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The Mystery of Tom Pritchard’s Bike

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The Thriller of Tom Pritchard’s Bike

Let’s open this story with my bike, as a result of it is a biking journal and since it is likely to be useful to start with one thing tactile. To name it a motorcycle appears so casual. It’s like calling a ’67 Pontiac GTO a automobile, or Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers a band. This can be a bike, sure, in that it has two wheels and might get you from right here to there. But it surely’s greater than that. And I can’t inform you why simply but, however I promise I’ll get there. In the meantime, check out the bike. It’s completed in metallic black so subdued you need to lean in to see the glint; and in case you do, you’ll discover just a few scratches and dings on the tubing. It’s 44 years previous, in spite of everything, older than me by two years. The body is held collectively by Prugnat long-point lugs. Run your fingers over the hand-brazed butted tubing, the sloping fork crown, the 16.5-inch chainstay. Caress the Avocet Touring I saddle, the Satri-Gallet seatpost, the Cinelli handlebar, and the Campagnolo File calipers

tom pritchard bike

“To name it a motorcycle appears so casual. It’s like calling a ’67 Pontiac GTO a automobile, or Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers a band. This can be a bike, sure, in that it has two wheels and might get you from right here to there. But it surely’s greater than that.”

Zack Wittman

The bike got here to me by dying, however it is a story a couple of life, one life, actually lived.

tom pritchard bike

The creator using close to his residence in Tampa, Florida.

Zack Wittman

What you received’t discover anyplace is a serial quantity or a badge or a sticker, or something flashy suggesting a model. From what I’ve discovered in regards to the builder, that’s correctly. If 330 million Individuals walked previous this bicycle, possibly 10,000 would take a more in-depth look. Possibly a thousand would attempt to steal it. And I’ll wager fewer than 100 would be capable of decide its provenance. That’s all guesswork, in fact, however go together with me: Simply .00003 % of all Individuals might acknowledge the worth of this piece of workmanship.


I like using this bicycle. It rides hungry, sturdy, and easy as a cat, and in case you shut your eyes it feels such as you’re skimming the sting of a dream. If my condominium caught fireplace, I’d make each try and salvage it.

I’ve referred to as it mine, however that’s not precisely correct. I didn’t purchase it. Possibly it belongs to the universe. I really feel prefer it discovered me. And that’s this story. The bike got here to me by dying, however it is a story a couple of life, one life, actually lived.

In late 2008, I acquired an task. I used to be working as a options reporter for the St. Petersburg Instances in Florida, and my editor requested me to profile a neighborhood chef who was the topic of an upcoming charity roast, a fundraiser for disabled veterans. The man’s identify was Tom Pritchard, however everyone referred to as him Chef Tom.

Earlier that 12 months I’d damaged a narrative on a distinct chef, a fabulist named Robert Irvine, who had a Meals Community present referred to as Dinner: Not possible and a brand new cookbook from HarperCollins. He had plans to open a restaurant in St. Petersburg till I reported that his impressive-looking résumé was cooked up: He had not been knighted by the Queen of England, nor did he have a Bachelor of Science diploma from the College of Leeds, nor was he buddies with Prince Charles. Irvine misplaced his TV present and canceled his restaurant plans, and I received an award from the Affiliation of Meals Journalists. I used to be licking my chops on the likelihood to fact-check one other chef.

tom pritchard

A flyer for the charity roast that was the impetus for the creator’s unique story about Tom Pritchard.

Courtesy Ben Montgomery

I learn every thing I might discover about Tom Pritchard within the native newspapers, which amounted to a handful of rave critiques of eating places he had run: the 94th Aero Squadron, the Grill at Feather Sound, and Salt Rock Grill. In line with Instances meals critic Chris Sherman, Salt Rock Grill was the most effective new restaurant within the space: “…thus far above seashore apartment bland I’m tempted to invoke a phrase not often heard in these elements, ‘hip,’” Sherman wrote in 1997. It took just a few cellphone calls to get myself invited to a planning assembly for the roast. Once I arrived, I discovered a crowd hovering round Tom. He was 67 then, and sat slouched in a patio chair, carrying shorts, sandals, and a unclean T-shirt. The breast pocket contained an assortment of ink pens, a small pocket book, and a meat thermometer. The folks round him have been urging him to inform a narrative, like kindergarteners.

Tom’s bushy white-and-au jus beard couldn’t conceal his grin, however he appeared uncomfortable with the eye.

Inform the one about snorting Tabasco sauce, somebody mentioned.

Tom appeared up. “Anybody can drink Tabasco,” he mumbled.

tom pritchard

Tom Pritchard at his St. Petersburg residence in 2010.

James Borchuck

Thus started the Tabasco story. He’d discovered himself in Aspen, Colorado, in a hard-boiled-egg-eating contest in opposition to the 400-pound hard-boiled-egg-eating champion of the world. To win he must cheat, and he wanted one thing that will strip the liner of his mouth and make him salivate. So he caught a straw via a cheese puff right into a bottle of Tabasco sauce and snorted.

“I acquired thus far forward of him,” Tom mentioned, “however by the tip, he nearly caught me as a result of I ran out of scorching sauce.”

The gang round Tom slurped it up.

He had so many tales. He’d tried to smuggle hash into Spain in a measurement 13 cowboy boot field, acquired spooked, and dumped it. After serving in Vietnam, he’d labored as a mercenary on top-secret missions to undisclosed areas. On the Jamaica Inn on Key Biscayne, he personally thanked Richard Nixon for understanding a commerce take care of Mexico that allowed the free move of tequila throughout the border. He as soon as served heavyweight legend Sonny Liston seven kilos of carp.

“Each story he’s instructed me is past convincing,” a monetary advisor named Howard Sachs instructed me again then. “He’s as near Forrest Gump as anyone I’ve ever met.”

I spent the following few days attending to know Tom, pondering the entire time that I used to be going to catch him mendacity.

One in every of Sachs’s favourite issues about Tom, he mentioned, was that he was humble, all the time underdressed in his wrinkled T-shirt and shorts. “If the event requires a reputation tag, it by no means says Tom Pritchard. It all the time says Gorilla Monsoon or Tom the Busboy,” he mentioned.

I spent the following few days attending to know Tom, pondering the entire time that I used to be going to catch him mendacity. He met me at some point exterior his waterfront residence in St. Petersburg. Within the driveway sat his 1981 Jeep, with a stone crab claw cracker mounted on the again and a chrome pitchfork poking out the highest. “That’s not a pitchfork, it’s a dung fork,” Tom mentioned. “One factor about cooks: We’re all filled with shit.”

He instructed me his first job was shucking oysters for the bandleader Man Lombardo on the East Level Home on Lengthy Island within the mid-Fifties. He left for school, acquired drafted into the Military in ’64, after which traveled the world earlier than deciding on the Spanish island of Mallorca. He fell in love with an American heiress whose millionaire father had despatched her abroad on account of her affinity for Johnnie Walker. After just a few mysterious years overseas, Tom moved again to the States and went in with a associate on an organization in Denver referred to as Land and Sky Waterbeds. This was the early Nineteen Seventies, earlier than waterbeds have been large, and the corporate scored an order from Playboy’s Hugh Hefner for 3,000 of them.

tom pritchard

The web page from a Land and Sky firm publication naming Tom worker of the month in September 1971.

Courtesy Ben Montgomery

“I walked into the United Financial institution of Denver and acquired an enormous mortgage with Hugh Hefner’s letter,” Tom instructed me. He wouldn’t say what occurred to the cash, however the deal went bust and he stole the mortgage software and fled to Mexico, the place he lived for some time below the alias Moose Mazaraka.

When the coast was clear, he acquired a job as a cook dinner on the Rusty Pelican in Miami with a pretend résumé and no culinary coaching. However he was studying, all the time, pretend it till you make it. He entered cooking contests below pseudonyms (usually, Milo Wellington—“Milo sounds subtle, Wellington feels like one thing you eat,” he mentioned) and hung on the elbow of famed British wine author Clive Coates at a wine seminar. He instructed me that the key to studying is hanging round people who find themselves smarter than you.

Quickly Tom was employed as government chef for Specialty Eating places Corp., which owned a portfolio of eating places throughout the nation. In 1991, he settled in Tampa Bay and launched his personal place, then partnered with a seafood distributor to open his flagship Salt Rock Grill and 4 different high-end eating places.

Chris Corona

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The fantastic thing about listening to Tom was that he appeared guileless and void of pretension. Somebody as soon as wrote of Charles Bukowski that “he mixed the confessional poet’s promise of intimacy with the larger-than-life aplomb of a pulp fiction hero.” That appeared like Tom. He spoke slowly and he mumbled, like he had a mouthful of marbles. You needed to lean in. He was by no means the hero of his personal tales. He usually stumbled his manner into some form of fascinating scenario. However there have been simply so many tales.

I attempted to poke holes in them—to do my job—however they appeared to carry up. Richard Nixon did spend plenty of time on the Jamaica Inn on Key Biscayne.

“You hear these tales and also you suppose they’ll’t probably be true,” Tom’s longtime associate, Jody, instructed me in 2008, “however then years later I’ll run into someone and discover out that they’re true.”

Brad Dixon, who labored for Tom for years earlier than changing into sommelier of one of many world’s largest wine cellars at Bern’s Steak Home, instructed me what he calls the Affirmation Story. Brad was pouring wine for a buyer named Harvey one evening when Tom walked in. Harvey appeared like he’d seen a ghost.

“He says, ‘Who’s that?’” Brad instructed me. “I say, ‘That’s Chef Tom, he’s a associate right here.’ He says, ‘Tom Mazaraka? Moose?’ I’m pondering, ‘Wait a second. What if Moose stole this man’s cash? Or what if Moose slept along with his spouse?’ These Moose Mazaraka tales have been loopy. So I’m going over to Tom and inform him this man is asking about Moose Mazaraka. Tom says, ‘Oh, shit! That’s Harvey. He was vice chairman of the waterbed firm!’”

I requested Tom for extra proof. He fetched a black-and-white {photograph} of himself in entrance of a villa in Mallorca, leaning on a Ford Thunderbird. He pointed to a shirtless man beside him. “He can confirm every thing,” Tom mentioned.

The man within the photograph was Mike Boren. I tracked Boren down in Terlingua, Texas, on the Mexican border.

tom pritchard

Tom along with his good friend Mike Boren within the late Nineteen Sixties.

Courtesy Ben Montgomery

“I don’t know why the fuck he had you name me,” Boren mentioned, “as a result of I do know the place all of the our bodies are buried.”

Boren confirmed the bit in regards to the American heiress and her $5,000-a-week allowance, the half about being mercenaries, about smuggling hash within the cowboy boot field. He instructed me Tom as soon as cooked Thanksgiving dinner for 300 folks in Mallorca on a whim. “All people thinks [Tom] is stuffed with shit,” Boren instructed me. “He’s not filled with shit in any respect. He’s simply larger than life.”

Most gorgeous in regards to the man’s life was the sheer variety of folks he had helped within the cutthroat meals trade. It appeared like everyone operating a kitchen in Florida had both labored for Tom Pritchard or in some way benefited from his assist. He was Thomas Wolfe’s “big hinge of the world, and a grain of mud; the stone that begins an avalanche, the pebble whose concentric circles widen throughout the seas.”

My story ran in January 2009, headlined Moose and the Delusion. That’s when issues acquired bizarre.

The primary observe arrived just a few months after my story ran, in a weathered envelope from Resort Veracruz in Medellín, Colombia. Inside was a web page ripped from a passport ebook, with a stamp from République de Côte d’Ivoire marked 1969. In black Sharpie, it mentioned:




Then got here one other, just a few months later, in an envelope from “LAND and SKY Actual Water Merchandise, Inc.” on South Broadway in Denver. Inside was a canceled test for $10 dated December 1974, signed by Thomas A. Pritchard. On the again he had written:




tom pritchard

Among the random ephemera Tom would ship to the creator over time.

Zack Wittman

Each few months, Tom would drop me bits of ephemera, every one some affirmation that the tales he instructed have been true.

tom pritchard

Courtesy Ben Montgomery

And so it went. Each few months for the following 5 years, Tom would drop me bits of mysterious ephemera, every one a chunk of the puzzle of his unbelievable life, some nook of affirmation that the tales he instructed have been true. He despatched me a web page from a Land and Sky firm publication, which designated him worker of the month in September ’71: “The good-looking bachelor counts darts, beer consuming and sexual activity amongst his many extracurricular pursuits,” it learn. “Tom can also be a genius, enjoys esoteric catalogues and is a most amusing teller of tales and tales, often regarding memorable exploits of his personal profession.” (Genius? “Tom’s a genius,” Mike Boren instructed me. “An actual, honest-to-god, super-IQ genius.”)

Why had he waited? The story I wrote left open the chance that he was filled with shit, however right here was proof—in dribs and drabs—that he was telling the reality, that he was some nonfiction model of Forrest Gump.

It was round 2012 when he first talked about the bike. I’d been using extra, and he mentioned he’d purchased a motorcycle in Denver within the mid-’70s. Like each Tom story, this one was particular. He mentioned he was attempting to get the eye of a gorgeous younger lady who was a severe bike owner, and he couldn’t simply experience up on a Schwinn Varsity. So he went to a store anticipating to spend a bit cash, however wound up dropping some severe dough on a really good bike. And it labored! He acquired the lady.

He was attempting to get the eye of a girl who was a severe bike owner [and] wound up dropping severe dough on a really good bike.

A couple of weeks later, one other piece of ephemera confirmed up in my mailbox, a observe on a sepia bike store receipt. He’d evidently had his bicycle appraised in 1984, and the appraiser valued it at $1,200—near $3,000 in as we speak’s financial system.

He’d finally misplaced the lady, however he nonetheless had the bike in spite of everything these years.

Over the past years of his life, Tom and I grew to become good buddies. My story about him had been anthologized in a ebook of meals writing referred to as Cornbread Nation, and Tom acquired an actual kick out of that. As soon as, he took a limo from St. Pete to Tampa to take me out to Bern’s Steakhouse, the place we drank wine from our beginning years. He confirmed up randomly at one among my ebook talks in 2014 and acquired 5 copies for me to signal. I referred to as Tom when some big-shot author buddies got here to city—guys like Chris Jones from Esquire, and Parks & Rec co-creator Michael Schur—and he invited us to Salt Rock and handled us like kings. He gave my buddy Wright Thompson a free pour of his Screaming Eagle, a cab that prices as a lot as a automobile.

The nearer I acquired to Tom, the extra tales I heard. Bjorn Brunvand, Tom’s good friend and lawyer, instructed me about assembly Tom for dinner in 2008 at a fish shack on the seashore. When Bjorn arrived, Tom was sitting on the bar beside an previous man, and he launched the 2. Bjorn, who’s from Norway, didn’t acknowledge the person’s identify, however instructed his spouse after dinner that he’d eaten with Tom Pritchard and John Prine. John Prine! she exclaimed. “I had no thought who he was,” Bjorn instructed me.

By early 2015, Parkinson’s was wrecking Tom. One hand shook terribly. He wanted a walker to get round. The final time I spoke to him by cellphone he instructed me he was engaged on a cookie recipe. White chocolate, macadamia nuts, Dr. Pepper.

tom pritchard

Tom at residence in 2009 along with his Golden Retriever, Likelihood.

Cherie Diez/Tampa Bay Instances/ZUMA Press

I quickly discovered that he had elected to have some form of experimental surgical procedure to reverse the results of Parkinson’s, and issues hadn’t gone nicely. I noticed him within the hospital in October 2015. His face was swollen and blood pooled round his eyes, like he’d misplaced a bar combat. He acknowledged me however might solely mumble. A nurse wiped his mouth.

He died the day earlier than Thanksgiving that 12 months, at age 74. Congressman David Jolly learn a tribute on the ground of the U.S. Home of Representatives, calling Tom “bigger than life.”

His funeral, attended by lots of, was unhappy and hilarious. I took notes however stored only one web page. I can’t bear in mind who mentioned it, however that is what I wrote: “Each man’s life ends the identical manner. It is just the main points of how he lived that distinguish one man from one other.”

It occurred to me that my disbelief by no means bothered Tom. He knew his tales would outlive him, and that I’d study the reality.

The funeral was additionally extra proof that Tom was telling the reality. Mike Boren confirmed up from Texas. Harvey from the waterbed firm was there too. Cooks who’d been helped by Tom in methods large and small instructed tales about his kindness and chicanery. It wasn’t the scene on the finish of the film Huge Fish, nevertheless it was shut.

It occurred to me that my disbelief by no means bothered Tom. He knew his tales would outlive him, and that I’d study the reality.

I sought out Jody, his previous associate, and requested about his storied bicycle. I instructed her I’d purchase it if she deliberate to throw it away or promote it at a storage sale. She promised to name.

One other 12 months ticked by earlier than Jody reached out. She’d lastly cleaned out Tom’s storage unit and located the bicycle. It was mine if I wished it, she mentioned. I drove over.

The bike was a cobweb-covered mess. Rotten tires, rusted spokes, damaged chain. I believed possibly I’d hold it on my wall as an artwork piece, to recollect Tom. I knew it meant one thing to him, however I might barely recall the specifics of this one story.

Again residence I dug via my Tom Pritchard stuff, via all of the letters and passport pages he had despatched me over time. I discovered the appraisal scratched on a gross sales receipt from Chainwheel Drive in Clearwater, Florida. “Worth of custom-built Lieper bicycle, all Campagnolo geared up: $1,200.”

tom pritchard

Courtesy Ben Montgomery

Some fast googling schooled me on the extent of respect cyclists have for previous Campagnolo elements. However what sort of bike was it? I requested round about Lieper bicycles. I scoured the Web, digital newspaper archives and impassioned bike boards. I turned up nothing in any respect about Lieper (or any related spelling) bicycles. Possibly Tom or the appraiser was simply confused. Possibly that referred to one thing else altogether. I studied the body however couldn’t discover a serial quantity or marking of any form. I seen lettering beneath the paint on the dropouts, nevertheless it mentioned Campagnolo too. The one doable identifier I might discover was a steel bike license plate mounted to the saddle with a twist of wire.

5826 D.B.T. 1976

tom pritchard bike

Courtesy Ben Montgomery

I phoned the Denver police, however they didn’t have information that far again. I took the bike to a good friend who owns a store referred to as Vélo Champ in Tampa and instructed him the story. “You’ve undoubtedly acquired one thing particular right here,” he mentioned. He posted images on Instagram to see if anybody acknowledged the craftsmanship.

I referred to as Tom’s previous good friend Mike Boren to ask him if he remembered the bike. He’s 77 and nonetheless lives in West Texas.

“I don’t bear in mind the girlfriend half,” he instructed me. “I simply bear in mind Tom being actually happy with getting this bicycle that was out of this world.”

tom pritchard bike campagnolo

Ben Montgomery

tom pritchard bike campagnolo

Ben Montgomery

tom pritchard bike campagnolo

Ben Montgomery

tom pritchard bike campagnolo

Ben Montgomery

I began cleansing it up, sharpening elements. On a whim, I googled “oldest bicycle store in Denver,” and turned up Turin Bicycles. On the map it was a mile from the previous Land and Sky headquarters. Who is aware of? I’ve made crazier cellphone calls.

The person who answered appeared like he had just a few years on him. He was Alan Tremendous, and he’d opened the store in 1971. I mentioned I used to be attempting to determine the historical past of an previous bicycle left behind by my pricey good friend. I began to inform Tom’s story about shopping for the bike and utilizing it to win the love of a gorgeous lady.

“How are you aware it got here out of Denver?” Tremendous requested.

“The man it belonged to instructed me,” I mentioned.

“What man did it belong to?” he requested.

I nearly mentioned Moose Mazaraka.

“Tom Pritchard.”

He didn’t miss a beat.

“I do know Tom,” he mentioned.

In fact he did. Forty-one years had handed, however no person forgets Tom Pritchard. What’s 4 a long time however a blink for a transcendent story? We bear in mind Gilgamesh, and Odysseus, and Jesus Christ.

He was telling tales from the grave now. I might see Tom, youthful, strolling into Turin Bicycles so filled with audacity.

“And I do know the lady he was after,” Alan Tremendous instructed me. “She was my girlfriend.”

I laughed and nearly cried, and seen that my arms have been coated in goosebumps. He was telling tales from the grave now. I might see Tom, youthful, his hair a multitude, strolling into Turin Bicycles so filled with audacity, realizing he was about to purchase a motorcycle from a person so as to get the identical man’s lady.

I emailed Tremendous a hyperlink to Tom’s obituary and a few images of the body, simply to make certain.

tom pritchard

This system for the celebration of Tom Pritchard’s life.

Courtesy Ben Montgomery

“The bike is certainly an Eisentraut ‘Restricted’ produced completely for the Turin Bicycle Co-op,” Tremendous wrote after wanting on the images I despatched, “and offered to Tom at our retailer right here in Denver.”

(By the point I attempted to get extra element on what Tremendous thought of Tom chasing his lady, he had offered the store in Denver after practically 5 a long time in enterprise and retired. I couldn’t observe him down. It was yet one more free finish within the enigmatic lifetime of Tom Pritchard.)

Bicycle Information put Albert Eisentraut on its cowl in 1987 and referred to as him the “keeper of the flame.” The biking author Owen Mulholland wrote that Eisentraut had constructed greater than 2,500 frames because the late Fifties and had taught a technology of American framebuilders their commerce. “To the temple… got here everyone who was anyone and [many] returned residence with an Albert Eisentraut jewel in hand,” he wrote. “John Howard, Mike Neel, Flip Waldteufel, Lindsay Crawford—these have been a number of the extra prestigious names mounted on ‘Trauts’ in that period.”

Eisentraut skilled Bruce Gordon, Joe Breeze, Skip Hujsak, and Mark Nobilette, amongst others. However even when Eisentraut was the “midwife-become-godfather to the renaissance in American framebuilding,” as Mulholland wrote, he would by no means be broadly recognized.

In his overview of Eisentraut’s “Restricted” highway bike on this journal in April 1976, author Wallace Clements famous that the “glorious” bike was “sparsely adorned with nameplates and decals: no nameplate in any respect within the traditional place on the entrance of the top tube.” He went on: “This was one of many least labeled bicycles I’ve seen—a refreshing change.”

That was Eisentraut’s manner, and why Tom’s bike was an enigma for thus lengthy.

“Bicycles aren’t constructed for use as standing symbols,” Eisentraut himself wrote in a chapter on framebuilding for a ebook referred to as Bike Tripping, revealed in 1972. “The bike owner ought to experience his chosen bike, as an alternative of bullshitting about its angles or its chain keep size.”

Tom would approve. Even when he was well-known, cooking for charity capabilities, his nametag all the time mentioned one thing like “Tom the Busboy.”

That’s what I like most about his bike. And after I experience it round Tampa, I consider him. I can see large Tom in Denver, pumping exhausting, attempting to catch as much as a girl and hoping she notices his bicycle that’s unadorned but superb, with out pomp however of supreme high quality, understated however for the story it tells, an ideal match for the person within the saddle.

tom pritchard bike

Zack Wittman


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