This time of year does it to me every time. As the weather warms (above zero is warm isn’t it?), and I start thinking about switching from a coat to a lighter jacket, memories of this time in yesteryear occasionally drift into my consciousness. These past few evenings, as just the right chill is in the air, my senses can taste and smell the time when nothing excited me more than the anticipation of the cold night air blasting through my hair as I straddle two wheels and a noisy motor. With the twist of my right wrist, I was thrust toward the edge of the light beam which danced to the beat of the rough gravel road leading away from our farm. The sound of the twin cylinder 2-cycle engine drowned out noise of the tires popping over loose the rocks and splashing through the shallow mud puddles. My nose experienced a combination of gas, oil, and dust, all tempered with the mellowing effect of the melting snow and moist cold air.
It was a great time and place to be 16 years old. My imagination back then was as vivid as it is now. In fact, when I first experienced all of these senses and emotions, it WAS in my imagination.
My two older brothers got me dreaming of exploring every rook and rill within a hundred miles of our farm. About seven years earlier my oldest brother, Brian, had bought an old used motorcycle as transportation for an early morning sprinkler pipe moving job. He spent more time pushing his Montgomery Ward 200cc motorcycle then he did riding it. And so my parents reluctantly allowed him to buy a new motorcycle.
I would guess the reason he chose a Suzuki had to do with who the nearest dealer was in our rural area. But my parents were very no nonsense when it came to such things, so it was a big deal to have something that would be fun to ride on around our home. I was probably only about ten years old when Brian bought his Suzuki 350cc street bike.
First Brian, and then my next older brother, Keith, ran that motorcycle everywhere. And I do mean everywhere. I remember riding on the back of that motorcycle even in the winter time on snow packed and drifted roads. More than once we were stuck in snow so deep that the top of the seat was level with the drift.
Keith didn’t seem to know that it was a street bike. After Brian had left home, Keith took that “Street bike” many places where even a dirt bike should never be taken. Evel Knievel must have been his idol.
So finally, after about 6 or 7 years of the Suzuki 350cc street bike taking this kind of abuse, I had my chance to try my hand at motorcycle madness. Actually, I found the motorcycle buried to the seat in mud and water in a neighbor’s irrigated field. I don’t know how Keith could have made it so far into the field before sinking out of sight. Both of my older brothers had perfected the skill of running the motorcycle as a snowmobile and I guess Keith was working on his jet ski abilities. But now there was no rescuing that now dead motorcycle until the water subsided and the deep boggy mud dried a bit.
I didn’t really know how to fix a worn out motorcycle, but I did know that after being submerged in mud and water for a week, the engine should probably be taken apart and cleaned up. One thing leads to another and before I knew it, every component of that motorcycle was disassembled and strewn throughout my work shop. Through the winter months, I spent my spare time working on “my” motorcycle.
After I did everything I could think to do, a college student who worked part-time for our farm came to my rescue. Dennis Maughan was older and wiser in mechanics than I was. And best of all, he was willing to help with advise and even a helping hand once in a while. Before we were finished, we had completely rebuilt the engine, over hauled the carburetor, and repaired and replaced massive amounts of wiring.
So this brings me to the part of my story where I started. It was early spring-time and I was still spending most of my free time, which was mostly late at night, doing the finishing touches on my “new” motorcycle.
Finally, about 10:30 one night, I declared it finished. I pushed my new pride and joy out into the cold night air, through the shallow mud puddles and over to our farm gas tank. Under the dim yard light, I overfilled the tank, spilling some gas on the ground and a little on myself. Within moments, I was straddling the seat while kicking the starter with my left leg as fast and furious as possible. A 16 year-old has pretty good stamina when his adrenalin is pumping. I probably kicked that starter a thousand times that night. Every once in awhile I would stop and make some adjustment to the carburetor.
Once I popped off one of the two sparkplug wires to test for a spark while kicking the starter over. The powerful jolt I felt renewed my adrenalin and assured me that there was plenty of spark to fire up the engine. Sometime around midnight I finally gave up on that greatly anticipated ride into the dark night air.
The next day I took the carburetor apart and went through everything I could think of once again. Following the repair manual, I checked my float level the best I could with out having any special gages and then put the whole thing back together again. Again that night I continued my ritual out in the yard of straddling the motorcycle and giving my left leg a workout that would make Richard Simmons weary. Again, all I could get the motorcycle to do was an occasional back fire and a lot of gas smell.
The next day, I called the motorcycle shop to ask for advice. Though I didn’t realize it, because I was a self centered 16 year-old, the mechanic was unbelievably patient with me as I rehearsed everything I had done and tried to get my motorcycle to go. The conversation went on for maybe a half an hour. I clearly remember the very end of that conversation. After answering all my questions about how to adjust the carburetor, he finally asked in exasperation, “Well do you even have compression?”
I was confident in my answer, “Yes, I know I have good compression… cause it keeps backfiring and it almost breaks my leg with how hard it kicks.”
“Oh, it’s backfiring?”
“Yes, all the time.”
“Well, are you sure you have the spark plug wires on right?”
“What do you mean?”
“Is your firing order right? The wires have to be on a certain way.”
A light bulb lit up in my brain. And suddenly I knew that must have been the problem. In an effort to bury my embarrassment, I thanked him for his help and ended the conversation as quickly as possible. My motorcycle was partly dissembled back in the shop and I had to finish up my farm work before working on it again.
That night after supper, I reassembled the motorcycle like an expert mechanic. I had put that carburetor on and off so many times now that I didn’t even have to think about what I was doing. It was the easiest thing to unplug the two spark plug wire and switch them as instructed by my telephone help line. After installing all the covers I excitedly pushed my motorcycle out into the crisp night air once again.
First kick, the motor roared and my adrenalin soared. Finally, I actually experienced the rush of speeding down the dark rocky road in the cool crisp air.
I wasn’t as crazy as my brother, Keith, on that motorcycle. But I think I did see every rook (a kind of crow) and rill (a very small stream) within a hundred miles of our farm in Southeastern Idaho while riding that motorcycle.
I had a few close calls while learning that to other motorist, motorcycles are invisible.
Once I took it up on the Menan Butte. This is an old volcano which I felt a special attachment to. On the face of this butte, was painted a giant “R”. While growing up, I could look out our front window and admire “MY” mountain. As a little kid, I thought the R stood for Ron instead of Ricks College.
As a Boy Scout, I had done my share of climbing around on the face of this butte and even going down into the heart of it. Inside was a meadow, maybe a mile across… perfect for camping. But one thing I had never done was to explore the back side of the butte.
That was on my mind now as my motorcycle climbed the steep trail which wound up the face of the butte. I was familiar with the look of the meadow as my motorcycle surfaced on top of the rocky ridge which was surprisingly round like the real volcano it was. There was a trail which ran down through the center and then up the back and over the rocky ridge on the other side.
Like I said, I had never explored the backside, so that’s where I was headed. This was in the evening just as the sun was setting. And I was headed directly west into disappearing sunlight. As I approached the steep trail which went straight up the back, I gave the throttle a little extra twist to make sure I wouldn’t stall part way up. So my speed was faster than it should have been when I rounded the top.
But my biggest surprise was that the top of the ridge didn’t really “round”. It just dropped straight off into the longest, steepest loose gravel trail I had ever seen. I found myself bombing that steep hill on my motorcycle much like my father told of bombing the ski hill of his youth. I seriously believed that at any moment I would tumble over the top of my handle bars and become a tangled mess of bike and body rolling down the face of the ridge. That didn’t happen, but despite locking up my brakes and even sliding my motorcycle sideways on the rocks, I continued to pickup speed.
Locking my brakes and sliding sideways had stalled out the engine, but as I neared the bottom of the trail where it started to flatten out a little, my back tire hit a large rock, which spun the motorcycle back to face the trail straight on. I let go of the brakes and the momentum started the motor back up. Just as I sped away, I saw some people standing at the bottom of the butte staring at my dare devil feat. I didn’t want to appear like I had be out of control with my bike, so I just gave it the gas and sped away as if that was my plan all along. I don’t know what they said about me, but I expect that “stupid” and “idiot” were adjectives being freely thrown out as they discussed what they had just seen.
Well, tonight as I step out in to the cool crisp evening air this and other fond memories of motorcycle madness give me a little shot of adrenalin. Maybe I’ll see if I can find an old worn out motorcycle to fix up. Something I could work on in my garage on these cool winter evenings.