Writer's Ramblings

Andy Barber - 911 Dispatcher and Painter

Written by  October 31, 2004

For a person who deals with stressful situations nearly every day as a 911 dispatcher for the Lenexa Police Department, there’s one thing Andy Barber of Gardner, cannot handle: a certain kind of deadline. “I can deal with the calls that come in,” he said recently. “Accidents, fires, stabbings, all that stuff, but if I’m painting a motorcycle tank for someone, and I know he’s expecting in on a certain day, that kind of stress can wake me up in the middle of the night.”

Barber, who has lived in Gardner since 1990 with his wife Lois and their twin boys Jim and Max, was an art major in college. He even taught art for an elementary school in Omaha, Nebraska for a short time.

In 1969, he painted his 1958 Chevy red, white, and blue stars. “It was something special and I had a lot of fun doing it,” said Barber.

But then he drifted away from his love of painting — until three years ago. That’s when he decided to paint his motorcycle. “I had never even picked up a spray gun until three years ago,” Barber said. “Then one day while I was getting my haircut from Jack Messer (Gardner barber), he said he wanted to have some flames painted on his motorcycle. “I told him I could do it, he said, 'OK,’ and then I was committed. I figured it would be like painting a car.” Wrong! “It was much harder,” Barber said. “When you mix the paints, it has to be done with the right temperature; there’s just a lot more that goes into it than I first realized.”

Barber said the temperature he will be spraying in determines the kinds of chemicals he uses. For example, if the ambient temperature is 70-degrees, he must use a reducer designed for the temperature. “Depending on how many coats you need, you may need special hardeners, too,” he said. “It gets kind of complicated after awhile. I used the wrong activator for the clear coat one time. It had millions of tiny bubbles in it. It looked like 7-Up had been poured all over the tank. Needless-to-say, I had to sand it all off and start over. Live and learn!”

Barber said some primers are pretty finicky about what you squirt on them. “I had a tank that was partially painted and partially primed,” he said. “I squirted more primer and it wrinkled up. Seems that the primer dries at different rates depending on the substrate.
“The new primer got all confused where the different substrates met, and it didn’t know what to do, so it bubbled and boiled. Needless-to-say, I had to sand that all off and start over, too.”

Barber said he went to a long-time Olathe paint company for equipment, supplies, and advice. “They were great,” he said. “I told them what I wanted to do, and they said, 'Here’s what you need, and here’s how to do it. And so I did Jack’s flames. I would say the result was primitive, which is my word for bad,” he added and then laughed. “I’ve tried to get Jack to let me redo his tank, but he won’t let me. He says he likes it the way it is.”

Messer said he has no problems with Barber’s work. “He is extremely talented,” Messer said. “He painted some skulls on his oldest son’s motorcycle, and you don’t see them until you look at the tank just right, and then they appear as if they are floating up and out of the tank. It is just amazing.”

Since then, Barber has come quite a long way. He’s painted his motorcycle three times, more for practice than anything else. He painted his oldest son, Alex’s bike. There are about a dozen motorcycles in the area that sport his custom paint job. And he enjoys doing it.

“I call it recess,” he said. “I enjoy coming home and being able to concentrate on being creative; it’s my escape.”

When he is in the creative process, he uses a 1/8-inch sized tape. He gets caught up in the flow of the lines and how they respond to the overall lines of the motorcycle. “I work and play with the tape; sometimes taking it all off and starting completely over,” he said. “Sometimes the design has a mind of its own and controls me; I’ll change something here, and then that leads to a change there, then the design is completely different than what I had originally had in my mind. There are times when I have a great shape in mind, but when I get it on the tank, it just doesn’t work. Sometimes I just have to say, this is it, but I always wish I had done something different.”

Barber said he doesn’t have a favorite. “I like them all,” he said. “But Jack’s is the worst! He loves it, but I want to do it again. His was the most difficult because he wanted me to airbrush a skull. I’m not great at using the airbrush - yet!”

Barber said when people see his work, he wants it to be pleasing to their eyes, just as music is to the ears. He does his work out of his garage in rural west Gardner, but doesn’t make it known to a lot of people what he does. “I don’t want to see this turn into work,” he said. “And I don’t want to become inundated with requests; right now I can always say no, but when you have a business, sometimes that’s more difficult to do. I enjoy the way it is right now; I enjoy my recess.”

Story and photos by Chuck Kurtz