My Passion For Motorcycling
On The Bonneville Salt Flats Speed Track
I was allowed to have my first motorcycle in 1963 at the age of 16. It was a Honda 250 cc “Scrambler” and at that time, it was one of only a few motorcycles in my town. I can say it was the loudest one around! I had never ridden a motorcycle before, but my Dad agreed to purchase one for me, so my Mom and I took the car 14 miles East to the only retailer in the area that sold motorcycles, Bailey’s Sport Shop, Lexington, Nebraska and she and I picked out a Red and Silver “250 Scrambler” and off I went, heading West on US Highway #30! My parents had to actually remove me from that bike that night, and believe me, I was up and back on it early the next morning, day after day for at least a week. I remember that my goal was to have at least 250 miles on the odometer within the week and I made it in the first two days!
I rode that bike until just before leaving for college in early summer of 1965. I had gotten a job with Baily’s Sport Shop as a Honda Mechanic during the summer of 1964, so it looked much different than the day I brought it home, customized just for my tastes, and the motor had been used at times that summer for racing in a frame that Mr. Baily owned. All of that “wild boy” stuff ended abruptly in December 1964 when I was in an automobile accident and broke 3 vertebrae and knocked two others out of place in my neck! Somehow, I knew that would be the end of my riding days, at least in or around Cozad, Nebraska! It must have been a sad day when my parents sold that motorcycle, because I have absolutely not one bit of recollection of that day!
So it was off to college with no motorcycle and no car … what a dilemma!
I saw my first Harley-Davidson Motorcycle up close in the summer of 1969. I was attending college in Lincoln, Nebraska and was working part-time as a mechanic at Miracle Mile “66”, a local Phillips “66” gas station located at 48th & Holdrege in University Place area of Lincoln. Right next door was a small loan business called Globe Finance. I had done mechanical work for Globe Finance off and on and had become friends with the manager, Leo Straight.
Anyway, one day Leo ran me down and asked if I might be interested in purchasing a Harley-Davidson motorcycle from the son of Ken Brown, owner of Globe Finance. Ken didn’t approve of his son owning that motorcycle and was afraid he’d hurt himself sooner or later on it, so he was encouraging Leo to find a buyer for that “nasty” toy his son had purchased without his permission.
Long story short, I looked at it, felt it, listened to it go Potato, Potato, Potato, sat on it and that was all it took. I was now the proud owner of a 1968 Harley-Davidson Sportster FLH! Wow, 900 cubic centimeters of V-Twin Iron Head Muscle. As soon as I had the IN-Transit sticker displayed and the insurance in force, I immediately rode out to Interstate I-180 and cranked it up! I had on a long sleeve, denim shirt that wasn’t tucked in, and when I got back home, I found that I had raveled the shirt tails almost up to the waist from them flowing in the breeze at 100 mph +! That was my first taste of the Harley-Davidson “mystique”, which has never left me. My blood still rushes when I remember those first days abreast my own Harley. And by the way, I put over 250 miles on that odometer the first day! I hid the fact that I had purchased that bike from my parents for almost a full year!
So, I now needed additional income to support my new ride, so I took a job turning wrenches on Sportsters at Kramer Harley-Davidson on N. 33rd. street in Lincoln. I had no formal training, but taught myself in the shop of that dealership, with some help from riders that happened by intermittently. You see, in those days, there were only a hand full of Harleys in the city of Lincoln which was just around 100,000 in population. Within just a few weeks, I knew every Harley owner in the city and surrounding area. I loved that mystique and especially the way people looked at me as I passed thundering by. It was really good for my ego and self esteem at that time. And then, when the other riders brought their machines into our shop and asked me to tweek them or fix them or questioned what made this or that happen … man, I was in ego Heaven!
Shortly after purchasing that Sportster, I found that college was once again, interfering with my education, so after finishing the current semester, I decided to take a break from school and work full time. I got a job at K-Mart automotive as a front end alignment technician. I worked there from 7 AM to 2:00 PM, then went to the Harley Shop until 6 PM. I still put in part time hours at Miracle Mile “66”, but only when it was absolutely necessary. Hanging out at the Harley Shop was much more important to me than the little extra income I got there. You see, after the dealership officially closed for the day, there was usually a group of riders that hung around out back in the shop, sometimes for hours, trading stories and memories of past adventures aboard a Harley-Davidson. Most of the time someone would run and get a case of beer and on some occasions, there would be some smoke, if you get my drift! There were times that I didn’t lock up the shop until after midnight. It was a great place to hang out! In addition, we were normally visited by several Motor Patrol Officers of the Lincoln Police Department. The department had it’s own maintenance shop, but several of the officers would have us tweek their bikes because they couldn’t get the city mechanics to do it either due to procedures and guidelines, etc. or lack of ability, so we became friends and they liked to drop by and “hang out” even when they were on duty. This was really great, having a special connection to the Lincoln PD, how awesome!
Lavern Kramer, owner of the small Harley Shop, got it in his head that putting dual carburetors on a Harley V-Twin would increase the performance, so as a team, He, me and an electrical engineer named John Magnusson designed, manufactured and marketed a dual carburetor kit for both Sportster and Harley 74 models. In those days, Harley only marketed two engines for street use, the Sportster V-Twin and the 74 cubic inch V-Twin. It didn’t take long for Milwaukee (Harley-Davidson home office) to find out about our little performance package and Clyde Denzer, the head of the factory racing division invited us to allow his division of the motor company to test the kits in real time, so we packed up 7 kits and on a Friday evening around 10 PM, Lavern, me and another dude that rode a Sportster and hung around at the shop, headed out toward Oklahoma City to meet Clyde and his flat track team at a National Flat Track race event that was to be held the next day in mid-afternoon. This was my first official road trip and I was really excited! We traveled through the night, the 400+ miles, and arrived early morning on Saturday at the Oklahoma State Fairgrounds and met with Clyde and his crew. They took possession of the kits and thanked us for bringing them to them, but advised that they would not be installing any of them that day, but would be after the meet and would do some testing on that oval dirt track. This was done on Sunday, before we departed on our return to Lincoln. Needless to say, we were disappointed that our kit would not be a part of the actual race event!
What I remember the most about that first road trip was simply this. Traveling through the night under a full moon, across the openness and solitude of the Kansas farm terrain, I comprehended, for the first time, the thunderous mystique of a V-Twin Harley-Davidson exhaust at 3,000 ish rpm! Every ounce of my flesh tingled with an adrenalin rush the entire trip, down and back! Even today as I write this, I get a tinge of that adrenalin rush and I crave to experience it once again and I know I shall, over and over again, until the day I die.
The main job I had regarding the dual carb kits was doing real time, on the street testing. I was good at that job, but sometimes my drinking put me in a position that had drawbacks! One Saturday morning at K-Mart, I was so hung over from the night before, that I had to eat nearly a full bottle of Excedrin during my shift just to be able to function. Near the end of shift, which that day lasted until around 5 PM, some of the other mechanics that had been giving me a hard time all shift about my hangover, decided to “poke” at my Sportster, saying it was just too big and bulky to do things like “pull wheelies”. Well, I knew better than that and wasn’t about to let them be right, so I bet them I could ride my Harley on it’s rear tire all the way across the parking lot, which was probably around 75 – 100 yards. They immediately took me up on the bet and the show was on! Now the parking lot in front of the Car Service Area, was sloped East to West, with the elevation being greater on the West. On the South was a cafe and on the North was Umberger’s Mortuary. Umbergers site was just about the same elevation as 48th Street on the East, so as the elevation rose to the West, Umbergers sort of sat in a “hole” so to speak, with a barrier wall around the perimeter. At the highest point, this wall was nearly 6 feet tall. Anyway, as I proved the bet, I rode South to North between the cafe and the mortuary. I pulled the front end up off the ground immediately, shifted into second gear and shot across the parking lot. By the time I lowered the front end back down to the paving surface, I had too much speed and could not get stopped before colliding with the curb that was on top of the barrier wall around the mortuary. Hitting this caused the rear end of my bike to raise up and over the front end and I cart wheeled in the air, several rotations until I landed nose first on the 6′ lower surface of the mortuary parking lot, and proceeded to slide Northward into the building wall and come to a stop! The shop gang was cheering uncontrollably and I did collect on my bet, but only after spending time at Bryan Memorial Hospital, where my left elbow was repaired after being crushed! Once the momentum was stopped, I got up, set my bike upright, called Lavern Kramer and he brought the shop pickup and we loaded my bike and he took it to the shop. I decided since my left elbow was swollen to a very large size, seemingly about the size of a melon, that I might just go to the hospital and have it checked out. Well, after almost 4 hours waiting in the emergency room, my elbow was x-rayed and I was then immediately rushed to a room and into surgery. Four days later, I emerged in a cast from mid way between shoulder and elbow to just above the wrist. I was told that I had a stainless steel pin about 10 inches long and another shorter stainless steel screw holding my elbow together and that I would most likely have a loss of movement in the elbow after it healed and the pin and screw were removed. They were absolutely right, to this day I can not completely straighten my left arm, but it is otherwise fully functional and when they removed the pin and screw, I welded them together in a cross and then welded them to the top of the new “sissy bar” I made for the bike while waiting for the cast to be removed. In fact, all through the time of healing, I tore my bike completely down, sent the frame back to Harley-Davidson to have it straightened and trued, sent the engine to Belmont H-D in Minneapolis to have it balanced and blue printed, rebuilt the front end with extended forks, riser handle bars, bobbed the fenders, installed my rear wheel hub into an FLH rear wheel rim which was wider than the stock Sportster wheel, fabricated my own sissy bar and took every single nut, screw, bolt and washer and anything else I wanted chromed to Lincoln Plating so I would be ready to rebuild the bike from the ground up once the frame and engine were returned.
So, I’m in a cast, working two jobs again to help with the cost of rebuilding the Sportster. Bill White “66” was just down 33rd. Street from Kramer Harley-Davidson, so it was very convenient for me when I saw a help wanted sign there and I got the job, even in my cast. It seemed like it was taking forever for all my parts to get chromed and for the additional outsourced work that was necessary. The frame was finally finished and delivered to the dealership. I began putting the rear suspension on as well as the front end. Once this was done, I had a rolling frame and moved it from the Harley shop to my garage where I lived on N. 58th Street. While waiting for the drive train, I spray painted the gas tank and both fenders with grey primer, preparing them for a professional paint job. I had installed a spoked rear wheel rim from an Electra Glide (much wider rim) model that we had worked on at the shop and that allowed me to have a wider, better looking rear tire. It just barley fit the swing arm and fender, but it did and I was very happy about that. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was modifying my Sporster almost in the opposite way the motor company did a year later with a new model named the SuperGlide. They took an FL frame and put a Sportster front end on it. I took a Sportster frame and front end and put an FL rear wheel on it. Their Super Glide was a much better machine, but my modified Sportster was somewhat unique and drew a lot of attention when it was complete.
Just when I thought nothing was going to happen right, things started coming together in my life. One day I got notice that my Engine had been shipped from Minneapolis and the next day, I had a Dr. appointment and he removed my cast! I was all smiles. I was not able to get much movement in the elbow and the Dr. said it was normal and suggested physical therapy. There I got some simple exercises that I could do on my own to help loosen up the elbow, but I was already thinking of a much more enjoyable exercise that I was sure would produce the most change in the least amount of time. Now I don’t know how much you might know about older Harleys, but there is a reason they were referred to historically as the “Milwaukee Vibrator”! The Sportsters, especially, due to the single component Engines/Transmissions, helped to formulate this historical nomenclature! I can’t remember anything in my life that vibrated as much as that old Iron Head Sportster … and therein, I was sure I had found the perfect physical therapy available for my elbow. Since the Engine/Transmission component is bolted directly to the frame of the old Sportster, the vibration carried all the way through the bike, right up to the handle bars, and I would be holding one of them with my left hand, which I surmised would carry the vibration right to my elbow and help to loosen it up! Wasn’t I clever now?
One of my Cop buddies, Dick Kohles, stopped by the day before my engine was to arrive and asked if I wanted to take a trip with him. He had 3 weeks vacation time to take and wanted to ride his Sportster XLCH on a little trip looking up some of his Vietnam army buddies. One near Chicago, another in Ohio and a third somewhere in between. He wanted to leave in 2 days and wanted me to go along. The words no or I can’t didn’t even enter my thoughts. The only thing that came from my mouth was OK, but I’ll have to work round the clock getting my bike back together! I picked up the Engine the next morning, worked my shift at White “66”, then proceeded to pull it all together. Next morning around 7:30, I flushed the oiling system with diesel fuel to make sure there were no problems and then filled the system with fresh oil and fired it up. Next, I went into the house and rolled up a few things in a blanket, packed a small bag with clothes & such, mounted the bedroll and pack on the bike and Dick arrived by about 9 AM, packed and ready to roll. I had forgotten about White “66”, so we drove by there and I quit my job and drew my wages owed, then stopped by the Harley shop to let them know I was leaving and off we went in a thunderous roar, all in the name of physical therapy for my elbow!
I remember crossing the Missouri River at Plattsmouth, Nebraska with the theme song from the movie “Easy Rider” flowing through my head … I was in heaven!
Dick & I made our way East/Northeast into Illinois and were nearing the Chicago area. We decided to find a place to camp on the shore of Lake Michigan. We found a remote area, off the beaten path. The only drawback was that access was from an elevation considerably higher than the shoreline, but we could see what appeared to be a walking trail through the underbrush in the near pitch darkness. Now, it was pretty late in the evening…I’m guessing near 11 PM to Midnight…and we were tired and hungry, so we found a small cafe along the roadside near the entrance we had decided on, ate our fill and headed back to the trail entrance. Thinking pretty much only about settling in and sleeping, we traversed the trail downward (I remember thinking once and maybe twice, this sure seems to be steep and long) to the small beach area we had spotted from above, got out our bedrolls and put ourselves down for the rest of the night. The morning sun was shaded by the vegetation and trees along the eastern slope of the canyon we found ourselves in as the morning traffic above awakened us to a new reality. If there had been enough light to get a good view of this “chosen area”, I’m sure we would have moved on, but circumstances as they were, Dick & Randy forged the trail, only to find at daybreak, that we had entered a very steep canyon and would have quite an adventure getting out! I had never considered the sport of “Hill Climbing” as a sport I would want to participate in, but this day, I had no choice. It was teach myself to “hill climb” or find myself stranded without the necessary essentials of even a very simple lifestyle! I’m too old to remember how many times both of us went part way up and slid down that hill, but I can tell you, any real “hill climb” event, should require all participants to ride a motorcycle, fully packed with gear and such for a two week road trip! Now the winner of that event should get a really great Trophy! Dick’s bike was lighter than mine and got less traction, so much in fact that we ended up putting a rope on it and pulling it up the last 75-100 ft. with my bike, once I had made it to the top, after I don’t know how many tries. Well, it was now day two and we could head out to find one of Dick’s army buds…..right!
Needless to say, Dick decided not to try and locate the buddy that lived around that area, he felt like since we spent so much time climbing out of that canyon, that we should get moving toward his friend in Ohio and he could make contact with his Chicago buddy some other time. So off we went toward Ohio. Now I can’t remember where in Ohio we went, I just remember it was pretty, rolling hills and along a large river where we met up with his friend. I think we stopped in Michigan along the way and contacted someone Dick had planned on seeing and then moved on toward Ohio. His army buddy lived somewhere along a river, nestled in a picturesque area of gently rolling hills and woodland. We stayed two nights there and then headed out in a South/Southeast direction toward Virginia, where we met another army buddy for a short visit. At some point, I decided to call my relatives that lived in North and South Carolina, and of coarse, they invited us to stop by if we were close at all. Dick had found out that the rest of his “gang” that he thought were in that area, were either gone or AWOL, so we decided to head to Ft. Mill, South Carolina and visit my uncle Floyd. He lived on a small farm, had plenty of room for both of us, and it wasn’t far from my uncle J.E. in Bessemer City, NC and my uncle Max in Dallas, NC. On the way there, we took our time, traveling on back highways and roads, spending time in small town cafes and bars. We were usually seen by the locals as interesting guys on the road and most everybody we met were friendly and very accommodating. I do remember one night that we had stopped to camp and the land owner arrived shortly thereafter with the intention of running us off . He’d have no “biker trash” camping on his property! Needless to say, our friendly manners and attitudes, as well as Dick’s Police Shield/ID, convinced him it was OK for us to stay, but we surely had better “watch ourselves and get going first thing in the morning”! That was actually the only negative event that we encountered on the whole trip in regard to our camping activities, except for the night in Ohio when we got caught in a heavy rain and decided to take shelter in a wayside area for trucks. There was no where to get in out of the rain except for under one of several trucks parked there for the night, so we just parked next to the longest trailer and slid in underneath for some shut eye. We were rudely awakened several hours later by the sound of the air brakes releasing and just barely got ourselves out from under that rig before it began moving forward! That was one alarm clock I won’t ever forget! The rain had stopped, so we hit the road again until daybreak, then found a place to eat and have some long overdue coffee.
We were on our way down through the lower Appalachain Mountains traveling through West Virginia, Virginia and into North Carolina. Some where in I believe Virginia, as we were riding through the peaceful, rolling hills (coming from Nebraska and being very familiar with the Colorado Rocky Mountains, I considered the Appalachain range to be mere hills), Dick was feeling his oats, so to speak and was having a fun time running the curves at probably close to an unsafe velocity. I didn’t want to loose sight of him, so I too, challenged my self and my machine to a point close to our limits! All of a sudden, Dick was not in sight … I came around a really tight curve and there he was … lying in the highway and his CH was a few yards on down the highway, lying on it’s side slammed, rear first, into the side of the hill. Dick was trying to get up, but not doing well with that chore! I parked near his bike, shut off the fuel valve and then went to his aid. By that time, Dick was standing, somewhat dazed but apparently not too broken! One of his legs was bleeding as well as his shoulder, arm and hands, but he said he was ok. His bike, on the other hand, didn’t fair so well. The rear fender struts and fender were bent into the rear tire and rolling the bike was not an option. We collected his personal property that had been strewn around, collected our composure and sat down in contemplation of our next move. We decided to flag down the first pickup that came along and ask for a ride into the nearest town. That turned out to work quite well and we got a ride for Dick and his bike, and I followed on mine. It wasn’t too far to the next small town, where we stopped and unloaded Dick’s bike at a local filling station. We inquired about possibly using some of their tools in order to get the bike operational once again and were happily accommodated. Dick needed medical attention, so the man that gave him the ride in, took him to the local hospital and I stayed behind to make temporary repairs so that we could proceed on our adventure.
We were warmly welcomed into this small community, nestled in the hills of Virginia and after several hours, our presence seemed to be known by every resident of the community! Even before Dick returned from the hospital, one by one or two by two and even larger groups, community residents would stop by to see “the motorcycle guys” that had wrecked on the highway! It was really very innocent and it made me feel pretty cool. Every body seemed interested in our trip, where we had been, where we were headed and such. I had to remove the fender struts and fender, which required me to also remove the rear wheel and tire. In order to get the wheel and tire off, I had to improvise with a long steel bar, bending the damaged parts away from the tire far enough so that it could be removed. Not having a Harley Davidson Dealership anywhere near, it was imperative that I carefully perform the necessary work without further damaging the machine, so I took my time and diligently went about my job. Dick returned about the time I got the wheel and tire off, so he sat down, grabbed a soda and did the public relations work with the bystanders as I performed my miracle, and miracle it was! I was able to get the struts and fender removed without further damage, straighten the struts within reason and pounded out the crumpled fender into a close resemblance of what it was, paint excepted!
Dick’s body, by this time, was becoming stiff and sore, so once I had the bike put back together and test drove it, we both retired to the small beer joint on main street, at the request of some of the locals. We were fed, had all the drinks we wanted and were invited by several locals to feel free to camp on their premises, at absolutely no cost to either of us! We stayed at the bar until after sundown, then followed one of our benefactors a short distance out of town and made camp. Morning came and we had visitors, offering breakfast and shower accommodations. We accepted, had our breakfast, showers and returned to our camp site, packed our gear and said goodby to all that were there to see us off. Honest to God, we were treated as celebrities in that small, Virginia town and when we left, fond memories were packed away for visits in the future.
(To Be Continued)
Published: May 3, 2012, 17:05 | 8 Comments on