by bj max
I just got back from the mailbox and my new Gold Book arrived today. The Gold Book, for those of you who ride anything other than a Gold Wing, is a list of roughly eighty thousand like minded motorcyclists around the world and their telephone numbers. Beside each name is a one to five letter code. This code describes what each member is willing to provide should you happen to be in their neighborhood and need help. As I glanced through this latest edition I was reminded of a trip last summer when this little publication became the key to the success of a long anticipated vacation.
My wife and I were joined by six of our friends in West Memphis, Arkansas in the early dawn of a beautiful summer morning. After a hearty breakfast of calories and cholesterol, we headed west. In the next two weeks we will ride to within a hundred miles of the California border. We will see some unbelievable scenery, spend an unbelievable amount of money and consume an unbelievable amount of food. We will weather thunderstorms, Arizona wildfires, fifty-MPH crosswinds and temperatures into triple digits. Along the way our paths would cross that of antelope, jackrabbits, prairie dogs, elk, deer, buffalo and a lone grizzly bear. All this was exciting and memorable but when we look back on this trip ten years from now the thing that stands out won’t be antelope or jackrabbits and not even that lone grizzly bear. No, the hallmark of this trip I think, will be some Good Samaritians and a lowly six dollar wheel bearing.
Harley-Davidson used to have a reputation for breaking down a lot. Now don’t get me wrong, back in the sixties that was my bike of choice. I owned several of those venerable old machines and after all these years I still have a soft spot in my head for Harley’s. Honda, on the other hand, has a reputation of stone cold reliability. Especially the Gold Wing and completing a four thousand-mile trip trouble free is not uncommon. They never break down. Well, almost never. But on this trip, as bad as I hate to admit it, it was a Honda, not a Harley, that put us down. A Valkyrie Interstate to be specific which is really nothing more than a souped up Gold Wing. A gaggle of Harley riders actually stopped and snapped pictures of the broken machine. To hang on their clubhouse wall so they said. This ghoulish behavior could be construed as a testament to the reliability of the big Honda but that consolation made it no less embarrassing at the time.
David Elston, AKA Hillbilly, had a premonition of trouble two weeks before our little expedition got underway and on our first day out his psychic warning surfaced. Somewhere near Morrilton, Arkansas David’s rig began doing the hoochie-coo, whipping the trailer back and forth until he almost lost control. We peeled off the Interstate at the Morrilton exit to check it out.
Fortunately for us, one member of our little band, Charley Gibson, is a mechanic for FedEx and his knack for being able to fix anything would prove invaluable before this trip was over. Charley located the Valkyrie’s problem in short order. The rear axle nut had backed off about an inch and would have fallen off eventually. Charley tightened the nut, problem solved. Or at least we thought so. But, unbeknownst to us, the rear wheel bearing grease seal had gone south and as Hillbilly led us down the Muskogee Turnpike at eighty mph the dry bearing was slowly but surely grinding itself to dust. Hillbilly was thrilled with the improved handling. So much so that he blew right by our planned exit for the night. But, as it turned out, missing that exit would be a blessing in disguise.
When we planned this vacation we took in to account the extreme heat that the month of August is noted for. The plan was to get up before daylight and be on the road by dawn, then in an effort to beat the heat, shut down by mid-afternoon. By blowing our exit, the spirit of the “beat the heat” plan went out the window. Hillbilly’s error forced us to ride another 120 miles before decent accommodations were located. This extra effort in the boiling sun had a dramatic effect on the normally affable comportment of the female element and as a consequence, tempers flared. Dimwit and blockhead were some of the more cordial names to crop up during the sporadic confrontations. We finally located a motel in Stillwater and after a hot shower and a genuine Mexican dinner, tempers cooled and all involved conducted themselves with a modicum of courtesy for the balance of the evening.
David, complaining that there was still something funny going on with his bike, wanted to do a thorough check before going to bed so we pushed the big Valkyrie around the motel parking lot and listened. A grinding noise similar to that of a pig eatin’ walnuts indicated that there was definitely a problem. Lying on the asphalt with a flashlight illuminating the rear wheel bearing we could see little chrome balls rolling free in the bearing race and our worst fears were realized. Our trip had just been put on hold.
This is Sunday evening and with computer like accuracy my brain quickly calculated that this being Sunday, tomorrow must be Monday and most motorcycle dealers are closed on Monday. Godfry Daniels! But wait. Maybe, just maybe. I dug my tattered and travel worn copy of the Gold Book from the saddlebag and threw it to David. I didn’t know it then but all those dues I referred to earlier were about to pay off in spades.
The first number Hillbilly dialed was that of a Mr. Robert Britt, retired engineer and long time motorcyclist. Robert’s code letters indicated that he would provide tools, telephone, transportation and just about anything else we might need. Robert was friendly and seemed anxious to accommodate. Since it was late we agreed to meet at his home in the country the next morning.
What a break! Robert and his brother Clyde design and manufacture trikes out of a full size shop complete with every tool imaginable. Except a chain hoist. The lack of a hoist meant we had to manhandle Hillbilly’s heavy bike onto automotive type jack stands. It wasn’t as stable as we would have preferred but with David and I steadying the bike while Charley and Robert dissembled the rear wheel, it worked. The saddlebags were removed, and then the rear axle but the wheel wouldn’t budge. They pulled, pushed and cussed but all they managed to do was wedge the wheel against the concrete floor and the swing arm. Someone suggested letting the air out of the tire and with no more than three inches of clearance between the wheel and the floor, it was finally wrestled free.
At this point we thought the hard part was over but soon learned that the job had just begun. The wheel bearing was completely destroyed and the friction generated by the lack of lubricant had created enough heat to tack weld the bearing race to the aluminum wheel. To knock it loose it would be necessary to get a chisel in behind the race. But there was another problem. The edge of the wheel bearing’s aperture was taller than the race.
I stood and scratched my head. What to do? Thinking has always been a strain on me and I try to avoid it whenever possible so I strolled outside, got my camera and took some pictures. David, who readily admits that he’s no idea man, slouched against the tin wall gazing out across the Oklahoma plains, his blank stare a good indication that no ideas were cooking between his ears. It was obvious that if the problem were to be solved it would be by the mechanics and engineer’s in the crowd, not the clowns.
The engineers, namely Clyde, Robert and Charley, put their heads together and formulated a plan whereby they would saw a notch out of the aluminum wheel just low enough to get a chisel against the race and knock it out of its socket from behind. “Snaggletooth the wheel” I believe was the technical term.
While they worked with the bearing race, Clyde and I rode to Stillwater to a bearing store (I never knew there was such a thing) and picked up a new bearing. Clyde had copied the number off the old bearing and called it in earlier and it was laying on the counter when we strolled in. I pulled out a ten-dollar bill to pay for the six-dollar bearing and the counter man declared, “We don’t take cash.” He wasn’t smiling but I just knew he was kiddin’. “Yeah right.” I said as I handed him a ten spot. “I’m serious.” he repeated. “We don’t take cash. Only checks or credit cards. See?” He pointed to a sign under the glass on the counter.
‘Credit Cards or Checks only. Cash Money not accepted’
Well I’ll be dipped. It was no joke then. What in the name of Donald Trump is the world coming to?
When we returned about an hour later Charley and Robert had just freed the stubborn race from the wheel. From this point on everything went like clockwork and David’s motorcycle was soon back in one piece.
All this took about five hours but Robert Britt and his brother Clyde wouldn’t take a nickel for their time and trouble. They wouldn’t even let us take them out to dinner. Robert explained to David that he could return the favor by helping somebody else sometime. What can you say about these kind folks who go out of their way to help a group of strangers they will most likely never see again. Of course, to them we weren’t strangers. We were motorcyclists in trouble and that’s the only thing that mattered. Three wheelies to Robert and Clyde Britt. The Good Samaritans.