He ran a Harley-Davidson motorcycle shop in Bakersfield for four decades, but over the years it also became a gathering place where motorcyclists met for coffee, to talk shop, seek advice and share their love of bikes and the feeling and freedom of seeing the country on two wheels.
C.D. "Tex" Thorp, who ran Thorp's Harley-Davidson on 18th Street downtown from the early 1960s until 2003, died Monday after a long illness. He was 83.
"He had that intangible something most people don't have," said Dave Thorp, one of Tex Thorp's two sons.
"You don't make it in that business without having that quality," he said. "You can't be a Harley guy in the '60s and '70s and not be tough."
Born in Klondike, Texas, Thorp learned how to work hard from an early age after his dad died when he was 5. At age 18, he came to Southern California to attend college.
But motorcycles would change his plans.
"He thought he was going to be a history teacher," his wife, Pat, remembered with a chuckle.
At one point, he was in a traffic accident and banged up his motorcycle. He went to the local Harley shop and asked whether they would let him work off the cost of repairs.
He ended up working for the shop — and would remain in the motorcycle business for the rest of his working life.
"He used to joke he got in the motorcycle business by accident," Pat Thorp said. "He did, literally."
In 1959, Thorp began managing San Fernando Harley-Davidson, according to "Historic Kern County: An Illustrated History of Bakersfield and Kern County," by Chris Brewer.
In early 1962, they started a Harley dealership housed in a Quonset hut in Merced. But by January 1964, Tex and Pat were signing papers for the purchase of Ross Wooten's Harley dealership in downtown Bakersfield, which they promptly renamed Thorp's Harley-Davidson.
"We loved Bakersfield," Pat Thorp remembered. "It's been good to us, and we love the people here."
According to Brewer's local history, "The Thorps' son, Dan, began working at the dealership during high school, joining on a full-time basis in 1972, and his wife, Vicki, in 1978."
The business grew, and the Thorps expanded next door. Eventually they had some 16 employees, Pat Thorp recalled.
"And how it changed," she said. "We became a clothing dealer, too," as the popularity of Harley wear exploded.
"Of course, my husband didn't like that part of it, but I did," Pat remembered.
Over the years, Tex Thorp was honored with dealership awards and leadership roles. And in 1990, he was chosen Harley-Davidson's "Dealer of the Year."
Pat Thorp couldn't remember how much money was raised over the years through the company's annual charity, Ride for Life, which was dedicated to the fight against muscular distrophy — but in one year alone more than $50,000 was raised.
When Tex and Pat sold the business in 2003, they finally had the chance to end the 10-hour days and the need to always be there.
"It was always a pleasure to be downtown," Tex Thorp told The Californian after his retirement. "We had hundreds of very loyal customers and friends from all over California."
The Thorps continued to ride, Pat on the back of Tex's hog, and over the years saw huge swaths of the United States from the seat of a road bike. The new owners later moved the dealership to a 30,000-square-foot showroom on 7th Standard Road. It was the end of an era, and the flowering of another generation of motorcycle enthusiasts.
That generation includes Jacob Tex Thorp, now 14 and one of the Thorps' six grandchildren. He races motorcycles and aspires to be a motocross racer, said Dave Thorp, Jacob's dad.
Dave Thorp never caught the motorcycle bug. Instead, he spent many of the past 35 years coaching high school and college football.
Maybe it skipped a generation.
"I didn't get that gene," Dave Thorp said. "But Jacob loves motorcycles just like his grandpa. He can turn a wrench, just like his grandfather."
The wind in his face. The thrill of the ride. It was a lifestyle that Tex Thorp understood and shared with his adoptive town.