Imagine them racing down a new, wide, but still unopened highway, laughing, scoffing at the law, while their mighty Harley's hurled their 3.5 hp thunder at the quiet farms on each side of the highway.
Uh, wait... 3.5 hp? Well, not everyone that went riding in '48 rode a cut down Hawg or Indian. In this case, that not-so-wild bunch was my dad, then 29 years old, his younger brother John, and two friends. Three of them were on their brand new Harley Model 125's and Wilbur on a twin cylinder bike of some sort.
I'd heard vaguely about a trip dad and my uncle had made on their first bikes but Dad never liked to talk about his motorcycle days. By his own admission he didn't want to encourage his bike crazy son. Later Dad would ride bigger bikes than the the little Harley, including an Indian Four, but much to my dismay no pictures seem to exist.
At Christmas time a telephone conversation with my Uncle John, now well into his 80's, brought in response a single black and white picture and a short letter about their trip. Uncle John was always a great one for stories. Here's an excerpt of his letter:
"I arrived home in San Jose from the Army in 1947.
The 3 Harley's were new 1948 models---European style foot shifts, 3 hp. The fourth one was ridden by Wilbur N. Built in Europe. 4 hp.
We all decided to go for an adventure ride.
So off we went, thru Gilroy, past Casa De Fruita, and continued on 152 to the unfinished Hiway I5. [I believe he means Highway 99, I-5 wasn't built until the '60s - DK]. The asphalt paving & concrete were done. As you can imagine, the temptation was too great, so we yielded to the temptation and rode our trusty steeds on the new hiway for many miles, all the while keeping a sharp eye out for the black & white government vehicles.
We stopped in Shafter & had lunch with Frank & Luella. [My uncle and aunt - DK]
That evening we rode through the curvy mountain road from Atascadero to Morro Bay. Three of us were having fun, but Wilbur's generator quit functioning, so he couldn't see where to ride. We rode around 35 mph, keeping Wilbur between us. He had to really concentrate on his driving. By the time we checked into our motel Wilbur was [motion] sick!!
After we all had gone to bed, we heard the sound of escaping "gas" (Someone let one go). In the quietness Johnny F said "Speak again, sweet lips, I'll find you." which cracked everybody up." - Uncle John, January 23, 2010."
In the photo above, taken at their motel in Morro Bay, that's my dear ol' dad in the back and his buddies Johnny F. and Wilbur N. up front. The photo was taken by my Uncle John. I see in the photo that Wilbur is sitting on a twin cylinder bike but I can't find a record of a Harley parallel twin of the period. Anyone have any ideas what the bike might be?
And lest we modern types with our luxo cruisers snicker just a bit at an "adventure ride" on a 3 hp, 125cc, 2-stroke Harley, I looked at a map and the route they took covered about 365 miles, most of it on barely paved "farm to market" concrete roads and '40s style tarmac. No mean feat on bikes with skinny tires, rigid rear rear ends, and fat rubber bands for front fork springs. Some riders today would blanch at riding that far in a day on a modern bike.
Sadly, I don't know what route Dad & Co. took to get home and Uncle John doesn't seem to recall either. In any case, I'll be in Morro Bay soon, my mom lives over that way and while I'm there I'm going to see if the old motel is still standing or at least what's in it's place. It would be really cool to ride over there later this year and take a photo in the same spot 63 year later.
I wish I'd have asked more questions sooner, even if dear ol' Dad didn't want to talk about it; too many stories are lost now. Be sure to talk those old guys in your family, they may have had more fun than you've suspected.
Update: A conversation with my Uncle John and my mom indicates that they returned home to San Jose via Highway 101. More info here.