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William Eggers Loves to Make Stuff

 

By Ruth Melville

When Bill Eggers was 10 years old, he took the motor out of the family lawnmower and put it into a little wooden car he had built himself. A policeman brought him home and complained to his mother that he had been going 50 miles an hour on the highway. She promised to discipline the boy, but once the policeman was gone, she turned to her son and said, “Bill, I’m proud of you!”

Eggers has been making things ever since.

Eggers, who grew up in Queens (and still has the accent to prove it), worked for 60 years as a contractor and woodworker doing fine carpentry. In 2001 he was doing a job three blocks from the Twin Towers on 9/11, which effectively put him out of business. He was nearing retirement anyway, so he decided to move to Goshen, where he lived in a cabin while he built his house and a large workshop.

Eggers is not just a woodworker but also a metalworker, leatherworker, painter, sculptor and engineer. All of his skills come together in his main passion: building custom and unique vehicles—primarily reproductions of antique cars and motorcycles, but also carriages, stagecoaches, Viking ships, a horse-drawn moonshine still and a Roman chariot copied from the one Charlton Heston rode in “Ben Hur.”

Bill Eggers in his workshop next to a 1941 Indian 4-cylinder motorcycle.

The craftsmanship and attention to detail are stunning. Each vehicle can take as long as a year to build. “By the time I’m done,” Eggers says, “I’m making two dollars an hour.” Although he makes almost everything by hand out of wood, there are some parts he has to buy, such as the carriage springs, leather belts and wheel hubs that he gets from the Amish in Pennsylvania.

In his workshop at the moment is a reproduction of the first car in the world, an 1886 Daimler. The car is simply beautiful, all made of wood—even the motor—and trimmed with gold inlay. There are no extant originals of this car, and the only thing Eggers had to work from was a plastic scale-model kit. He’s also built a stagecoach after a precision model from the Franklin Mint, and a gas motorcycle from a scale model in a museum in Stuttgart. He does sometimes put modern engines in his cars, but only if they can’t be seen.

Eggers creates his pieces for museums and private collections, and he regularly exhibits at prestigious fairs around the country. His work has regularly been on display at the New York International Auto Show at the Javits Center in New York, and he contributed to the “The Art of the Motorcycle” show at the Guggenheim Museum in 1998.

Customizing antique motorcycles is another passion. His workshop houses a 1941 Indian four-cylinder motorcycle that Eggers transformed into the only “woody” motorcycle, trimming it with bird’s-eye maple and mahogany, leatherwork and pearl paint. A collector in Atlantic City was so enamored of Eggers’ motorcycles that he bought 40 of them, which he displayed hanging on the wall, like fine art.

For years, Eggers, a Vietnam vet, rode his vehicles in the Goshen Memorial Day parade. In 2007, he led the parade on his 1971 custom-made “Iron Horse” Harley Davidson, outfitted with (as he puts it) “over-the top” hand-tooled leatherwork. And there’s a picture hanging in his workshop of him and his wife in the parade, in period costumes that she sewed, standing by a red and gold three-quarter-scale 1865 Wells Fargo stagecoach harnessed to a team of four black ponies.

Eggers plans to do about 20 shows this summer, starting with the Rhinebeck Car Show the first weekend of May. Norfolkians, however, can see examples of Eggers’s master craftsmanship closer at hand—at the Berkshire Country Store. Two of his replica motorcycles—an 1867 Roper, the first coal-fired steam motorcycle, and an 1885 Daimler Reitwagen, the first gas-powered motorcycle—were on display when the store opened. On view now is a reproduction of the first car built in America, an 1893 Duryea. Originals of the Roper and the Duryea are in the Smithsonian Museum.

Talking to Eggers, you can tell that his enthusiasm for his work never flags. Indeed, he’s quick to say that “this is not work. This is my passion. I have fun doing it, it makes me feel my life is worthwhile.” He’s in his workshop pretty much all day, every day.

The spark lit when a 10-year-old burns brightly still.

You can see pictures of a wide range of Eggers’s custom-built specialty vehicles on his website, williameggersmotorcycles.com.

Photos by Bruce Frisch.

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