest of his family there for vacations.
“We’d go clam digging, oyster digging, boating, swimming … I loved it so much that when I had a young family of my own, I brought them out here camping. When I got close to retiring, I bought this place and remodeled the house. I did all the electrical and plumbing and do all the maintenance.”
The idyllic family vacations of his youth were a prelude to some turbulent teenage years.
“I got in some trouble. My older brother was the star in my folks’ eyes, my little sister was the star in the other eye and I was in the middle. I got caught drinkin’ and smokin’ and was kicked out of school for it. When I was 15, Ma’ said, ‘You’re a mess. I’m gonna’ call your Uncle Leno and talk to him about hiring you.’”
A machinist who lived in Tacoma, Uncle Leno got him a job pushing a wheelbarrow and driving a truck. That led to a five-year apprenticeship as a machinist, jobs in multiple machine shops and a 20-year career as a machinist for the Port of Tacoma. He can build or fix almost anything made of metal.
Which brings us back to the Willys.
“When I first saw it, there was almost nothing left of it. It was sitting in some blackberry bushes. It was just a shell. Everything else was rotted out. I paid more than I wanted to for it, but I was in love with it. I told my buddies that in two years I’d have it ready for the speedway in Wendover, Utah. They thought I was nuts.”
With a wave of a flame-tattooed arm, he directed me down the hill to his garage for a look. He’d already shown me a photo of the “shell,” so I wasn’t prepared for what was coming. He spent two years rebuilding and customizing the Willys. The rotted out shell is now a work of art, with a top speed of 150 mph.
“I hadn’t had it very long when I met a guy who asked me if I knew what I had. He said it was called the Cranberry Carriage and that it had been in the 1962 Seattle Worlds Fair and featured in Car Craft Magazine. I almost cried. You’ll never see another one like it.”
No argument. Low and sleek with a gleaming cranberry paint job, it is uniquely beautiful.
Now a 75-year year old divorced grandfather of seven, McFarland supplements his Social Security income by working on other people’s cars and motorcycles and machining parts. His shop has, among other things, a lathe, a hoist, a grinder, plasma cutter, arc welder, hydraulic press …
A sign on the side of the shop jokes that its owner is “retired, but I work part time as a pain in the butt.”
I asked the man who lives in an idyllic place surrounded by his pets, the tools of his trade and stunning vehicles whether he still had anything left on his bucket list.
“No,” he said. “I reached my goal to become one of the top machinists in Tacoma, I’ve tinkered around with cars and motorcycles and racing, and these days I’m happy just helping my buddies out and machining a few parts for people. A little of this and a little of that. I’m pretty darned content.”