"BRIT IRON" takes you behind the scenes at
May 2012 - Issue #28
IN THIS WEEK'S ISSUE:
HOME TO HANFORD - I’m here for the show, but there’s more...
OLD FRIENDS, OLD MEMORIES - I bask in the nostalgia.
THE CLAW - I visit legendary bike guy Ron Clawson after 40 years!
PARTY AT DON’S - I get an invite to Resto Legend Don Harrell’s get-together.
THE HANFORD SHOW - The Classic Motorcycle Show & Swap Meet is a gas.
WANNA BE A WRITER? - I could use some help. All work, no pay, whadya think?
WEIRD STUFF - This was at my hotel in Hanford.
The old town square in downtown Hanford. Nice, huh?
If you haven’t read my About Us page (shame on you), I consider Hanford my hometown. Even though I only lived there 10 years growing up, it was those crucial 10 years from age 12 to 22 & I guess it left an impact. It still felt like home, even though I hadn’t been back in over 14 years. My wife Pam & I drove around town as I gave her the grand tour of all my old haunts (I’m sure she loved that, but she was a real trooper). We were here for the Hanford Vintage Motorcycle Show on Saturday, but we arrived on Friday afternoon, and didn’t leave until Sunday. It’s about a 3-hour drive from the Bay Area and I should really get back more often. I thoroughly enjoyed myself in Hanford, and I hope my wife did also (she did, just not quite as much as I did).
One of my oldest friends, Paul Rohrbough on his FatBoy.
OLD FRIENDS TALKIN’ ABOUT OLD TIMES
Of course Hanford is full of memories for me, and since I haven’t been back since my 25th high school reunion in 1998, I really wanted to soak it all in. I drove by my old home, schools, jobs, hangouts, friends’ houses, etc. It’s a small town, so it really doesn’t take very long to do all that. But memories are more about people than places. I called a few of my old friends but was only able to hook up with one of them in the time that I had. Paul Rohrbough is one of my oldest friends. We met in 7th grade & he was Mr. Cool. He taught me everything a 12-year-old boy needed to know. Cars, motorcycles & girls. Oh, and did I mention girls? We bought our first Triumphs about the same time & rode everywhere together back in about 1971. He just retired from a long career as a firefighter & is loving life. He met us at our hotel, riding there on his Harley-Davidson Fat Boy & we all went to breakfast together. It was great talking about all the old times. I laughed so much it hurt. Great seeing you, Paul.
Ron Clawson & I wrassle a bike into the back of a truck. Just like the old days.
I VISIT “THE CLAW”
When I was about 16 years old, and living in Hanford, my ’64 TR6 ‘bobber’ I bought was turning out to be a bit of a turd. It needed more work than I knew how to do for myself, so roudabout I met Ron Clawson, who had just opened is first real shop. At the time, his only franchise was Bridgestone, no not the tires, the motorcycles. One thing led to another & I was soon working for him as sort of an apprentice mechanic, a jack of all trades, “The Kid” as was my nickname & my job title. I worked for Ron for the next 2 or 3 years, working on bikes mostly, while Ron acquired more franchises, big names like Carabella (from Mexico, believe it or not). We also got the Triumph/BSA/Norton franchise just as they were starting to bite the dust. I still remember uncrating that first oil-in-frame Bonneville in ’71. Then we got BMWs, then Moto Guzzi. I worked for him for most of my high school years, having the time of my life, and learning as I went. I had a heart problem late in 1973, my senior year (never had a problem since) that landed me in the hospital for an extended period & I never worked for Ron again. By the time I got back to health, I’d moved from bikes into cars (they had a back seat for the girlfriend). And I never saw or heard from him again...until recently.
Ron, now 71, still races motocross...old-timer motocross, but I'm betting he could whip most guys half his age. This is his race bike, a Kawasaki something-or-other.
THE CLAW IS BACK
I ran across his name at a motorcycle show about a year ago & followed up to find that he now owns a Kawasaki/Suzuki franchise in Tulare CA. I called him before last year’s Hanford Show to see if we could meet up, but alas I didn’t make that show. So, I called him back this year & we made it happen. Pam & I arrived on Friday at about 2:00 pm to see Caroline, Ron’s lovely wife behind the counter. It was a Ma & Pa shop back then & I guess it still is today, and it obviously works. They have not only weathered these troubled times, but have an exemplary reputation in the bike world, and have had a genuinely great life together. Ron ambled out of the shop and it was just like I never left. They were just pulling a troubled old Triumph out of the shop & needed to load it in the customer’s truck. Moments later I was in the back of the truck taking the hand-off from Ron. Just like old times. Funny, I hadn’t seen him in 40 years, and within a minute I was helping him load a bike in a truck!!
Caroline Clawson, yours truly & Ron "The Claw" Clawson himself, in his Kawasaki-Suzuki dealership.
GOOD TIMES, GOOD MEMORIES
We reminisced and commiserated, told stories, compared notes, and had a wonderful time together, for an hour or so. I met Ron & Caroline’s son Armon, who helps them run the business. It’s in the blood, you know? We went back into the shop to look at his bikes. He told me that most of his old Brit stuff is in storage (and he has a lot of it), all he had there was an oil-in-frame B50. And his modern bike, some kind of crazy Kawasaki dirt bike that he still races, at 71 years old. Tough old bird. What a great guy. He had a huge influence on my young life, at the time, and some of that is still with me today. I mean, here I am still farting around with old Brit bikes, right? We promised to get together again soon, and I hope we do.
Just a few of the bikes restored and owned by Don Harrell.
PARTY AT DON’S
Another person from my past that I ran into as the result of my attending all these shows was Andy Mattos. Andy was a few years younger than me, his brother Tim was closer to my age. But more importantly, their dad owned the best liquor store in town, and the center of the universe in Hanford at the time. Nuff said about that...again, I digress...anyway....Andy is very involved in, of all things, the world of classic British motorcycles. In fact he as a gorgeous ’73 Bonneville in Canada-only garnet red. He knows just about everyone in the crazy world of ours, including Clawson, Raber, and just about everyone else I know. And he works with, and for Don Harrell, who is one of THE premier British motorcycle restorers in the business. Don is considered one of the best, and his bikes command a high premium at auctions. In fact, his bikes have contributed greatly to the drastic increase in the values of classic BSAs in recent years.
This is what I call a "Dream Shop".
PUTTING ON THE BRAKES
Anyway, Don has a pre-Hanford Show party each year at his home in Visalia. Behind it is what I would term a “Dream Shop” with drop-dead gorgeous Brit bikes everywhere. His shop is immaculate & loaded with bikes he’s finishing up. His work is impeccable. A small group of enthusiasts & friends gathered, had some beers, some hotdogs, enjoyed the bikes & each others’ company. It was all great fun & I enjoyed it immensely.
Don loads 3 bikes on the trailer destined for the Hanford Show where the two blue BSAs would earn trophies.
But, after several years, word got out about Don’s parties & the crowds began to swell with people Don didn’t know, who came to drink the beer, eat the food then leave...if you were lucky. So now, these little shindigs are by invitation only. And my old friend Andy Mattos was nice enough to invite me & introduce me around. He’s a great guy & he’s literally living the life. Thanks, Andy. And thank you, Don. Hope I get invited back next year.
A nice little show. Not too many Brit bikes, but nice just the same. And what a swap meet (autojumble).
THE HANFORD SHOW IS NICE
Of course, the main purpose for our Hanford trip was to attend & cover the 2012 Hanford Vintage Motorcycle Rally, which is really more of a classic motorcycle show & swap meet. It’s a smaller show, held at the Kings County Fairgrounds in Hanford, outdoors under the shade trees. The venue is nice, there’s plenty of room, and the folks are laid back & friendly. There were a total of about 50 bikes in the show, maybe a few more. There weren’t a lot of Brit bikes there, mostly Japanese & American. But it was a great show nonetheless, with some absolutely gorgeous motorcycles in attendance. For the whole story go to the page on the show. It’s a judged show with trophies in a variety of classes. Not many bikes competed in each class. The real winner was resto legend Don Harrell who won First & Second in the Off-Road/Competition Class with his two lovely BSAs. The swap meet is pretty vast however, and you can find some interesting stuff, for sure. It was great walking the grounds of the Fairgrounds again. I’d spent a lot of time there as a kid. The roller rink was 100 feet from the show, and this was a place where I spent many days skating & trying to meet girls. In fact, I stole my first kiss on the brick planter out front of the entrance to it. I guess I’ve got a lot of history in this place.
WANNA BE A WRITER? I NEED HELP!
This website is a huge undertaking. Of course, I’m covering every event that I can physically attend, classic motorcycle shows, auctions, rides & more. But, I’ve committed myself to creating a full online index of every major postwar classic British motorcycle, organized by make, model & year, each with its own page. And that’s a HUGE job!! So huge, I’m beginning to think that I can’t do it alone. So, I’ve started approaching people I know who are what I would consider ‘qualified’ on given marques or models of bikes. I’m asking them to contribute content, specs, articles, and/or photos of the bikes they are covering. For instance, a fellow member of the BSA Owners Club is going to write my pages on all the years of BSA A65s. I know another one whom I hope to convince to do my BSA Rocket 3 pages.
WRITE ABOUT YOUR FAVORITE BIKES
Do you know anything about a certain make or model? Do you have a good set of books about them? Would you like to write some pages about the bikes you love most? If so, please contact me & let me know what you’d like to do. And please don’t worry if you’re not some kind of ‘expert’. I’m not either, but I still know enough about Triumphs to write about them. Especially with all the great books & restoration guides I have on Triumphs. You can do the same thing. You’d probably have some fun doing it, you’d be able to brag to all your friends (your name will be on every page you write, unless you don’t want it), and you’d be helping me out big time. And helping the niche of Classic British Motorcycles that we all know & love.
YOU CAN COVER SHOWS & STUFF
As I said, I also cover motorcycle shows, auctions, rides & things like that, but I can only get to the ones in & around California. Do you attend shows or other events in your area? Do you ride your classic Brit bike all over with fellow Brit bike nuts? How about taking pictures & writing about it? I’d love for you to submit some content & photos of a bike show, or an auction or a ride you went on. I’ll do up a whole page on it & credit you for it in the article. Don’t worry if you can’t spell, or can’t write very well. If you can get your thoughts on paper, I can clean it up & make it come out right. I do it with my own jumbled thoughts all the time. Please think about it & contact me if you’re interested, on any level. Really...help.
Not that this is so weird, but it’s kind of cute, and I’ve never seen one before. It’s a cargo trailer for a motorcycle. This one looks like a 1955 Chevy painted up in black & white like a cop car. It was being pulled behind a Harley trike. The owner told me the company that made the trailer makes them styled like all sorts of other cars, a ’62 Vette, a ’59 Caddy, and (my personal favorite) a ’55 Nomad. Much more stylish than a simple box on wheels for all your crap, eh?
PLEASE READ MY COLUMN ON EXAMINER.COM
As you may know, I'm now a Motorcycle Correspondent for the Bay Area for Examiner.com. I've written several articles on bikes so far. I get rated by the number of people who read my articles and give back good feedback. Please, if you get the chance, please visit my page on Examiner.com, and tell your friends about it. Here's the link:
And please pass it along to your friends...
Hope you enjoyed this issue of "BRIT IRON" as much as I enjoyed writing it. Please tell your friends about it, and my website, Classic-British-Motorcycles.com. And please urge them to subscribe to this e-zine. It is my hope that the right people will discover this website & tell the right people, who will then pass it along to more of the right people, and...well, you get the idea.
Thanks for all your interest & support,
PS: I'd love to hear from you, get your comments, ideas, suggestions, criticisms, whatever. Please contact me.
And above all, enjoy the ride...