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Biker builds beyond his limitations

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David “Buddy” McElreath of White City rattles off the hardware keeping him together in the same matter-of-fact way he describes the Volkswagen diesel engine powering his newest motorcycle.

Thirty-six bolts, six titanium pieces, two L-brackets, four hexagonal cap screws and four accompanying bolts were needed to protect McElreath’s spine a decade ago, he said, while pointing to a deep scar on his neck. A few moments later, he’s showing off the unique brass throttle he fabricated.

“That’s made from the differential of a Suzuki Samurai,” McElreath said.

McElreath’s bike, a sinister-looking mix of patinaed metal and fresh welds, stood apart from the gleaming chrome and candy colored paints that filled the Rogue Regency Inn parking lot Saturday for the 23rd annual Thunderstruck Xtreme Bike Show & Street Party, a benefit for Boys & Girls Clubs of the Rogue Valley. It was one of nearly eight dozen choppers, hogs and sport bikes on display in Medford, according to the fundraiser event organizer, builder Mark Daley of Thunderstruck Custom Bikes — not to mention the more than 60 show cars.

The show has benefited charity organizations since its genesis in the late 1990s, Daley said, remembering how he started at the Moose lodge. The past 18 shows have benefited Boys & Girls Clubs, Daley said, estimating Saturday’s raffle brought in an amount in the “high 20s” to low $30,000 range for the youth nonprofit.

McElreath said he won the show three years ago with a different diesel-powered bike he built, but it’s the designing and building process that keep him going more than trophies.

Putting his new bike together — made from a 1970s Harley-Davidson Softail frame stuffed with a Volkswagen-Audi 4-cylinder engine and an air-ride suspension — took “probably a hundred hours of thinking” before the building process.

“You just start engineering it,” McElreath said.

There’s no gearbox on the bike, according to McElreath and his friend, Colton Wisdom of Gold Hill. Instead, they connected the engine to a snowmobile clutch.

“If you rev it up, it’s movin’,” Wisdom said.

The end product gets about 75 miles per gallon, according to Wisdom. Together, they’re also working on a 1927 Dodge hot rod with a 1950s Ford flathead V8 that they’re hoping will be ready for a show next month in Merlin.

“We’ve just got projects for days,” Wisdom said.

“It used to be my part-time hobby. Now it’s my life,” McElreath said.

What changed was a wreck a decade ago, according to McElreath. He’d worked as an automotive mechanic when his car was rear-ended by someone in a vehicle nearly twice his size at 50 mph.

He flatlined once, and the crash paralyzed him for a year and a half, he said.

“If I can get my feet on the floor and get myself to the bathroom,” McElreath said of his morning routine, “I know it’s going to be a good day.”

He’s only able to walk as much as he does because of extensive physical therapy.

The pain and lack of mobility very nearly drove him to take his life, he said. McElreath remembered holding a handgun in his bedroom with tears streaming down both sides of his face. The thought of his then 5-year-old grandson finding his body stopped him cold.

“I couldn’t do it,” McElreath said, adding that he gave all his firearms to a social worker.

He said he still struggles with chronic pain but steers clear of opiates. Instead, he advocates for medical marijuana to anyone who’ll listen to him, and says he has to keep moving.

He said he’s not the type to “watch Oprah and eat Twinkies.”

“It’s my interest. I love doing it,” McElreath said. “No one else does it like I do.”

Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTCrimeBeat.

David "Buddy" McElreath of White City builds motorcycles for recovery after a severe car accident and paralysis nearly ended his life. Photo by Denise Baratta