April 19, 2014

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Filming the life of a motorcycle legend

AMHERST TWP. — Getting the shot.

BRUCE BISHOP / CHRONICLE  Jack Penton, dressed in period garb from the 1950s, stands with his father, John Penton, who he is portraying in a documentary that is being partially filmed in Lorain County off state Route 113 in Amherst Township on Thursday.

BRUCE BISHOP / CHRONICLE
Jack Penton, dressed in period garb from the 1950s, stands with his father, John Penton, who
he is portraying in a documentary that is being partially filmed in Lorain County off state Route
113 in Amherst Township on Thursday.

That’s the holy grail for moviemakers, the moment when it all comes together for those flawless scenes that will look good on screen.
It was all coming together Thursday afternoon for members of the small Southern California film crew shooting footage for a feature-length documentary about pioneering motorcycle-maker and off-road racer John Penton.
Despite the 90-degree weather, no one was complaining.
Instead, they loved the scenes of Penton’s son, Jack, standing in for his dad, riding a restored, deep-blue 1958 NSU Maxi in and around a small creek in a heavily-wooded area off state Route 113.
“This nails it,” Todd Huffman said.
Huffman is a producer for Pipeline Digital Media, the Fullerton, Calif.-based company making “The John Penton Story” in locations ranging from John Penton’s wooded farmland in Lorain County to Austria and Italy, where the motorcycle legend developed his famed Penton motorcycles and accessories with equally passionate motorcycle enthusiasts and manufacturers.
The scenes filmed Thursday were recreations intended to be seen as audiences listen to various interviews, according to Huffman.
As Huffman gave Jack Penton instructions for a shot of him riding down the creek bed, cinematographer Jimmy Cook positioned a mini-camera on a rock at the edge of the creek just ahead of where Penton was to ride the NSU out of the water and up an embankment.
“I love this stuff,” Cook said.
Cook also loved the tall trees, filtered sunlight and greenery all around him.
“In Southern California you have two hours in the morning and two in the evening to film because the sun is just too much,” Cook said.
The younger Penton wore blue jeans and a jeans jacket, along with a helmet, leather vest and red kerchief that were John Penton’s trademark apparel.
The kerchief hid Jack Penton’s mustache.
“John never had one, but he would have pulled it up for bugs and weather,” Huffman said.
“This is just like what Dad did,” Jack Penton said between takes.
“Enduro was typically 50 to 500-mile races usually run on wooded trails and backwoods roads,” Jack Penton said.
A cylinder secured to the bike’s handlebars contained a detailed timetable that would give 1950s riders distances between designated points, as well as instruct them when and where to make turns.
The NSU Jack Penton rode was found covered in animal droppings in a chicken coop by Jeff Borer, an Amherst man whose father, James, enjoyed off-road riding with John Penton.
Jack Penton wore the elder Borer’s vintage helmet and leather vest for filming.
Jeff Borer bought and restored the now-rare bike, which belonged to John Penton at one time. Penton recognized the machine from photos, Borer said.
With his brothers, John Penton opened an Amherst motorcycle shop in 1950.
Shortly after, Penton began his lifelong love affair with off-road riding, or Enduro, as the sport is formally known.
Penton competed in and eventually won numerous Enduros, including contests in Michigan, Georgia, Florida and Ohio.
In 1958, Penton broke the world speed record when he rode a BMW motorcycle from New York City to Los Angeles in just over 52 hours.
His passion for off-road motorcycling eventually led to the creation of the lightweight, smaller Penton motorcycle inspired by the NSU and built in the 1960s by Austrian manufacturer KTM.
Penton motorcycles wound up revolutionizing the sport, according to Jack Penton.
KTM, one of the world’s largest motorcycle-makers, later acquired the rights to the Penton brand. KTM operates a dealership in Amherst.
John Penton is looking forward to seeing old friends when he and Jack and the film crew head to Austria and Italy in a few weeks.
“In 23 years (of trips to Europe) I never stayed in a hotel,” Penton said. “It was always in the homes of people I knew and worked with. You wouldn’t believe the trust that was involved.”
“It was also an era of real hospitality,” Penton added.
Huffman expects the film to be ready for a limited theatrical release in 2014.
It is already being advertised on the company’s pdmtv.com/productions/ website.

Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or sfogarty@chorniclet.com.

  • Kelly

    b3lieve.tv Great story :)

  • Brian

    I just picked up a 72 six day and would like to get it running and learn a little more about it but I don’t know who to turn to ?