SS answered SOS from 'American Chopper:' Ohio tire dealer lent show's cast a hand before they became famous

May 1, 2004

The closest brush with fame many tire dealers experience is when an actor dressed up as the Michelin Man or some other tire company mascot visits their shop.

John Henderson (in photo), who manages Barberton, Ohio-based SS Tire Inc., had a celebrity encounter of another sort -- even though he didn't know it at the time.

One morning in February 2003, Henderson pulled into work to find the RV and trailer used by the cast of "American Chopper" sitting in his shop's parking lot. "American Chopper" is one of the most popular programs on The Discovery Channel, with a devoted national following. But back then, it was just another program -- one that Henderson and his boss, SS Tire owner Craig Schwendeman, didn't even know existed, much less watched.

In their eyes, the show's stars -- motorcycle customizer Paul Teutul Sr. and his sons, Paul Jr. and "Mikey" Teutul -- were just people who needed to replace two ST225/75R15 trailer tires that had blown out on an adjacent highway the night before.

"I had never seen them before," says Henderson, who phoned nearby wholesaler North Gateway Tire and ordered three same-size replacements in the Carlisle USA Trail line ("they wanted a spare"). He also ordered two 15-inch steel rims, one to replace a ruined trailer wheel and another for the extra tire.

After sending an employee to pick up the items, Henderson -- a motorcycle enthusiast and former Harley rider -- began talking bikes, tires and TV with Teutul Sr. (the younger Teutuls had retired to the RV to play video games). Teutul showed him several custom creations the family was hauling from a convention in Cincinnati to their shop, Orange County Choppers, in Rock Tavern, N.Y., including a model based on the hit movie "Spiderman."

Teutul, who amplifies his gruff, no-nonsense persona to near-abusive levels on screen, was actually quite personable, says Henderson. "He's very time-oriented, though. He wanted to get back on the road because they had to get back to New York to put a bike together."

It took SS Tire about three hours to pick up the tires and wheels, drive them back to Barberton and mount them, "which is good service for being in the middle of a snowstorm." The tires cost $93 each and the rims were $40 a piece. Teutul paid with a credit card. And before leaving, he autographed a damaged rim for Henderson, who briefly appeared on "American Chopper" two months later thanks to footage shot by a Discovery Channel film crew that had documented the transaction (episode four, "Race Car 2").

Henderson says he had no idea the program would become so popular. "This was just another accident that happened to land in our lap."