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Philip Cooper chats with Harley-Davidson owners visiting his business, Cooper Custom Choppers. Philip, 36, took over the business from his father, Fred, 11 years ago. Fred started the business in 1985 after his car racing career ended.

A Harley-Davidson family

story by Jinhwan Hong

Philip Cooper, 36, has loved Harley-Davidson motorcycles since he was a child.

The sound of a rebuilt Harley-Davidson engine, the heart of the machine, "sound’s like nothing else on earth. It makes my heart beat," Philip says.

His business, Cooper Custom Choppers, is a place where Harley-Davidson motorcycles are reborn. It is well known to Harley fans. While the shop has only a Facebook page and doesn't advertise, many bike owners find this place on the outskirts of Morehead. The shop is famous enough that someone from Germany asked the shop to repair his bike.

Philip's father, Fred, 67, founded Cooper Custom Choppers in 1985 after giving up his career as a race car driver.

Following in his father's footsteps, Philip has been operating the shop for 11 years. He describes his father as a great teacher and patron.

Philip, a large man with a tough voice, applies lessons learned from his father and his own experience daily. This day he has been working on bikes since early morning, his hands stained with oil. He is cleaning the engine of an old bike, a difficult job requiring disassembly, repair and reassembly. But he handles the job expertly and moves on to the next, working without a break in order to finish fixing the five motorcycles due by the end of this week.

"When I was a kid, I saw my father fixing the motorcycle in the garage. How amazing it was. He looked really cool,” Philip says.

"Even if I didn’t make big money, I’m happy doing this job," Fred says. He is very proud of his son, who is doing well in the work he inherited.

"In 2006 my son said he wanted to go college," Fred recalls. "At that time, I would have had to sell my motorcycle to pay the tuition fee.”

But Philip told him, “I can pay my own tuition. Give me a motorcycle as a gift after graduation.”

Philip loves his work at the shop, but it isn’t easy for him. To make ends meet, he works several nights a week at a water treatment plant. After his shift, he goes home in early morning and starts his real job — customizing and repairing motorcycles. Despite the difficulties, Philip doesn’t complain.

"I have no worries because my father is always standing behind me," he says with a smile.


While Philip now runs Cooper Custom Choppers, Fred is often around to share his expertise with his son.


Philip visits with a fellow Harley-Davidson enthusiast outside the shop.


Philip and his father, Fred, discuss the proper exhaust system for a motorcycle they're rebuilding. Philip says his father always has his back.


Fred watches as Philip makes a repair. Philip says his father is a great coach and a strong supporter.


Helping out at the shop, Fred works on a tire. After a career as a race car driver, Fred opened Cooper Custom Choppers on the outskirts of Morehead in 1985.


With help from his father, Philip loads a motorcycle on a trailer.


Away from his business, Philip cuts firewood in the yard of his home.


Philip rests at home. After working all day at the motorcycle shop, he works nights at a water treatment plant.


Philip Cooper, 36, rides his favorite Harley-Davidson motorcycle along a Rowan County road at dusk. For him, riding his chopper is "wind therapy."


Nightfall reveals the custom lillumination on Philip's favorite Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

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