A 392 Hemi engine is taking up valuable space in a Spring Mills garage with precious little to spare.
Exactly when the engine came into the possession of Fred Waltz is open for debate. He’s been married to his wife, Penny, for 46 years and the Hemi was a prepackaged deal alongside their nuptials.
Penny Waltz knew who she was marrying — a car guy. Almost five decades later, a garage full of miscellaneous auto parts wasn’t much of a surprise.
The five motorcycles were probably a bit of a curve ball, though.
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Fred Waltz spent two years and three months customizing a 2009 Harley Davidson Rocker C, an extensive process that involved more than just slapping on a new coat of paint or finding the right vanity plate.
By the time his overhaul was complete, only the bike’s original swing arm, oil tank and the frame itself remained.
The rest of it is now “The Death Dealer.”
Waltz and his two-wheeled work of art have spent the past few years garnering recognition from auto and motorcycle aficionados throughout the Northeast. In 2011, “The Death Dealer” claimed first prize at The Sturgis Road Show in Harrisburg.
The real action resides in Cleveland, where the little red bike-that-could received Best of Show at Summit Racing Equipment’s I-X Piston Power Show.
“That’s what the accomplishment is for us, when you have people of that caliber saying that,” Penny Waltz said.
A seven-day paid vacation in Europe is a pretty effective morale booster, too.
At the end of the year, the Waltzes will accompany “The Death Dealer” to Germany, where it will be auctioned by the International Bike Builder’s Association. Assuming their minimum bid is reached, the couple will return to the United States sans one motorcycle.
It’s a lot of positive energy to spill out of a late-in-life hobby and, as with any success story, it required a bit of luck — not all of it good.
In 2004, Fred Waltz suffered a heart attack.
The father of three had spent the better part of his life working long hours to provide for his family.
Now, after open-heart surgery and a lengthy recovery, his family was eager to see Waltz do something for himself.
Waltz was led out to the garage early one Christmas morning, where the door opened to reveal a 2005 Harley Davidson, a gift from his youngest daughter.
It was his first motorcycle, which did not necessarily guarantee that it would enjoy the distinction of being his last.
The Waltz’s picked up their 2009 Harley a few years later while celebrating their anniversary in North Carolina. This bike would be different from the other three they had recently purchased.
Fred Waltz would have this bike just the way he wanted it — a project.
“He just had this vision. We watched it gradually come together,” Penny Waltz said.
She should have expected nothing less. Fred Waltz is not a man who approaches even the most innocuous of hobbies half-heartedly.
Decades ago, he began collecting Zippo lighters.
Today, that collection occupies several glass display cases positioned carefully throughout their living room, totaling at almost 1,800 lighters — and Fred Waltz doesn’t even smoke.
In other words, the warning signs were there.
Waltz started with stripping the bike down to the wires. Building it back up required help and more than a little improvisation.
“There was no thought of the complete bike,” Waltz said.
Instead, there were little touches that quickly became bigger strokes.
Waltz decided to take the bike’s exterior through a process called physical vapor deposition, which prevents corrosion and doesn’t leave a coating that can be chipped or scraped off.
Penny Waltz said her husband is the first to use the PVD treatment on more than just a few pieces — he just didn’t see the point in doing it on anything less than the full bike.
“That bike wouldn’t look the same if you just did a couple of parts,” Fred Waltz said.
Other enhancements followed. A diamond-cut engine was installed. The handlebars were resized almost a quarter of an inch bigger to hide the wires. Even the gas tank and cap are customized.
The Waltzes are quick to credit all of the people who helped them rebirth the bike.
Zeke’s Place in Belleville helped Fred Waltz assemble the new parts back into something resembling a motorcycle.
Lonnie Thomas, of State College, airbrushed the bike’s namesake onto its surface, a painting by artist Frank Frazetta of a monstrous looking warrior on top of a horse.
“You’ve got good people right here in Centre County,” Penny Waltz said.
The fruit of their labor remains pristine. “The Death Dealer” is fully operational but has never been ridden — that’s not the point.
At each car and motorcycle show they attend, Penny Waltz is usually the one who ends up standing beside the bike, fielding questions from judges or keeping overly friendly passers-by from trying to climb behind the wheel.
She doesn’t mind.
It gives her husband an opportunity to meet and talk with people who share his passion, something that extends beyond whatever they happen to be driving that day.
“It’s not what you ride, it’s the fact that you still ride,” Penny Waltz said.
As for Fred Waltz, his next dream project will finally make use of that 392 Hemi. He’s planning to buy and restore a 1950’s pickup truck.
Maybe he’ll be able to fit it in the garage.