by Shawn Downey
In the general vicinity of the front door I hear the familiar lilting tone, “UPS. I am leaving it in the usual place.”
“Smartass,” I chort blankly from the deep dark dank recesses of my basement.
“Excuse me?” inquiries the UPS guy searching the empty house for signs of life.
“Like I get so many deliveries that I have a ‘usual’ place,” reverberates from the confines of the basement.
“Yes, you do get that many deliveries,” he calls out. “Two more deliveries this week and you qualify for our grand prize sweepstakes whereby one lucky winner will receive an all expense paid trip to our corporate headquarters located in beautiful downtown Guam and two second place winners will receive pairs of our world renown UPS brown shorts. Three third place winners will enjoy countless hours of UV protection under the cover of our cute brown hats.”
“My dog bites,” I say as I grab the package and eagerly return to the basement. Slicing through the cardboard boxes with the skill and ease of Zorro, I soon encounter the heralded bubble wrap. Damn, I love bubble wrap. Gently removing the bubble wrap I am suddenly blinded by a ray of light reflecting from the hand polished center mount oil tank. “Oh Beelzebubba,” I remark to the brake cleaner induced chemical apparition hovering in the corner of the basement, “This is so sweet.” Handling it with the same care and grace that one would use to handle plutonium, I promptly drop the alloy oil tank and watch in horror as it bounces across the basement floor. “Ohhhhh, damnit damnit damnit,” I chant as I chase after the bouncing mortgage payment. “Ohhhh, damnit, damnit, damnit.” Once I regain control of the oil tank, I stand in awe turning it over and over again looking for signs of damage. Not a dent, not a ding, not a scratch. Nada. Absolutely amazing. The oil tank is comprised of several panels turned by an English Wheel and then welded and buffed to perfection. Each and every piece is a little bit different than the other – kind of like snowflakes – and yet they match the handmade gas tanks remarkably well. The gas tank is manufactured by means of the same old world craft and is constructed of 158 hand welded panels. Undetectable seams are polished to a point of perfection and radiate a reflection factor greater than any mirror found in a Texaco washroom.
When installing a hand crafted gas tank and oil tank, one needs to carefully review the installation instructions and then use those instructions as they were truly intended – to light a cigar. Oh sure, they might give you a couple of hints such as what happens if the alloy grazes the vibrating metal of a Featherbed frame – think Sawsall and a trailer home. Aside from that useful adage, all remaining instructions are void due to the “one off” construction. Some pieces are slightly larger, some are slightly longer, wider, or taller than what your frame will allow thereby requiring one to employ the second most used tool in one’s tool chest, the Dremel. Not only does this handy tool do a great job in home based dentistry, but it also proves to be quite useful when modifying one’s frame. A couple of lugs here, a bracket there, rip, rip, grind, grind, and its all gone. Slide the oil tank in, very gingerly I might add, secure with a stud and a couple of rubber bands and the damn thing still does not fit. Screw the Dremel! Bring me a Sawsall and a Hockey Goalie’s mask – stand back Ethyl this is gonna get ugly. Sparks fly, dogs shriek, women and children run for cover and the Mormons still ring my doorbell.
Affixing the gas tank proved to be a much bigger challenge. Paging through the installation instructions I locate the detailed steps outlined in chronological order. I can almost hear the pompous English accent, ” When affixing petrol tank, take mind to avoid metal contact as it is not good.” Flipping the page front to back and back to front, I search in vain for the answers to my questions. What about the head steady? Do I have to make mods? If so, what type of mods? What about the steering head clearance? How do I secure the tank strap? Convinced that I received a defective installation manual, I once again telephone the craftsman and shower him with my questions. Immediately before I hear the ‘click’ signaling the end of my overseas call, I am left with the following words of wisdom, “Oh fer chris’ sakes.”
Calling upon the skills and means of a friend, I am able to coerce him with Premium Grain Belt and false promises of wealth and recognition in exchange for manufacturing a beautiful alloy head steady. I would mention his name but then others might call upon him for services and my lead times for future machine shop work would increase. And that would suck. Not only was he able to manufacture the head steady, but he was also able to contrive a brilliant fastening system to mount the tank strap utilizing the mounting bracket intended for the tool tray. The front end of the tank strap is secured to the head steady and the rear end of the tank strap wraps around and under the gas tank ending at a mounting bracket originally intended for the tool tray. Brilliant, absolutely brilliant. Too bad I will not divulge his name.
Eyeing the creation through a sleep depraved haze, I take inventory of the masterpiece: Front end is together and functional, swan neck clip-ons were exchanged for standard clip-ons, gas tank is mounted, oil tank is mounted, shocks are installed Wow, this is actually beginning to look like a motorcycle. Slap the fenders on, whip the carb and throttle together and we ride this baby out of the basement. Eeehah. Life is good and the fat lady is starting is starting to sing, but then again, the fat lady lives in my neighborhood and she is always singing. I have tried everything to shut her up: donuts, candy, fried chicken, a plunger. Nothing works.
Removing the bubble wrap from the black stovetop enameled fenders – damn, I love bubble wrap – I marvel at the craftsmanship of these hand hammered alloy fenders. Mounting the rear fender requires installation of a frame loop affixed to the rear of the Featherbed frame. The frame loop functions as a mounting point for the fender and it serves as a brace to strengthen the frame. Brimming with anticipation, I hold the incredibly expensive loop in place and realize that the mounting holes are skewed by a good inch. “Not a problem,” I comment to myself, “I will just stroll on down to my friendly neighborhood machine shop located in the Red Rooster Auto Parts store and have them remove the mounting bolt, braze over the hole, and install a new mounting bolt.” If life were only that easy. The machine shop removed, brazed, and installed the bolt several inches above its previous residence compounding the original problem of the two bolts not being symmetrical. “Geez, thanks guys, but you kinda screwed it up. Would you mind readdressing the problem?” They replied with, “Oh hey Mr. Valued Customer, absolutely. We are soooo sorry for the mistake. Of course we will correct the procedure at our own cost. Would you like a cup of coffee?” Yeah right, maybe in Beaver Cleaver world. In my world, it was more like “So? Get the hell outta here before we kick your ass.”
Driving home with Fury and Rage sharing the passenger’s seat, I am confronted by Robbinsdale finest and issued a formal invite to the Policeman’s Ball for a contribution of $98.00. If you ever get pulled over by a Police Officer, no matter how tempting it may be, never, and I repeat NEVER open the dialogue with “So, are you Andy or Barney?” I never saw a cop write a ticket so fast.
Now I am in the hole for the speeding ticket, the frame loop, and the “repairs” to the frame loop. Sending it back would cost more than what I have into it so I drove to the liquor store and purchased a couple of Grain Belts. Then I called Mike. Damnit, I let out his name. Shyte. Anyway, he was able to manufacture a frame loop that fit perfectly and exhibited quality far above and beyond what the purchased piece was able to provide. Rear fender is mounted. Ahhhhh.
Onto the front fender. The front fender is mounted using a combination of alloy Y brackets secured to the forks. Once the brackets are ‘moulded’ to fit the forks, one must finesse the fender to fit the brackets by bending the fender a little and bending the Y brackets a little. Normal humans perform this procedure in about fifteen minutes. After four hours of bending this and that, I finally came to the conclusion that the reason I could not achieve an evenly balanced fender is because I was using the front wheel as a reference point and the front wheel was totally bent! I think Charlie Brown said it best when he said, “Arrrrggggghhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!”
After grinding the remaining nubs of my teeth, I surveyed the roundness of the front wheel. This thing was more crooked than a Democrat at a fund raiser. The previous owner must have discovered the strength of a stationary atom by plowing into something rock solid. Hence the bent front wheel and the crooked fork damper rod. Scurrying back to the damp corner of the basement, I began to contemplate my next move. Do I attempt to straighten the front wheel on my own? Do I send it out? Do I replace the spokes? Hmmmm….images of alloy rims and stainless steel spokes begin to materialize before my eyes. Letting out a Josey Wales scream, I fire up the blow torch and whack both hubs, pack them in bubblewrap – damn, I love bubblewrap – and send them off to Buchanans Spoke And Wheel.
After the dust settled and I doused the fire I started with the blow torch, I sit down and contemplate my building of a genuine non-imitation Irish motorcycle. Conclusion? I am over budget. Realizing just how far over budget I am, I rush to the dumpster and fight the homeless guy for the aluminum cans. Hey buddy, can ya spare a dime? How about a dry clutch? Stay tuned, stay tuned.