89-year-old Garvie White enjoys working on his custom-built ride

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 6, 2011

Garvie White has lost some hearing. A bad hip keeps him from dancing the faster country songs, but he still likes to slow dance.
And for lack of a better word, the 89-year-old White tinkers.
“I don’t have nothing but time anyway,” he says.
White recently took three years to build a custom-made, three-wheeled motorcycle. The back half is a 1973 Volkswagen Beetle; the front half, mostly a Yamaha 750.
Last summer, White sometimes drove the “trike” through his Salisbury neighborhood at The Crescent. He also steered it into town on occasion, but the last time he operated the motorcycle it started missing and blew out oil.
So White, a retired pipe-fitter, built a trailer for the motorcycle so he can haul it up to a Volkswagen repair shop in Arcadia. He anticipates that the shop will have to rebuild the VW motor.
Next on White’s agenda is to shorten the bed of a 1986 Nissan truck and make it a convertible. Once he moves the motorcycle and trailer out of the garage, he’ll have room to ease the Nissan truck in.
But overall White needs more space. The home he shares at The Crescent with Jo Barth, whom he met dancing about five years ago, comes with a lot of neighborhood restrictions. He would like to move into the country, where his number of vehicles would not be limited and he could have more room for a shop than one corner of a garage.
“He likes to be doing something all the time,” Barth says.
White’s daddy was a bootlegger in the N.C. foothills, so his family had to keep moving a lot, finally ending up in Maryland. White joined the National Guard in 1939, was shipped to England in 1942 during World War II and stormed Omaha Beach on D-Day.
After the war, he worked for more than 30 years as a pipe-fitter in Delaware. When he retired, White moved back to his native North Carolina and settled in Davidson County.
About five years ago, he met Barth at some country dancing spots, and a romance and friendship blossomed. “She loved to dance, still does,” White says.
Sometimes Barth rides with him on the VW motorcycle.
“I’ve rode one all my life,” White says.
As he aged, White lost some of the balance he needed to ride two-wheelers, so a trike made sense. “This one here is no problem,” he says, walking around his creation in the garage. “And this was the cheapest way to go, to build one.”
White figures he has $3,000 to $4,000 invested in the vehicle. He first considered building a sidecar for Barth but changed his plans after spotting a similar trike to what he eventually created.
“There are a lot of these on the road,” he says.
The trike has a four-speed stick shift in the middle, as you find in the old VW Beetles. He depends on a truck lever for his turn signals. It lies underneath the front saddle seat.
The clutch is a foot pedal on the floor to the left. He accelerates from the left handlebar. The right handlebar has a front brake, in addition to a rear brake down on the right floorboard.
A console in front of the driver includes an oil pressure gauge and a switch for the headlight.
White bought the two car tires in back from Walmart, and they are a bit wider than a Beetle would have had. The 36-horsepower motor gets about 35 miles per gallon. It’s a comfortable ride and not too noisy, White reports.
The motor “was running good” when he extracted it from the old 1973 Beetle.
“They’re a tough little car,” White says. “I owned two or three.”
White has affixed a Confederate flag license plate on the back of his trike that says, “Dern tooten’ I’m a Rebel.” It also carries the name “Texas Hold ‘Em.”
White relied on “no patterns, no nothing” in putting his three-wheeled motorcycle together. “I wanted to build one to ride, and I put it together as I went,” he says.
He had a cutting wheel to help in the fashioning of all the sheet metal, and some welding was involved. In his younger days, White says, he did a lot of custom work on cars.
After his trike was built, White obtained the necessary paperwork and arranged for a highway patrolman to come to his house and inspect it, so he would be able to obtain his license tags and registration.
It is considered a 2008 model. Once the trike is repaired and running again, White and Barth plan to haul it on the new trailer to a Florida vacation, where they will have fun taking it to different places.
“We’re not going to ride it on the interstate,” Barth says.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or mwineka@ salisburypost.com.