A few months back, Tim Barcz, who is my boss here at J&P Cycles, called me into his office, which in and by itself isn’t out of the ordinary. But what he said after I closed the door was something you don’t hear every day.
Seems he’d just received a phone call from producer of the top-rated TV show Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, and those folks were looking for a little help. They were filming a segment of the show in Iowa and they had called Tim to ask if we’d be at all interested in rebuilding two motorcycles for the family highlighted in the show. My response was brief: “I’ll get the van.”
It was about an hour and a half drive out to the Gibbs farm where the makeover was to take place, so we had plenty of time to do some fact finding regarding Audrey Gibbs, her six children, as well as the two motorcycles that we were to refurbish. The thing that struck me about the Gibbs family was how strong they seemed to me.
After the loss of Audrey’s husband and the children’s father, as well as other hardships they had to endure, they were still a happy family. Life had given them every reason to be bitter, yet they kept a positive outlook on life, which was very inspiring to me. Over the phone, we spoke to producers and asked a few questions about the bikes, but we still didn’t know too much. In fact, just about all we knew was they weren’t Harleys and they were probably Kawasakis.
When we arrived at the farm, we found a pair of early ’80s Kawasakis — a KZ650 and a KZ750. My first thought was, “Boy, these bikes are rough.” We learned that the KZ750 was the father’s bike and it had been marinating on its kickstand for more than a decade. We didn’t know much about the history of the KZ650, but we found out that the boys had started some customization on their own by sawing off the sub-frame. Actually, it looked like something I would have totally done.
On the drive home to J&P headquarters, we game-planned for both builds, and by the time we arrived back at the shop we had a pretty good idea of what we wanted to do with both bikes. By nightfall, we had doused both bikes with some Strong Arm spray that would hopefully loosen up years of grease and grime.
Morning arrived, along with the reality of what was facing us the next few days. The one thing we weren’t short of was volunteers. A handful of us were actually involved in the physical build, but countless others from all across the J&P campus dropped by to pitch in. Everybody wanted to ensure that this undertaking was going to be a success.
The pressure was on, but along with that was an attitude that failure wasn’t an option. We compiled a Kawasaki parts lists with the purchasing boys as we tore the bikes down. They jumped on the phones with vendors who immediately were on board with the project — no questions asked — happily fulfilling our special requests without batting an eye. They even stepped up the process by shipping everything next-day delivery at zero charge. Motorcycle parts started streaming into our receiving department where they were immediately run out to the shop. Outside volunteers included such talents as Scott Takes of Underground Art Studios in Cedar Rapids, who turned around two mind-blowing paint jobs in three days!
With long days and longer nights piling up, the bikes began to take shape. On Day 3, we had a surprise visit from carpenter Paul Dimeo from Extreme Makeover and rocker turned reality star Bret Michaels. I wasn’t sure what to expect from either guy but after the time we spent in the shop with these guys I can’t say enough good things about them. Pauly was a great guy who truly has a passion for what he does. Bret, I was happy to discover, is an honest-to-goodness motorcycle guy! It’s not an act folks, he’s a two-wheel junkie just like the rest of us, and he fit in at the shop No “Rock Star” mentality here, just a decent human being working for a good cause.
Reveal Day broke bright and sunny, and we loaded up and headed back to the Gibbs farm. It was a long day, but interesting for us Hollywood novices to witness the behind the scenes action of a TV show.
Our crew was largely shielded from much of the filming because we weren’t the stars or crew. But standing off-camera, we could hear those two Kawasakis fire up, and we could hear the response from inside the garage.
It wasn’t until the show aired that we could see the emotional response from the family when the bikes were presented. It just makes you feel good knowing you helped affect people in such a positive manner. As I walked around the farm that day, I reflected on the fact that, no matter how much negativity we experience in the news or in our lives, there are still a lot of good people in this world. And here I was, standing among a few thousand who came together to do a good deed for a very deserving family.
I came away with the realization that it’s easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day drudgery and routines of life. And one way to get out of yourself is to make someone else’s life a bit better. That could mean volunteering at a soup kitchen or a Habitat for Humanity build. Or it could be as simple as shoveling an elderly neighbor’s driveway. We’re all perched on this giant spinning rock together and we the more we can do for each other the better whole experience will be for everyone.
If you’re interested in seeing our video of the Extreme Makeover bike build, we’ve got more footage and photos here.