Motorcycle Madness

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.                 

Who Ever Heard of Such a Thing?

“Who Ever Heard of Such a Thing?”


            My little family is well connected to each other.  Besides our house phone (landline) My Beautiful Wife and I both have cell phones.  Our three oldest children, who don’t live at home anymore, all have their own cell phones. And our next two oldest, who still live at home also have their own cell phones.  One, two, three… yes that’s right, not counting our landline, my own little family carries around seven different phones. 

And now Brittany, my oldest child who doesn’t have a cell phone has secured a job and steady income.  The number one thing on her “Got to have list” is…. Orlando Bloom.  Well, her dishwashing job won’t do much for that dream, but the next thing on her list is a cell phone.  My Beautiful Wife, who is also a very nice mommy, has helped her go shopping online (the only real option in Delta) for her new phone.  That will be EIGHT cell phones in just my own little family.  Isn’t there a limit to how many can sign up on the family share plan? 

            I think back to the stories told by my own parents.  When they married in 1950, they built a small house on the farm.  It was next to Grandpa and Grandma’s home.  My dad had graduated with a degree in Agriculture.  He planned to bring new ideas to the family farm and help move it into the future.  A few years later, my parents felt they needed a phone installed in their home, instead of having to go over to Grandpa’s house to make phone calls.  At just the suggestion of it, Grandpa Haroldsen hit the roof. 


            What would my Grandpa think of us now?  Besides the constant work related phone calls I get, I use my cell phone while I’m out and about for just about everything.  While running errands, it’s quite a handy tool…

“Honey, was that whipping cream or sour cream that you wanted?  What kind of bread do you want?  They don’t have that video in stock… this is what I’ve found so far…” 

While in the big stores and malls, our cell phones work like walkie talkies…

“Where are you?” 

“I’m over here in electronics.”

“Meet me up at checkout by the drinking fountains.”

I also use my cell phone to make frequent visits with my parents who live almost 400 miles away.  My children, who are depending on me for transportation can find me anywhere to ask for a ride.  So that frees me up to hang out at my Beautiful Wife’s work at night or just about anywhere else while waiting for the “I need a ride” call.

            And that’s just how I use my basic, no frills phone.  The other cell phones in our family are much fancier.  They can do almost everything except put you to sleep at night.  Oh, wait a minute.  Brittany’s new phone is like an ipod.  So it can sing you to sleep at night as well. 

            Last week a Canadian blogging friend, Carol, told of working as a telephone operator.  Telephones have a rich history in Canada.  In fact the telephone was conceived in Canada the by Brantford, Ontario resident Alexander Graham Bell.  Before the start of World War 2, Canadians made more phone calls per capita then the citizens of any other country including the United States.  Even the first long distance call ever made was placed in Canada. 

So all this history got me thinking about the stories of when my mom was a telephone operator.  It was back in the late 1940’s.  She lived in Vancouver, B.C. and a friend told her that B.C. Telephone always had openings.  So my mom went in and applied for the job and was hired. 

First she had to go through three weeks of training.  Before a new hire could be trusted to deal with the public, they had to learn what they could say to them.  No conversations were allowed.  The learned responses were phrases like, “Number Please?  Thank-you.”  One moment please.”  These learned phrases were the only words allowed from an operator. 

Also, the new operator had to learn how to physically make all the phone line connections.  Every phone in the system had a number which would light up when the caller picked up their receiver.  In a large city like Vancouver, that meant thousands of lighted numbers flashing at the operators.  The new recruit needed to practice spotting the customer’s numbered light, asking for the number to be connected to with only the approved phrases, and then making the connection by plugging the two cords into the correct sockets.  If the line being called was busy, the operator would know because she would touch the end of the plug to the socket before plugging it in all the way.  If the line was busy she would hear a noise.  The operator then had to manually ring the number being called.  Since this was done manually by the operator, she had to remember to keep ringing until someone answered, even while fielding another call.  When someone made a payphone call, the operator would ask the customer to put the correct change into the payphone.  Then she listened and counted the “Dongs” as the coins went in.  When the correct number of “dongs” came through her ear phone, the operator would then say to the pay phone customer, “Go ahead.” 

This was back before any uniform numbering system was implemented, and B. C. Telephone numbers included a community or area name, followed by a four digit number and ending with an R for right or an L for left.  My mom’s home phone number back then was Dexter2831R.  There were hundreds of telephone operators who worked for B. C. Telephone alone.  Vancouver alone had a dozen telephone offices and there were about 30 operators who worked each shift in each office. 

Imagine all the work it would be to manually take and switch all the calls today.  My family alone would require a dedicated operator.

In the only pre 911 call my mother ever received, a very panicked woman told her that there was a dead man in her basement.  Of course my mom couldn’t actually talk to the lady, so she replied as trained, “One moment Please.”  She then referred the call to her supervisor who could get the lady some help.

As the telephone has evolved, so has our culture because of it.  For example, 100 years ago when phones weren’t common in every home, the suitor made formal visits to a young lady’s home.  Under the scrutiny of her parents, the young couple sat in the parlor to do their visiting.  Then along came the telephone.  Now the parents could only hear her side of the conversation as the two young folks got to know each other.  Innovation made phone cords long enough that they could stretch around and hide the caller in the closet.  Then only the partyline of neighbors could eaves drop. 

Now my children have camera phones with text messaging.  They can communicate almost anywhere or anytime.  Our dating culture and social interaction don’t even resemble what it was like in my youth.  What would my ancestors think?  If my Grandpa Haroldsen saw all of this, he would hit the roof as he snorts, “WHO EVER HEARD OF SUCH A THING?”   

Another Ski Story

Another Ski Story


            As I was talking to my father the other day, and telling him about my most recent ski adventures with Thotman and some of my family, he told me his own ski story.  After hearing him describe his skiing experiences, I now don’t wonder he didn’t take us all out skiing when we were young.  His story goes like this.

            Back in about 1948, my dad’s (Norman) recreational experience had to rotate around the family farm.  My Grandpa, George, didn’t take much time out for such frivolousness.  Almost any recreational temptation, which he would succumb to, had to with fishing in the summer time.  In fact my favorite photo of Grandpa Haroldsen is of him sporting his catch along side the riverbank, while on a rare fishing trip to Island Park, Idaho. 

            My dad tells me that as for skiing, his experience amounted to standing in tow behind a car on the poorly plowed county roads around his home.  So when his big chance to really go skiing came up.  Norman got bold and asked for the unthinkable, a day off from work.  That might not have been so unreasonable, but he had been away, going to college for the fall semester, and he would only be home for a few weeks for the Christmas break.  His father, George, thought that his youngest son needed to pitch in and make up for lost time while he was home for the Holidays. 

            Norman’s buddies were headed to the ski slopes.  A place one or two hours away (depending on the roads), called Pine Creek Basin, was the closest ski resort.  As ski resorts go (by today’s standard), it wasn’t much to look at.  They had a rope tow to pull the skier to the top of the slope.  Like I said, the only thing nineteen-year-old Norman had ever done on skis before was to tow behind a car on the snow covered roads around his home.  So when the rope tow had finally done its job and Norman was looking down the treeless opening of the mountainside, he didn’t have a clue what to do next. 

            Peer pressure is an amazing thing.  It can cause an other wise normal healthy individual to risk life and limb.  Norman had to keep up with his buddies, so when they pushed off at the top, so did he.  Not only did he keep up to them, but he passed them the first time they turned to switchback across the slope.  Norman didn’t have a clue how to turn on skis, nor did he realize that switching back and forth across the hill side was how to control his speed going down.  So while his buddies were cutting diagonally across the top of the hill, Norman headed straight down the middle.  Now the only thing slowing him was the wind drag as his speeding bullet body hit speeds of 10,000 miles per hour (as he describes it). 

            Now all that is bad enough, but Norman had one more disadvantage on this his début on the ski slopes.  Ski equipment in those days was nothing to brag about anyway, but what little break away protection designed into the ski bindings were apparently broke.  Normans fantastic high speed ski run down the mountain paled by the even more fantastic high speed crash at the bottom of the hill.  Legs, arms, body, and skis flew everywhere, but when all came to a stop, those skis were still nailed to the feet of this now human pretzel.  Ski patrol came to pick up the pieces with their toboggan.  And Norman was just thankful to still be alive.  Or was he?  Now he’d have to face his dad while on crutches.  There would be no extra projects that he could help with during this Christmas vacation.  No help feeding the cattle or other winter chores.  He couldn’t do anything but lie around the house and wait to go back to the winter/spring semester of college.  And that would be on crutches of course.

            Dad said, that was the last time he ever went skiing.  I wonder why?  A little thing like a brush with death and then months of pain and suffering while his legs healed… followed by years of ridicule from his dad as he mocked Norman’s original request. 

“Just let me have this one day to go skiing and then I’ll help you everyday after that.”

It’s a small wonder I my dad didn’t take us skiing when I was growing up.