14 March 2018

Volume 1-18



Dateline: Canyon, Texas  14 March 2018

Don Collin's Harley Davidson Replica Motorcycle Featured in TV Series

‘Then Came Bronson’
    

by NOLA HOPKINS

Don Collins still remembers the Wednesday night when he was in sixth grade that he watched the pilot movie for the biker television show “Then Came Bronson.”   Motorcycles have been his life ever since.  His passion for motorcycles and for the TV program caught the attention of a Hollywood director who is producing a documentary on the life of Michael Parks, the actor who played the role of Bronson.  After seeing Collin's Facebook page, the producer called him to ask how the character had impacted his life.  When he responded that he had owned 300 motorcycles, the producer scheduled an interview with him in his shop in Canyon in February.  “I did not think they would show up,” Collins said.  But the producer, director, and cameraman did show up.  At that point, they had interviewed Hollywood stars, but Collins was the first “civilian” interview.

Don admitted to being a bit nervous about the interview but was immediately comfortable with the three.  “My Hollywood ideas were a little unfounded,” he said.  “I was really flattered that they wanted my opinion on anything.”  After the interview, Don took the three to Palo Duro Canyon and out to eat in Canyon.  One question the producer asked was “Did ‘Then Came Bronson’ change people’s attitudes about motorcycle riders?”  Don said it had softened his father’s attitude about bikers.  His father, a survivor of Iwo Jima in World War II, had said his son would never ride motorcycles because his friend, also a survivor of that battle, had bought a motorcycle upon his return to San Francisco and had a fatal wreck before leaving the city limits for his trip home back East.

“I wonder what my dad would think if he knew how involved I got with Bronson,” Don said.  Bronson was a role model for Don when the TV show started in 1970.  “He was somebody you could look up to; he was cool,” Don said. “He was like a cowboy who rode into town.   All the girls fell in love with him, and all the guys were jealous.  What teen-aged boy would not think that was cool?   Every week Bronson would ride into town and find someone in a dilemma and help solve it.  Then he would ride on to a new adventure the next week.  ”The co-star for the week was always a big star.“ I wanted to be like Bronson and be a good guy, not cuss, be a decent human being, ‘Do unto others,’” Collins said.  Has he succeeded? “I think so,” he said. “I am not perfect, but I try to be a good person.”

When he was in seventh grade, he also tried to look like Bronson by wearing his signature wool Navy watch cap and by clenching his jaws for hours to make them like Bronson’s square-cut jaws.  After a visit to the dentist for jaw pain, Don realized he was causing the pain himself with his excessive clenching.  Don owns DVD’s of the movie and all 26 episodes of the one-year series.  He has watched the movie “100 times” but has watched some of the episodes only once or twice because they were so “poorly written,” some by guest writers.  Don said the program addressed social issues that had not been addressed at that time such as depression, autism, homelessness, and addictions.  After leaving Canyon, the crew flew to Dallas to interview Parks’ best friend and to Austin to interview his son.  “I am hoping they have room for me with all the movie stars they interviewed,” Don said.  “I may end up on the cutting room floor.  If I do, that’s OK.”

The documentary, “Long Lonesome Highway: The Story of Michael Parks” will be released next year.  Don bought his first motorcycle, a Honda 100, when he was 15.  His father was already anti-cycle, but to have one made in Japan sitting in his garage was even worse.   So Don found a British-made Triumph and convinced his father it would be better.  However, Triumphs were known to leak oil, and his lived up to the reputation, leaving oil puddles on his father’s garage floor.  When Don came home one day, he discovered that his father had lifted the 500-pound Triumph and thrown it into the dumpster.  It took Don and four of his buddies to haul it out of the dumpster.  After that he parked the Triumph in the garage – on a piece of cardboard.  Don, who will be 62 in April, estimates he has ridden “half a million miles, a wild guess” on his bikes.  His only wreck was when he was on his way to meet the parents of his Canyon High School girlfriend.  He is not sure what happened, but he credits his new full-faced helmet for saving his life.  His new t-shirt was in tatters when he arrived at the parent's home.  He does not think he made a very good first impression.

His wife also was not impressed a few years later when she came home from nurse's training and found that Don was working on his Honda 750 Chopper in the middle of their double-wide trailer’s dining room.  He thought working on the bike inside was reasonable because they had no garage, and it was snowing.  Their marriage ended about a year later.  “I tell people I got rid of the wife and kept the motorcycle,” Don said. Before the Hollywood crew came, he cleaned up his 1,200 foot shop by placing four antique Honda mini-bikes and an antique 1956 Harley in the sun room in his 1,000 sq. foot house.  He considers them “decorative and valuable.” “I put them in the house so when I have company, I can show them to them,” Don said. “Most of my friends are gear heads; they do not think twice about having motorcycles in the house.  Most are married though, so they are not allowed to have motorcycles in the house.”

Retired from Bell Helicopter, Collins spends most of his time in his shop behind his house with his loved ones: his motorcycles and his cats (one is named Harley).  In addition to the inside bikes, he has nine in his shop – all have stories – and others stored elsewhere.   He thinks he currently owns 16 or 17 bikes.   Don has ridden his bikes in most of the western states.   He and a group of seven other Bronson fans meet each year in one of the locations where the series was filmed.   This year, they will head to Las Vegas, NV.   Next year, the bikers will meet in Reno, NV, for the show’s 50th anniversary.  Collins has been invited to Hollywood to a “Fans and Family Premier” before the public showing of the documentary.  Will he attend?

“If I have to sell my last cat, I am going!” He said.


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