Custom-painted urns reflect motorcycle riders' free spirit

Discussion in 'Texas Bikers' started by Hoodoo, Apr 14, 2006.

  1. Hoodoo

    Hoodoo Guest

    A memorial fit for hog heaven

    Custom-painted urns reflect motorcycle riders' free spirit

    April 10, 2006
    Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

    Old bikers never die . . . Actually they do, and a Milwaukee paint
    expert is hoping that a lot of them will want to end up in their gas
    tanks when the time comes.

    Jim Moritz, who spends his days developing new paints for a large
    Milwaukee company and his free time doing custom paint jobs on
    motorcycles, has launched a new business offering a product for that
    last ride: Motorcycle Memorials.

    Moritz and his business partner, Ron Winkler, have already sold 50
    cremation urns designed to replicate motorcycle gas tanks, and more
    than a dozen funeral homes carry their product.

    "I wanted to call it 'Tanks for the Memories,' " Moritz said, "but
    that name was trademarked."

    The buyers can choose a custom paint job that duplicates the look of
    the deceased person's bike, or they can pick a design that
    memorializes another aspect of the person's life: military service or
    a law enforcement career.

    "I'm working on an Iwo Jima design," Moritz said.

    The urns are formed from heavy plastic at General Plastics in Glendale
    and sold mounted on stands made by a woodworker in West Allis. Kevin
    Timm, a Harley owner who works in the service department at Hal's
    Harley-Davidson in New Berlin, thinks Moritz's urns have a lot of
    potential for sales to riders, even though most of them don't want to
    think or talk about death.

    "If it was a hard-core rider, do I think they would do something like
    that? Absolutely," Timm said. "This is not just a hobby. It's a
    passion for people. I can see somebody wanting to be part of their
    bike, rather than in a container."

    Mark Simonson, a funeral director at Altstadt-Tyborski Ermenc-Mcleod
    Funeral Service on S. Howell Ave. in Milwaukee remembers a funeral he
    organized last year for a biker in his 50s.

    "His girlfriend brought in his leather jacket and it was cremated with
    him," Simonson said.

    Another family of a deceased biker brought in the entire bike and
    parked it next to the casket during the viewing. Both Simonson and
    John Rozga, a partner at Rozga Funeral Home on W. Lincoln Ave., say
    the gas tank urns are getting a lot of attention in their product
    display rooms, which are open to the public during viewings at

    "I've never had anything in the funeral home that has drawn that much
    interest," Rozga said. "I've had a gentleman take his wife by the hand
    and say, 'When I go, that's where I want my remains to go.' "

    Rozga hasn't sold any, but he's had people who are pre-planning their
    own funerals request the tanks. They are definitely a baby boomer
    product, not something that appeals to the oldest generation, he said.

    Moritz and Winkler aren't the first to market a motorcycle gas tank
    urn. There's at least one other company that makes one, and another
    that offers a final resting place inside a motorcycle engine block.

    But Moritz and Winkler believe that their ability to do custom work
    and the growing interest in cremation across the country add up to a
    big opportunity for them to make a living offering a final alternative
    to those who live to ride.

    "The whole funeral industry is going toward memorialization and
    personalization," Moritz said.

    The Cremation Association of North America agrees, and the trade group
    has invited Moritz to talk about his gas tank urns later this month,
    when the trade group meets at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.

    "It's a very large market, increasing every year," said Jack Springer,
    executive director of the trade group. The association estimates that
    by 2025, 46% of deaths will lead to cremations, for a total of 1.4
    million cremations.

    In Wisconsin, 14,376 people were cremated in 2003, the most recent
    statistic available. That represents 31% of deaths in the state,
    slightly above the national cremation average of 28.5%.

    Shot from a gun

    That growth has spawned a quiet but burgeoning industry, ranging from
    sweetly sentimental to downright weird.

    Two Janesville women, Joni Cullen and Lisa Saxer-Buros, started a
    cremation jewelry business 14 years ago, ahead of the trend.

    Saxer-Buros' mother, Madelyn, was close to her family, and she loved
    to travel. When Madelyn died, Saxer-Buros designed a hollow circular
    pendant and had copies made for each of her siblings, who placed some
    of mom's ashes inside.

    Ever since, part of the late Madelyn has accompanied her children on
    all their vacations. And Cullen and Saxer-Buros are running a
    million-dollar-plus business, Madelyn Co., making and selling keepsake
    jewelry. The products are sold to bereaved families through funeral
    homes, hospices and distributors.

    Eternal Reefs Inc. in Atlanta puts remains into environmentally
    friendly concrete reefs and lowers them to the ocean floor. The
    Eternal Ascent Society in Crystal River, Fla., goes to the other
    extreme with hot air balloons, sending heavenward the remains of those
    deserving or otherwise.

    For those who want to go out with a bang, there are people who will
    put the remains in a shotgun, a cannon or fireworks. Or for those
    seeking an artistic end, there's a sculptor in New Orleans who will
    mix remains with sculpting materials and make a bust, and an artist
    who mixes the ashes with paint and puts them in trees in her

    Just about every cremation is the result of a choice made ahead of
    time by the deceased, according to a survey from the Cremation

    With this in mind, Moritz plans to expand his marketing beyond funeral
    homes by taking his gas tank urns directly to consumers at biker
    rallies and events.

    There were 5.8 million registered motorcycles in the U.S. in 2004,
    according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

    "The beauty of the product is, because of its artistic value, it's a
    piece for the recreation room," Moritz said. The urns range in price
    from $750 to $1,500.

    A bike owner might buy one now, hang it on the wall and tell his
    friends: "That's where I'm going to end up someday."

    Rebuffed by Harley

    Moritz is not a biker himself, but he's been painting bikes for
    customers since he was 12. He made his first gas tank urn from a real
    tank that he bought at a junkyard about eight years ago. He made a
    gift of it to the family of a deceased biker whose bike he had

    He and Winkler saw the chance to turn this into a business because
    they knew bikers tend to celebrate their passion for riding, even in
    death. They patented the urn design last fall, and they launched a Web

    Moritz's biggest disappointment so far with his business is that the
    hometown motorcycle maker, Harley-Davidson, isn't interested in a
    licensing deal for the gas tank urns.

    "We do license products very selectively," Harley spokesman Bob Klein
    said. "In the past, we've declined to license such products. We would
    rather be out there riding the products down the road."

    Moritz says his urns have added value for the man who doesn't ride
    alone. There's enough room inside for him to take his biker chick
    along for eternity.

    - - -

    Motorcycle Gas Tank Urns
    Photo/Mark Hoffman
    A depiction of Iwo Jima is added to this replica motorcycle gas tank
    destined for use as an urn.
    Photo/Mark Hoffman
    When it's time for the last long ride, custom-painted urns like these
    samples can reflect a motorcycle rider's interests.
    Photo/Mark Hoffman
    Photo/Mark Hoffman
    Photo/Mark Hoffman
    Photo/Mark Hoffman

    By The Numbers

    1.4 million
    The number of deaths that will lead to cremations by 2025, according
    to estimates by The Cremation Association of North America, which says
    that number will represent 46% of deaths.

    5.8 million
    Number of registered motorcycles in the U.S. in 2004, according to the
    National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
    Photo/Mark Hoffman
    Blaine Heilman uses an airbrush Wednesday in his New Berlin home to
    paint a replica of a motorcycle gas tank that will be used as an urn.

    Number Of Cremations
    Graphic/Journal Sentinel

    On The Web
    Hoodoo, Apr 14, 2006
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