Where do I start? What do I say? Who’s going to want to read an article written by a 10th grade drop out from Mississippi? All these questions and many more rushed through my head when I got Moen’s invitation to write this article for Virtual Indian. Would I be able to keep your attention and tell some stories that wouldn’t bore you to tears? I guess we’ll see.
In the beginning, God created the heavens. No dummy, don’t go that far back, how about your first motorcycle. OK, my first bike was a 1964 Honda 250 Scrambler. It was truly a basket case since the engine was disassembled and stored in a bushel basket under the guy’s front porch. The living room of his trailer proudly displayed dozens of trophies he had won with this bike, including the 1966 Nevada State Championship in drag racing. I was impressed! My dad shelled out 100 bucks to the guy which was a lot of money in 1967, and I had my first motorcycle!
The first order of
business was to get those pistons out of those rusty bores…and I mean Rusty!
Being raised in a junkyard, I was very familiar with removing old rusty
parts. After waiting impatiently for 3 long days, the automatic transmission
fluid had done it’s job and I successfully drove the pistons out very carefully
with a hammer handle. Great care had to be used since my meagre budget
didn’t include new pistons. I honed the cylinders by hand with some sand
paper … my 14 year old hands were a perfect fit! The pistons were given
to one of my classmate’s dad, who conveniently worked at the Continental
Piston Ring factory … free rings! Now all I needed was a battery, gaskets
and a ride to the Honda shop in Memphis. All of the pieces were coming
together, my dreams of owning a motorcycle were going to come true … or
were they? I had worked on many Chevys and Fords but none of them had an
over head cam. How do you time this exotic creature! A couple of guys in
town rode Honda Dreams, one was a 250 the other a 300. They would come
by the gas station where I worked and check on my progress on a daily basis.
Being totally stumped by this timing problem, I asked Red “How do you set
the timing on this overhead cam”? He told me to set the dot on the cam
sprocket to the top and “For five dollars I’ll show you how to set the
crank” I thanked him for the info but told him I had spent all my money
on parts, I didn’t have 5 dollars. An hour later his riding buddy Larry
came by and I asked him “How do you set the timing on the crank”
He showed me the mark on the crank and said “For five dollars, I’ll show
you how to set the cam”. I told him no thanks, Red just told me an hour
ago. I guess five dollars was the going rate for Honda timing info. A few
hours later, my dreams came true … I had my first motorcycle!
My brother found some old home movies at our neighbors house....since they were 8mm we had no way of seeing what was on the reels. We did know our pictures would be in there somewhere as they were just like part of our family. They were delivered to a photo shop and placed on DVD so we could watch them on TV. Lo and behold, there's me, sanding on "Eva" in 1969...I have this snarl on my face because I didn't want to be bothered while I was busy sanding down my sheet metal, getting her ready for paint. These pics were "Captured" from the DVD so they may not work...I don't know...but here they are. I'm going to send them in separate emails with a brief description of each one.
I guess we'll call this first one "Chief Sourpuss"....Look at that attitude...LOL
guy going to tell us his life story and include every piece of junk he’s
ever owned? Where’s the Indian? I’m getting there, I’ll try to move a little
Working at the gas station earned me a whopping one dollar an hour but since I got to work 75 hours a week I was rolling in the dough! After riding the 250 all summer and burning a hole in one of the pistons, I guess I should have asked about setting the ignition timing as well. The 250 was sold and I bought my first new motorcycle, a 1968 Sears 124. The 300 dollar price tag cleaned my bank account out, but I had the coolest bike at school … except for the senior with a 64 Panhead. A year of abuse was all the little Sears could handle and she dropped a valve, right in the middle of a drag race … oh well, I was losing anyway. No problem, since I was a seasoned motorcycle mechanic, I could easily rebuild this engine. To my dismay, I found out Sears wasn’t selling motorcycles OR PARTS anymore … I was stuck!
Now for the part that everybody’s been waiting for…the Indian. One of the local “Hotrod” guys had a 1947 Chief. The drag pipes were bent from water pipe, there was no generator, and the speedo and amp gages looked like black holes. The wheels and brake drums were spray painted with aluminum paint, they didn’t even mask the tires. The seat was just a metal pan, the tanks leaked … this ole gal was a true “Rat Bike” in every sense of the word. The seller wanted an astounding 200 bucks for this piece of junk … truly a large sum of money for such a dinosaur . We struck a deal for 100 dollars and my blown up Sears, at the time I wasn’t sure who got the better end of the deal. I hopped on my new ride and took her for a spin down a winding road outside of town. She handled like a dream and I didn’t miss a gear … I was in love! All my friends laughed at me … “Where did you get that piece of crap” or “Why didn’t you get something cool, like a Honda?” I didn’t care what they said, I had a legendary machine … I just hoped all those legends were true.
My daily routine was to charge the battery,
pour in a little oil, and she was ready to go for an hour or two. I couldn’t
venture too far without a generator but most of my destinations were less
than 5 miles away. Since the ignition switch was just a toggle switch,
it was common for my little brother to walk in the house and tell me “Your
bike ran out of gas a couple of miles out of town on Clifton’s Gin Road,
I left it on the shoulder, it’ll be easy to find”. It wouldn’t have mattered
if it had a proper switch, he would have just hot wired it and rode it
anyway. One time my brother almost hit a car when the “Nail” in the rear
brake rod fell out and he had to run a stop sign. Well, I told you guys
it was a rat bike … what did you expect, cotter pins?
The old Billups gas station where I worked, circa 1967?. We actually live next door, this shot was taken from our front porch. Gas was selling for 26 cents a gallon when I worked there.
riding her for a few months, the motor was a little smokey and she had
a good little miss, it was time for a top end. I wasn’t afraid to dive
into the motor, but were was I going to get the parts? Indian had been
out of business since 1953, the year I was born! Piston rings were
no problem, back to my friend at Continental. The valves got a good dose
of lapping compound and seemed to be OK. Now all that was needed
was a good material for the head gaskets. I knew there would be hell
to pay if I got caught, but there was a beautiful old copper boiling pot
hanging on the side of my dad’s antique shop. It was oval shaped with nice
flat sides, just begging to become my new high performance shim head gaskets.
The decision was made and out popped the tin snips and drill motor. One
of the old gaskets made a perfect pattern … I had just made my first “Hot
Rod“ parts. Oh yeah, my dad found the mutilated boiling pot … I knew a
thick pad for that metal seat pan would be “sorely” needed (pardon the
pun) but after a full confession and a plea for mercy, he just grumbled
a little bit and walked away.
While the ole girl was torn down, I figured she could use a little “sprucing up” so I decided to paint her black and gold, my school colors. This was my first paint job although I had done lots of sanding on my brother’s 34 Ford dragster and a few other projects around the garage. The flat black primer was used to give her that “Thunder Road” moon shine car look that was popular ten years before, the gold was just to add a little accent since she had no fender trim or tank emblems. Looking back, it was sort of ugly but I thought it looked cool at the time. Paint work was done, now for that ugly seat pan…off to the upholstery shop. The “T” mount was to be my seat until the pan got it’s cover. After lots of cussing, a few broken fins on the heads and lots of shade tree” Injunuity “ it came back to life. She seemed to run better than ever, I took off down the road, taking pride in my accomplishments.
A few days later, on a gravel road
beside the gas station, my leaky tanks burst into flames! I locked up the
rear wheel, laid her down and bailed off. All my work was going up in flames!
I started throwing gravel on trying to smother the fire, but it was useless.
The gas station was only about 75 yards away, they had a fire extinguisher
… I ran like I was the one on fire! When I got back with the extinguisher,
there was a crowd of people around the bike and the fire was already out
. In all the excitement … the giggles and laughter … I just noticed the
seat “T” had ripped the seat of my pants … all the way to my knees … and
there was a “Full Moon” showing …. embarrassed would be an understatement.
As W. C. Fields once said: “Ah yes, the good ole days, glad they’re not
Eva's rear fender lying proudly beside lots of other junk...uh..I ..mean Antiques....notice the old early Ford wire spoke wheel and the old gas stove behind it.
weekends, we‘d go to the local drag strip with our brother and watch him
run his 34 Ford. It was fast, but paled in comparison to the nitro burning
rails and funny cars. My little brother talked me into pouring about a
quart or more of model airplane fuel into the gas tanks ... the stuff was
80% nitro methane .With lots of kicking and tuning on the Linkert it finally
fired. It was missing, popping and wouldn’t idle at all. We thinned the
mixture down with an equal amount of gasoline and she was ready to run.
At full throttle, she was sending blue flames streaming out of the old
water pipes and screaming like never before. I pulled her onto the driveway
at the gas station, revved her up and dumped the clutch. Unbelievable!
She went sideways smoking the rear tire! It’s a good thing we only had
a quart of that fuel, she couldn’t have lasted very long under those conditions.
The engine sounded extra noisy after the nitro runs … and she didn’t want
to idle. It must have burned a valve shooting those blue flames out the
exhaust. I had other “Irons in the Fire” so the Chief would have to wait.
During all this calamity, I was in the process of building a 66 Impala hot rod. The motor was put together with parts scavenged from my dad’s junkyard along with a few other parts I had “Horse Traded” for with the local hot rodders . All I needed was a nice 4 speed and one came up for sale …125 bucks. The only way I could raise that much money was to sell the Chief. An Italian gentleman came by the gas station, saw the ole Indian for sale and took her home … for 125 dollars. My car was complete but my Indian was gone … forever?
OK the Indian was gone so now I guess I’ll hit the fast forward button to hang on to the few readers who have made it this far. Being 16 years old, my IQ was so high, I felt no need to continue my education, going to school was a total waste of time. Little did I know, when I left high school it meant automatic enrolment in “The School of Hard Knocks” of which there’s no dropping out and the subjects are much tougher. Working my butt off, I made it nowhere … but I got there fast.
I moved out of my parents' house and got a job at a local body shop/garage. It was located in an old cotton gin building on the edge of town. The owner let me sleep on a mattress in one of the back rooms, I had it made now. No more school, no parents telling me what to do, no brothers to argue with, no more scrambled eggs with buttered biscuits for breakfast … just a can of Spam for lunch.
Hey wait a minute, what happened to that
“Fast Forward” button, I don’t want to hear this idiot’s life story!
OK, in 1979 I sold my 750 Honda chopper and bought my first Harley, a 1975
Superglide. A 47 Knuckle bobber was added a couple of years later along
with a Sportster trike chopper. To support my need for motorcycle parts,
I opened my own bike shop, appropriately named “Southern Cycles” It remained
a one man “after work” operation for a couple of years, but things started
changing in the mid 80s. By 1987 the shop had five mechanics and a secretary
to keep the books in order. Life was good. I was sending containers full
of motorcycles all over the world every month, and trying my best to party
away the money as quickly as possible. Every morning I would scan the newspaper,
looking to scoop up every Harley I could find.
This is where I learned to sand...my brother's 34 Ford coupe. He paid a whopping $15 dollars for her (she had been rolled over) (and over) We spent a month straightening out her body and chopping off the top. Welding the doors and trunk shut and "Bondoing" the seams. My brother Rodney had a partner in this endeavor...his name was Melvin "Milkshake" Wilson ...everybody just called him "Shake". So we put their names together and came up with a name for the car...Rodzashakin... With all the loose tolerances the used in that 377 CI small block...I'm sure all the viewers at the drag strip thought the name meant something else.
searching the classifieds one Sunday morning, I saw a couple of Indians
for sale, a 37 and a 48 Chief. The guy was asking $5000 for the pair which
was top dollar for a couple of bikes that didn’t even run. I wanted to
buy the 48, it would probably be the closest thing to my 47 that I could
find. Jumped in my truck, threw a ramp in the back and headed to Memphis
to check out my latest find. When I walked into the garage, I couldn’t
believe my eyes! There stood my ole 47 Chief, still wearing most of her
black and gold “Funky” paint job. The guy said the paper made a typo, it
was a 47 and a 38. We quickly struck a deal at $3500 for the pair and my
ole girl was coming home … this time for good! Not only had I found
a 47 Chief, it was MY 47 Chief. Upon disassembly of the motor, I discovered
the hand made copper head gaskets I had made years ago, along with a crank
pin with four deep grooves where the bearing run! Lesson # 1, don’t put
nitro in your Indian! It was like putting my bike in storage for 17 years!
Sadly the ole girl went back into storage among my herd of Harleys, I was
way too busy to play with a personal project.
I sold my bike shop in 93, just when being a “Biker” was becoming “In Vogue”. With my new metal fabrication business employing around 50 people, I didn’t even have time to ride a motorcycle, much less time to restore one.
Enlisting the help of Southern Cycles best
mechanic, Pat Wilson, the restoration got off to a slow start in 1998.
I did all the machine work while Pat chased down the parts. We knew
nothing about Indians or where to get parts, and very little was available
at the time. The “Jerry Greer Engineering” catalogue was our assembly manual!
It seemed like all the parts were extremely expensive, compared to the
Harleys we built, and the quality of some of the parts was horrible. The
NOS parts must have been made out of “Unobtainium” and were priced accordingly.
There are still some “Junk” parts floating around out there today, but
quality and availability has gone WAY up in the past few years. Pat worked
hard and we finished the job in October of 2000, just in time for my 47th
birthday. After a little tinkering with the carb and timing, the ole girl
came to life, idled a few minutes and started smoking like a freight train.
A loose fitting on the sump line was the culprit, a quick fix and it was
ready for the road. She felt a little awkward on her ”maiden voyage”, but
I felt 16 years old again…it was magic … like living our first date all
Here's some pictures of Eva when she came home in 1987.
I was a teenager my grandmother came to visit, a rare occasion since she
lived over an hour away and needed someone to chauffeur her around. On
this particular visit she asked me to give her a ride around town on my
Honda. Now no teenage boy in his right mind wants to be caught riding “Granny”
around town on his motorcycle … after all, I had a reputation to uphold.
She asked repeatedly and I just flat out refused the request. “You ‘re
too old to be riding on a motorcycle”… which was a lie, she was probably
70 at the time and could work circles around me … no joke. Not wanting
to beg, she just let it go and went on about her visit. Now, over 20 years
later, while I was visiting my frail, 92 year old grandmother, who could
bareley use her walker, I overheard her telling my father that she had
no regrets. She was bragging about going from horse and buggy to seeing
rockets go to the moon. Then she told my father, “There is one thing, wish
I could’ve gone for a ride on a motor sickle” WHAT!!! Upon hearing this,
my heart sank! I had sudden total recall of denying my grandmother one
of her life long dreams! It was too late and I couldn’t turn back the clock.
She would go to her grave and never get to experience riding a motorcycle,
a pleasure we take for granted every day.
My restoration plans for the Chief changed
that day, instead of painting it with the original Seafoam Blue, I decided
to paint her bright red, my grandmother’s favorite color. On October 17th
2000, she was christened “Eva Imonia” in honor of my grandmother. I didn’t
break a bottle of champagne over the handle bars … just a quiet mental
ceremony ... and lots of memories.
This is a picture of "Eva" in October of 2000. The seat was custom made by Doby from Germany. The seat was beautiful and lasted for 92K and then had to be retired....It's now a piece of "Art" in my house.
and I have travelled many miles together since I retired in 2001. She’s
been very dependable and most of the problems that I’ve encountered were
out of neglect or crummy aftermarket parts. Maybe I should have told about
cracking a rear head in Quebec … Blowing a head gasket in Detroit … Using
Rocky’s trailer hitch as an anvil to brad rivets into a rear brake drum
in Florida … Or maybe I could have talked about all the improvements I’ve
made to her over the years, like electronic ignition, CE generator, Ferramic
brake pads, silicone plug wires, paper fuel filter element, spin on oil
filter, AGM battery, high compression heads, 4 speed tranny, Carrillo rods,
Ollie cams, valve guide seals, Viton valve cover o-rings, Motovalve, Totalseal
rings, Mobil 1 oil … the list goes on and on. Maybe I should write a book!
I thought of several other things I could have written about, like going for a ride on Elvis’ 56 K model when I was 4 years old … Or when I had 27 Harleys explode in a container that blew a train in half … which led to a 5 year investigation by the FBI … or how I got 3 different bikes featured in Easyriders magazine. If I had written about all that crap, I wouldn’t have any tales to tell around the camp fires on the AMCA road runs next year.
See Y’all On The Road,
A picture of Eva and me "Standing On A Corner In Winslow Arizona" a couple of months ago, on our way back from Yosemite and Death Valley. She's sprouted saddle bags and a windshield....the story of these will be in my next article. The pins on the lower part of the windshield are from all the different road runs and state parks we've visited...it's almost full now.