Trouble Shovel

Article By: Chris Callen

Photos By: Sean Bowe

Originally Published In The March 2017 Issue Of Cycle Source Magazine

Johnny Branch is the type of cat that looks for a challenge in life. At 33 years of age he has been running his own fabrication shop in Wildormar California for 15 years. None of his daily duties ever had to do with motorcycles but that all changed when he threw his hat in the ring for the “People’s Champ Contest” put on by Showclass back in 2013. Johnny prefers to keep his motorcycle hobby just that, a hobby, going about the work of high end chassis and performance fabrication for the off-road crowd. His buddy, and well known builder, Rick Bray knew that the skills this cat had would put him above the crowd and provided all the support he could to egg him on. This build started with a rear tire and wheel he bought off of Dale at Mad Jap Kustoms. I’ve heard some pretty far reaches on how a bike came into existence but to hear that an entire build was based off a single wheel, that’s impressive. From there, he had no choice but a skinny front wheel and decided to take an Akront high shoulder rim and grind away all 40 spokes. He proceeded to make it into a 12 spoke wheel that matched the rear, giving it that American Racing kinda look and feel. Branch is a big fan of skinny and racey, knowing that the period correct crowd might not find favor in it meant very little. That’s his style and that’s what he built, a chopper meets drag bike, in his own words. From there, he said, since the wheels were set, he could go about the work of figuring out the rake and trail of the frame. It turns out that he had a jig he had built a while ago off of an old long Paughco frame and that’s where it began. His good friend and machinist, Juan at Krecs, made him some motor and tranny mount plates, turned down the neck for him and Johnny started to stick a frame design together. A big fan of both the wishbone and the gooseneck frame designs, he chose a combination of the two, and it really adds to the old chopper look but makes the handling better at the same time.


It’s hard, he commented, to not only put yourself on a deadline like this but to throw it all on the table and let the whole world judge what you’re doing. When you build a complete bike in five months there are bound to be things that you want to change, but John just kept to a higher standard, taking no short cuts and putting in solid work. All the while, he kept advancing in rounds of the People’s Champ Contest, pushing for excellence in his craft as he went. Not knowing a painter or having any experience in that realm, John decided on a combination of finishes, mixing copper and nickel plating with raw aluminum that was given a ceramic coating to keep it looking fresh. I’ve seen more than my share of guys who try to incorporate copper into their builds and I gotta tell you it results in failure most of the time. Here, the way he pulled it off was a huge success. The tank and fender are made from aluminum first, then properly coated for that finish.

Another good buddy: Mike Dorami of Precision Plating was very instrumental in that department. He turned John on to the ceramic trick and did all the plating work. Although the numbers say it’s a 69 shovel, the internals are all about go fast with a nice mix of S&S and STD components. Branch doesn’t get all caught up in the “what’s right and wrong” aspects of building as far as period correctness goes and instead performance is king. It has to look and run fast to make the cut with him. You can see that about this bike from across the room. To finish off the stance a sleek little springer was perfect but you can’t buy one of these, he built it himself. Rick Bray lent a hand, giving up some plates and direction but from there Johnny took the ball and machined up his own rockers and took it home!


He finished the build just in time for the Born Free Pre-party at Cooks Corner and while JP Rodman took the win in the People’s Champ Contest, John was vindicated later on in the weekend by receiving the “Best Shovelhead” of Born Free. Imagine, all the Shovelheads at Born Free and this cat took the win. With that under his belt he had made plans to do Sturgis with Rick Bray. Rick told him he had to bring the bike for Michael Lichter’s “Naked Truth” show. Despite this being an invitational show that John wasn’t invited to, Rick felt that if Mike saw the bike he’d make a spot for it. When they got to the Buffalo Chip it turned out that Paul Yaffe wasn’t able to make it so there was a spot open. They showed Mike the bike and he was floored, immediately telling them to get it into the show. This is where I come in. I knew a lot of the builders in Mike’s show that year, we even featured a few bikes from that exhibit, it was seriously one of the best he’s done yet. However, of the bikes on display none hit home with me as much as a cat who built a bike and had the balls to just show up and asked to be recognized. Not for nothing, but it’s no slouch either, it got attention that week and rightly so. As soon as I heard the story I told Mike I wanted to feature it. After talking to Johnny and getting the rest of the story, I was all in. Oh yeah, I didn’t mention…. This was his first build. 2014 was a blur for John, looking back at it now, his ol’ lady was pregnant, he had all this going on with the bike, it was happening fast and he was hauling ass. Good to know that there is still some excitement in this for those who put it all on the line, and reward at the end of the day for solid work. Johnny wanted to be sure that he acknowledges the patience and support of his wife Heather and his son Gunnar.Can’t wait to see what he is building for Born Free this year, as he is an invited builder this time. God, can you imagine this cats work by the time he’s on his tenth build?

Trouble Shovel Tech Sheet

Owner: Johnny Branch

City/state: Wildomar, CA

Fabrication By: Johnny Branch

Year: 1969

Model: Shovelhead


Year: 1969

Model: Shovelhead

Builder: Branch Engineering

Ignition: Joe Hunt Magneto

Displacement: 80”

Pistons: S&S

Carb: S&S GAl Dual Bowl

Cam: Andrews

Air Cleaner: Velocity Stack

Exhaust: Branch Engineering

Primary: Pan Clutch Basket Converted

To Single 530 Chain


Year: 1978

Make: Ratchet Top/Andrews Gears

Shifting: Hydraulic Foot Clutch/Suicide



Year: 2016

Year: Goose Neck/Wishbone

Make: Branch Engineering

Rake: 4”

Stretch: 4”

Front end

Year: 2016

Type: Rick Bray Springer

Builder: Branch Engineering

Triple trees: RKB


Front Wheel: Akront Hoop,Modified

Size: 21”

Front tire: Firestone

Front brake: None

Rear Wheel: 12 Spoke Mag

Size: 15”

Rear tire: Good Year

Rear brake: GSXR Front, Tokico

Calipers, Dual Mount


Plater: Precision Plating

Color: Copper & Nickle Plating


Bars: Branch “Useless Skinnies”

Hand Controls: Biltwell Whiskey Throttle

Foot controls: Branch Engineering

Fuel tank: Branch Engineering

Oil tank: Branch Engineering

Front Fender: None

Rear Fender:

Seat: Duane Ballard

Headlight: 40’s Military Guide Lights

Taillight: 60’s Microphone LED

Speedo: None

Photographer: Sean Bowe

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