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One for the Road: Getting schooled

By Shadow

They say the first time’s always the best. Although I don’t necessarily subscribe to that creed, things certainly seemed to be shaping up that way. This was my first trip to the AMCA Perkiomen National Meet in Oley, Pennsylvania, and I was looking forward to hanging out with my fellow Colonial Chapter members as well as other AMCA members and friends that I knew would be there.
The weather forecast certainly seemed promising. At a time of year when Perkiomen meet attendees can experience anything from heavy rain to cold and snow, it looked as if we were going to be blessed with 80-degree temperatures and plenty of sunshine. It was a pleasant two-hour ride from my home to the Oley Fairgrounds, where some dear friends of mine who were vending allowed me to set up my tent behind their display.
I heard that the Oley Fire Company, whose property abuts the fairgrounds, was serving dinner. Sure enough, adjoining the fire company’s bar was a full dining room where I found a few of my chapter members, with whom I enjoyed a bounteous meal, some laughs, and some old bike talk. When dinner was done, it was only about 9:30 p.m.—way too early for bed for this night owl. So I grabbed my flashlight and set out to walk the grounds, see who was already set up, and maybe find some friends to hang with.
I wandered about for a while, but it was disappointingly quiet so I headed toward my campsite, figuring to get a good night’s sleep before the meet officially opened the next morning. As I passed by one of the large pavilions, I noticed three guys working on a bike. In the dark. I walked over and asked if they needed some light, and one of them mumbled, “Oh, we’re used to working in the dark.” After a dropped wrench accompanied by some choice words, I shone my flashlight at the bike and saw that they were struggling with the front forks. Whatever was wrong resulted in the guys having to remove the entire front end, and somewhere in the process, the right fork slider dropped down into the fork tube and wouldn’t release. At least that’s what it looked like to me, not being any kind of front-end expert.
With only the wiring and cables connecting the front end to the frame, my flashlight beam happened to light up their faces. I realized that one of the guys was my friend Mike Cohen, whom I’d just met last year while attending his and the lovely Sara’s wedding during the Strange Days vintage bike show and party last summer. And another was Dave Shaw, a.k.a. Desh, of Morris Magneto, whom I’ve known for about 15 years. The third guy was introduced only as Keith from Virginia, who I believe was a friend of Desh’s.
As I was standing there holding the flashlight, I noticed more details about the bike. It was a totally one-off bobber-style custom that Mike built for flat-track racing, a sport that’s becoming huge here on the East Coast. The bike is powered by a 1953 K-model engine, with the body sporting a cool combo of vintage parts and classy chrome. Keith emphasized to me that it was one of the two most unique bikes at the meet. And who wouldn’t want to work on a one-of-a-kind specimen like that?
Several hours passed, with disassembly taking place along with bolts and washers and other parts being swapped out to make things work better. Desh just happened to have a spare triple tree kit, which helped tremendously. Throughout the entire process, Desh explained to the much-younger Mike what he was doing, and why, sometimes performing tricks of the trade that only someone who’d spent decades deep in the industry would know about. It seemed like Mike was in heaven, just soaking up all the knowledge shared. Mike has been working at Morris Magneto since the fall of last year, so this experience was actually a continuation of his schooling. And there, during those hours of pretty much rebuilding the bike’s front end, I found out I’m not the only one who calls Desh the mad scientist. The guy’s store of knowledge is astounding, as is his can-do attitude.
After a few hours, my little camping lantern died so I used the flashlight app in my cell phone—also very helpful for finding the right wrench or that bolt that just skittered away. Then, when a random, unsuspecting guy walked over to see what was going on, I commandeered his flashlight. A few times, it was suggested that the guys quit for the night and pick up the task again the next morning when the sun comes up and everyone has gotten some sleep. But Desh was just as obstinate as that non-compliant front end and wasn’t about to let this stubborn piece of machinery defeat him. In the meantime, Keith was showing me what some of the problems were: “Here, run your finger along the bearing cup. Feel the gap? And the top of the bearing doesn’t lie flush.” The guys worked, still by flashlight, until 2:00 in the morning, finally completing the job. Mike was overjoyed. And from watching and listening, I think I can now disassemble and reassemble a K-model front end. It was a fine start to the weekend.
This scenario illustrates one of the things that drew me to the AMCA, along with my appreciation of and desire to learn about old bikes: the willingness of antique aficionados to share their passion with other vintage enthusiasts. That night, watching knowledge and skills get passed down through generations was a delight. It was almost like history was being made. And I feel privileged to have played a small part in keeping Mike’s old K model on the road… and the track.

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