If you’re a motorhead like me, you make at least a couple of trips a month to the bookstore, scanning the magazine racks for the new issues of car, truck and motorcycle-themed glossies. This month, among the chrome and burning rubber, I noticed the return of an old favorite to a newsstand near me: Iron Horse magazine. One of the must-have motorcycle mags of my misspent youth, the magazine dropped off the radar in 1997. Back and better than ever, the new incarnation of Iron Horse is interesting for an even closer-to-home reason: Arkie editor David Snow.
An adopted son of Little Rock (his father retired here after a career in the Air Force) Snow is no newbie to the publishing world. Looking to break into comic books, Snow rode his Harley to New York City in 1984, and soon began drawing illustrations for the then-fledgling Iron Horse — a magazine full of “sleazy chicks and porn ads,” he said, staffed with characters he compares to the cast of “The Sopranos.” Snow landed the editor’s chair when the publisher realized that the artsy kid from Arkansas was the only person in the office who knew anything about motorcycles.
“They would print slides backwards because they didn’t know which side of the engine the carburetor went on,” Snow said. “It was one of those deals where, hey, this guy knows motorcycles. He can communicate in complete sentences. Let’s make him the editor.”
Though the chopper craze — stoked by motorcycle-themed reality shows on the Discovery Channel and others — has since made them superstars, Snow was the first to feature the work of chopper builders like Jesse James, Cole Foster and the late Larry “Indian Larry” Desmedt. Back when he knew them, they were all just dedicated grease monkeys, wrenching on what the mainstream motorcycle world considered mechanical anachronisms.
“When I knew Jesse James, he was this thug who was building choppers out of his mom’s garage out in Long Beach,” Snow said. “Now, he’s married to Sandra Bullock.”
Ironically, the original Iron Horse almost survived long enough to see the chopper come back into vogue. In 1997, just before the magazine folded, Snow moved back home to Little Rock. For a while, he lived check to check. “It’s really hard to make a living in Little Rock if you’ve got any sort of creative tendencies,” he said. “I was kind of living my nightmare: achieve some sort of fame and recognition in New York City, where it’s kinda hard to make it, and then come back here and there’s nothing. I was doing landscaping for a while.” (Since then, Snow has learned tattooing to help pay the bills, working at The Parlor in North Little Rock). Earlier this year, he heard that the daughter of the original publisher of Iron Horse had bought back the name, and was trying to restart the magazine, with limited success.
“She went through, like, four editors in the first five issues, and it was pretty bad,” he said. “It didn’t have any direction. So they got in touch with me and asked me to come back.”
The first Snow-edited issue, on the stands now, features both Snow’s long-standing love of bikes and a tip of the hat to several Arkansans who helped him make it during the lean years when he was freshly back from NYC. Articles include features on North Little Rock tattoo artist Scott Diffee, and Howlin’ Custom Cycles on Ninth Street. Issue number seven is in the can, and should be on the stands at Barnes and Noble and other booksellers in a few weeks (something Snow said he finds “amazing,” given that in the old days, many newsstands kept copies of the original Iron Horse under the counter due to the racy content). With articles on Snow’s memories of Indian Larry and an interview with uber-photographer Timothy White (an old friend of Snow’s), it’s sure to please the legions of chopper fans that have sprung up since Iron Horse called it quits in 1997.
Snow said that it feels good to have been right all along about choppers. He calls the chopper a purely American art form, one that’s finally being appreciated for its beauty and style. The new appreciation by the mainstream is mostly thanks to new forms of media, he said, which can allow people to safely peek into what had been seen as dangerous and hidden.
“The cultures that were at one point really fringe and closed off to outsiders, they’ve been made more accessible,” Snow said. “All these hardcore subcultures, they’re seen as being authentic somehow. Through cable and the Internet, people can access these things and see that maybe it’s not as threatening of repulsive or scary as it might have been.”