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interview with clay rathburn

It’s been an interesting week. I got my first interview request, instead of the other way around. It was from Clay Rathburn, the guy behind Atom Bomb. Clay and I traded a few emails and ended up with what you see here. He’s a relatively humorous and honest man, and likes dogs.

I don’t agree with some of his views, but to each his own. You let me have mine, I let you have yours, as we live in a land where this is supposed to be a basic tenet of our national philosophy. Therefore we had fun and nobody called the other “f***ing stupid” or anything like that.

bM:  You started out as a hot rod builder, won some prestigious awards and hail from a family of hot rodders. What made you move to building British bobbers?

CR:  I have ADHD (self-diagnosed of course). Or maybe it’s ADD, or even both. I need medication. Anyhow, it took me three years to build a hotrod. It’s **** hard to make a living that way. Bikes are more fun, you can’t hide anything on a bike, and everything has to be right because let’s be honest, generally speaking if a wheel falls off your car you’re not going to die. I think the inherent safety of hotrods makes me uncomfortable. I also think that at the end of the day, it’s more my Dad’s thing than mine.

bM:  Yes. I once had a bike “built” that would have killed me had I ridden it out of the neighborhood onto the city streets. You’ve recently completed a 1973 Triumph TR7V track-a-bob you call the Green Agenda. In our correspondence you’ve made sarcastic remarks about “green energy,” including your statement that it is “environmentally friendly because it is painted green. We all know green is good for saving trees and baby seals.” I like trees and baby seals as much as the next guy. Baby seals, especially the ones that get clubbed to death (thus not puncturing their hide), make great coats and you know that when you’re all dressed up in white fur, it means you’re an incredible success. Who doesn’t want to be successful and flaunt it to the world? What’s your problem with sustainable energy? Are you sponsored by bp or something?

CR:  I love the **** out of trees. I live in the middle of the woods and probably do more for the environment simply by being a good steward of the land than Al Gore ever thought about doing. Not to mention, baby seals have fur? I thought they were prized for the skin which make a fine pair of gloves.

I don’t have any sort of endorsement deal with BP. In fact if BP were to fold tomorrow I’d be sort of happy. Actually, no I wouldn’t. You know why? Because the government was busy suing them instead of either getting the **** out of the way or better yet helping fix the huge oil-gushing hole at the bottom of the Gulf. Step one, fix problem. Step two, let the heads roll. Not the other way around, idiots.

Sustainable energy? For electricity? **** yes, I’m all for it. You know who doesn’t really like it? Environmental commies, that’s who. They b**ch and moan about coal-fired power plants, but *** forbid if someone files an application to build a nuke plant, or a wind farm, or a field full of solar panels. Those are all too dangerous. When it comes to a car, bike, boat, plane, space shuttle, or whatever, I’d prefer something in the fossil fuel burning range. Or ethanol, I like me some ethanol. My truck will allegedly run on it, but it’s not for sale here, because if you make too much ethanol then people can’t afford food or something. Cry me a river.

bM:  Yes. Using corn for fuel means it isn’t being eaten and many argue that it leads to starvation. That’s why I want hemp legalized. No, you can’t smoke it and it won’t get you high, but it’s cheap and easy to grow, and it has the highest biomass (a determination of how much energy a plant possesses) of almost anything, but I don’t want to get off on a huge rant. How are windmills or solar panels dangerous?

CR:  Yeah, that’s what I want to know. Ask an environmental commie, they allegedly have answers. You heard about the proposed wind farm off Martha’s Vineyard, right? The elitist left that lives there shut it down cold because they didn’t want the view spoiled. Just around here we’ve had two wind farms proposed and shut down. One was on a remote mountain top, and it was bad because they had to put in a dirt access road. The other was also in a really remote location, but there was a bunch of noise about how the windmills were bad for bats. I’m too lazy to Google it, but there was a big opposition to a solar farm in the desert of California because it would screw up the ecosystem of an endangered desert mouse or some such sh*t. California Senator Dianne Feinstein has actually formally objected to solar farms on BLM land. How f***ing stupid is that?

That right there is probably what inspires most of my hatred of environmental radicals. THEY DON’T HAVE ANY ANSWERS. They’re idiots and I’m predisposed to hating idiots. Seriously, like I said before, I don’t care where my electricity comes from. Burn coal, dig a geothermal well, build a power plant that runs on politicians, dam the Mississippi, I don’t give a sh*t, but I’m not going without.

bM:  Oh, you’ll go without all right. Ruin the planet your way but it won’t help. We’re all about to go without. In the next 25 years massive debt, increasingly hard-to-find oil, and overseas job sourcing will destroy our economy if we don’t immediately begin a huge renewable-energy plan for this country. I was unable to find that the wind farm project off Martha’s Vinyard has been stalled. I think all that has happened is some rich people are bummed about the view but the Feds want to do it so it will happen.

Back about motorbikes, this is the second bM interview in a row with a builder from Virgina. Do VA high schools have shop classes where students can only talk about machines and civil war misconceptions?

CR:  I don’t know what is discussed in shop classes, I never took any. I think at the high school I went to shop class was centered around changing a tire and changing the spark plug on a Briggs & Stratton. I did take three years of mechanical drawing though. One thing I am pretty sure of is not too many people in VA have any misconceptions about the Civil War. Maybe some of the people up in northern VA do, but that’s a different subject and is the reason behind my nationwide campaign to get the Mason-Dixon Line moved south a little.

bM:  Good luck with that, man. What do you drive?

CR:  A crew cab Ford pickup with a sunroof and a thing that turns my truck into a giant cell phone…. Bluetooth or whatever. It’s pretty sweet though because now when it looks like I’m talking to myself there is a chance that I could be on the phone. I also got leather for the pit bulls. They like leather. And air conditioned seats. And a back up camera so I can see sh*t just as I’m about to run it over.

bM:  You’re building a Triumph Bonneville enduro for yourself. If Green Agenda is the most Atom Bomb bike “most likely to punch somebody in the neck,” what will this bike do? Huh? What?

CR:  The dirt bike will probably be voted “Most Likely To Carpet Bomb Small Cities.” Really, it’s going to be sweet. There is an outside chance that it’s the worst idea I’ve ever had but I don’t think so. The dirt bike idea dresses up like an evil William Shatner and sits on my shoulder while I shop online for the best prices on hotels. It’s that awesome. I get stoked about every bike I build, but usually not quite this bad. Everybody is doing the same custom thing over and over. Me included. There’s nothing wrong with what I normally do, but I kind of hope this dirt bike thing is a breath of fresh air, or whatever gay thing you want to call it.

bM:  You can name it “The Carpet Bomb.”

CR:  Someone already named it Carbon Footprint. And it wasn’t me. I thought it was pretty fitting though. If I were going to name it after carpet bombing, I’d probably call it “Operation Arc Light,” which I never should have said out loud because I actually have plans for a bike called that one day. Just so you don’t think I’m doing nothing but making fun of tree weirdos or advocating violence, I also have another BSA A10 all planned out called “Rocket Cathedrals.” That’s just a Brian Setzer song, and doesn’t mean anything.

bM:  Your bikes are incredibly clean. I don’t know of another builder that takes such painstaking attention to detail without charging six figures for their bikes while employing high-priced ad agencies. Do your bikes leak oil and do you have intentions to get a “reality” TV show?

CR:  I have some friends that build six-figure bikes while employing high priced ad agencies. At least I think they have an ad agency. I know I **** sure can’t shoot video like that, so they must. ****, look at my website, I can barely make that look decent. Sometimes a Triumph leaks oil, that’s just the way it is. I once saw a video of a pretty high end Triumph custom leaking a drop of oil. I think it came from the breather though. That’s the only place mine usually leak from, so it must be that. Either way, I probably would have my high priced ad agency edit that out.

I have a good friend that is a reality TV star. He was on a show about NASCAR Modified racing on the History Channel. Know what he got out of the deal? A stalker. Which for a long time was funny as ****, until she beat the sh*t out of some other chick in a bar for talking to “her man,” and then repeatedly wailed that she wanted to die when she was getting put in the cop car. Even though that happened, I guess I’m going to be on that show in 2011, but I think it’s going to be on a different network. That’ll be fun, but I’d never want to do a show about me building bikes, it’d be boring as ****. Maybe the “Watching Paint Dry” network would pick it up for 12 episodes.

bM:  **** or ***?

CR:  ****. I didn’t even have to think about that, because they were already on my mind. ***** are the best thing ever. I’ve done some dumb stuff for *****. By the way, I also asked my wife the answer to this question. She concurs. If she didn’t have good ones to start with, we would get some of those Silicone 3000s put in there.

bM:  3000 as in cc’s? My woman just had 1200 cc’s put in total and she went from an 34A to a 36D. 3000 would be obscenely pornographic and probably weigh 40 pounds. Excellent.

CR:  Obviously Trent, a picture is going to be worth a thousand words here. So make with some pictures. And no, I wasn’t talking about displacement. “Silicone 3000s” are a fictional line of breast augmentation devices named by my boy Jason Ellis. Because I heard him say that on the radio and I am impressionable, pretty much any time I could simply say “implants” I replace it with the much longer and more complicated “silicone 3000s.”

bM:  Beer or weed?

CR:  Beer. Beer is refreshing, especially if it’s High Life in bottles. Nothing about smoking weed looks refreshing. Honestly, if I sat around stoned all the time is there any way I would be awesome? **** no. Jägerbombs are also pretty refreshing in a cocaine sort of way. I heart Jägerbombs.

bM:  You find yourself with millions of dollars. World domination or self defense?

CR:  World domination?? Who wants this mess? I’d probably have to say neither answer is 100% correct, but self defense comes close. Extreme isolation is more like it, which I guess is a form of self defense. As long as I don’t have to move. Digging up all the ammunition I’ve got buried out back would be a pain in the ***. That’s not to say I’m hoarding or anything. If society collapses I’ve got just enough ammo to go get more ammo, and I don’t really have any moral complications with that. I’d also start a really deluxe pitbull rescue, complete with an in-house assassination department to solve the dog fighting problem once and for all.

bM:  I’m all for that, man. The Pit Bull fighting scene must end. Is Jesus coming again or was once enough?

CR:  I’m not sure. The dude may take one look at this mess and decide it’s too much work. He’d be cracking a beer and saying. “Y’all can have that noise.”

bM:  I’d like to drink beer with Jesus. While many would consider being a self-made motorcycle builder a dream job, it doesn’t mean stress never enters the equation. How do you blow off steam?

CR:  There’s stress every day. This deal is all I’ve got. If it doesn’t work I don’t really have much of a fallback plan because I SUCK at working for other people. So I worry every day about being successful…. Not about getting rich because I don’t need that, just making it enough to sleep well. Hopefully one day I’ll be doing enough that my wife can quit her job and work with me as well. She stays stressed enough from her real job for the both of us.

I do really enjoy relaxing, and you’d better brace yourself, because I get into some heavy sh*t when I’m relaxing. I really dig hanging out with the wife and dogs and watching movies. Movies are my one guilty pleasure. We have an actual theater room, and it’s really b**chin’, which is pretty retarded given how average everything else we have is.

I used to be really into mowing the grass, but my lawnmower is a hunk of sh*t. It keeps dropping valve guides, so every other time I mow the grass I have to pull a head and hammer the valve guide back in. Maybe this winter I’ll get some oversize guides or something, and make a heavy duty front axle beam for it, because the stock one is made from stamped sheet, and I bent the f**k out of it this summer. It takes a hard right if you let go of the wheel now. That’s way better than a hard left, but still a pain in the ***.

Riding dirt bikes is good fun too, but I had to cut stuff like that out because if I’m hurt I can’t work. If I can’t work then I can’t pay the house payment. Then my wife hates me. Then I have even more steam to blow off but I can’t because I have a broken collarbone. Relaxing sucks like that.

bM:  I’m guessing there is more to that story. Thanks for taking the time to send photos and for trading emails with me for the past week, Clay. I hope you had a good time.

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  1. Ha Ha….where did you find this Hillbilly….and just how far south is he planning to move the line?

  2. that’s funny, jeremy. hey, the woman who inexplicably loves me and i are moving back to new orleans early next year. that would be a great place for the three of us to discuss the civil war, slavery, economics, and government conspiracy.

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