Does anyone remember Larson (Larsen?) Leathers in Southwestern VA

Discussion in 'Southeast, The Lair of the Dragon - The Blue Ridge' started by pilo, Jan 24, 2011.

  1. pilo

    pilo Rhymes with below

    Joined:
    Feb 13, 2005
    Oddometer:
    1,043
    Location:
    SLC, UT
    In the early 90's I was in school at VA Tech and my buddies and I made more than one trip to Larson's mostly for entertainment but we bought a few things as well (at least I did). The leather shop was in his house and his house was also located on his Christmas tree farm.

    As you drove to the house on the long driveway I remember multiple signs with odd ball sayings on them.

    Does anyone remember some of the things written on the signs? I'm writing a book and Larson's is one of the chapters, but for the life of me I can't remember any of the specific sayings. Any help in recollection would be appreciated.

    A few years ago I heard that he had died and I wondered what ever happened to that place. It certainly was an experience going there.
    #1
  2. tastroman

    tastroman Long timer

    Joined:
    May 9, 2009
    Oddometer:
    2,150
    Location:
    Collinsville Va
    I can't remember any of the sayings on the wall but I'm still wearing the leather jacket I bought there in 91.

    Unique guy. Unique place. Leather shop/tree farm.
    #2
  3. nxdirtbag

    nxdirtbag Commuter Adventurer

    Joined:
    Oct 13, 2006
    Oddometer:
    207
    Location:
    Smithfield, VA
    Pilo,

    I was just checking news on the Southwest forum and saw your post. Larsen Leathers - that's a name I haven't heard in awhile. I don't remember the sayings, but I can check with Pat. I think he took me there one of the times. I will look for some ads around here too. Seems like he had an ad in the trading post. Maybe someone is still selling trees and/or leather there. If I can find directions, maybe the signs are still there.

    NX
    #3
  4. Gimmeslack

    Gimmeslack furthur

    Joined:
    Oct 2, 2007
    Oddometer:
    2,542
    Location:
    Shenandoah Valley
    Sure... stopped by there a couple of times. Bought an old flat-tracker's Bates leather suit. Wish I still had it. Farm was on the way to my ex-in-laws (Hiwasee mailing address). Haven't been back there in ages, but I did inquire a few years back and heard it was long gone. Not confirmed...

    He had a LOT of leather goods, including good selection of used stuff. Great fun...
    #4
  5. Wanderer13

    Wanderer13 2009 Trail #81 Champion

    Joined:
    Dec 12, 2007
    Oddometer:
    340
    Location:
    Matthews, NC
    I too graduated from VA Tech back in 1992. Bought a leather jacket from this guy in either 1989 or 1990 to ride my first street bike, a Kawasaki EX500. I remember it being a very peculiar place. Is he still in business?
    #5
  6. Greenflyfarmer

    Greenflyfarmer I'm better now.

    Joined:
    May 9, 2007
    Oddometer:
    1,862
    Location:
    Hungry Mother, Virginia
    Yeah I rode into Larsen Leathers once back in 82 I think. I saw the ad somewhere like in Cycle News East. Pulled into a christmas tree farm up to an unusual house. Door was open. I walked in, looked at the leathers. Called out for the owner. Looked around some more. Finally I left. Never did see anyone. Yeah I remember the signs but...
    #6
  7. pilo

    pilo Rhymes with below

    Joined:
    Feb 13, 2005
    Oddometer:
    1,043
    Location:
    SLC, UT
    It was definitely a place out of the movies. My wife still has a couple of used jackets I bought from that place. It was a two for one sale or something if I remember.

    On a similar note for the early 90's VA Tech'ers. There was a guy outside of town named "Ollie' who had a machine shop in his house and a bunch of weird motorcycle and bicycle creations. He had an MX bike with a single sided swingarm front suspension. He welded up a couple of things for me and always reeked of pot. Everytime we were there he asked us to go riding with him and every time we turned him down. The rumor was that he was blazing fast but would get way ahead of everyone and turn around and come back down the trail full speed and cause a head-on. Urban legend and all that...

    Curious if anyone else remembers Ollie. I know NXDirtbag will.
    #7
  8. norton73

    norton73 drinkin'

    Joined:
    Dec 20, 2003
    Oddometer:
    9,720
    Location:
    Beautiful Downtown Springville, Alabama
    ahhh yes...the fine Good Reverend Ollie. I met him when Holiday Ford had a Suzuki M/C dealership and I was wrenching there many years ago. I could tell some stories, but children might read this forum :evil

    He built the first super motard before the term existed. If my alcohol and drug addled memory serves me right, it was a Suzuki enduro with a RM370 topend, lights, RD350 yamaha disc brake front end, road racing tires. This would have been "77 or so.

    He was SE enduro champ for many years, great wrench, even better machinist.

    I remember Larson's leathers, I wrenched on some of his bikes for leather trades, main one I remember was a Suzuki GS850.

    BTW, another inmate, tootallbob(?) lives in C'burg and was around then. He should have a better memory than me :bmwrider
    #8
  9. nxdirtbag

    nxdirtbag Commuter Adventurer

    Joined:
    Oct 13, 2006
    Oddometer:
    207
    Location:
    Smithfield, VA
    Ah yes, I remember Ollie. He had the xr200 motor fit to the cr125 frame and had the single sided front suspension. I was at a motocross race in Wythville one time when he raced in the 90's with this bike. By looking at it, you wouldn't think he would make one lap around the track, but he was crazy fast on it and the bike handled "for him" amazing. He also claimed you could ride from Blacksburg to the New River all off-road, on trails. I was scared to go riding with him based on the urban myth already mentioned, but I really wanted him to show me those trails. Most of it is probably gated and private now.

    He also built that bicycle that simulated walking. That was a crazy looking thing.

    Pilo, I found a link that showed Bill Larsen passed away:
    "Mention Bill Larsen’s name and
    people recall a Christmas tree farm like no other with its
    witty Burma Shave signs and leather motorcycle gear
    for sale.
    Bill Larsen’s passion was land and wildlife
    conservation. When he died of cancer in 2001, his
    57-acre farm and other assets went into a trust to be
    managed by his friends who had worked for him
    trimming his trees and caring for his land."

    NX


    #9
  10. nxdirtbag

    nxdirtbag Commuter Adventurer

    Joined:
    Oct 13, 2006
    Oddometer:
    207
    Location:
    Smithfield, VA
    I hate to keep posting stuff like this, but I found this on the web...

    "Oliver Hoyt McKagen, III, 59, of Blacksburg, died Wednesday, April 28, 2004"
    http://obituaries.roanoke.com/obits/obtd?cat=2&seq_num=33&pg=4&id=15132
    Hoyt had been battling cancer for some months. He never mentioned to me that he was having any health problems at all. He regularly
    monitored RMD and helped me a lot with getting my vintage Maico's suspension in tip top shape.
    Cards [were] sent to Best Motorcycle Repair, 3676 Old Creek Rd., Blacksburg, Virginia 24060
    #10
  11. tallbob

    tallbob Been here awhile

    Joined:
    May 23, 2005
    Oddometer:
    675
    Location:
    Butt Mt. VA
    I remember Ollie. He was definately a good dirt rider and quite the character. Rode with him a couple of times in the woods around the Hiawasee paint mines. He had a reputation for being a little wreckless and some people didn't like to ride with him but he was a good guy. He rode a Honda XR200 with an Ollie special single shock front end, worked very well for him.

    Went to his house a few times and he had all sorts projects in his shop. I remember an XR200 engine with a rotary valve head he had on the bench, don't know if it ever ran.

    Larson's Leathers was unique for sure. I still have a jacket I got there. After he died they sold off the remaining stock. My wife and I went and bought a jacket for her and looked all around the house. There were jackets and boots in all the rooms and closets everywhere in the house.

    One of my wife's co-workers from the post office lived in the house with his wife and kids after Larson's death.
    #11
  12. RamJet Falcon

    RamJet Falcon n00b

    Joined:
    Apr 24, 2011
    Oddometer:
    1
    I remember Bill Larsen. I went to Radford back in the early 80's and used to ride an old Triumph Bonnie back then. Bill ran that combo x-mas tree leather store out of his funky octagonal house on top of the hill on his farm there in Floyd County. He was a heck of a nice guy. Used to stop in there every now and then if I was riding that way. I don't remember any of the sayings on those signs going in to his place. I got a couple really cool fringed biker jackets for myself and my first wife (then girlfriend). I still have mine (jacket not the wife), and a pair of old engineer boots I got from him via the mail after moving away. He was a really nice and interesting old guy. Heard he passed away in 2001 from cancer.
    #12
  13. Gimmeslack

    Gimmeslack furthur

    Joined:
    Oct 2, 2007
    Oddometer:
    2,542
    Location:
    Shenandoah Valley
    Hoyt is how I knew him, through caving circles, in which he was very active - and often controversial. We did a big cave trip with him once and he was a maniac - very fast moving through difficult, challenging terrain. Interesting character. I questioned his impressive level of physical fitness at one point, and he explained that he also rode mx. That definately explained it :deal
    :lol3

    I was sorry to hear he had died a couple of years later. IIRC he had not too long ago married a Russian woman, and was very happy. :freaky

    #13
  14. pilo

    pilo Rhymes with below

    Joined:
    Feb 13, 2005
    Oddometer:
    1,043
    Location:
    SLC, UT
    Both of those guys were extreme characters for sure. Perfect for a book, hmmm.

    Thanks for the further insight guys.
    #14
  15. Rocking-M

    Rocking-M DuckCowboy

    Joined:
    Oct 11, 2007
    Oddometer:
    236
    Location:
    Blue Ridge Mountains Virginia
    just checking in to say we were talking about Larsen's not to long ago.
    World needs more characters.
    #15
  16. thehawk90

    thehawk90 n00b

    Joined:
    May 6, 2014
    Oddometer:
    2
    Pilo,

    Not a fellow rider here, but Bill was my Uncle. I don't know if you are still working on that book, but if you want, I could provide you with the information you need. None of my other Aunt's or Uncle's were quite like him, as you all have pointed out; Bill was unique in his own way, and it's great to see him remembered here.

    Let me know if you'd like to hear more; I'm sure some of my other relatives would be happy to give you the details you need for your book.

    Here's a video tribute done for Bill at the time of his death; as he chose to forego the typical funeral arrangements, this served as a type of closure for his family members at a reunion. Includes several photos of signs leading up to his house and store.
    http://youtu.be/QSFVmbsZ6RI

    Again, let me know if you would like to know more; I'd be happy to PM you any time.

    -TheHawk90
    #16
  17. DCrider

    DCrider Live from THE Hill

    Joined:
    May 7, 2008
    Oddometer:
    5,339
    Location:
    Washington, DC
    Awesome video Hawk90 thanks for posting. I never met your uncle but knew of his leather shop when I too went ot VT in the '80s. And yes the world needs more characters like him, RIP.
    #17
  18. pilo

    pilo Rhymes with below

    Joined:
    Feb 13, 2005
    Oddometer:
    1,043
    Location:
    SLC, UT
    TheHawk90,

    THANK YOU.

    That was a great video and brought back so many memories.The book as been published for a few years now, and there is a chapter with a true story about one of our visits to Larsen Leathers. The signs as I remembered them and documented them in the book truly pale in comparison to the actual signs from the video. I may need to make a new version to stay closer to reality.

    Send me your email in a PM and when I get home (traveling at the moment) I'll send you a PDF of the chapter (or the whole book if you have any interest) that you can have and share with your family.

    You can read more about the book here if interested.

    Thanks for taking the time to reach out and share the link. It was a wonderful way to start the day.

    The world needs people like Bill Larsen...

    -Phil
    #18
  19. thehawk90

    thehawk90 n00b

    Joined:
    May 6, 2014
    Oddometer:
    2
    Phil,

    I'm glad that this meant so much to you. It's nice to know that Bill is still alive in the memory of so many riders. I would love to see your book and am sure my family members would all enjoy reading a story about Larsen Leathers. Something we will no doubt treasure.
    I searched the internet for his store on a whim and was delighted to see this and can't wait to show all of my relatives. I think it's safe to say that we could all take a lesson from his life, that is to enjoy what you do and become fully involved in it.

    I look forward to hearing from you. Email in a PM.

    -Eric
    #19
  20. pilo

    pilo Rhymes with below

    Joined:
    Feb 13, 2005
    Oddometer:
    1,043
    Location:
    SLC, UT
    I figured I'd just paste the chapters here in case someone comes across this thread and wants to see what came of it. My memory of the signs might have been off, but after watching the video Hawk posted above, my memory of the place seemed to be spot on. I hope someone out there enjoys this story.

    By the way, 'Rich' is ADV'r Whatever Dood and 'Ian' is ADV'r 9.8 - This is Circa 1992. This story described a single visit, though we went back to browse the leather goods and have an excuse for a spring ride many times. I apologize the formatting did not come through well.

    -Phil


    <style type="text/css">P { text-indent: 0.3in; margin-bottom: 0.08in; direction: ltr; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); line-height: 150%; widows: 2; orphans: 2; }P.western { font-family: "Times New Roman",serif; font-size: 12pt; }P.cjk { font-family: "Times New Roman",serif; font-size: 12pt; }P.ctl { font-family: "Times New Roman",serif; font-size: 12pt; }</style> Chapter 15
    With our school located near the Blue Ridge Parkway, there were many times on a lazy afternoon that we went out for a ride toward the south just to soak in the sun and zip past the trees. Southwestern Virginia has rolling roads that go in almost every direction. The spider web of pavement results in a never ending roller coaster of enjoyment heading in almost any direction.
    Our radius of exploration equaled about 50 miles from Blacksburg. That was enough distance to gas up, get lost, have some food somewhere, and make it back to the apartment in three-to-four hours. One day early in our exploratory careers, we were told about a place called Larsen Leathers which was described, far too accurately it turns out, as one of the strangest places you could visit. We were told that it was sort of a Christmas tree and leather store, all rolled into one. The recommendations of strangeness were more than enough to point us off in that direction for one of our afternoons tours.
    This particular day, Chris and I were riding with two other close friends, Ian and Rich. We pointed our bikes south and cruised, Hell’s Angles formation-style, to our destination, said to be about 20 miles south past Christiansburg.
    Ian took the lead since he was the one who had heard about the mystery store and we soon found ourselves motoring happily along the back roads of Virginia. The southern sun was filtered through the trees, making a strobe of light dance through the face shield of my helmet.
    After a couple of wrong turns and resultant dead ended southern roads, we happened upon a small two-lane road that shared the same name as the one given to Ian that housed the store.
    “You sure this is the right road?” I asked as we stopped, drag race style, side-by-side at a stop light.
    “That’s the road name I was told,” Ian said. “Let’s head down here for a bit and check it out. Nothing for us to lose.”
    “Except ending up like Deliverance way out here in the Virginia back country,” I answered back.
    We headed off down the road with Ian in the lead and it was not more than a couple of miles before we spotted a small, hand painted sign that said, “Larsen Leathers 1.2 miles.” An arrow pointed up a small dirt road that fed from the main road.
    Ian turned onto the dirt road and, within just a few hundred yards, the road climbed steeply up the hill. We diligently followed the road in a train, each one of us generating a slight cloud of dust that crescendoed as each motorcycle moved onward. Behind us lay a plume of dust large enough to encase any but the largest suburban utility vehicle.
    The road soon broke away from the old growth oak trees and abruptly changed to a sea of small pine trees. Indeed we had just crossed into the land of the Christmas tree farmer. Not two hundred feet into the never-ending rolling carpet of green, a hand-painted sign announced itself. I had to be careful to read the sign and navigate the dirt road at the same time.
    “Make peace not war”
    What?
    The bold, black, hand-painted letters on at a painted wooden background sure made a statement, though I was not sure what that had to do with trees and leather.
    As the road bent, another sign made a comment about the sky.
    Soon the signs were coming at us like machine gun fire. We were taking a pounding from both sides of the road. As the intensity of the messages increased, I gripped the handlebars tighter to maintain my concentration and composure. The messages became stronger and stranger. There were political rants, trespassing threats, and a few oddly placed comments on Christmas and Christmas trees. It was like a Burma Shave ad campaign gone sinister.
    We passed the edge of the green sea and into a small wall of hardwood trees. The signs continued in to the narrow forest and more signs led us out into another sea of Christmas trees, though this field was noticeably older growth and perhaps only a season or two away from their delivery into a loving family’s living room.
    Then, the road curved and, as suddenly as the signs began, they ended in a clearing near the top of the mountain. Several acres of cleared land held a grass parking area and a house. There was no sign, no store. It appeared like a working farm house although equipment parts and motorcycles in various states of disrepair were strewn throughout the area. The front doors to the house were open and, as we parked our bikes, we saw a few people exiting the house, one of them with a leather jacket under his arm.
    “I heard something weird, like the store is in his house,” said Ian. “I don't see a store, so maybe that’s a true statement.”
    We silenced our bikes and doffed our helmets. Gripping our helmets by the chin guards we clamored boldly up the front steps and through the door. The entry of the house had the unmistakable scent of leather, grease, sweat and more and more and more leather. As the last of us broke through the entry doorway, a slender figure stepped out from the adjoining room and took two squeaky steps to arrive in front of the group.

    Chapter 16
    “You boys been here before?” said the thin man with the week-old beard and the Marlboro voice.
    “Nope, this is our first time.”
    “It’s pretty simple,” said the scruffy face. “New stuff is in that room over there,” he pointed down a short flight of stairs. “The rest of the house is organized by style, size and sex. Take a look around and let me know if you need anything.”
    “Are you Mr. Larsen?” asked Chris. Chris was always one for politeness and charm.
    “That’s me,” answered the thin man with the analyzing eyes.
    “Great, nice to meet you,” replied Chris.
    And with that exchange we all began our exploration of Larsen Leathers.
    The journey through Larsen’s lair was borderline fantastical. The Larsen store was not located in his house but rather the store was his house. In every room of the moderately sized, sprawling and confusing place there were more and more leather items. The wares were mostly jackets but also pants, belts, chaps, boots and even stray strange harnesses and bondage setups. The closets were all brimming with goods and more was laid out on each of the beds. It was an odd institution, like someone took a fully furnished place and decided to bring in thousands of leather items and add them to the décor.
    Most of the leather items were used, with various degrees of life remaining. Like outside in Christmas tree land, there were signs tagged all over the house and, by deciphering which signs were part of the business and which ones were just lunatic ramblings, we discovered that part of Larsen’s business was comprised of taking in used goods in partial exchange for purchases. It was kind of like a thrift shop for bikers. Rumor had it that he would even take motorcycle parts as payment.
    While the place was indeed strange, in some odd way it worked. Every morning Larsen likely made himself some breakfast and moved a few leather vests out of the way so he could sit at his kitchen table. He probably tidied up his kitchen and the rest of the house and, by nine each morning, he opened the doors of his house to the world. It was odd, magical and beautiful at the same time with the experience triple enhanced by the overwhelmingly stale scent of leather that hung in every corner of the house.
    Before even having a glimpse of the store, Chris knew he was on a mission that day. Earlier we had talked about him finding a pair of pants to match his recently purchased leather jacket. The jacket was a European rather than an American style and, as such, tasseled pants or crotchless chaps really were not the look or the function for which he was searching. He merely wanted a nice looking, functional pair of leather motorcycle pants.
    Chris wandered from room-to-room looking over Larsen’s wares. As I also meandered through the house, I came across him more than once trying on both new and used pants. Occasionally he was having trouble with the fit, but mostly he was struggling, trying to find something that fit the specific style he wanted. However, with literally thousands of items in the house, his search was going to take some time.
    As he tried on brown pants, tight pants, pants tied off with leather thongs, pants with big buckles and pants with zippers, I continued to bump into him and occasionally was able to provide my input and comments. I tried to be mostly honest when I stumbled into him in a new ridiculous pair of pants, but Chris’ self-awareness is pretty high and, for the most part, none of my comments were a surprise to him. As anyone who has ever tried to find the perfect pair of leather motorcycle pants has likely found out, it is not typically an easy process. More than once during the process I felt like the “Old Hat, New Hat” book of my youth where I might be saying: “Too bumpy, too leathery, too tighty, too loosey.”
    After one particularly dreadful pair of brown pants Chris pulled out of the closet with crisscross leather thongs reaching down both legs, I broke away on my own and explored a room with new leather boots and new biker jackets in a rainbow of color choices. I paraded a bit in front of one of the mirrors on the wall of the bedroom, taking in my tough-guy look in a purple biker jacket.
    “Hey guys, check these out,” I heard coming muffled from somewhere outside of the room.
    I took off the Prince jacket and strolled down the stairs into what looked like the living room. Just like the juxtaposition in the rest of the house, the living room contained a TV, a few chairs, a couch, bookcases and leather goods hung and lying all around the room. End tables, walls, corners of the room on the floor were all covered with various types and sizes of leather goods.
    Chris was standing in front of the couch wearing a dark brown, padded, slightly snug but not tight, well-styled pair of used leather motorcycle pants.
    “These are the pants,” he said excitedly. “They are exactly my size, made by the same company that made my jacket and they are only lightly used so they are broken in just perfectly.”
    He was squatting up and down, like a woman trying on jeans, testing the crotch tightness of the pair of lederhosen.
    “I can’t believe it,” he continued. “After spending an hour digging through this house up and down I found the perfect pair of pants and they were practically waiting for me here in the living room.”
    “I admit,” I said. “Those are some pretty nice pants and they fit well, too. It looks like they are padded on the knees and butt as well.”
    “They are,” he said. “But they don’t bunch or grab anywhere with my knees bent or straight. These are amazing. The price isn’t marked on them though, but I’ve seen other stuff around here with hard-to-find prices. Maybe I’m just not looking in the right place.”
    Chris had unbuttoned the waist and was busy looking around the inside of the top of the pants when Mr. Larsen walked into the room. Chris heard him enter and popped his head up to ask him a question.
    “These are fantastic pants but I can’t find the price on them. How much are they?”
    Larsen looked at Chris and tilted his head to the one side, as if he were deciding not what to say, but how to say it.
    “Those are my pants,” replied the monotone Larsen. “My ride this morning took longer than I expected so when I got home, I just plucked off my pants and put them on the couch. I was in a rush to open and I must have forgotten about them.”
    Chris was never the type to be embarrassed, and this situation was no different. He unzipped the pants and dropped them down past his boxers.
    “Well, you have great taste in riding gear. I apologize for putting on your clothes.”
    “No way you could have known,” remarked Larsen with an unmistakable twinkle in his eye and a smile in the corner of his mouth. “They look no different than any other pair of pants in this house. If I didn't love 'em so much, I'd give you a price for them, but it'd be more than buying them new!”
    We all laughed and enjoyed the irony of the moment. A few minutes later, we collected by the front door for the trip down the steps and out to our bikes.
    “Wouldn’t you know it?” Chris said with a bit of exasperation in his voice. “I sort through an entire house of leather pants and the one pair I find to be perfect are practically warm from their owner just taking them off.”
    We laughed again and stepped down the porch stairs out into the sunshine. On the short walk back to the bikes I half expected to see a sign:
    “Try on anything you want except for the owner’s pants.”
    #20