Viewers of the reality-television show “American Chopper,” witnessed the turbulent relationship between its main stars, Paul Teutul Sr. and his son Paul Teutul Jr., documented by the TV crew of the production company Pilgrim Films and Television, for Discovery Channel. They are the owners of one of the leading custom chopper-style motorcycle manufacturing companies in the US called Orange County Choppers. After one explosive argument between the Teutuls in 2008, Paul Sr. fired Paul Jr., and a year later, Paul Jr. opened his own company in front of one of his father’s businesses being managed by his brother, and while they no longer worked side by side each day, the fights continued and lawsuits were filed.

Get to know the origins of the Teutuls businesses

Orange County Ironworks

Before Paul Teutul Sr. was into building motorcycles, he started modestly in 1973, by peddling his welding services in a pickup truck to the local community in Montgomery, New York State, and called it Paul’s Welding.

It took years of hard work and perseverance before he established a 7,000-square-foot shop he called Orange County Iron in 1986. Over the years, there was a continuing demand for iron-related products and services that Paul Sr. bought a 10,000-square-foot facility in New Windsor, New York State to help produce more.

His eldest son, Paul Jr., joined his company after having been equipped with knowledge about welding through a vocational school course he attended, along with a learning program given by the Board of Cooperative Education Services. While he started at the bottom of the ladder doing odd jobs in the company, it didn’t take long for him to become the head of the Railing Shop, as Paul Sr. recognized his son’s improved skills.

After some time, Paul Sr. thought of building chopper-style motorcycles just for fun, and Paul Jr. helped him. It was then that he realized his son’s talent for design and fabrication. It was also then that he entertained the idea of turning his hobby into a fully-fledged business.

He left the management of the Orange County Iron to his other son, Dan Teutul, who in 2004 restructured the business to make it more efficient, and rebranded it to Orange County Ironworks.

Orange County Choppers

In 1999, Paul Sr. and Paul Jr. founded the manufacturing company Orange County Choppers or OCC, located in Newburgh, New York State, hiring a team of engineers, mechanics, technicians and fabricators to help them build custom chopper-style motorbikes. Paul Sr.’s youngest son, Michael “Mikey” Teutul, joined the team as the assistant general manager. To promote their business, OCC participated in the 1999 Daytona Biketoberfest, introducing the first motorcycle they built called “True Blue.” From then on, by word of mouth, they earned the reputation of building uniquely designed motorbikes with great craftsmanship.

While they were starting to get noticed by the motorcycle industry, the financial side of the business wasn’t as stable as they wanted it to be; they were going up and down until they were offered a TV deal.

“American Chopper,” the reality-TV show

When executives from Pilgrim Films and Television approached them, asking if they were interested in being featured in a reality-TV series, they all initially thought that it was a prank, and didn’t take it seriously. Once they realized that the offer was genuine, it didn’t take long for them to accept the TV deal. It also helped that the TV producers told them that they need not do anything special, or memorize lines, since it would be unscripted and that the TV crew would simply film their daily activities in the shop. The OCC team filmed two pilot episodes six weeks after they accepted the deal; at that time, the team consisted of the three Teutuls, Rick Petko (designer/fabricator), Vincent DiMartino (mechanic/assembler), Cody Connelly (mechanic/assembler), and Nick Hansford (technician/assembler).

Discovery Channel aired the pilot episodes of “American Chopper” in 2002, just to gauge viewers’ reaction. Paul Sr. and Paul Jr. along with the OCC crew were quite disappointed, as they never thought that the producers would include even the not-so-nice things going on in the shop, including the fights between father and son, believing that no one in the automotive industry would take them seriously because of those heated arguments, not realizing back then how reality-TV worked. However, when Paul Jr. checked the company emails, the inbox was full, as they received thousands either congratulating them or inquiring about their services.

The Teutuls were shocked to learn that those two pilot episodes garnered the highest TV ratings for the timeslots that they were on. Discovery knew they’d hit the jackpot, and greenlit the first season, which consisted of 29 episodes. It premiered in March 2003, with the season finale in May 2004.

It subsequently aired six seasons, and spawned two spin-off series – “American Chopper: Paul Sr. vs. Paul Jr.” and “Orange County Choppers”, a testament to how successful the Teutuls were on cable TV. It elevated their company to one of the leading chopper-style motorcycle builders not only in the US, but in the world.

Lawsuits and iconic fights between the Teutuls

Long before OCC ventured onto reality TV, Paul Sr. and Paul Jr. were already having heated arguments in the shop. It wasn’t only because of creative differences, but both men were quite stubborn in their way of doing things. Sources close to the father and son claimed that it was deeply rooted in many things, including secrets that they kept hidden from the public for a long time. Here are just some of the controversies involving the Teutuls over the years, and heated moments viewers witnessed in “American Chopper”:

Paul Jr.’s termination on national TV led to several memes

The OCC crew at the shop thought it was just another argument between father and son that fateful day. However, Paul Sr. was fed up with Paul Jr.’s tardiness, as he felt that it set a bad example to the other employees. The old man was quite strict with time-keeping, and everybody must be at the shop by seven in the morning. The younger Teutul had a different view on it, and felt that since all the tasks were finished by the end of the day, it didn’t matter what time he arrived. He also liked to take extended lunch breaks, and sometimes would take a nap during working hours.

Paul Sr. confronted his son, and it quickly devolved into a yelling match between the two, saying ‘Everybody is in here at 7 o’clock and you come walking in at quarter to 8.

Paul Teutul Jr.

When the f–k is it going to stop?’ Paul Jr. replied, ‘I don’t really give a s–t because at the end of the day, you know what matters, everything gets done around here.’ He further said that they were partners, and that if he wasn’t involved in the business, the shop would have been burned to the ground. He threw a chair in his father’s office, and that led to him being fired in front of all the other employees. He even angrily tossed a garbage can and other things across the room on his way out. Fans made several memes out of that iconic scene; if it had been in any other reality-TV show, viewers would accuse it of being scripted, but it was genuine, and eventually led to a series of lawsuits.

TV executives modified Paul Jr.’s contract so he was forced to continue filming

When Paul Jr. was fired, the TV executives needed to do something for the continuity of the “American Chopper” narrative, so to avoid the cancelation of the TV deal, they modified his contract. Instead of him working under his father’s company, he came back as an independent contractor.

The production crew adjusted everything just so he could be filmed when his father wasn’t present, but eventually left the show for good after he finished filming for the season. With other TV shows, it was usually the TV producers who would just cut corners and make changes with the narrative but since the family drama gave them immensely greater numbers on the viewership ratings, they were the ones who adapted to the chaotic situation.

Paul Sr. filed a lawsuit against Paul Jr.

When Paul Jr.’s contract was modified in January 2009, it was also agreed that Paul Sr. was given the option to buy his son’s shares in OCC for fair market value, which would be determined by the two parties. By the following month, Paul Sr. had Management Planning Inc. carry out an appraisal of the OCC shares. In April 2009, he said that the MPI report concluded that the fair market value of his son’s 20% share interest was zero. He then told his son to give up his stake in the company. When Paul Jr. chose not to relinquish his shares, his father filed a lawsuit so his son would be compelled to give it up.

For whatever reason, the case was withdrawn by November 2009.

At that point, Paul Sr. decided to just send a letter to his son exercising his option to buy him out, but when Paul Jr. ignored him, the father filed a lawsuit again for damage in excess of $1 million. The older man was hoping the judge would side with him, however, Paul Jr. filed counterclaims with allegations against his father including improper expenditures, using corporate funds to pay for personal mortgages, and misappropriated corporate distributions. In April 2010, the local court ruled in favor of Paul Sr., and appointed a third party to conduct an appraisal. The following month, Paul Jr. filed an appeal, and the valuation proceeding was put on hold. In December 2010, the Appellate court judge ruled in favor of Paul Jr., declaring the option for buyout invalid and unenforceable.

Paul Jr. established his own brand

After the one-year non-compete clause with OCC ended in 2009, Paul Jr. launched his own brand called Paul Jr. Designs (PJD), and opened his own shop located across from the Orange County Ironworks.

After reflecting on past years, he said that he felt that his father did him a favor when he was fired. If it hadn’t happened, he wouldn’t have realized that he had more potential to do well after he escaped his father’s controlling nature. After the lawsuits, he also concluded that the termination was due to the financial situation his father was in. Since having no job at that point in his life was scary, his father thought that he would beg for his job back, with less pay, and would relinquish his shares in the company.

Paul Sr. did not attend Paul Jr.’s wedding

The family drama continued even during the off-season as Paul Sr. was nowhere to be seen when Paul Jr. married Rachael Biester after two years of dating. He met her on the set of “American Chopper” since his future wife was also working in the automotive industry at that time. Paul Sr. was invited to the wedding but chose not to attend, as it was the peak of their feud.

Paul Teutul Sr.

Paul Sr. and Paul Jr. spin-off series

The fans couldn’t be more invested in the lives of the Teutuls that when it was announced that there would be a spin-off series called “American Chopper: Sr. vs Jr.,” they were excited. The lawsuits filed between them were all chronicled in the spin-off, and according to the TV ratings, the devoted fans loved it. Paul Sr. and Paul Jr took on new projects separately with their own crews, while some questioned if doing the spin-off series was worth it, since it continuously damaged the fragile relationship between father and son.

However, they both needed the exposure for their business, as well as money that they earned from being reality-TV stars. From the financial standpoint, it was a win-win situation as the Teutuls milked their ongoing drama. It might have been unscripted but they all collaborated to have one narrative in the show.

Halfway through the first season in November 2010, a special episode was aired. Paul Sr., Paul Jr., and Mikey were interviewed on how their family fell apart. While they discussed if a genuine reconciliation was possible through the spin-off series, it was also quite obvious that the Teutuls were smart enough to make more money out of their situation.  Their family drama became more interesting to the public just as any scripted daily soap opera. The TV producers couldn’t be happier at this point, as there was no need to be creative in trying to hype the TV show, unlike other reality-TV shows.

While they worked things out and settled things on their own, the family wasn’t able to get past four seasons. The TV show was eventually canceled in 2012, with the relationship not totally fixed as they were always competing with each other.

However, there were no huge fights between them anymore, even if they still often argued. Both mellowed down, especially Paul Sr. and the OCC crew all agreed that the work dynamics in the shop had changed for the better.

 “American Chopper,” the Reboot

It was rumored for quite some time that the idea for a reboot of the original series was being floated around, either by Paul Sr. or by the Discovery Channel think tank. There was still a huge interest in the Teutuls, not only due to their family drama but also because of their immense talent as motorcycle builders. It would be problematic for sure since father and son haven’t fully reconciled but it wasn’t a surprise anymore that the TV producers took the risk of rebooting it. However, it took some flexing from the original executive producer before the Teutuls agreed in letting him take over the show. Craig Piligian said that Discovery Channel executives contacted him when they weren’t pleased with the early outcome of the reboot.

‘It wasn’t very much fun, and a lot of bad blood was spilled at the beginning of it all. And now everything’s great,’ he revealed.

On 28 May 2018, the first episode of the new “American Chopper” was aired on Discovery Channel; the series lasted for two seasons before it ended in March 2019. While they still argued sometimes, they both tried to make it less heated. They were supposed to build a bike together, but Paul Sr. wasn’t ready at that time because he was afraid that something bad would happen to their repaired relationship.

However, fans were ecstatic that when they did a TV special in August 2020 entitled “American Chopper: The Last Ride,” they built a bike together for the ABC Supply Company, although with Paul Sr. not allowing his son to have any creative input to it. Apparently the latter didn’t mind anymore, since he only wanted to spend quality time with his father.

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