There aren’t many businesses in the Harley aftermarket that trace their lineage back to before the 1960s, and even fewer who go back even longer - one such though is Ventura, California based cable and clutch specialist Barnett Tool & Engineering.
Still family owned and operated, the company’s start came with a Huntington Park, California store front opened in 1948 by Charlie Barnett and his wife Afton.
Colleen Barnett-Taylor and her husband Mike Taylor have been keeping the flame alive, and these days Barnett operates out of a 43,000 ft state-of-the-art manufacturing facility that they moved into in nearby Ventura in 1998.
A team of some 50 people still craft market leading, direct fit OE replacement and upgrade control cables and brake lines, clutches and clutch components for Harley-Davidson and pretty much most other applications from dirt bikes and ATV through to street and sport bikes.
|Charlie and Afton Barnett|
The Barnett story is a classic of its kind in the custom motorcycle industry. Several years ago, Mike told AMD about Charlie’s start in the motorcycle business. “Charlie left school after the eighth grade, rode freight trains from Oklahoma to California. When he got to the West Coast, he met Afton in Los Angeles. He was always interested in motorcycles and he and Afton would meet with other young people interested in them at weekends.
“Afton and Charlie were married and after a tour of duty in the Navy, to learn to be a machinist, he began looking for work in machine shops, even though he’d never worked in one. He simply told people he could do the job and learnt it as he went along. When I began working for him, I asked him how he learnt so much. He told me: “If someone else could do it, then I figured I could do it too!”
|Colleen Barnett and Mike Taylor|
At that time clutches and control cables on motorcycles were components which would frequently fail, the quality not being as good as it is today. Charlie realized this, and with access to some machine equipment in the garage of the house he was renting, he began making replacements for his own bike and the bikes of friends.
“The very first part, cable clamp #37, remains in production today. Like so many motorcycle start-up businesses, word spread, and work took off.”
Mike recounts that Charlie’s early years trying to scratch a living in the motorcycle business were tough. “Colleen told me how her Dad would close the business for a family vacation and hit the road with her and her Mom and call on dealers”.
Mike recollects that his own start in the motorcycle business was almost equally as accidental as Charlie’s. “When I first met Colleen, I didn’t know of the business’s existence. I only learnt about it in 1966 when the clutch failed on my 150 cc Honda while I was dating her, and she took me to the shop to get me a replacement.”
Two years later, after marrying Colleen, Mike had joined the business, but he didn’t get any preferential treatment. He started in the shipping department packing orders, and then driving an old El Camino full of parcels to the local post office every evening to dispatch them.
In 1974 Charlie suffered a serious stroke and Colleen and Mike took over the day-to-day running of the business, before taking over ownership in 1993.
Although Mike was a keen rider and knew his way around a motorcycle well enough to do most of his own repairs, when it came to taking over running the business, he hadn’t had much formal machine shop experience before, so went to evening classes at Los Angeles Trade Tech College, to better understand the processes involved in manufacturing custom cables and replacement clutches, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Fast forward to today and Barnett Tool & Engineering sells to some 39 countries through a variety of domestic and international distributors/dealers and offers a product line of some 3,000 part numbers in total. Congratulations to Colleen, Mike, their family and everyone else at Barnett Tool & Engineering that make it one of the market’s original and still leading businesses.