~Since 2004~
A site about memories, thoughts, photos, and unrepentant opinions about motorcycles and motorcycling after four decades of twisting the throttle.

Friday, May 07, 2010

San Jose to Morro Bay in 1948

It was just a few years after WWII ended, the year after the infamous "Hollister Riot" that would spawn the movie "The Wild One." Young men in California, some just home from the Army, buy new Harley-Davidson motorcycles. The urge for adventure strikes and they set out down the road together taking the long way around to a small coastal town and the fun that young men might find there.

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.

 Image via Harley Hummer.com

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.


Geoff James said...

What a great piece of family history Doug and superb photos. I can't be sure but the 2 stroke twin engine looks like a German DKW. They were one of the very few manufacturers to have made 2 stroke twins pre and early post-war. They made motorcycles in their own right and also supplied engines to other manufacturers.

Sorry that I can't be more certain.

mq01 said...

FABULOUS!! i can relate, my dad is long since gone and there are no surviving pics :( sounds like your relatives have/had a great spirit about them. i love riding in paths paved by riders such as them. great stuff!!

Jac Brown said...

A great story and wonderful to have pictures. I've been lucky in that my Dad always told those stories, all the way from his girl friend getting a topless tan in the back of his AT6 trainer on a trip to LA to his dentist sending him to a strip club to keep him distracted from pain when the painkillers wore off.

Mr. Motorcycle said...

What a GREAT story! So cool that your pop was and adventurer!

Drifter said...

Beautiful Post! A nice peep into the past!

FLHX_Dave said...

This is what it's all about for me. This is why I am doing this blog thing.

Priceless Doug. Thanks once again.

Doug Klassen said...

Glad you guys all enjoyed the story. I'm almost certain there are more pictures out there in shoe boxes but I've lost touch with most of my cousins and, regardless, getting people to look through hundreds of old photos is no easy task.

Jac, any pictures of the AT-6 (with or without the topless girl)? Very fun story!

Geoff, Thanks, I looked at a bunch of DKW pictures on-line and also NSU but didn't see anything that seemed to match up exactly but the DKW is close. In those post war days when vehicles were sometimes built from a mix of pre- and post-war parts it can be tough to pin down a specific bike. I know DKW was exporting a few cars to the USA in the '50s and dirt bikes again about 1970.


Amy Jean Nichols Rigadoon Glass said...

Like your way of life - I need to find more time to follow my dreams. (My website is good to go now. from your comment on my blog) www.rigadoonglass.com There under motorcycles you'll find Adventures and also there will be a link about my trip to Alaska! Need to do that trip over again soon as I didn't really see everything that there was to be seen!

Trailrider said...

GREAT post. Those were the days of the real adventure riders. No smart equipment and stuff, just the basics and a sense of adventure.

Loved this post!


jrollo said...

Great story. I'll remember it in a couple of weeks when I'm in San Jose.

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