The Loop Newspaper - Tehachapi's Online Community News & Entertainment Guide

Interview with Eric Scarlett

 

Larry LaCom

Eric Scarlett holding the battle flag that he made.

Eric Scarlett is one of Tehachapi's claims to fame. If you've ever wondered who built the world's largest barbecue grill, or the world's biggest motorcycle, look no further than Bear Valley Springs, where Eric is a resident.

Driving up to Eric's house off Jacaranda, there's a commanding view of the southern Sierra Nevada mountain range. He lives in a very nice 2-story house with a garage that looks like an automotive shop, which gives away a huge clue to one of his major hobbies.

He invited me upstairs to his beautiful living room in the house he shares with his wife and kids, and we sat down for an interview. The house is adorned with interesting artwork, including exotic original masks from different parts of the world. He spends his time with family when he isn't working on one of his many projects, and doesn't really have time for the usual pastimes of watching sports. He'd rather collect unique original artwork, or travel, or build stuff that makes people happy.

Eric is a U.S. Navy combat veteran, serving from 1990 – 1994 for three tours in the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Storm, as well as in the Pacific around the Philippines, Taiwan, Japan and Hong Kong. He served in the delayed entry program during high school, completing boot camp before he graduated. During Desert Storm, he served as an electrician's mate, third class petty officer, search and rescue swimmer, switchboard operator, SST technician, small boat repair technician and quite a few other support duties. He was stationed on the USS Cleveland, which was involved in firefights from ship to shore in the Persian Gulf. He remembers his navy time with fondness and great pride that he was able to serve his country honorably.

After returning from the service, Eric began a period of about 15 years working in automotive restoration shops, including owning his own shop. He began appearing on television shows such as Monster Garage with Jesse James, and BIG! on the Discovery Channel. His TV career was quite colorful, and as a result of his involvement he is the recipient of several Guinness world records, including the world's largest electric guitar, the world's largest popcorn popper, the world's largest electric hair clipper, and several other awards in the "world's largest" category.

But no matter what he did, whatever project he got involved in, something wasn't right inside him, and he had a growing feeling that it had to be addressed. After dealing with bouts of depression, finally in 2011 he went to the VA and pressed hard to get them to help him figure out what was wrong. Lots of help was being given post-9/11 veterans, but not so much to those who served before then. And Desert Storm was pre-9/11. After working hard to get the VA's support and a proper diagnosis, he found out that he had suffered exposure to toxic chemicals during his time in the service, as well as combat-related stresses that were beginning to take their toll on his body and mind. He didn't want to travel because he couldn't trust his surroundings. He didn't want to sit in a movie theater because he didn't like people sitting behind him. It was limiting his choices in life, and something had to be done.

He finally got the approval he needed, and checked into an in-patient program in the Westwood VA hospital, staying there for 3 months – away from family and everything he knew, but he got the needed help. Then during a 2-year aftercare outpatient program, through a series of classes and therapies, he figured out that, among other things, he needed to work on projects that delivered more immediate gratification rather than the long, drawn out projects he was doing restoring old cars and motorcycles.

After that time, friends began telling him to pursue making art pieces. So he went to his mentor, a renowned automotive restoration expert and shop owner, and honed his skills. He began working on a design for an American Flag, but not just an ordinary flag – a battle flag. That battle flag is the symbol of the troops who have taken territory in a hard-fought battle and raised the Stars and Stripes over the ground they have won. It was worn, dirty and beaten up, but it was the symbol of American victory.

Eric's flag was to be made of metal, with cutouts for the stars and burn holes from the battle. He wanted to have the texture of the metal show through the special paint he applied for a unique glossy look that would sparkle when it caught the sun's rays. He used special automotive paints and clear coat for a high gloss that would catch the light in a special way and make people take notice when they saw it.

The public unveiling of his first flag was an instant success, and he's been making them ever since. He's also making sculptures from found objects that people are buying, but some of his most gratifying work is making those flags and donating them to causes he believes in. There's a thin blue line piece he made that he gave to the Bear Valley Police department. If he finds a cause worth donating to, he gives his artwork away. He's also continuing his custom car work. His current project is a 1955 Oldsmobile that he hopes to have finished for the 2018 Thunder on the Mountain car show.

Eric Scarlett's journey to where he is today hasn't been easy, but he loves what he does, and he has found an outlet for his plentiful energy that helps him deal with the difficulty of what he's been through and provides a way to give back to the country he loves.

 
 

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