2017-05-19 / Business

Self-taught mechanic leaves his mark on motorcycle racing

Jim Thiessen to be inducted into Motorcycle Hall of Fame
By Ian Bradley
Special to the Acorn


BUILT TO RIDE—Jim Thiessen is the owner of Camarillo-based JIMS U.S.A., which has done business in the same location for the past 50 years. The parts manufacturing company specializes in products for Harley- Davidson motorcycles. 
BOBBY CURTISAcorn Newspapers BUILT TO RIDE—Jim Thiessen is the owner of Camarillo-based JIMS U.S.A., which has done business in the same location for the past 50 years. The parts manufacturing company specializes in products for Harley- Davidson motorcycles. BOBBY CURTISAcorn Newspapers Jim Thiessen may not be a household name, but for Harley- Davidson riders around the globe, he’s well-known as the creator of a line of products that have helped shape the world of American motorcycle racing.

His Camarillo-based machine shop, JIMS U.S.A., has produced a catalog of high-quality parts big and small for engines and machines over the past 50 years.

His shop is so high-tech it can make a prototype of all or part of a never-before-created piece of machinery.

“We can work from prints, models, or even napkin sketches, ultimately supplying a prototype for individual customer needs,” states his website.

For his lifetime of work, he’ll be inducted into the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum Hall of Fame on Aug. 9.

“It’s a really incredible feeling,” said the 71-year-old business owner. “It’s quite a compliment.”

JIMS ships products all over the world out of his unassuming facility on Dawson Drive, which is crammed with digitally controlled lathes, drills and other production machinery.

It’s all built on Thiessen’s two loves: mechanics and speed.

When Thiessen was growing up, he would often help out in the machine shop his father owned. After his father sold the shop, Thiessen continued learning about engines and machinery through an apprenticeship.

He said he’s always been mechanically inclined, teaching himself by taking apart and reassembling anything with a motor. In his teens, he worked as a gas station mechanic and became adept at working with engines.

“It was an easier job back then, when everything wasn’t computerized,” Thiessen said. “I’m still not really good at the digital side of mechanics. Once we started getting the computerized machines (at JIMS), other people ran them. I just managed the shop.”

When he wasn’t working, he was racing motorcycles with his friends. Thiessen started riding in his youth and describes himself as a speed freak.

He’s always been a proponent of buying American brands and developed an affinity for the Wisconsin-based Harley-Davidson company.

Thiessen started JIMS when he was 21, at the same address it holds 50 years later. Initially, he produced parts for the aerospace industry and offshore oil wells, but when he got a glimpse of the market for quality after-market Harley-Davidson parts, Thiessen shifted his focus.

Not long after he started, his friends asked for upgraded or replacement motorcycle parts, and he was happy to oblige. Word spread as they showed off the results, and soon Thiessen became known for his work on Harleys.

“When we started, Harley- Davidson parts weren’t the best quality,” Thiessen said. “We were making higher quality parts, and no one was selling what we were, so there was a strong market.”

He credits his company’s success to his friends and family, many of whom help him run it. Hiring Harley-Davidson enthusiasts built a team focused on making products because they wanted to use them.

When he started a family, he got his kids riding dirt bikes at an early age and brought them to work even earlier.

Five of his six children—all of whom are grown—work at JIMS. His daughter and office manager, Lynsi Thiessen, said that at 6 weeks old she was in a crib in one of the offices. Her kids are around the shop now, too. The family-feel is half of what’s helped the company grow.

“People come back because they know we’re going to take care of them,” Lynsi Thiessen said. “My dad’s very genuine, very down-to-earth. There’s no one that doesn’t like him. In the industry, even our largest competitors . . . they’re buddies. That’s just who he is.”

Her father said it’s hard work but work he enjoys. One of his favorite aspects of the job is taking apart a new motorcycle and seeing what parts they can make for it.

“I thrive on getting stuff done. It’s always been like that,” Jim Thiessen said. “I like to make things happen, and when you’re doing that (machining) you’re making things happen all the time.”

That drive has kept JIMS growing for 50 years. Its product line has expanded to hundreds of drivetrain parts and tools, as well as custom engines and transmissions. Thiessen’s passion for speed and precision machining has led him to help outfit some of the fastest motorcycles in the world.

JIMS has sponsored riders who have set land speed records of over 170 miles per hour.

Thiessen said he’s backing away from the business, but his daughter said he still comes to work almost every day.

“He’s been saying he’s going to retire for about 10 years,” Lynsi Thiessen said. “We’ll believe it when we see it.”

Jim Thiessen will be inducted into the Sturgis Motorcycle Hall of Fame on Aug. 9 in South Dakota during the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, Aug. 4 through 13.

He’ll lead 25 other riders, and true to JIMS style, their bikes will be full of new parts that were made in Thiessen’s shop.

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