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

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Blast From The Past

One of the great things about blogging is making new friends but maybe the best thing is when someone I knew in the past finds me and they are still a good soul.   In this instance an e-mail in my in-box that just said “Cecils” in the subject line brought a message from Lee Holth.  Lee had come across my previous blog entry mentioning Cecil’s Cycle Center and it’s place in my life as a den of iniquity.  Lee and I worked together at Don’s Yamaha in Escondido about 1971 or so and went to the same high school. To hear from him again was very cool.
Lee's Del Mar Concours award winning CZ
Back about 1999-2000 Lee and I had bumped into each other a time or two at the Del Mar Concours where Lee was busy winning a trophy for a CZ motocross bike he’d restored, but since then we had not seen or heard from one another in about ten years, so I was happily surprised to get his e-mail and some photos. 

For a few days now we’ve been sharing stories of our early motorcycle days, high school, and other old guy crap.  Great fun and Lee has jogged some memories loose that might have otherwise been gone for good.  Here’s some excerpts and photos (with his permission) from our e-mails the past week or so:

“Hi Doug. Lee Holth here from Escondido, now in Nevada. I liked the story about ditching Sunday School to drool at the Brit bikes at Cecil’s. Too bad we lost him, but he'd resurfaced pretty regularly at Cycle Salvage the last few years..”  “He and Don had the coolest shops in town. Of course, Cecil had CZs [in addition to BSA and later Kawasaki - DK]. He told me a funny story of how he became a CZ dealer. Seems the New Jersey longshoreman ‘accidentally’ dropped an entire container full of ‘commie bikes’ into the bay while unloading and he was offered them at pennies on the dollar.”  

Friends, if you had known Cecil Oswald you’d have no trouble believing that story or any of the many others about him. 

Lee continued about a not untypical day at Cecil’s shop circa 1971: “One day he walked out with that maniacal grin and shouted ‘Who wants to be my MONKEY?’  As my buddy Lynn started to say ‘That sounds like fun.’  I suggested he wait a moment as another kid approached the big BSA sidehack desert rig and barely had a hand on the bar or a foot in the small standing area when it roared to life and away they went; off the curb into traffic, big U turn right and down the alley.  There was a parking lot halfway down the block; freshly oiled and sanded and you could hear the big British twin howling away.  A couple minutes later and they flew back out of the alley, U-turn left back OVER the curb, launching the entire machine into the air and sticking the landing, tossing the seemingly unsuspecting ‘monkey’ over the bar and flat on his back. Cecil looked around and blurted out ‘Who's NEXT?’  No one answered. Lynn thanked me. Cecil smiled and went back to work.”

Like me Lee’s kept busy at a variety of interesting things over the years and these days in Nevada owns a CZ repair and restoration shop and keeps an eclectic, CZ oriented website here.  He's been an editor for Mitchell Manuals for a while, owned a repair shop once before, a silk screen business, and generally kept himself amused with motorcycles and music over the last four decades.  While my own life has been anything but boring I have to say that I envy Lee at least some of his adventures.

click to see full size
Movie set fun
In our reminiscing I mentioned that one of my enduring memories of him was he behind the parts counter at Don’s Yamaha wearing a t-shirt with the cartoon character “Mr. Natural” astride a motorcycle.  I have no idea why that would stick in my mind all these years except that Lee was a big, smiling kid, easy to like and remember.  I mentioned that memory to Lee and he wrote back  “I did the art work on those original Don's shirts and STILL have one!”   How can you not like and respect a guy that keeps an old bike shop t-shirt for 40 years?

Sorry about your bike, kid,
we were young.
And one of my own memories from Don’s Yamaha Shop days:  “Martin and I and maybe you taking the new, little Yamaha Mini-Enduros off of the shop floor and flat tracking them in the empty lot back off the alley.  After the fun was over we sprayed them off at the 25 cent car wash and put them back on the show floor.  That happened more than once until Martin crashed and bent or broke something and a quick part swap had to be effected before we were discovered.  It didn’t seem to occur to us that we might get fired for thrashing bikes before they were sold as new.”   Lee denies taking part in debauching innocent Yamaha Mini-Enduros but does remember a Honda Mini-Trail and a backward riding contest  that led him into the side of a car in the shop parking lot.

Ah to be young one more time!  No, not really.  You can’t go back and it could never be that much fun again.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Like A Moth To A Flame

Like a lot of families in 1966 my family and I went to church every Sunday no matter what.  Not just to church, either, but to Sunday School too, and Sunday evening services and youth group meetings before those.  It is a fact that unless the Russians dropped The Bomb on us we'd be in church.  For my dad, nuclear war or obviously communicable diseases where the only acceptable excuses for not being in church.

Sunday morning for me was all well and good until I discovered motorcycles or at least the allure and want of them.   It turned out that motorcycle temptation lay close; the Devil often places temptation so conveniently.  In this case, across the street and just around the corner from our church, perhaps just 200 feet away there lay a den of sin and iniquity: a BSA dealer.

The shop was closed on Sundays, of course, but the front windows of the small shop let in enough light to illuminate the metal wickedness inside.  The glint of chrome in dim light can be a powerful thing to an impressionable young male mind and if you looked into the darkness long enough, you could make out all the curves and promises of those motorcycles.  Red painted gas tanks glistening like a Bathsheba's lips and chrome that shined like the Golden Calf itself, those things beckoned this innocent, small town boy.  If ever there were a door to temptation placed close to a church, it was Cecil's Cycle Center.

Not long after I turned 15 years old I was feeling rebellious enough to decide that peering through the window of the BSA shop would be more fun than sitting in a Sunday School class so one Sunday after my family got out of our car in front of the church, off I walked around the corner of the church building toward the Sunday School classroom and waited a couple of minutes.  I had sweaty palms.  My heart was beating fast.  Temptation was at full throttle.  Peering around the corner towards the main church building I ascertained that my parents had gone off to their own class.

With malice aforethought I made my break for the closed motorcycle shop.  I tried to walk casually as if I had every right to go there against my parent's wishes and knowing full well it would be bad, very bad, if I was caught.  I was at that age where I was feeling the first pangs of independence and wrongly thinking I had what it took to stand up to my dad should I get caught or that I was at least smart enough to not get caught.

For the next 45 minutes I stared through the window of the BSA shop eying the BSA 650 Lightning, 441 Shooting Star, and 250 Starfire.  The 650 BSA was too big and too grand, I thought.  At time when a 450 Honda was considered a big bike the 650 BSA was huge.  But the 441 Shooting Star, or especially the glistening blue 250 Starfire, those were something to dream about, to imagine riding, and to which I could aspire to own after I finally got a job when I turned 16.  I could image riding the 250 Starfire to school as soon as I got my drivers license.  Nothing could ever be cooler than that.

Every Sunday for the next few Sundays I'd slip away from the church and walk over and stare through the window and study the Beezers while my family and friends studied the Good Book.   I soaked up the bikes and the look of their many parts.  I tried to divine the purpose of their less obvious levers and controls and I even plotted to visit the shop one day when it was open.

And then one fine Sunday morn as I stood engaging in my secret, weekly bout of moto-lust, my dad walked up and surprised me.  It was not a happy moment.  "What do you think you're doing??"  He glowered at me.  I was properly scared.  No doubt the ancient Israelites felt the same fear when when Moses came down from visiting with God on Mt. Sinai and found them having a real blow out of a party in front of that Golden Calf.  Like the Children of Israel I could not think of a single excuse that didn't sound pretty lame.  I'd really done it this time, nothing I'd ever done was as bad as ditching Sunday School to look at motorcycles.  I got yelled at, threatened, yelled at some more, and then grounded for every Sunday for the rest of my natural life.   It was worth it.

I did feel bad about disappointing my dad.  Funny thing but parents never want to disappoint their children and children never want to disappoint their parents but somehow we always manage to disappoint each other in some way, first as children and later as parents.

I have to admit I never really regretted those first days of motorcycle awakening, of staring though the dirty window of that bike shop and dreaming of what motorcycle riding would be like, of buying motorcycle magazines and hiding them under the mattress of my bed.

Less than a year later Dad would let me buy my first motorcycle although it wasn't the gloriously blue BSA 250.   I guess he forgave me for my youthful errors and in turn I tried to do a better job of hiding my motorcycle related wickedness from him.

This post is featured on my blog’s page at Motorcycle Blogs.

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