December 2, 1934 – January 30, 2021
James Donald “Don” Harrell Don Harrell was born December 2, 1934 to Maxey and Clara (Copeland) Harrell in Tulare, CA. He grew up on the Visalia City Farm, which his dad managed, until graduating from Visalia Senior High in 1952. He worked for two years before enlisting in the US Army, stationed in Boston. He enrolled in the Building Trades program at COS and went on to obtain his contractor’s license. He married Genevieve Janelli in 1957 and together they raised their five children. They celebrated 63 years to life on October 5 of last year. Don was a precision craftsman in many ways. He was a general contractor for over 40 years, with cabinetry as his specialty. He hand selected the materials to bring out the beauty of the wood in the many custom homes he built in the area. He also built commercial properties including just about every Circle K from here to Timbuktu. In the early 70’s Don raced dirt track bikes throughout the valley. His sons all inherited his love for motorcycles and continue to ride to this day. When Don quit racing, he continued to support the boys as a spectator and sponsor. The love for riding has passed on to his grandsons. In the late ‘70s Don started collecting vintage British Motorcycles. This hobby transformed into a second business in retirement. He eventually started restoring bikes himself, taking a box of rusted parts, and breathing new life into them. His restorations are highly sought after due to his attention to detail and maintaining the integrity of the original bike. He has been featured in many news and international magazine articles for his craftsmanship and knowledge of BSA’s, Triumphs and other British models. He has won countless awards for his entries in motorcycle shows throughout the state. He drew a crowd and record prices at the annual Mid-America and Mecum Motorcycle auctions in Las Vegas for over 25 years. He eventually built his own paint booth and machined parts while he restored at least five bikes every year for the event. Coming together in Vegas in January became a family tradition. Another well-known tradition was his British Motorcycle Works Annual Open House ‘out at the shop’. It all started with about 10 friends, some hot dogs, chips and beer the night before the Hanford Swap Meet. The Open House grew each year and by the 25th Anniversary, there were over 400 people in attendance to check out the 50+ restorations and partake of the deep pit beef, Gen’s chili beans and potato salad, and Texas Sheet cake. And, beer. The highlight of the night was when Don would fire up a bike or two. Nothing brought a smile to his face like a one-kick start. Don was happiest when he was around his bikes and those who shared the same love for them. Don was a no-nonsense, to the point dad. He taught his kids to put in an honest day’s work, keep their word, and show gratitude. It was very clear that you never left your bicycle in the driveway, and the kitchen table was not a restaurant. He was proud of his ‘rugrats’ and how they eventually all turned out. He was happy to see they all made it past 30 considering some of the hair-raising escapades and mischief that occurred along the way. He used to say, “I don’t care what they say about you, you’re alright.” His quick wit was also picked up by the kids. Don had a nickname for just about everyone he knew. You may know his family as Aunt Jim, Blue, Gordo, Ynot, Donnie Brook, and Red. Ask the boys what yours is. Don had interests other than motorcycles. In 1965 he attained a 1st KYU certification in Judo, reaching the level of brown belt. He and Gen belonged to a square dance club for many years when the kids were young. He loved animals, especially dogs, and had several loyal border collies through the years that went to work with him each day. He treated his grand dog, Penny, to peanuts every time she visited him at the shop. He was a lifelong learner and stayed informed. He read the newspaper front to back every day, studied motorcycle manuals and read many books related to American History. He also went back to COS at the age of 76 to take a machining class so he could craft his own parts. Don worked 7 days a week all his life. You could always find him at the shop building something and taking time to shoot the breeze with friends who dropped by for a beer. Recently his illness took away his energy and his time at the shop was limited. His desire to be active never left, and he fought to the end. He passed quickly and comfortably at home on the morning of January 30, 2021. Don is survived by his wife, Genevieve (Janelli), children Dana (Cindy) Harrell of Colorado Springs, CO, Becky (Gary) Turner of Boise, ID, Tony (Cecile) Harrell, Donnie Harrell and Charise (Danny) Brichta all of Visalia. He leaves eight grandchildren, Andrew, Matthew, Michael, Genna, Dawn, Haley, Jonah and Keenan, eight great grandchildren and numerous nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his parents, Maxey and Clara (Copeland) Harrell and siblings Clarise Ansell and Maxey Jr. Don received the Sacrament of Baptism, at his request, the morning before he left this world, bringing great comfort to Genevieve. The Harrell family would like to thank the many relatives and friends who have looked in on Don and Gen these past few years. He was always grateful for the faithful friends who helped load bikes and sell parts at the swap meets throughout the years. He had a special place in his heart for the gentle care of his oncology nurse, Chastity, at Sequoia Regional.
Be ready to join us for one last “Open House” in late spring to celebrate Don’s life his way.
In lieu of flowers, please consider donating to your favorite animal shelter.
- Don is survived by his wife, Genevieve (Janelli), children Dana (Cindy) Harrell of Colorado Springs, CO, Becky (Gary) Turner of Boise, ID, Tony (Cecile) Harrell, Donnie Harrell and Charise (Danny) Brichta all of Visalia. He leaves eight grandchildren, Andrew, Matthew, Michael, Genna, Dawn, Haley, Jonah and Keenan, eight great grandchildren and numerous nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his parents, Maxey and Clara (Copeland) Harrell and siblings Clarise Ansell and Maxey Jr.
- Dave Morrison
- Andy Mattis
- Craig Haas
- Ron Massey
- Jeff Robertson
- Gary McIntosh
Monday, February 8, 2021
Becky (Harrell) Turner
February 7, 2021
Dad, thanks for being there on the most important events in my life. I’m grateful for the long talks and time we got to spend together in December. Thanks for laying the foundation for my successes through your example of hard work and integrity.
I hope they have the best strawberry pancakes in heaven just for you.
Love, Becky aka “Gordo”
February 6, 2021
Huh. Big Don you were my favorite father in law.(our joke). I’ve searched for a pic of you and I together and with regret I can not find one, but I have many memories with you that I so very grateful to have shared with you over the years. Love you Big Don, your DIL Cile
February 6, 2021
February 5, 2021
Several years ago, I dropped by a vintage bike swap meet in Tulare and spotted a beautiful BSA Catalina. I had always been a BSA guy, still had an older one, but neve thought about making one nice again. This one took my breath away. In talking to the owner which turned out to be Don, it became immediately clear this was something I had to do. Over the years with Don's mentorship and criticism (when asked for) I started restoring BSAs and showing them. My most cherished trophy was presented to my by Don at Hanford for one of my BSAs. The best part of the Hanford show was the open house the night before where I had the privilege the last few years of barbequing hot dogs and hanging around to help put all the bikes afterwards. Following his example a few years ago I started taking bikes to the Mecum auction where Debbie and I would meet up with Don and people watch as we waited for our bikes to cross the block. Over the years we became good friends a spoke on the phone every 3 - 4 weeks and I will always remember his kindness and willingness to share his knowledge, and particularly his sense of humor. He always said someday you'll tell people "I'm the S.O.B. that got you hooked on this business."
February 4, 2021
I met Don about 15 years ago when my TR7 blew up on the way back from buying the bike. I have to admit, Don was a genius when it came to making something work. First, you did it right, than you did what you needed to do to make it work. While many would not see motorcycles as a work of art, Don was an artist. I often referred to Don as the best restorer of british bikes on the west coast. It appears that others thought the same since many of his customers were national and international.. His ability to learn and teach were critical to many in their projects. I depended on his advice, and his help in keeping my bikes operational.. In return, I helped him develop computer skills that enabled him to attain the parts he needed and to sell parts that were not needed. I always chuckle at his remarks to one individual we both liked.. "are you listening..I dont want to repeat myself"...when advice was given...you better appreciate the time that he took to give it.. He was a master craftsman indeed and will be missed greatly.. It was a gift to know Don.
C. Dotty Franco
February 4, 2021
Sad to see that Don has left us. Will always remember him and his loyal dog ROY. Remember with fondness visiting his shop to see the motorcycles. I still use the coffee cup with the BSA bike on it. I’ll never forget the Moore awards dinner when Donsaid those were the best potatoes ever! It was at the Lamp Liter I think. The cabinets he made for our negative area were 1st class! We were forever grateful. May he Rest In Peace. To Gen and all the family, you have lost a good man.
February 4, 2021
Emma Harrell starting her 1st motorcycle rebuild
February 4, 2021
February 4, 2021
Dick and Cathy Boone
February 4, 2021
We were so sorry to read about Don, and so sorry for your loss. Don was a good friend to Dick for many years before we got married and then we did many things together as our children were growing up. Then over the years, Don did some remodeling for us and the guys visited many times at his shop. Our love and prayers are with all of you.
February 3, 2021
We thank Don for all the years of his support of the Central Coast Classic Motorcycle Show in San Luis Obispo.
February 2, 2021
I used to see Don every year at the San Jose Clubman show. He always had huge tables loaded with parts. They don't make them like that any more. Will miss him!
I am with the Northern California Norton Club. Please keep me informed - I will share any information with the club.