When Ron Grottanelli of West Seneca uses the slang term "hog," he's referring to any make of big, full-dressed motorcycle.
But when executives at Harley-Davidson Motor Co. use the word, they are talking exclusively about a motorcycle bearing a Harley nameplate.
That difference of opinion has sparked a four-year feud between the local motorcycle repair shop owner and the motorcycle manufacturer that has escalated to a federal court fight over Grottanelli's right to call his business The Hog Farm.
"The bottom line is they want to take away my name and I'm not going to lay down and take it because they have the big money. I won't back down," Grottanelli said.
The businessman's use of The Hog Farm name dates back to the founding of his Mineral Springs Road repair shop in 1969, a time when Grottanelli claims riders of any make of big bikes referred to their vehicles as "hogs," or "hoggs," or "hawgs."
"At that time the Harley people hated the term, they did not want to be associated with that certain segment of bikers," the former Hell's Angel recalled.
"Sure, I ride Harleys and work on Harleys, but I work on all the other bikes, too. When I called up with The Hog Farm name, it was a reflection of my lifestyle, my friends and my philosophy," he added.
If the folks at Harley had tried to distance themselves from the term "hog," and all of its connotations in the late 1960s, they apparently had a change of heart in the mid-1980s.
In 1986, the company registered and received a trademark on H.O.G., which stands for Harley Owners Group, a series of company-sponsored clubs throughout the United States.
Like lots of other Harley owners, Grottanelli became active in local H.O.G. units, never imagining that the bike manufacturer's new trademark would collide with his livelihood.
"They first contacted me in 1992 and tried to buy my name. We had some discussions, but never came to terms. I figured I wouldn't hear from them again," he said.
The next contact came in 1993 when Harley kick-started a legal battle that will bring the name issue to trial before Federal Magistrate Edmund Maxwell beginning today in Federal District Court in Buffalo.
Steve Piehl, public relations manager for Harley-Davidson, said the company plans to demonstrate that Harley and "hog" are interchangeable for Harley owners and Grottanelli's use of the term in the name of his business misleads the public.
"Quite simply, we are concerned that there is someone out there who is confusing our customers by implying his dealership is an authorized Harley-Davidson repair shop," Piehl said.
Harley's list of witnesses includes its in-house historian, who will testify via videotape as to the company's use of the term "hog." Piehl said the witness will show the association pre-dates the opening of The Hog Farm.
Also on the witness list for the plaintiffs is Buffalo criminal defense attorney and Harley rider Paul Cambria. Cambria, who began riding in the mid-1980s and has hooked up with such celebrity Harley riders as Arnold Schwarzenegger for cross country rides, reportedly will testify to local use of the term.
Grottanelli, who is represented by Buffalo attorney Peter Sommer, also will tap a local attorney for an historical perspective of "hog." Lawyer Richard Rosche, who has ridden a variety of bikes since the mid-1960s, is on the defendant's witness list.
Grottanelli and his wife, Ruth, also are scheduled to take the stand to defend their shop's name.
"This is kind of a David and Goliath situation, but I know in my heart I'm in the right," Grottanelli said. "They'll come in with documents that are about three feet thick and a team of lawyers, but the truth is they can't prove their case."
Over the past several months, the Grottanellis have solicited support from the local biking community and have amassed about 8,000 signatures on petitions calling on Harley to leave The Hog Farm alone.
They've also created a T-shirt bearing a caricature of a wild hog and the message "They Can Have My Name When They Pry My Cold Dead Hands From It."
"We've put out the word to have supporters come to court as a show of strength," Grottanelli said. "I feel like this fight isn't just for my business and me, but for all of us who don't believe Harley can claim the term 'hog' as their property."