Boot Hill Hearse (The Last Ride)
According to their website: "Boot Hill Hearse is available to anyone who celebrates individualism and living life to the fullest. It is a fitting tribute to men and women who have served their country, fallen police officers, firemen, motorcycle club members and weekend warriors." "Boot Hill Hearse offers the first of it's kind custom hauling Harley Davidson Road King Trike with a 19th century styled custom built hearse."
I spoke with Owner Hank Brouwer (pictured) and discussed his attraction to the funeral profession, his biker lifestyle and the experience he is offering people.
What kind of experience are you providing the deceased and their family/friends?
Basically what we’re offering is, for people that ride, it’s a lifestyle. So, what we’re offering is do a service at the Funeral Home and then go on a ride. Like, the last two I did was about 60km. Like a scenic route past your favourite bars, past your favourite places, or your place of work, whatever. We don’t want to go 2 miles to a cemetery we want to go on a ride, the way you lived. So your friends can say goodbye on their bike. That’s kind of the whole idea.
What attracted you to the Funeral Profession?
I’ve been riding all my life and then I ended up burying a good friend of mine in Detroit in this [bike] hearse and seen it and thought why don’t we have one in Canada? I’d been in processions before, but I always felt that the Cadillac up front didn't adequately represent the lifestyle of someone that rides. So this was very fitting, a nice tribute and so I brought one to Canada.
Has the idea caught on? Are you seeing success?
It has been. We knew when we got into it that it was so new that we had to change some thinking around the Funeral Homes. Some promoting because people need to know you’re out there right? I’m not a big internet guy so I use more the personal approach. We do bike shows and stuff like that. But, you know, at the same token we do need the Funeral Homes because if people are all of a sudden faced with a loved one dying, you know as well as I do, there’s a lot to be arranged within the next 24 hours and they have a tendency to forget I’m out there.
If we can get the Funeral Directors to hook into it, they find out they were riders then you put that on the table, “Have you seen this before? Would you be interested in that? [Bike Hearse Procession]”
We have tried very hard to get the Funeral Directors on board and a lot of them are but a lot of them aren’t, and that’s the hard part.
Is it because it’s a very new thing?
Yeah, very new. Pictures don’t do it justice. If they see the service, they actually have to do a service with us. Every Funeral Home we have done a service with are over the moon about how professional it is, how well it represents their Funeral Home because it’s [the Funeral Home] a pretty classy unit you know. We work very closely with the Funeral Directors, like they’re still the man in charge. We just work together. Once they see it and we do one, then they’re sold.
From some of the pictures on your website you can see that there are rides with huge processions and lots of support for this kind of experience.
It’s a traffic stopper and at the same token too, I always say to the Funeral Director: “Do you have competition in town?” They’ll say “Yes we do.” And I’ll say “Have you thought about phoning the local newspaper? Because they’re dying for good stories.” They’ll say, “No I’ve never thought of that.”
I‘ll tell them “phone the local newspaper” and every time we do, they are out there like a shot and they’re front page news. I go, “It’s free advertising for your Funeral Home, front page news.” But they don’t think about that, so I mention it every time.
What does the future look like for you and your business?
Keep promoting, just trying to find new ways [to promote] because we are well aware that theinternet is the way to get out there. It’s just trying to find the right people to do that for us. I got lots of time to invest in this business, so we’ll just keep slowly promoting it. We do more funerals every year, with more people becoming aware of our services.
You sound like you’re on the right track, this sounds like something a community could really get behind.
We get a lot of respect. People don’t have a tendency to stop for funerals anymore, which I think is wrong but it’s just the way we live. I guess nobody takes the time to take two minutes to watch a procession go by. When we come, people get out of the way and they do stop. We get that respect that you know, somebody died and people should stop.
This experience speaks to people who aren't looking to go the traditional route, do you think this will be a more popular way to have a funeral?
I think it will be because people are looking for something different, a unique way of demonstrating a life well lived. When we usually finish the service and put the casket to rest, we go back to the hall and have some coffee and most of the people that have been on the ride start reminiscing. “Remember when we did this with him? Remember when we did that with him?” It kind of turns a sad day into a happy day, we've found.
Everybody starts sharing stories about the individual. It’s a very personal tribute that truly becomes a celebration of that life.
What a unique take on the funeral procession.
We love doing this, we’ve made so many friends by doing this. We’ve made good connections with the Funeral Directors when we’re done and we always ask for feedback. They say: “You guys are so professional.”
I dress up too right? I put a nice white shirt on and a bowtie and a nice vest so I do dress the part. I always say to the Funeral Directors: “Even though you phone me on behalf of the client, I’m still representing your Funeral Home for the day and I am very well aware of that so I have to dress the part.”
We’ve done some pretty low key funerals, and some will say “Hank, you didn’t have to dress up” and I go “Yeah, I do because I’m still representing the Funeral Home for the day.” It’s a fine line I’m walking, yes I have to look like a biker but I've also got to look like a Funeral Director.
There seems to be a lot of unity with bikers, you guys have a code of respect.
Very much so. When I first got into this, I went to see a good friend of mine and he owns a Funeral Home in Paris [Ontario] and we had done a funeral there before I had this thing [bike hearse], kind of like a club funeral and he didn’t know what to expect. When I went to see him about this thing [Boot Hill Hearse] he loved the idea.
He said “I have to tell you something, when I did the funeral for you guys I did not know what to expect. I had butterflies in my stomach and like you know, it’s going to be a biker funeral. I’d never done one before. But I’ve got to tell you something, they’re [the bikers] some of the most respectful people I’ve met in my life. They asked for ashtrays, and left the place spotless. At normal funerals here, my staff is outside sweeping up cigarette butts for an hour!” And I said: “Well, thank you very much for sharing that with me because that’s nice to hear.”
We are very respectful and the whole [biker] community is like that, very respectful. Yeah there are guys out there that belong to a club and wear a big patch, but there are the person who are just a weekend rider. The service we provide is to represent the individual and the lifestyle they enjoyed.
If you would like to learn more about Boot Hill Hearse, please visit their website www.boothillhearse.com