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GOING THE DISTANCE
After writing about myself for so long, readers who've read my words know what I'm about, what makes me tick, what floats my boat---and is familiar with my likes and dislikes. Readers also know my relative strengths and deficiencies when it comes to motorcycles and cars. Indeed, readers who've never met me face to face, feel as if they know me, and the ones who interact with me at The Seedy X-Bar do know me and vice versa.
Consider that I'm fast closing in on twenty years since I started writing Going The Distance in Iron Horse. Man, does time fly, or what? And ya better not say "Or what," okay wiseguy?
So it goes without sayin' that long-time Iron Horse readers know that I love to drive and ride my machines, but am not great at workin' on 'em.
The absolute pinnacle of my "mechanic's life" was when I took my old '68 Sportster ("Sally The Bitch") down to nuts and bolts to mold her frame, and did a rattle-can paintjob on her before reassembling her. Frankly, I was surprised that everything on Sally operated normally after the teardown and reassembly. The process involved dozens of jars and a multitude of cardboard boxes to store all the parts while I worked on the frame and tin, and turned out looking great in candy apple red lacquer. Hey man, no orange peel and no paint runs. Really professional lookin'. But that was then, and this is now. I sure don't have that kind of ambition anymore. Now I'm content with applying black enamel on touch-up spots on Mabel's frame when needed, using a small paintbrush and a hardware store can of paint. To maintain Mabel's silver motor looks, I use VHT's brake caliper, drum and rotor cast aluminum paint. It's a perfect match for the silver paint that Andrew Rosa originally applied to her stroker mill, when he Rosabilt Mabel's 86 inch stroker motor.
I tell the well-worn tale of the time I replaced the alternator stator on my shovelhead "Mabel" in the mid '80s. I decided to replace the 16 amp unit with a 22 amp stator. I was smart enough to buy an Ingersoll Rand electric impact wrench to remove the compensating sprocket nut, but was not smart enough to reinstall the nut properly. I screwed the thing on backwards, and when I went to kickstart Mabel---she was still kick-only then, before I had electric start installed---my foot was stopped dead in midair because the motor wouldn't turn!
It felt like the motor internals were encased in hardened concrete.
I thought the motor had seized, until I finally figured out what I'd done wrong---with a sigh of relief and a slice of humble pie stuck in my craw. I tell this story with fondness and no small measure of self-deprecating humor. Behind the self-deprecation is a basic truth: I'm good at driving and riding, not so good at repair.
I learned to drive on my father's '53 Buick when I was 16 years old. In New York, a sixteen year old is allowed to drive with a junior permit (to graduate to a junior license after passing the driving test) if a licensed adult accompanies the teen driver in the car. I have fond memories of barreling down the Grand Central Parkway at 80 miles per hour, the tank-like beast of a Buick weighing almost 5,000 pounds keeling over as we hit the turns too hot, with the Buick threatening to overturn and my father screaming in panic, "Slow down! What are you trying to do? Kill us?" Yup. Warm and fuzzy memories, fer sure. Ever since then, I couldn't get enough of driving. Driving was and is one of the great joys of my life. Then came....not Bronson, but motorcycles. After that revelation 42 years ago, riding became one of the great joys of my life along with car driving. Now they are the twin motorvatin' joys of my life. There ain't nuthin' better 'n motorvatin' down the highway at a high rate of speed. No matter what I drive, I dig doin' the deed.
You all know that besides my beloved Harley 74, Mabel, that we also own a '72 Vette, "Mary" and a '97 Ford F-150, "Amy." I've gotta tell ya, I love driving Amy just as much as I enjoy driving Mary. It's just a different driving experience with a ginormous, long-bed pick-up like Amy. In many ways, she has better ride manners than Mary.
Obviously the F-150 is not going to corner better than a Vette of any age, but road irregularities are dispatched with comfortable alacrity. The F-150 is built for clearance, and cushy ride compared to older Vettes.
There's a notorious bump on Houston Street in NYC, where cars have to slow to about 3 miles an hour, or else the cars bottom out on this bump. When I drive Amy over this bump, I go speeding through at fifty without a concern about slowing. I love that!
Mary is raw in that "Early Sports Car Way." Mary has a stiff suspension that gives no quarter to comfort concerns and rides like a buckboard. Back in those early days, sports cars were designed for one purpose: To go as fast as possible around corners.
Mary doesn't have a cushy ride, but man, can she handle.
I love that no-compromise nature of Mary's. There's also very little sound deadening in an old sports car like Mary, which is why she weighs barely more than 3,000 pounds. But at almost three tons, Amy the pick-up handles just great---considering her heft and outsized dimensions.
She also rides like a comfy Caddy compared with Mary's harsh ride. I love 'em both. I love to drive 'em both. You bikers who also own a great 'ole car like my Vette, or a pick-up like our Ford F-150---know what I'm rappin' about.
I refer to driving our vehicles as "giving 'em exercise." This is appropriate, as I view each and every one of our "girls" as living, breathing entities. Hey man, if ya think about it, they do breathe through their carbs and intake manifolds. Their breath is then expelled through their exhaust pipes.
They do live. They have sensibilities and souls. They like being out and about, and they enjoy being on the road. It gets all their parts moving and it makes 'em feel good. Can't you sense it when your Harley seems to sing a happy tune when she and you are humming down the highway?
Why else would they have names?
I talk to 'em too, and tell 'em that they're "good girls." After each ride or drive, I pat the respective "girl"
(Mabel on her gas tank, seat and cooling rocker boxes, and Mary and Amy on their right front fenders) and tell 'em how good they've been.
I say, "You're a good girl, (insert name)...."
They dig that. Treat all of your motorcycles, cars and trucks like the Living Highway Queens that they are, man.
Treat 'em with the respect they deserve.
They will reciprocate your loyalty and love, by being your faithful road servants for life. I remember after Andrew Rosa built Mabel's stroker motor 17 years ago, Andrew said to me in all seriousness, "Scott, she will be your faithful servant for years to come." Later.