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Spare Parts: Rattlesnake Jake

By Ernie Copper

“Barn find.” For some, those words are nearly synonymous with other pairings of words like “buried treasure,” “Easy Street” and “early retirement.” The reality is often closer to “parts bike,” “rolling basket” or “death trap.” One of my barn finds could fit neatly into any of the latter categories, and I was in the mood to liquidate some inventory, so I visited my dad’s barn where a clapped-out 1960’s CT90 landed when it fell on hard times. A previous owner had totally disassembled the 90’s diminutive top end and I hadn’t found the time or patience to reassemble it in four years, so it was time for it to go. One of its two stablemates had become a “keeper” with only 1,300 miles on the clock, and I couldn’t foresee a time when I would need this one.

A swap meet was coming up so I decided to let this CT90 become someone else’s dream. After an evening cutting wood with Dad as a storm was on the way, we hustled the little bike and its parts box(es), mouse nest included, into the back of my truck. As I straddled the little bike to ratchet the tie downs, a part I didn’t remember slithered over my foot and disappeared between the truck body and the bed liner. Snake!

For the purpose of this story, we will assume it was a rattlesnake of epic proportion from this point forward. It was something along the lines of Rattlesnake Jake from the movie Rango. I hastily attached the tie-down hooks to the attachment points in the truck’s bed and loaded the remaining loose parts, including mouse nests, into the truck and bagged the engine to protect it from the impending thunderstorm. Having beaten the elements and the serpents, Dad headed for the house and I headed for home.

Nightmares aside, I didn’t give the experience much more thought until the next night after work. I was trying to neaten things up a bit for the trip to the swap meet and had the idea that maybe the old 90 had a part or two on it that I could use before I put her out to pasture.

I climbed into the truck bed already cluttered with a big tool box, bike ramps, other parts and a cooler. That’s when I discovered the bike’s fork seals had leaked oil all over the bed when I’d hastily tied it down, compressing the forks the night before.

A little fork oil goes a long way. Especially on a hard ABS bed liner. I figured I’d grab some dish soap, squirt it around the bed, suds it up and hose it out before heading for the swap meet. I should have turned the truck around, but I left it nose downhill and my efforts to clean up resulted in a pool of fork oil, Dawn dishwashing soap and water pooling at the front of my truck bed. I continued trying to win the battle against water and gravity, but the water level kept rising. Oh, and the previous evening’s heavy skies had given way to a beautiful, sunny sky on this evening, with my black truck absorbing all the heat it could.

All of this caused our antagonist, the snake of epic proportions, to poke his basketball-sized head out the bed liner cutouts at the truck attachment/tie down points to see what had happened in the last 18 hours. When he did, hilarity soon ensued. But not before #1 daughter’s boyfriend Zach arrived on the scene. I swore Zach to secrecy about the snake’s existence and then tried to rid the truck of the uninvited guest. It’s hard to make a snake swimming in 40-year-old fork oil, water and dish soap do anything he doesn’t want to do. In a truck bed with parts strewn about. I must have looked like the Montresor family coat of arms in Edgar Allen Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado stomping around in the bed of the truck, except that I never laid a foot on the great serpent and he never laid a fang on me! We agreed to go our separate ways, but neither of us is saying which way that may have been. I haven’t seen the slithering reptile since that evening, but every now and then when I’m driving down the road, I swear I see the shadow of Rattlesnake Jake in my rearview. Think about that the next time someone tries to sell you a barn find.

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