LIVING THE DREAM: Roger Harris enjoys classic automotive hobby
Published 1:32 pm Friday, February 1, 2019
A few years ago, Roger Harris traded a vintage car for some land with the idea of building a new house and shop. He reached a deal with his wife, Sandra, about the transaction. “We bought it with the understanding that I could build the shop of my dreams and she could build the house of her dreams, and we’d leave each other alone,” Roger said with a laugh.
The house is lovely, and the shop is indeed the stuff of dreams.
The shop is filled with more than a dozen vintage motorcycles and several cars. From the 1934 Plymouth to the 1946 Indian, the Triumph motorcycle sitting quietly in the corner to the row of 1977 Maico motorcycles that still get revved up for the occasional race, each one is a work of mechanical art with a soul and a story to tell.
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Other pieces of racing and automotive memorabilia line the walls. Lifts and projects in various stages of completion await the next turn of a wrench. The building is half museum, half working garage, and everything Harris has ever wanted.
“I’ve got, like, 25 of them (motorcycles) now. I’ve sold a few of them, but I don’t do it for profit or investment. I do it for the love of it. They need me, and I need them,” Harris said. “You get out here and work on an old motorcycle, and it’s a simple machine from times gone past. It’s pieces and parts. I love bringing them back to life.”
Harris, now 54 years old, has had a passion for all things automotive — particularly motorcycles — since he was a child. He got his first bike, a Honda 100, in 1976 when he was 8. His father bought it for he and his brother to share, but eventually had to purchase another because the siblings were constantly fighting over it.
Harris’ first job was in a motorcycle shop in his hometown of McComb, where he traded his labor for a racing bike. He raced through his teens — the store’s owner, Larry Myatt, was his sponsor and mentor — until moving to Vicksburg and getting a “real job” in 1987.
“I tried to still race on the weekend, but that didn’t work too well,” Harris said. “I had come to realize that no matter what happened at the races on Sunday I was still expected to be at work on Monday morning.”
Although his racing days went by the wayside, Harris’ passion for vehicles never did. In the mid-1990s he got word of a 1969 BSA 650 motorcycle collecting dust in a garage in Vicksburg and bought it from the owner. Over the next few months he restored it to pristine condition.
“I dragged it home, took it apart and put it together piece by piece,” Harris said.
He later traded that bike for two more, and suddenly was hip deep in his new hobby. He has restored more than two dozen bikes, as well as a few cars, since then. His hobby outgrew his original 24-by-30-foot shop and eventually moved into the new, larger building.
Harris also segued from motorcycles to cars and other items. He acquired a 1934 Plymouth from his father and fully restored it. Now painted black with flames shooting along the sides, he often takes it to car shows.
A yellow 1969 Pontiac Firebird sits idly in one part of the shop. Outside, a reddish-orange 1949 Ford pickup sits alongside a 1946 Indian motorcycle, both guarded by a vintage 1923 gas pump that Harris also restored.
In another room, the frame of a 1932 Ford Roadster is half-finished. Nearby, parts recently painted a striking shade of orange-yellow hang from the ceiling to cure. The roadster is a family project with Harris and his son, Miles, who has also caught the car bug. He hopes to finish the car this spring.
“My father fooled with this stuff. His father fooled with this stuff. This car is a father-son project,” Harris said. “It’s weird. Miles is my middle son. The oldest and the youngest aren’t really interested in it, but he loves it.”
While some of the cars and bikes will spend most of their new lives being displayed at car shows, Harris said that kind of defeats the point. He’ll occasionally drive some of them around after completion. That’s the moment of truth as to whether all of the work was worth it, as well as if it was done right.
“The first thing that goes through your mind when you go to start it is, ‘I hope it has all the gears.’ You don’t want to take it apart again. The first ride you think of all the late nights when you came out here at midnight to mess with something, and wonder if you did this or that,” Harris said. “If it does run, it feels so gratifying. An old bike shows its character. And if it doesn’t, it also shows its character. It’s an adventure. You’re going to meet some interesting folks. They might be the ones to rescue you from the side of the road.”
After a long hiatus, Harris has also gotten back into racing. It’s not the super competitive motocross circuit of his younger days, but rather vintage races in Texas and Alabama. The vintage racing circuit is more relaxed, with less of an emphasis on competition and more on an appreciation of the machines and taking them for a spin.
“It’s more of a brotherhood. You can race what you used to race when you were a kid, in a safe environment. You can find just as much competition as you want,” Harris said. “There’s a show in Jefferson, Texas, that’s the biggest motocross race in the world. Every year I make that one. It’s a big sport. It’s a big hobby. It’s a clean hobby.”
Locally, Harris is also an advocate of the hobby. He belongs to the Vicksburg Cruisers car club and for the past two years has organized a vintage motorcycle show at the Vicksburg Farmer’s Market.
“It’s my wish to bring that hobby to the forefront and have it be something Vicksburg can enjoy,” Harris said. “This is a passion. Everybody needs a hobby to refocus themselves, and that’s exactly what this does for me.”