By Bryan Chambers
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- You could call Charles Holley a builder.
As the director of development and planning for the city of Huntington, he makes sure long-term development projects become reality. Away from work, he has a hobby that requires similar attributes -- vision, patience and attention to detail.
Holley has rediscovered his love for bicycles by rebuilding and restoring vintage Schwinns, some of which are the same models he owned as a teenager growing up in Huntington's Highlawn neighborhood.
Holley has remained in Highlawn as an adult, and his home probably doesn't look much different than the one he grew up in. There are three bicycles on the porch and two more in the dining room. Yes, dining room. Bicycle parts occupy shelves, countertops and various nooks and crannies on the first floor. There are about a dozen cans of spray paint on top of his refrigerator.
"My wife hates that, the clutter," he says jokingly, pointing to the cans of spray paint.
In the two years since Holley picked up his new hobby, he has rebuilt six bicycles, all but one of which are Schwinns from the 1970s. He is now working on restoring a 1941 Schwinn LaSalle, complete with a 1942 bicycle license plate that was issued by the city of Huntington. The plate was still attached to the bicycle when he found it a few months ago in a shed owned by Jim Taylor, a lifelong friend.
"That was a sweet find," Holley said of the license plate. "The day I saw that bike, Jim Taylor could tell I was crazy about it. I asked him how much for it and he said I could have it. I ran home as quick as I could to get my van before he changed his mind."
Holley, 52, taught himself to work on bicycles as a kid. Back then, there was no such thing as mom or dad loading up your bike in the car and taking it to the nearest bike shop if you had a flat. You learned to fix it yourself, Holley said.
"All the kids in the neighborhood would customize their own bikes with sissy bars and banana seats," he said. "That was the cool thing to do." He's also become a bit of a historian about the Schwinn brand. When he discovered the LaSalle model, he wasn't sure if he would be able to identify the year it was built.
"The Schwinn plant burnt to the ground in 1948 and all of the serial numbers of bikes they had sold went with it," he said. "The only real way to determine the year Schwinn bikes were built before then is by the shape and looking at certain components.
"The company also stopped making bikes for a few years beginning in 1941 to help with military production in World War II, so any bikes they built before the war machine are pretty valuable."
Holley said he didn't touch a bicycle for almost 30 years until he decided that he wanted to take up biking for his health two years ago. But he wasn't crazy about the looks of the mountain bikes and road bikes that are built today.
"I thought, "Heck, why not just buy parts myself and rebuild a Schwinn, which I rode as a teen," he said. "I could do it for practically nothing."
Holley began accumulating old parts from junk stores and from eBay and restored a 1971 Sports Tourer in quick fashion. He has followed suit by rebuilding a 1971 and 1978 Schwinn Varsity, 1973 Schwinn Super Sport, 1973 Schwinn Speedster and an off-brand bicycle that is a Frankenstein of sorts, relying on parts from several models.
Holley admits he's turned some heads while riding his bikes, especially from folks his age.
"I rode by the League 3 ballfield on my Sports Tourer recently and a guy stopped me and told me he used to sell the same bike at Snyder's back in the '70s. He was shocked to see another one on the road," Holley said. "I don't hide the fact that part of the reason I get out and ride these is to show off.
"I took my Super Sport to the Tour de PATH (fundraiser for the Paul Ambrose Trail for Health) and other guys my age who were there flocked to it. I think they trigger a lot of nostalgia."