Everybody must start somewhere, and a recent summer cleaning binge unexpectedly reminded me how I started. “Started what?” you may be asking yourself. Good question. How I started liking and learning about motorcycles. Naturally as a kid in the ’60s motorcycles were everywhere. Our house, the neighbor’s house and the house down the street. Everyone had them. But in 1968, my parents made an investment in my future; at least that’s what I remember them telling me when they bought a brand spankin’ new set of the World Book Encyclopedia, bound in red, trimmed in black and gilded in gold numbers and letters on the cover!
While trying to restore order to our home, my wife and I decided it was time for the old encyclopedias to go, including the annual yearbooks. I checked with my sister to be sure she didn’t want them for her grandchildren, but naturally at ages 2–6 they are already tablet-oriented and have no need of such a collector’s item. Next, I took a shot at putting them on eBay in a no-reserve auction with a $9.99 opening bid. No takers. The local library didn’t want them and neither did a variety of local charity second-hand stores. Eventually the decision was made to tear the covers off and dump them in the recycling bin. What other choice did I have?
I loaded them up in the back of my truck and on a nice sunny day I recruited my sister—after all they had been an investment in her future too—to come and help me break the books down to raw pages so we could recycle them. This is not as easy as it sounds, but our tailgate workbench gave us time to reminisce as we reduced a set of World Book to component parts. After the cover was removed, the books had two giant staples to remove. Unless it’s a yearbook after 1971; then there’s three giant staples.
As we dismantled them, we remembered features we had long forgotten. Like the Alamo, Davy Crockett, frog anatomical overlays and eventually motorcycles! In 1968 I was all of 7 years old so what I knew or had the opportunity to learn about motorcycles was pretty much limited to pages 724–725 in volume “M” of the World Book. The upper third of page 725 was dedicated to an illustration of a ’57 Harley-Davidson Sportster, complete with overhead valve engine. The drawing was titled “Parts of a motorcycle” and I learned them all. The bike even carries a Harley-Davidson badge on the tank. It also features a right-side foot shift and I will admit when metric bikes came into my life a few years later, I had difficulty understanding why they had no oil tank and the shifter was on the other side!
I wish I knew how many times I read those pages, thirsty for more. But at least I had volume M to pass the time. I learned that according to the folks at World Book, “Rider comfort has increased in motorcycles just as it has in automobiles, trains and airplanes.” Indeed, it had.
There were notes throughout the article advising me to see related articles on Gasoline Engines and Ignition for a more thorough explanation of those systems. Other paragraphs were dedicated to explaining the AMA and of course Gottlieb Daimler. The whole world of motorcycling was right there in two pages.
As fate, luck or serendipity would have it, Shadow and I had a chat later that day and I mentioned the World Book dismantling along with the article on motorcycles. I’d already cut out those two pages, not ready to let go and she encouraged me to frame them. As we talked, she told me that her mom and dad had both sold World Book Encyclopedia successfully for quite a while. We had a good time talking about those days when an encyclopedia brought the world to your fingertips instead of Wikipedia and selling them was a noble profession.
It was also interesting to me that several of the other, older motorcycles pictured in the article I had absolutely no interest in at the time but have since realized that I have had the privilege of seeing several actual examples of 1902 Indians and late 19th century Didion-Bouton trikes in my time, proving that things can and do change, but if you if you learn the basics well, they will serve you a lifetime.
The following year, man landed on the moon, causing me to take a hiatus from my motorcycle education. When On Any Sunday came out in 1971 I likely hit the World Book again, hoping that somehow it had been magically updated to include information on Steve McQueen, Malcolm Smith and Mert Lawwill. Sadly, such an update didn’t even appear in the 1972 yearbook edition, likely resulting in my fall from grace with real hard-backed, educational books to newsstand publications like Crash & Burn!
For now, I still have pages 724 and 725 to fall back on and to remind me of where I came from when the world gets a little too crazy, which is almost every day.