Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Local Harley-Davidson icon Bob Fletcher dies at 90

CLEARWATER — A generation ago, aficionados say, about the only kinds of people who rode Harley-Davidsons were police officers and outlaws.

The image started to change in the 1980s, when the manufacturer reached out to a wider audience and clothing began to take up more space in dealerships than motorcycles.

By the 1990s, the brand that once symbolized rebellion as depicted in the movie Easy Rider had become an entrenched status symbol, with CEOs joining Harley clubs and celebrated figures from Liz Taylor to presidential candidate Bill Clinton owning or at least posing astride Harleys.

Fletcher's Harley-Davidson, opened 48 years ago by a mechanic and former dirt track racer named Bob Fletcher, prospered on both ends of the ridership spectrum. Mr. Fletcher moved to Florida in 1954, a year after crushing an ankle in a race where Daytona International Speedway stands today, and opened Fletcher's Harley-Davidson in Clearwater a decade later.

Mr. Fletcher, an adventurer who advised friends and family to "enjoy it while you have it," died Saturday, a result of heart trouble, his family said. He was 90.

He was born in Belvidere, Ill., and grew up in nearby Harvard. A neighbor's loud exhaust pipes distracted and intrigued him, so at age 19 he paid $50 for a 1929 Harley JD. After a year and a half he was ready for something bigger, but spent the bike money marrying a woman named Lucille, who liked bikes too.

The Army gave him a Harley and had him train others, then shipped him to Germany, where he drove a tank for Gen. George S. Patton through the snow.

Back in Illinois, he and a partner opened Bob's Harley-Davidson, about an hour's drive from Harley's Milwaukee factory. He also competed in amateur motorcycle races, including the 200-mile event in Daytona Beach that ended his racing career when another rider slammed into him from behind.

After moving his family to Pinellas County and working at Puckett's Harley-Davidson for nearly 10 years, he opened Fletcher's Harley-Davidson on Missouri Avenue.

He taught his daughters to climb trees and ride motorcycles. Daughter Laura learned to ride at age 7 and to play "motorball," which is similar to soccer on dirt bikes, at age 10.

The store moved to Seminole Boulevard, then to U.S. 19 in 1980.

Mr. Fletcher retired in 1986 and turned the business over to his daughters: Laura Fletcher-Taylor, Peggy McFarland and Sherry Conder. Mr. Fletcher rode his motorcycle with the Florida Retreads and the Largo Roadrunners, scuba dived in Mexico and Aruba and flew his Cessna at every opportunity.

His daughters replaced the store's fluorescent lighting with softer light, installed carpeting, turned the white walls to a sandy beige and placed Adirondack chairs on the porch. The changes helped attract Harley's expanding customer base. The store grew to 30,000 square feet.

"It used to be, when people would say 'Harley-Davidson' they would think of biker gangs and the rough and tough," said Fletcher-Taylor, 46, the store's general manager. "Now it's more of a privilege to own a Harley-Davidson because you own a piece of American history."

Her father groused at first about the new "boutique look," but later said he was proud of what they had done. Longtime customer George Puopolo has mixed feelings.

"It used to be the place to go hang out. There would be a big industrial coffee pot going, a couple dozen doughnuts there," said Puopolo, 54, a member of the Warlocks Motorcycle Club. "You didn't have 50 different styles of leather jackets and 100 styles of T-shirts.

"Over the years that's kind of changed. They sell a lifestyle now. The motorcycle is secondary. Even Bob would maintain it lost something."

In 2007, at age 85, Mr. Fletcher rode to Milwaukee to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Harley-Davidson Motor Co.

Two years ago, his physician, concerned that Mr. Fletcher would lose consciousness while riding, recommended he lose his license. But from time to time, to widespread alarm, the founder of Fletcher's Harley-Davidson still took his bike out for laps around the dealership.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at ameacham@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2248.

.BIOGRAPHY

Robert John Fletcher

Born: Dec. 19, 1921

Died: June 9, 2012

Survivors: wife Lucille; daughters Peggy McFarland, Sherry Conder and Laura Fletcher-Taylor; sister, Betty Collins; three grandchildren; and one great-granddaughter.

Memorial ride: Gathering at 11:30 a.m. Saturday at Fletcher's Harley-Davidson, 16485 U.S. 19 N. Ride starts at noon from Fletcher's to Anona United Methodist Church, 13233 Indian Rocks Road, Largo.

Celebration of life: 2 p.m. Saturday (memorial gathering starting at 1 p.m.) at the church.

Local Harley-Davidson icon Bob Fletcher dies at 90 06/14/12 [Last modified: Thursday, June 14, 2012 9:59pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. What to watch this weekend: 'Star Trek: Discovery,' 'DuckTales' returns

    Blogs

    Boldly go: Star Trek: Discovery

    It's been more than 50 years since the original Star Trek premiered, but the new CBS series is set 10 years before Kirk and Spock. Star Trek: Discovery explores the war between the Federation and the Klingons while following the USS Discovery, an exploratory …

    Sonequa Martin-Green in Star Trek: Discovery on CBS.
  2. First lady Melania Trump heads to White House garden for planting, harvesting

    Nation

    WASHINGTON — Melania Trump is heading out to the White House garden to do some planting and harvesting.

    First lady Melania Trump picks peppers with a girl with the Boys and Girls Club of Washington in the White House Kitchen Garden on the South Lawn of the White House, Friday, Sept. 22, 2017, in Washington. [Andrew Harnik | Associated Press]
  3. New aerial photos show Puerto Rico devastation; at least 6 dead in Hurricane Maria aftermath

    Hurricanes

    SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO — Early aerial images of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria here show waterlogged neighborhoods, roofs peeled off homes and shopping centers, and once-lush landscape …

    Aerial photo of flooding in the costal town of Loiza, on the north shore of Puerto Rico. [Photo by Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo for the Washington Post]
  4. State rolls out food assistance program for residents affected by Hurricane Irma

    Hurricanes

    Help is on the way for Florida residents struggling to put food on the table after Hurricane Irma.

    The Salvation Army Mobile Food Pantry hlped out with free food in Largo after Hurricane Irma. Now, the federal government is expanding access to food for people affected by the storm. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Times]
  5. Kriseman proclaims Buy Local week in St. Pete to quicken storm recovery

    Blogs

    Mayor Rick Kriseman has proclaimed next week to be "'Burg Buy Local Week" in an appeal to residents to help small businesses struggling to recover from Hurricane Irma.

    Mayor Rick Kriseman wants St. Pete residents to help small businesses recover from Hurricane Irma