July 1, 2016

Partly sunny

2-hour documentary nearly finished on Amherst motorcycle legend John Penton

Jack Penton, left, with his father, John Penton, both of Amherst, sit on a Six-Day-125cc Penton 1972 motorcyle in January 2013. John Penton built Penton Motorcycles from 1968 to 1978. CHRONICLE FILE

Jack Penton, left, with his father, John Penton, both of Amherst, sit on a Six-Day-125cc Penton 1972 motorcyle in January 2013. John Penton built Penton Motorcycles from 1968 to 1978. CHRONICLE FILE

AMHERST — It’s been more than a year since the cameras started rolling on “The John Penton Story,” a documentary detailing the life of Amherst native and motorcycle legend John Penton.

Filmmakers are back in Amherst this weekend, getting a last few finishing shots for the film before its world premiere next month.

Producers interviewed more than 100 people for the film, including Penton family members — many of whom also became award-winning motorcycle champions — and others in the industry.

Penton was a world-class champion of off-road and endurance racing in North America and Europe and created the Penton brand of motorcycle, which had a tremendous effect on the sport, said producer/director Todd Huffman of Pipeline Digital Media, the makers of the film.

The film is inspired by “John Penton and the Off-Road Revolution,” a book motorcycle writer Ed Youngblood published in 2000.

The project began in 2007 when Huffman, who produces and directs The Motorcross Files for Speed TV, first traveled to Amherst to conduct interviews with members of the Penton family.

Huffman expects the documentary will be about two hours, 15 minutes long when it is finished.

“But we do tell about 125 years of history in the story,” Huffman said. “The story starts with Mr. Penton’s grandfather and Henry Ford.”

John Penton’s grandfather, Henry Penton, lived across the alley from Henry Ford in Detroit in 1896. Penton was an engineer for a steamship company; Ford worked with the city’s electric department. While Ford was working on his idea for an internal combustion engine, he would bring parts that he could not machine himself in his basement to his neighbor, and Penton would finish them for Ford.

The men disagreed on the future of engines: Ford bet on internal combustion; Penton thought steam was the way to go. History answered.

John Penton and his brothers tooled around on an old Harley-Davidson motorcycle that was stashed in one of the family’s barns at the original farm on North Ridge Road in Amherst, where a cemetery and the Penton Farm Market stand now.

History will appear to repeat itself tonight as film crews shoot scenes on the Penton farm of vintage motorcycles standing in for some of the bikes the Penton boys grew up riding.

Huffman said filmmakers found a collector in Elyria to provide 1912, 1933 and 1945 Harley-Davidsons for filming. The owner’s son will be in period garb to depict John’s father, Harold Penton, riding in the 1920s, Huffman said.

The film is narrated by Grammy award-winning singer and songwriter Lyle Lovett, whose first job was at a Penton dealership in Texas and who raced on a Penton as a teen. Some of his music is in the film as well, Huffman said.

The Penton story will premiere June 9 at the Ohio Theater in Cleveland. Huffman said many of the cast are expected to attend. Tickets will go on sale Wednesday, and can be purchased through the theater by calling (216) 241-6000 or (866) 546-1353 or through the website.

The movie is a social media-driven project. Fund-raising for the cost of filming was raised through Kickstarter, the crowd funding website. Groups interested in showing the film can get more information on hosting it at theaters at https://gathr.us/films/penton.

The four-minute trailer, which can be viewed on YouTube, is generating a buzz, Huffman said, adding that that there is enough real-life story in the movie to appeal to a much wider audience than just motorcycle buffs.

“There’s history, there’s tragedy — from a child lost to injury to a wife lost to disease — that we hope there is enough story to appeal to someone’s significant other who gets dragged along,” Huffman said.

Contact Rini Jeffers at 329-7155 or ctnews@chroniclet.com.