Sunday, 10 February 2013

Into the Home Stretch with the Henderson Story

It has been quite the ride. From writing to art and back to writing. Did we touch on music?

What you've been experiencing is how a 2,000 word article comes together. This particular one was awkward as I had no face-time with the main character nor with his bike. There was panic with last week's deadline of Thursday and no contact with the sole Canadian who "did the ton" as you might say. He rode the ride and he and his machine made it in one piece together.

I thought I might have to reduce the word count to 1,000 and simply do an overview of the run. No colour commentary, no personal photos, no excitement. This is why you were seeing paragraphs about other riders and their bikes, the ones who stood out after I perused 70-some individual photos on a Facebook site I was only able to find once. I asked to be accepted as a friend...but why should they unlock the door and let me in. They didn't know me.  

Knowing that the editor was expecting something and having promised to fill four or five pages in a national magazine, three days before deadline was no time to sink. It was close, I admit, very close. If it hadn't been for that adage emblazoned over the cupola of my high school, When the going gets tough, the tough get going, popping into my mind and compelling me to keep on writing, I may have done what B. refused to do, I may have thrown in the towel. It helped that an extension to the deadline was given.

Of course, capitulating at the last moment  would have meant never doing lunch in this town again.

So many people helped or offered to help and I am truly grateful to you. It just goes to show that when push comes to shove, we'll all jump in and push, pull, heave, whatever it takes. 

To give you an idea of what's unfolded, I've indicated the additions made after an hour-long interview with B. on Friday. I had more than 20 questions I needed answered in order to knit him into the story. 

What's in blue is what has been added. This is still a rough draft and by no means complete.

As he and some friends followed the pack in their pick-up truck, his excitement turned to pensive thought. The exhilaration of the riders, the roar of the engines and smell of the exhaust was intoxicating. There came a forehead-slapping sense that he was missing out, a moment of incredulity as he whispered to himself, “Why aren't I doing this?”

Two years, and a thousand hours of restoration later, give or take, B. and his 1929 1300cc Henderson KJ were pretty well ready. No stranger to restoring motorcycles says he got involved in the vintage bike craze in 1974. He completed a 998cc V-Twin Vincent Rapide in those early years, and in the past decade, he refurbished an Indian 4. Getting the 1929 Henderson into shape was his biggest challenge because the bike needed so much. Many times, he asked himself if the Cannonball adventure-of-a-life-time was to be.

“There was nothing available in terms of engine parts. I had a 1931engine but had to find a
1929. Mark Hill (fellow AMCA member)s was the 'spark plug' behind the project. I had parts, Mark had parts and we found parts three different sources. Many times we thought we weren't going to make it. By the time we got through, we'd tested 60% new parts. It was really close.”

The Cannonball Run was named for race car driver, Erwin “Cannon Ball” Baker (1883-1960) who rode across the United States in 1914 on a 1914 Indian. It took him eleven days.

The motorcycles involved in the 2012 Cannonball had to be older than 1930 and the 3,956 mile trip was accomplished in 17 days including a day's rest stop at Sturgis, South Dakota. The east to west similarity is one of the only similarities if one considers that Mr. Baker was riding a brand new bike and he was roughly half he age of the majority of the current participants. B. recalls, “The youngest might have been 21 and the oldest, maybe 75. Most riders were in their fifties.”

Of course, the roads would not have been as good in the teens but it is possible that some of the same roads were used in 2012 as less than 100 miles took place on the Interstates, mostly the blue-marked highways being used. All paved, mind you. Erwin Baker endured some dirt, no doubt.

To be fair, the pre-1930 bikes involved were permitted updates in the name of safety. If the machine didn't come with a front brake, one could be put on. It was the rider's choice to run clincher rims and ties or to upgrade. Originality, an important factor but head, tail and brake lights were essential.
The core motorcycle had to be 1929 or earlier and running original carbs but they could be modified or updated as long as they were period-correct.

B. is still amazed that his Henderson was run-ready for the start in September. 

"Just a few days before, the engine wasn't running But M. and M. put it together. Just awesome. I'm not a quitter, but I would not ask others to do the impossible.
However, a crew of wives and four guys worked on stuff putting in 16 hour days for months, seven days a week,” says B. “They were a bunch of positive people, with Mark as their cheer leader. They moved heaven and earth to get me ready.” 

There's more to come, the grand finale, so to speak, and photos.