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Before I get so old that I forget all about them, I want to record my motorcycling history. From riding my first BSA in 1964 to horsing around on a Chang Jiang just the other day, riding motorbikes has always been a very enjoyable part of my life.
This page will probably take many weeks or months or years to complete, and may not be done in Chronological order. So come back again later and see whether it has grown. It is currently in a kind of "scratch pad" state and I shall work on bits and pieces as I have time to recall all my memories. Some of the facts and figures may be a bit out until I can unearth some of my old diaries from years gone by. More photos will have to wait until I can get them from storage and scan them.
I am quite sure that several of the motorbikes listed below are listed in the wrong order. I am pretty sure that every incident described is listed with the correct bike, it's just that I cannot now remember which one came first. I shall have to put them into better order when I can get some more information.
If anyone has copies of the Australian "Two Wheels" magazine dating back to the 1972-1974 period and can look up the articles therein written by Phil Smith, please contact me at phil DOT drdisk AT gmail DOT com so that I can get some of these facts and figures more correct. I particularly need a copy of the article titled "Diary of an Enthusiast" written by me towards the end of 1972 or in the first half of 1973. (My memory is not as good as it was!)
A special "Thank you!" to my mother, Mrs Wenche Smith of Geelong, who dug around amongst the family photos and found the black and white prints and ancient polaroid photos which have been scanned and reproduced on this page. On all photographs in this page, click on the small Thumbnail print to get a larger photo. Some of the colour slides which she also found are now included after having been digitised.
Presentation by CMA Qld: Where the Rubber Hits the Road
All sections of this page below here will gradually be cut into chapters and installed as new links here.
Both of my grandfathers had been Harley riders. While my mother was pregnant and carrying me she rode pillion on a Harley until she became too big to do so any more. The love of Harleys was therefore definitely imparted to me while I was still in the womb ... you can't get it much earlier than that! As a kid I had loved to watch the Harleys which thundered up and down every street on occasion. As I grew up, the Harleys always had a special place for me. I would pull up anywhere to oggle one. Somehow, while I was still in the Rovers, I heard about an 11-13 Harley (That meant 11 horsepower and 1300cc for those not familiar with Harley terminology) with a box sidecar that was for sale at £40. Its owner told me that it had been painted red when he originally got it,but that it had all sorts of profanities and rude words painted all over it with white house paint. He said it had been labelled in several places with the number "666" - the Mark of the Beast (refer to The Bible, Revelation, Chapter 13, to find out what this referred to) so that he had brush painted it all over with black house paint to cover up all the bad words. The picture at the right, scanned out of a magazine, shows a restored 1937 model which was almost the same as mine. The engine was a 45 degree V-twin with a capacity of 80 cubic inches or 1340cc. I asked my friend Cec Scott to look at it and he agreed that the price was about right. As I didn't have the forty quid, I borrowed it from Cec, and we kept the Harley in his shed until I had saved the money to pay him back. Then we towed the Harley out to Buninyong where I then lived. Gradually, between gaps in a very busy life, I worked on it little by little to bring it towards a state where I might be able to register it for use on the road. I mainly bought little things one at a time such as a stop light switch and a taillight that could have a stop light fitted inside it and so on. I would take it out for a ride on the back bush tracks every now and then to make sure the engine stayed in good nick, but due to money constraints and time priority constraints, that bike never actually ended up registered during the years I owned it. At the end of 1968, I received a posting to become the Headmaster of the Dumbalk North Primary School located in the Leongatha Inspectorate in South Gippsland, so when I moved to Morwell to live with my folks, the Harley was placed on a trailer and taken down there with me. Other Harleys joined the collection later on; see below.
While the Harley was being transported to Morwell, I rode my
Yamaha YDS3 and Dusting sidecar outfit down there as well. But
it was not to stay there for long. ...
Now a Headmaster makes a lot more money than a Student Teacher, and I felt it was about time to upgrade my bike. I had seen films in which Triumphs seemed to be presented as very desirable motorbikes. Steve McQueen in The Great Escape was mounted on a 1961 Triumph Trophy TR6 650cc OHV parallel twin (don't ask me how it was miraculously transported back in time to the Second World War!) and that seemed like the most desirable model for me. So I contacted Pratt & Osborne Motors and ordered my bright red brand new Triumph Trophy. When it was ready, they rang me up and I rode the faithful old Yamaha outfit from Morwell to Geelong for the last time. I felt kind of sad to be parting with the Yamaha after so many reliable miles during several very enjoyable years. But I wanted the newest and the best, so why was I having these negative thoughts!
At Pratt & Osborne, the Dusting sidecar was removed from the Yamaha and, after new mountings had been manufactured, it was fitted to the Triumph. After driving around Geelong and district a bit to give the outfit a bit of a shakedown and ensure that all adjustments were just right it was time to head home to Morwell. I was driving it very carefully during the running in period, but somewhere near Warragul on the way home on its first ride, the engine suddenly failed! When I kicked it over there was just no compression! Anyway, to cut a long story short, the engine was re-bored and fitted with new pistons under warranty. After a week or two, it happened again and another re-bore was done and new pistons were fitted under warranty. I was then warned that if my bike kept chewing pistons and cylinders like this, it could be bored no further and would have to be re-sleeved next time. After another couple of weeks of riding, the engine failed again - it was utterly worn out! This time the engine was re-sleeved back to standard size and was fitted with yet another set of brand new pistons. I had just reached Morwell again when the phone rang ... Triumph was recalling all 1969 TR6 Trophy motorcycles! All over the world, all of that year's models were found to be worn out after a couple of thousand miles! The problem had occurred in the Triumph factory where the incorrect carburettor had been installed on the production line and all of the engines were running so incredibly lean when the carby was set according to the manual, that they were wearing out in no time. A new carburettor was fitted and the problem was solved, as far as I can recall now the engine never needed another rebore for that reason again.
The picture at right shows the Triumph Trophy with Dusting sidecar with my Grandfather, Helge Abrahmsen, and myself standing behind it. The picture was taken sometime after the Dusting had been repainted to match the triumph. Original canvas sidecar windscreen had been replaced by a new black vinyl one. Ex-police fibreglass handlebar fairing had also been painted to match.
Early in its life I decided that the Dusting sidecar, although its 1946 black paint with white pinstriping still looked brand new, ought to be painted to match the metallic red and silver of the Triumph. I had also fitted a police-style handlebar fairing and felt it would look good painted to match as well. I carefully drew up everything and designed the colour scheme and pinstriping details that I wanted. First I had the fairing and sidecar sprayed and then it was time to do the pinstriping.
Pinstriping the Dusting Sidecar. One week, shortly after the new paint job was completed, I rode to Melbourne where I met the then elderly Vic Bogner who originally used to pinstripe the new Dusting sidecars for Harry Dusting. I asked him to teach me how to do it and he painstakingly did so. To see my metallic red and silver Dusting with its beautiful gold pinstriping, just as I had planned it following the original Dusting pattern, was an unforgettable sight. I soon got the job of pinstriping other Dustings and a few other vintage vehicles ended up with Dusting style pinstriping during the ensuing years. The last Dusting I pinstriped was more than thirty years ago, but I would love to get my hands on one today just to check that I haven't lost any of that skill ... and maybe to teach some much younger person how Vic used to do it before I in turn get too old!
During the year I served as the Headmaster at Dumbalk North, the Triumph-Dusting outfit was my "principal" mode of transport (pun was not originally intended, but it's a good one so I'll leave it there and add quotation marks!). During the times of re-boring, re-sleeving and other work that it needed during its early days, I rode a plethora of borrowed bikes, sometimes for a fortnight or three weeks at a time. Some of these are long since forgotten, but some rate a special mention below.
June 1969: The earthquake.
The Triumph was purring along contentedly at about 80 or 90 km/h along a flat, long, straight stretch of the back road to Boolara at about 04:00 or 04:30 early on a Monday morning in June 1969. I glanced over to the left at the sidecar mudguard light which was keeping me company. As I turned my attention back to the road ahead of me which was very well illuminated by the high beam of the Lucas headlight, there suddenly appeared to be a hump in the road ahead. There was certainly no hump there yesterday! Suddenly the hump was much closer than I had thought it had been. Next second I felt the outfit rise and fall, rise and fall. There had been two humps. On a previously flat road! And why had the humps apparently been moving from South to North at some considerable speed? I wondered about these strange "moving humps" as I left the flat and wound up through the mountains. An Earthquake had been felt in that area late on Saturday night. Could those humps have been some sort of wave caused by the eartquake? But why would they be seen and felt thirty hours later? My scientific mind was working overtime. Just as well I knew every inch of this road like the back of my hand. I rounded a sharp curve to the right and straightened up again to the sight of there being no road visible in my headlight! Before I could even think of braking, the outfit was airborne. Then crunch! The suspension bottommed out as she landed on a steeply sloping patch of the road. Then airborne again this time flying through the darkness with my headlight pointing up into the tops of the gum trees. Then crunch again as the suspension bottommed out a second time as the outfit landed heavily upon the road which now looked roughly like it should have looked. I braked the Triumph to an emergency stop, turned it 180 degrees and started to slowly proceed back towards my recent breathtaking roller-coaster ride. There I saw that a section of road had fallen below the level of the rest of the road and formed quite a steep ramp sloping upwards towards the South. As I looked at it I realised that the Lord had been looking after me: had I been riding in the opposite direction, towards the North, I would have written off the outfit as the front wheel and forks would have collapsed and the nose of the sidecar would have buried itself into the broken remains of the road on the north side of the slab of road which had fallen. I still couldn't figure out how a road that had been perfectly okay yesterday could have been so badly damaged by this morning. As I stood there wondering about this, there was a very deep and dreadful roaring sound which came from beneath my feet and the ground started to rock and shiver just as it had during Saturday night's earthquake. This was accompanied by flashes like lightning from the broken ground where the road had collapsed. To this day I am still not sure about this ... was my mind playing some sort of tricks on me to get me out of there, or did these flashes really happen? As rocks and stones started to tumble down the mountainside and land all around me, I leapt back on the Triumph, spun it around, and headed off flat-out down the hill to get clear of the mountain. Later that day, when scientists arrived to invesigate the earthquakes, I learned that there had indeed been two periods of aftershock activity recorded that morning and the first of these must have caused my "moving humps" which I saw near Boolara and the landslide which had taken the foundations out from underneath the road where I had had my roller coaster ride, and the second had caused the dreadful noise and rockfall which occurred while I was standing looking at the damage caused by the first one. I think this earthquake incident was probably the scariest thing that ever occurred to me in all my years of riding motorbikes and sidecars.
The enormous Double-Adult sidecar.
Some time after my year at Dumbalk North, I was teaching at Yallourn Primary School and the Triumph was still my main transport. Now I had from time to time read in British magazines about the existence of double-adult sidecars although I had never actually seen one. But I read a classified ad which told me that a Double-Adult sidecar was for sale in Glenroy, a Northern suburb of Melbourne. On the phone I learned that it was a body with no chassis and I would need my own chassis. So I decided it wouldn't do any harm to go and have a look and there it was, red and huge. I have forgotten what it was built from, whether it was particle-board or just a heavy wooden frame covered with plywood. Its shape was roughly a cuboid, about 2.5 metres long, about 70 or 80 centimetres wide and about 50 or 60 centimetres deep. Its nose was rounded in a semicircular shape and was sloped backwards slightly. The mudguard was a standard Dusting item but was mounted directly on the side of the body, since the body was much wider than a standard Dusting body. Underneath the floor, to mount it between the springs on the dusting chassis, it had raised platforms (actually just great big blocks of timber) about 40 cm by 15 cm by 10 cm and needed very long coach bolts to mount it to the chassis bars. I decided to purchase it and came back with my Triumph and just the chassis of the Dusting chair. It had one seat behind the other; both seats were enormous in size, and the back of the forward seat could be removed in case one wanted to sleep in the sidecar. We fitted the enormous sidecar and I rode back to Morwell. By the time I reached Dandenong I pulled out my screwdrivers and removed the large sidecar windscreen just to cut down on the wind resistance a bit. You would think I had learned my lesson with my "Yellow Coffin" a few years earlier, but my reasoning went something like: "this motor is much bigger and more powerful than the Yamaha YDS3, so it ought to be able to handle it." But by the time I arrived home in Morwell, I think I already knew that it was just too big and heavy. For the first week I owned it, I rode it about without once taking a passenger in it anywhere at all.
Six kids in the sidecar! ... Next weekend someone suggested that I take the kids for a ride around town since I had such an enormous sidecar. Thus it was that we lifted the front seat divider a little and moved the seat cushion rearwards halfway into the rear compartment. Then we rounded up most of my siblings. two kids were seated side by side on the front half of the front seat leaning against the front of the backrest, two kids were seated side by side normally in the back seat, and two more kids were seated facing backwards on the back half of the front seat leaning against the back of the front backrest. My sister got on the pillion seat behind me. Thus it was that I drove for a couple of laps of the main street of Morwell with a total of eight people on board my motorbike and sidecar and everyone of them correctly and legally seated, which was verified by the local constabulary who decided that this contraption was well worth having a close look at. We actually ended up with about four carloads of police and a couple of police motorcyclists checking us out that afternoon. They were all of the opinion that, although it was a perfectly legal transport for eight people, that I was likely to have a very short clutch life. One policeman's estimation was that the total outfit with eight people on board weighed somewhere between a half and three-quarters of a ton. I have done the mental calculation myself a few times since and I reckon he was right. You should have seen how many heads turned that day as we lapped the main drag!
The queen-size bed on the sidecar! ... Now
it just so happened that about a week or two before I bought the D/A
sidecar, Mum and Dad had purchased a new bed. The old bed was
in the passage blocking up the house and we thought, "How will
we ever get a Queen Sized bed to the rubbish dump?" It
wouldn't fit in the car; it would cost money to rent a truck; what
could we do with it? Dad and I looked at the bed, then looked
at the sidecar, then looked at each other ... could we do it?
Let's see how it looks if we just put it across the bike. The
mattress was nice and soft ... it wouldn't hurt the bike or the
sidecar, would it? If it could carry eight people around the
town yesterday, surely it could carry a Queen-size bed today!
Later that day, there was seen heading out Latrobe Road towards the rubbish tip one Triumph motorcycle and double-adult sidecar with a queen-sized bed ocky-strapped upside-down across the sidecar and across the seat of the bike. Now, who do you think should come along, but the local police! The policeman shouted to me as I drove along, "Smithy, I don't know if that is legal; I don't even want to know if that is legal; I am going to pretend that I never saw it; but for goodness sake don't run into anything between here and the Tip!" To ride the machine with this load, there was no seat available at all since the bed was over it, so I was riding in a standing position straddling the front of the fuel tank with the fuel filler cap poking me in the bottom and riding it as though it were a trials bike. My brother was following on his motorbike, and when we reached the tip we carefully unloaded the bed and chucked it on the rubbish pile and rode the two bikes back home. The huge sidecar body was removed and stored and I think we never used it again. The faithful old fish-box or the genuine Dusting were sufficient after that.
If I remember correctly that double-adult sidecar was eventually sold or given to someone who was going to put it on either a Harley or an Indian.
The Tornado at Tom's Bridge. Click the link to read about storm chasing on the Triumph outfit.
The Best Prepared Motorcycle and Sidecar at the Southern Cross Rally. Since 1966, I had developed the habit of getting to every motorbike rally that I could possibly get to. I cannot remember for certain which year it was, but one year I decided it was time to attempt to win the trophy for "The Best Prepared Motor Cycle and Sidecar" which was awarded every year at the Southern Cross Rally near Adeliade. I removed the "Fish Box" and fitted the beautifully painted Dusting body onto the chassis. I polished the Triumph and the Dusting before leaving home and put plenty of polishing and cleaning gear in the sidecar with my camping gear. On the way to the rally, at one point in Western Victoria, I noticed that the next three vehicles in front of me were sidecars and that the first two vehicles in my rear-view mirror were also sidecars. I think that was the only time I ever saw six motorbikes and sidecars in a row on the road without any of them having planned to ride together. From the time I arrived at the Mount Barker Showgrounds in the Adelaide Hills, I got busy cleaning and polishing until every part of that outfit shone better than if it had just left the factory. At the judging, my hard work was repaid when I was able to take home the trophy.
Six sidecars in a row: After leaving Horsham on the way to the Southern Cross Rally, just as I was approaching Pimpinio, I noticed another motorcycle and sidecar way off in the distance ahead of me. Not wishing to over-stress the Triumph I did not change speed, but rather hoped that I might meet the rider further along the road. By the time I reached Wail, he was out of sight so I more or less forgot about him. While approaching Dimboola, however, I saw him way off in the distance again. Unfortunately I had to stop for fuel at Dimboola, but was soon back out on the road again. Between Gerang Gerung and Kiata, I again came within sight of not one, but two sidecar outfits up in front! I couldn't resist! I opened the throttle just a tad higher, hoping to catch them up. By the time we passed through Nhill, I could see not two, but three sidecar outfits up front! Then I glanced in the rear-view mirror and there was another sidecar outfit behind me. Well before reaching Kaniva, I could see two outfits behind me and I had caught up with the three outfits in front. That made six sidecar outfits all in a straight line following each other along the same portion of road; my Triumph was number four. Now there were at that time, if I recall correctly, fewer than 600 sidecars registered in the entire State of Victoria. What the odds would be against six of those outfits becoming the six consecutive vehicles travelling along a lonely country road, when not one of us had planned to be travelling together, I cannot even hazard a guess. We all pulled up and stopped near Kaniva and had a bit of a chin-wag. All riders were headed to the Southern Cross Rally, and all decided that it was almost spooky to find six sidecars all travelling together in a line like that. After a short chin-wag, we all mounted our outfits again and headed off towards the South Australian border. As we were all choosing to travel at our own most comfortable pace, we never met again like that until we were all at the rally. I saw different members of the group again at various points along the way, but we never again formed up into a six-in-line formation. A strange incident to be remembering in such detail after all these years, but it was certainly an unforgettable incident of my motorcycling carrer.
Piston broke at Horsham! On the way home from the Southern Cross Rally, somewhere near Horsham, there was an explosive Bang from the engine and the bike went into an instant skid with the back wheel locked up. I pulled the clutch and rolled to a silent halt. Who should be coming along the road at that very moment but Alwyn Sobey my friend of many years from my Ballarat Rovers Motor Cycle Club days who, although we were not riding together, nor had we planned to be in the same part of the country at the same time, just happened to be right behind me on his BMW Steib outfit. He pulled up and got out a tow rope and towed me all the way to Ballarat. There we put the bike in for repairs while I stayed at Sobe's place. It turned out that the cap had broken off the left piston at the top ring land and that as the piston went down in the cylinder, the broken top flipped onto its side, so that as the piston rose on its next revolution it hit the piston cap and stopped dead, bending the connecting rod and the crankshaft. If I remember correctly, I borrowed somebody else's bike for a week and came back to Ballarat a week later to pick up my outfit with its newly-rebuilt engine. I seem to remember that it was only a short time after that, that the Triumph developed further engine trouble. I had to admit that my dad was right ... that the Trumpy was keeping me poor because it just wasn't a good enough bike to pull a sidecar all the time. I started to think I wanted a trouble-free Japanese bike again.
Negotiating for the Suzuki-Watsonian outfit ... Now at the Southern Cross Rally I had seen a very impressive 196cc Suzuki two-stroke twin fitted with a Watsonian Bambini sidecar. It was a demonstration model owned by one of the motorbike shops in downtown Adelaide. It seemed to be beautifully balanced, definitely looked appealing, and being a simple two-stroke, it should be a much more reliable sidecar bike than the Triumph. I commenced negotiations by letter and phone with the shop in Adelaide. Yes, the bike was for sale. Yes, I could get a good discount because it had been used as a demo model. No, they definitely would not accept a Triumph outfit or solo as a trade in. They would accept any Honda, Suzuki, Kawasaki, or Yamaha solo bike as a trade in. I didn't have one of those... But the Triumph was going to have to go. The Dusting was removed and fitted to a Harley.
Now I promised above, to talk about the most memorable of the temporary borrowed bikes that I used while the Triumph was in being repaired. On one of these occasions Noel Einsiedel loaned me a 250cc Yamaha twin of mid fifties vintage. Its engine number commenced with "D1-" which means it was manufactured in 1957. It had leading link front forks with some sort of Harley-like undamped springing system hidden behind pressed steel shrouds. On Yamaha bikes of that era, the change to telescopic forks had not yet arrived. It had a 1930's-style pressed steel chassis to which everything else was bolted. The gearbox was cast in one piece with the crankcase, so it was "modern" in some aspects, but very "vintage" in others. Noel warned me that the bike had a dicey gear change and if the gears broke, don't worry about it "You'll figure out how to ride it anyway!" Well, the gear selectors did fail, and the gear-change shaft broke right off at the engine casing, so I threw the gear lever and broken piece of shaft into the pannier bag, pulled off the side of the gearbox and manipulated the gears into Third Gear, and put it all back together again. Either just before or just after the gear change failure, the kick starter also broke and was also placed in the pannier so it could be taken back to Noel. Thus it was that I found myself the rider of a single-speed bump-start Yamaha. The badge on the tank read "Yamaha ... since 1887" wrapped around a symbol of three crossed tuning forks. As I bump started it, it felt more like riding an 1880's model than a 1950's model! This bike had a quadrant-mounted ignition advance-retard lever mounted on the left handlebar. That lever was essential during the following weeks as I travelled the steep and winding mountain roads with only a single-speed gearbox. There was nowhere I couldn't take that bike even though I only had third gear. By correctly adjusting the ignition timing on the fly I was able to operate that two-stroke at what must have been the lowest engine speed I think I ever heard a two-stroke engine operating at. As its compression ratio would have been only about 5:1, it was a very flexible if not very powerful engine.
Now as the owner of a Harley that was gradually getting worked on occasionally, it became generally known around the district that I was interested in Harley motorbikes. One day somebody told me that there were rumours that somewhere up around Thorpdale-Gormandale area, a Harley had been hidden in a farmer's shed so that it would not be commandeered for use by the army during the Second World War. I tracked down those rumours over the months until I had figured out what farm the bike was supposed to be on. The bloke who owned the farm at that time had been told about the bike when he had bought the farm, but since the blokes that hid the bike had both been killed in the War, nobody now knew where they had hidden the bike. I asked for and received his permission to look around and my practiced surveyor's eye noticed what nobody else had seen ... there was a wall in between two sheds that faced in opposite directions and both sides of the wall had the planks nailed on that side ... that is, there was no "front" and "back" side to this wall, both sides were the "front" side. As I looked at the sheds on both sides I realised that the wall must have been about 50 to 60 centimetres thick. I asked permission to remove the planking from the wall, and voila! there stood the Harley, all nicely greased and oiled and with the handlebars removed so that the hiding space could be much narrower. I paid the farmer for it, fixed the handlebars in the correct position, cleaned it up, pumped oil into the crankcase using the tank-mounted hand-operated oil pump, pumped up the tyres and put my trail-bike 6-volt battery in place of the huge Harley battery. Checked the spark plugs ... good spark! Put a cupful or two of petrol in the tank and cranked the motor to draw in petrol. Turned on the ignition switch and kicked the motor slowly over to get everything lined up right for the good kick. It never needed the second kick! The motor sprang to life on the first preparatory kick.
I rode it from Gormandale directly to the police station where it passed inspection and was registered that very same day. The registration number was GG-008. I rode it to Bairnsdale to visit my folks. Not a problem. It was an almost brand-new bike even though it was more than three decades old. I fitted the Dusting sidecar to it and it gave me many, many trouble-free miles. It was my second bike for many years.
Now 1936 Harleys were blessed with two twist-grip controls. The one on the right hand handlebar worked the throttle just like any other bike. The one on the left hand handlebar worked the ignition advance and retard system. If you got the engine revved up and rolling along pretty well, closed the throttle and immediately retarded the ignition, the result was an incredible string of backfires through the exhaust system. I don't know how good it was for the engine, but I sure loved the noise it made! The Coach Road hill above the town of Yallourn was on the short-cut between Newborough and Yallourn. It was a steep hill and just seemed to be begging me to do the closed throttle and retarded ignition trick. One night I did it and the police were called by worried residents to investigate a supposed shooting match going on between gangs somewhere in the bush up the Coach Road Hill. I read in the paper that the police couldn't find a trace of these supposed gang members. Next week, while riding back from Newborough, I just couldn't resist the temptation, so I did it again. Again the police were called out. As I realised that policemen no longer seemed to be as forgiving as they had been in "the old days", I decided not to push my luck by doing it any more.
The Gippsland Historical Automobile Club was founded in 1968 and was open to membership for any people owning or interested in Veteran, Vintage, or Classic motor vehicles. A Veteran vehicle was any motor vehicle manufactured prior to 1919, a Vintage vehicle was any motor vehicle manufactured from 1919 to 1930, and a Classic vehicle was any motor vehicle manufactured from 1931 until 25 years before the current date. There was much discussion about whether there ought to be a cut-off date for Classic vehicles at the end of 1942. The GHAC was a very new organisation only a few months old when I joined it in the 1960's although I was not a foundation member. My 1936 Harley-Davidson motorcycles qualified me to be a member, and I thoroughly enjoyed the fellowship and camaraderie as we all helped each other with our elderly vehicles.
The Morwell Motorcycle Club was primarily interested in racing: scrambles (motocrosse), flat-track, speedway, grass-track, road racing. I joined in about 1969 and took part in various events until about 1973. More below to be added later.
The photo at the right is not my bike, but to all intents and purposes it looks the same.
I rode my Triumph in solo trim (that is, without a sidecar) to
Geelong and traded it in on a second-hand single cylinder Japanese
bike. I think it was a Kawasaki, Suzuki or Honda of about
125cc. I can't remember: it's sole purpose was to transport me
to Adelaide where it was to be traded in on the Suzuki-Watsonian
outfit which I mentioned above. I remember the long slow ride
to Adelaide the most memorable part of which was looking in my
rear-view mirror and seeing that there was a comet behind me. I
stopped the bike and stood there by the roadside in the pre-dawn
early morning and stared at the beautiful sight of a bright comet in
the Eastern sky standing on its head which pointed towards the sun
which was still well below the horizon.
In Adelaide I arrived at the dealer's premises before he actually opened for the day, but he soon arrived, and we exchanged bikes and money and did all the necessary paperwork and I headed back towards Victoria that same day.
Re-wiring the sidecar: The wiring of the sidecar looked kind of ugly when I got it home: wires were kind of festooned everywhere and fixed in some places with a motley assortment of metal and plastic clips, in other places with yellow plastic tape. My inventor's mind became very active. I looked over the design of the sidecar and decided that I could design the perfect wiring loom. After a few careful measurements I went to Coles and purchased an ordinary household three pin 240 volts AC extension cord and promptly cut it in half. I removed the sidecar from the bike, poked some fencing wire through the sidecar mounting chassis under the bike and then pulled half of the household extension cord through the chassis so that the female socket end was flush with where the sidecar would be mounted back on, but inside its main tube. I removed the body from the sidecar and pulled the other half of the extension lead all the way through the sidecar chassis until the end of the cord came out of the topmost tube of the sidecar's suspension mounting where it would be absolutely hidden from sight inside the sidecar mudguard. At this stage the male three-pin plug of the cord was flush with the mounting point where the sidecar would mount to the bike but completely inside its main tube. I stripped a lot of parts off the bike and ran the extension cord up the inside the frame fastening it in the same clamps as the original Suzuki wiring loom. Where it passed the battery case I made a tiny incision in the outer rubber covering of the cord and pulled out a loop of the green earth wire from inside the cord. I bared a little of the cable, soldered on a round terminal and fastened it to the main earth mounting point beside the battery. The rest of the cord was fastened totally out of sight following the clamps holding the Suzuki wiring loom to the tail-light mounting area where all of the existing wiring was joined with male and female brass connectors under the cover near the taillight. I soldered one male and one female connector to the end of each wire of the cord and inserted them between the connectors to the taillight and the left turning indicator of the bike. I left the left turning indicator disconnected. Thus the whole of the wiring on the bike was invisible. When I fitted the sidecar back to the bike I simply pushed the three-pin plug into the three-pin socket and both were immediately swallowed up inside the tubular mounting hardware. On the sidecar, I removed the upholstery and did a very neat wiring job from the front and rear turning indicators and the running light and the tail light all hidden from sight behind the upholstery and passing through a tiny hole in the body to the inside of the sidecar mudguard. Inside the mudguard, I soldered brass connectors so that the body could easily be removed from the sidecar if required at a later date. At rallies I was asked dozens of times, "How does your sidecar lighting work? ... there is no wiring for it!" I lost count of the number of times that I had to describe my invention. It was always so thrilling after I looked at all the other beautiful sidecar outfits at various bike rallies with their beauty marred by the legally required but very ugly wiring harness to then look back at the Suzuki which had not a wire in sight.
My first Sidecar Bingle: One day I was riding
through one of Melbourne's Eastern suburbs on the Suzuki-Watsonian
with my sister Julie in the sidecar. We were searching for a
street which should have come up soon on the right hand side.
Street signs were often missing, or bent or rusty and were therefore
often difficult or impossible to read. What I should have done
was pull over to the side of the road, identify a side street, get
the Melways directory from Julie and count the number of streets to
the one we were looking for. But it is always easy to be wise
after the event. While trying to make out a street name on a
rusty sign, I was distracted from watching the road ahead. I
looked back at the road and there, right in front of me, was a
stationary car that had pulled into the centre of the road ready to
make a right hand turn. I applied both brakes hard, but a
sidecar outfit has a much longer stopping distance than a solo bike
and I quickly realised that I wasn't going to make it. In
retrospect I realise that I should have not braked at all, but
wrenched the handlebars hard left and then hard right and I would
probably have missed the car altogether. But as it was, while I
lost most of my speed, finally I hit the rear of the car with
sufficient speed to send me straight up over the handlebars and I
landed on the roadway beside the car. As I did the "Commando
Roll" I had been taught while training for the Ballarat Rovers
Stunt Team years earlier, I was uninjured; not even a scratch.
My Sister, Julie was also almost uninjured, having slid right down
into the nose of the sidecar feet first. If I remember it correctly,
she had been wearing open sandals and received a small scratch on one
toe. It was a small enough injury to be "fixed" by
wrapping her hanky around it. The sidecar had dived in under
the rear of the car and both the nose and the windscreen mounting
were fractured. The front fork tubes were okay but had twisted
slightly in the triple clamps so that the handlebars pointed one way
while the front wheel of the bike pointed another.
I straightened the forks and rode the bike the few blocks to our destination. Then I rode it back to Morwell where the faithful old white fish box was fitted to the sidecar chassis and the Watsonian sidecar body and fairing took up residence on my bed. It was only on my bed in the day time though! I went to the library and borrowed books on repairing of fibreglass. I learned that it was really called FRP (fibreglass reinforced Plastic) and that I needed to purchase resin and hardener and fibreglass matting and that repairing my sidecar should be a very easy matter. About a week later both my sidecar body and the windscreen fairing were back in perfect shape and ready to go to the paint shop. A few days after that, they were fitted back in place beside the Suzuki.
The Speed Test: Near home, they were building a new freeway. The road was completed but not yet opened. It was a dead straight downhill run of several kilometres. There was a tail wind blowing. There was enough room to get a little motorbike and sidecar around the barricades and up onto the freeway. It was irresistable. Next day I had taped a stopwatch to the handlebars. After a careful look around for any sign of police cars, I sneaked around the barricades and up onto the freeway. I tucked my head down as low as it would go and lay down with my belly on the tank. I wrapped it on and got that little 196cc engine going like it had never gone before. I watched the speedo ... 80, 90, 100, ... it just kept going. Then I noticed that the rev counter was reading "Made in Japan" so I thought I ought to slow down a little! I cannot now remember the measured speed I did, but it was written up in Two Wheels magazine in late 1972 or early 1973, if anyone still has a copy.
I rode that little outfit a great many miles, but I had a tendency to thrash the guts out of it. It was never run without the sidecar and it would spin up to high speeds, so as I was riding long distances I tended to run it at high speeds. I used to ride the Harley outfit quite a lot during those years as well, but I kind of wanted to keep the Harley for later, so the poor little Suzuki was mercilessly thrashed. It was a very light bike and I was a very heavy man, so its suspension wasn't really good enough for the job - especially when I carried passengers in the sidecar. The bike was designed as a short trip around town commuter bike, not to do interstate trips hauling a sidecar. The seat was designed to just get you from home to work, and by the time I had been travelling for five or six hours at a stretch, my bottom was very sore. My father had taught me that it was always more interesting to get off the beaten track instead of sticking to the main highways. However the soft suspension on the little Suzuki would often bottom out while riding on rough gravel roads.
I developed more and more of an interest in trail riding, but I didn't have a trail bike. Lots of the fellows I met around town came back from their trail rides with glowing reports of all the wonderful scenery thay had travelled through. School teachers are not made of money and I really couldn't afford to keep three bikes registered and on the road, so if I wanted a trail bike then the Suzuki would have to go. I bought a second hand DT1 250cc 2-stroke single trail bike, registration number CT-519, and sold the Suzuki outfit for more than I had paid for it new, as it now had "rare bike" value being the only motorcycle of its type in Australia, as well as being fitted with the extremely rare Watsonian Bambini sidecar.
The photograph on the right shows a later model Yamaha 250cc single trail bike which was fairly similar to mine, but the one in the photograph belonged to somebody else. Mine had a right side hand gear change beside the fuel tank and had a wider and flatter luggage rack. My colour scheme was also quite different.
I took the Yamaha on a couple of trail rides, but it had something missing. I was certain that trail riding would be much more fun with a sidecar. A Tilbrook Tom Thumb was found and was fitted to the bike with the help of my friend Gary Dunn who had a whole workshop in his back shed at Churchill. The colour photo at right shows a front view of my outfit not long after someone had backed into it in a parking lot and put a ding in the nose of the sidecar.
The frosty bridge. One weekend on a very frosty morning about seven bikes were headed out from Moe to go for a trail ride. I had the sidecar on the DT1 so when I saw that the wooden-plank bridge had a thick coating of bright white frost I just kept right on going without even thinking of slowing down. I looked in my rear view mirror and saw all the solo bikes sliding in all directions. Not a one of them managed to stay upright! Fortunately, trail bikes are well-built and the riders wore thick protective clothing, so neither motorbikes nor riders were injured at all. This little incident reminded me again that the motorbike and sidecar is one of the safest vehicles on the road, especially when the road surface gets bad.
Mount Saint Gwinear. I'm not sure of the spelling of this mountain, but it was covered in snow during the winter when a group of us decided that we would try to reach the summit on our motorbikes. As we climbed the snow became deeper and deeper and I think all of the guys riding solo bikes fell off. I kept on plodding along with the sidecar until, quite suddenly, a massive snowball developed underneath the sidecar and lifted it. The outfit rolled over to the right and I fell off into a deep snowdrift. The throttle twistgrip was evidently jammed wide open as the motor was screaming. I turned off the ignition and the motor just kept screaming ... the spark plug and its coating of the products of combustion was so hot that it was acting as a glow plug - similar to those used in model aeroplane engines. I quickly threw the bike back onto its wheels and gripped the brakes to stall the engine. We made very slow progress as the snow became deeper and deeper. The vehicle furthest up the road was a four-wheel drive that had been abandoned totally bogged. The snow was up to its windows. I was able to get the Yamaha only two or three metres further than the four wheel drive before I decided it was no use going on. It was just too much work digging out mountains of snow. The biggest problem was the weight of the bike which caused the tyres to sink down deep into the snow. It was a day on which I wished the outfit had ultra-wide wheels. A year or two later I figured out how to solve this problem - see below. As the bike sank into the snow the floor of the sidecar would rest on the surface of the snow and the outfit would simply tip over. I think I rolled the outfit over more than a dozen times that morning before deciding that the only way to the summit would be to walk. A group of guys manhandled one of the solo bikes until it was a few metres further up the mountain than my sidecar just so I couldn't say that the sidecar could go where the solos couldn't. We all had a lot of fun sliding down the mountain on superphosphate bags for an hour or two; then we dug out our bikes and headed back down towards civilisation.
Crossing the billabong on a log. My family moved away from Morwell to Bairnsdale and I used to ride the outfit down there to visit them whenever there were no trail rides on. One day my brother Mick and I had the outfit down on the flats beside the Mitchell River doing some bush-bashing. We came across a grassy area bisected by a very long and narrow billabong. At one point there was a log across the billabong and it was obvious from the tracks through the grass that people were in the habit of using it as a bridge to cross the billabong and thus take a shortcut. I looked at it, walked back and forth across it and then announced to my brother that I was going to ride the motorbike and sidecar accross it. I pulled back a bit and built up a suitable amount of speed, swung sharply left to lift the sidecar high in the air and then, riding on two wheels at about a 45 degree angle I aimed the bike at the log. I drove across the billabong on the log in perfect safety. We decided this was worth recording, so Mick got the camera ready and I went back and did it again. When I was on the log about half-way across the billabong I lifted my left hand from the handlebar and gave a cheery wave. The resulting photo showed the outfit halfway across the billabong, sidecar high in the air, and me waving away as though I did this every day of the week. That photo eventually ended up in one of the motorcycle magazines of those days ... perhaps it was the "Green Horror" (Australian Motorcycle News) or maybe Two Wheels magazine. Unfortunately I do not have a copy of it any more.
I did not own this bike, but assisted its owner Gary Dunn in its restoration. I got to ride it a number of times while Gary was waiting to get his motorbike licence so that he could ride it. In the photo at right the Harley had been restored but its sidecar was not yet fitted. Other bikes in the picture are a red Honda 90cc and my Yamaha DT1 250cc single before its sidecar had been fitted. The blue Harley was certainly a head-turner wherever it went. While the engine was running, the pushrods would be reciprocating up and down beside the cylinders and you could watch the rockers rocking and see the valve springs compressing as the inlet valves were operating. It took me back to the dozens of similar Harleys that made virtually all household deliveries when I was a kid. The term "F-Head" means that the inlet valve for each cylinder was placed exactly above the exhaust valve and both valves were offset to the side of the cylinder. So the exhaust valve was a "side-valve" and the inlet valve was more or less an "overhead valve". The engine ran very efficiently and well, but maintenance was much more time-consuming than on the side-valve engines that later replaced them. Before riding the Harley, at least once a week, it was necessary to use a grease gun to grease the nipples on the valve rocker arms. In fact there were grease nipples all over the bike that had to be regularly attended to. The brakes on this bike were of special interest. There was no braking on the front wheel or the sidecar wheel at all. On the back wheel there was a narow drum about 25mm wide which had two brakes working on it. There were two brake pedals, one under the toe of your right boot near the front of the right footboard and a second one to be operated by your right heel at the rear of the right footboard. The front footbrake operated an external contracting brake band which was around the outside of the drum, while the other rear brake pedal operated an internally expanding set of brake shoes which were inside the drum. Actually, I cannot remember which pedal operated which brake, but one certainly worked on each. The clutch was operated by the left foot and the gear shift was operated by the left hand. Thus this bike had very clean looking handlebars with no levers on them at all. The right hand twist grip operated the throttle and was the only control on the right handlebar. The left hand twist grip operated the ignition timing which was advanced or retarded manually by twisting the twist-grip as required. The other control on the left handlebar was the horn button which operated a significantly loud and commanding horn which was fitted below the headlight on the front forks. If I recall correctly, I think we added a suitably aged looking headlamp dipper switch to the right handlebar and did the required re-wiring to fit a dual-filament bulb inside the original headlamp as I am pretty sure there was not any provision for dipping the headlamp when we bought the bike. The "tank" was actually three separate tanks with three separate filling caps. The left front cap filled the oil tank. Lubrication was a total loss affair with a gear-operated external oil pump fitted to the right hand side of the engine - it is clearly visible in the photo. The hand-operated oil pump on the top of the tank was for use under heavy going if the engine overheated, or when putting the engine back into service after a long period of inactivity. The second filler cap on the left side of the tank filled a small "reserve" petrol tank. The main petrol tank was filled through the filler on the right.
For many years, the fast wearing of the final drive chain had been
a real nuisance for me on all of the sidecar bikes I rode. I
often longed for a shaft drive but BMWs were too expensive for a
bloke like me who kept spending his money on all sorts of different
motorbikes on a very regular basis. Several times I looked at
the Russian M-series bikes ... shaft drive boxer twins of varoius
capacities which were advertised as "One dollar per cc",
thus a 500cc version was $500 and a 650cc version was $650 and so
on. The trouble was that no matter who I asked, I always got
the same response: "They will break down all the time and
you will never get parts for them." So I didn't purchase
one, although I rode several of them on test rides at different times
over the years.
Meanwhile, the Italian company Moto Guzzi commenced marketing its bikes in Victoiria and shiny brochures became available at the local motorbike shop. I looked through the brochures and I liked what I saw. In particular, I liked the promised 850cc touring bike which hadn't yet arrived in Australia and ordered one off the brochure. I paid my deposit and waited and waited and waited and waited. I was told, "Your bike will arrive in March ... in May ... in July ... in September ..." Eventually I received my shiny red brand new Moto Guzzi 850 just before Christmas 1972. It was fitted with the white Craven Dolomite panniers I had ordered and with a very large white handlebar fairing and windscreen. My father dubbed it "the two-wheeled car." A transverse V-twin, it had a great gearbox and shaft drive, not to mention the luxury of an electric starter. Most of the time I was so far within its performance range that it was almost just idling along.
The photos of my Guzzi at the right are taken from old colour polaroid prints and the colours have darkened and become spotted during the last thirty-odd years.
I had every intention of fitting a sidecar to it, but I wanted the sidecar to be a new one. At that time there were two sidecar manufacturers that I was aware of: Baja Sidecars who were North of Albury if I recall correctly, and Twin-G Sidecars who were somewhere in a suburb East of Melbourne. I think Murphy sidecars were also being made in Sydney's Western Suburbs, but I didn't like the shape of them. I considered both the Baja and the Twin-G and decided on the Twin-G because of its better aerodynamic design. The Baja was a wedge shape with a tall cut-off vertical rear wall; I decided that its shape would create a great deal more drag than the more streamlined-looking Twin-G. There was a problem ... if I ordered a Twin-G, it would be several months before I worked my way gradually up the waiting list and eventually got my ordered machine. The guy hand made them one at a time and had a severe backlog of orders. For a while I decided to enjoy riding it solo and did not immediately order my Twin-G.
The Moto Guzzi was an ideal touring machine: very
comfortable, plenty of power, very wide power range, lots of room for
luggage (especially with the Craven carrier and panniers), and it
just had the feeling that you could ride on it for ever and
thoroughly enjoy it. I went to a couple of Rallies and on a few
other camping trips with it. I remember going to a rally held
in the Warrumbungle Ranges National Park where the road in was an
extremely rough clay road with boulders all over it and erosion ruts
a foot (30 cm) deep. I thought to myself that this road would
really suit my Yamaha trail bike better. But the big heavy Guzzi took
it all in its stride and I never fell off, even though I did not have
a sidecar. Many other touring bikes were seen lying on their
sides on the road where their owners had been bucked off by the
horrific road conditions.
I remember travelling from Mount Beauty to Harrietville via the Tawonga Gap with a full load of camping gear on board and scraping the centre stand of the bike on every single curve of that magificent road. For anyone who loves a winding ride on a solo bike, I can really recommend that road as one of the best motorbike roads ever.
I remember the first day I rode it at more than 100 mph. It was on a beautiful straight stretch of the Princes Highway between Bairnsdale and Stratford, and, since the engine was now fully run in, I decided to open it up. It effortlessly wound up past the magical 160 km/h mark to about 170 km/h where I decided that I really ought to roll off the throttle a bit in case those gentlemen with the blue uniforms decided to stretch amphometer tapes accross the road. Sure enough, just as I got down to the legal speed limit, there were the two black tapes across the road. I kind of grinned to myself as I thought, "You guys just don't know what I was doing a mile or so back along the highway."
The farm bike competition. One weekend
there was an advertised farm bike competition being held. I am
not sure of the venue, but I think it might have been at Gelantipy.
I rode up there for the day intending to be a spectator and enjoy the
competition. As I waited for things to start, it turned out
that very few farm bikes had actually arrived for the competition.
One of the organisers approached me and asked me to join the
competition on my Moto Guzzi 850cc V-twin. Now Agricultural
motor cycles are light, small machines specifically designed for the
kind of skills that were needed for this competition. My Guzzi
on the other hand was a heavyweight long-distance touring bike with
not much ground clearance, a huge pair of fibre-glass Craven Dolomite
panniers, an enormous handlebar-mounted touring fairing and
windscreen, and so on ... a far cry from a farm bike! I was
encouraged to enter so I shrugged my shoulders and thought it would
be fun trying, but not thinking I had a chance of completing the
The first event involved riding up to a closed gate, unfastening and opening the gate, riding through the gateway, closing the gate behind you and correctly fastening it and then riding to the finish line without putting a foot to the ground for balance. Several competitors went througfh the course on Ag-bikes first and they all put their foot on the ground at least once and lost points. My turn came up and I went through on the Guzzi, did everything faultlessly and didn't put a foot to the ground once. I won that round easily!
The next event involved about six or seven 44-gallon drums which were placed on their side on the ground, fastened in place by stakes. A ramp of wood was placed against the first drum and the idea was that you had to ride over the whole line of drums and off the other end, where there was no ramp, without falling off your bike or putting the foot to the ground for balance. This time I was asked to go first, so I put the Guzzi into gear, straight up the ramp and bounced happily along the line of drums without the slightest problem. As I approached the end of the line of drums I lifted the front wheel in the air and did a neat jump off the last drum and rode to the finish line. Again a faultless performance. One or two of the farm bikes also managed a faultless crossing of the drums, but most had to use their feet for balance, and a couple of competitors fell off their bikes.
I took part in all the other events that day and turned in a faultless performance for the whole day. I won the slow race (where a motorcycle has to be ridden as slowly as possible without putting one's foot on the ground with the last bike to the finish line being the winner) by miles ... I was about a quarter of the way along the course when all of the other bikes had already crossed the finish line. As everyone was getting sick of waiting for me when I had obviously won so well, I mono-wheeled the last half of the course just for fun. The reporter from the paper interviewed me and asked me where I as a non-farming touring-bike rider had learned the skills to be able to successfully herd sheep, ride over see-saws, and all of those other interesting things. When I explained that I had been a Stunt Rider for several years and that my stunt riding had mainly been done on heavy Harley-Davidson machines, he kind of understood how I had been able to pull it off. That week, there was a great photo of my touring-equipped Moto Guzzi on the front page of the Bairnsdale Advertiser along with a story about the farm bike competition.
When one is a qualified teacher, it is necessary throughout your
teaching career to continually update your qualifications. To
do this you attend courses of lectures held after school hours at
various venues around the district. In March 1973 I happened to
be attending a series of lectures held at the Grey Street Primary
School in Traralgon. On the 21st of March, at the end of the
lecture, I placed my books in the left pannier of my Moto Guzzi 850
and started to travel towards home along Church Street. I
stopped at Kay Street to look for traffic coming from the right;
there was nothing coming, so I crossed the first carriageway of Kay
Street and glanced briefly to the left before crossing the second
carriageway; I noticed the lights of a car approaching but it was
still quite some distance away and was required by law to give way to
all traffic on its right, which included me. As I crossed the
second carriageway, still in first gear, I suddenly noticed that the
car to my left was very much closer than I had supposed and that it
was in fact travelling at an extremely high speed ... and I was
already right in front of it!
There was a tremendous bang and I found myself airborne, and I was thinking so quickly while in the air that I was already aware that my left leg was broken, so I hooked my right foot under it to try to prevent further damage before I hit the road a little over 85 feet from the point of impact. Apparently, when a motor car collides with a motorcycle from exactly side on, the tyres attempt to stick to the road so that the body of the motorcyle perorms an incredibly fast acceleration in a direction away from the car that has just hit it. This acceleration acts as a verty powerful catapult which sends the rider up into the air and rapidly away from the scene of impact at a considerably faster speed than the speed of the car. Thus, I landed on the road well clear of both vehicles.
I was well aware that my left leg was broken, and therefore I did not attempt to get up but waited there on the roadway for the arrival of an ambulance. Now there isn't exactly much you can occupy your time with while you are in such a position so I looked around me and sized up the situation. I could see my bike lying on its side and that all the contents of my pannier boxes were strewn everywhere, and I could see that the weight of my motorbike had pushed in the front of the car so that its engine had been moved back into the passenger compartment. As I considered the extent of the damage, especially to the car, I marvelled that I hadn't been killed in the collision.
As I considerd this, I looked around me and noticed that there were churches located on three of the four corners of the intersection; the fourth corner had a petrol station. And as I looked around at the churches, the thought was planted in my mind: "God was looking after you." Now at that prticular time I was working hard at pretending that I didn't believe in God: I was trying to be an atheist. The problem was, that this train of thought wouldn't go away. Now this God I was trying not to believe in was speaking in the first person: "Phil, I was looking after you tonight!"
He was very persistent and wouldn't stop: "I was looking after you ... My hand is upon you ... I will never leave you nor forsake you ... I am looking after you." No matter how much I tried to convince myself that I didn't believe in God, He still continued to speak to me, until the ambulance arrived.
I was taken to the Central Gippsland Hospital in Traralgon, which became my "home away from home" during the next several months.
I had to sign various forms during the admission process, including forms for permission to use anaesthetics etc., but there was one form which, when I looked at it, I immediately heard the same voice which had spoken to me earlier in the night while I had been waiting for the ambulance; it said, "Do NOT give them permission to amputate that leg." So I did not sign the amputation form. Over the next several months I was in and out of hospital a number of times, had many minor operations, and by mid-September I was back in for bone grafts and skin grafts. I was still attempting to try to be an atheist, but every time I tought back to the night of the collision, that same voice would come back as if to haunt me: "I am looking after you." Now I have always been an avid reader, and in hospital there was not much to read, but there was a Gideons Bible always there on my bedside table. I started to read it. Sometimes when I would be in pain, I would look up the table in the front which told me which references to read if I was in pain. As soon as I would read those scriptures, the pain would mysteriously vanish. As I read the Gospels, especially the Sermon on the Mount, I found myself thinking, "Wouldn't the world be a fantastic place if everybody in it observed these principles in their lives." The little voice which was becoming more and more familiar would immediately come back with, "Why don't you start with yourself?"
In September a grader driver whose name I have forgotten was brought into hospital after an accident and was placed in the bed opposite mine. He talked about Jesus as though Jesus was his best mate. He gave a tract to me which was titled: This was Your Life. I read it through several times and looked up all of the scripture references and read them in context. I soon reached the point where I had decided that now I knew how to be saved, that one of these days, sometime between now and when I died, I really ought to give my life to Jesus Christ so that I would have eternal life. But first there were too many sinful things which I had never tried out that I would like to have a go at first.
Perhaps the 10th September 1973 might have been the loneliest day of my life. Here I was, stuck in hospital with my leg up on a Braun's frame, eighty miles away from my nearest relative, it was my 27th birthday and nobody was going to come and visit me. The doctors had placed me on a strict 1000 calories per day diet, so I couldn't even have a cake to celebrate on my own. I suppose I was a bit depressed. I guess that was really the most down day of my life.
However, Sister Petrovich had evidently observed in my records that it was my birthday, as she added a candle to one of the tasteless blobs of stuff that was part of my diet and brought in a whole bunch of other nurses to sing "Happy Birthday" to me. My feelings lifted upwards, just a little bit. And three days later, wow!
There is a fuller version of this part of the story on http://www.drdisk.com.hk/PhilSmith/about.htm for those interested, but to cut a long story short, at about 10 minutes past 12 midday on 13th September 1973, I listened at last to that still small voice and asked Jesus Christ to come into my life and to be my Saviour. I have not been the same since. That's why I say that the 21st March 1973 was the starting point of the biggest change in my life.
Modifying Bikes to Ride While Crippled: During
the months that I was on crutches, in between my visits to hospital
for more and more operations, I regularly rode two bikes: my Yamaha
250cc DT1 with Tilbrook Sidecar and my 1936 Harley Davidson with
Dusting sidecar. The first of these to be modified was the
Yamaha. The DT1 was made with the gear shifter shaft extending
through BOTH sides of the gearbox with a kind of plastic cap pressed
on over the right hand end of the shaft. Normally, of course,
the Yamaha, like any Japanese bike, had its gear change lever on the
left side end of this shaft and it was operated by the rider's left
foot. Now I found myself with my left leg encased in plaster
and no possibility at all of operating the gear change with my foot.
I got a second-hand gear lever, cut the pedal off it, and welded on a
length of straight chrome-plated pipe. I neatly fitted a rubber
bicycle handlebar grip over the end of the pipe and fastened it to
the right hand end of the gear shifter shaft. People would
really take a second look when they would see me changing gears with
a lever beside the right-hand side of my tank.
Modifying the Harley for riding without a left leg was also a fairly simple matter. The Harley's left foot control was the clutch, the gear change being managed by the left hand using a lever which operated in a gate on the left side of the fuel tank. Now this bike had been built in the days before spring returns had been fitted to throttles, clutches and the like, so these levers always stayed in exactly the position in which you placed them. To modify the foot clutch, I made a long handle out of a piece of steel strapping recovered from the frame of a wrecked pram. Another short length of the strapping was used to triangulate the fitting of the hand lever to the normal foot clutch lever which was done with three small bolts and nuts. Thus to change gears on the Harley, I would use my left hand to pull the clutch lever fully back towards me to disengage the clutch, let go the clutch lever and use my left hand to change gears, and then use my left hand again to push the clutch lever forward and away from me until the clutch was again engaged. I remember taking my Harley to the Police Station in Yallourn to have the modifications approved. The policeman said to me, "Hey Smithy, we know you well enough to know you wouldn't even bring it here unless it was perfectly safe to ride. ... We don't need to inspect that bike to give you a safety certificate." Having written out the certificate, he said, "Oh what the heck! There's nothing much going on around here ... I have always wanted a ride in a sidecar ... let's go out for a ride!" So he hopped into the sidecar and I started the Harley and we rode around the various streets of Yallourn, the policeman's grin being so wide his ears nearly fell in!
Meanwhile the Moto Guzzi on which I had been riding on the night that began to change my life was sitting in a corner of the workshop behind Noel Einsiedel's shop. It was apparently extremely difficult in those days to get spare parts for it. Month after month after month it just sat there. Eventually Noel bought it from me, so I don't know whether or not it was ever repaired.
Miracle on the road to Morwell
One Sunday at evening service at St Luke's Methodist Church in
Morwell a visiting preacher spoke on Hebrews 13:8 "Jesus Christ
the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever." and made the
claim that there was no miracle recorded in the Bible anywhere
between Genesis 1:1 and Revelation 22:20 that God could not do again
today if the occasion called for it.
Next day I read Acts 8:39-40, "And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing. But Philip was found at Azotus: and passing through he preached in all the cities, till he came to Cæsarea."
I thought to myself that miraculous transportation from one physical location to another was one miracle I had never ever heard of happening in the twentieth century, so I prayed about it and asked the Lord to lead me to a book in which I could read about such a modern day miracle. I did not for even one moment suspect that he would make me the subject of that book.
Now at that time, my daily transport was a single cylinder 250cc Yamaha motorbike and sidecar which was painted in a bright day-glo orange-red colour (which, according to the Taubman’s paint company, was officially known as "Boeing Red") and was so eye-catching that everybody in my country district knew that machine and knew who rode it. It was capable of just 35 mph (60 km/h) or perhaps 40 mph (70 km/h) if I had a tail wind. Having a very small fuel tank that held only about a gallon (3 or 4 litres), it was necessary to stop every forty miles (70 km) or so for petrol. At that same time I was a member of Christ's Crusaders Motorcycle Club and had become well known for attempting to preach the gospel to other motorbike riders such as the members of Hell's Angels and Satan's Cavalry. At that time also I was a Lay Pastor in the St Luke's Methodist parish at Morwell.
The following Sunday I was not scheduled to do any preaching in the parish, but I was scheduled to lead the opening worship at the 7pm (19:00) evening service. I decided to visit my parents who lived in Bairnsdale, about 80 miles (130 km) away. I had figured that if I left my parents' home soon after lunch on the Sunday, I would have plenty of time to make the 2½ or 3 hour journey back to Morwell, have some dinner, go to the pre-service prayer meeting and then lead the opening worship. "No worries!" I thought to myself.
About 3pm (15:00), I pulled on my motorbike outer clothing and went out to the front of my parents' house where my bike was parked at the side of the road on Main Street. I checked my tyres, brakes, lights, oil level, and petrol and, satisfied that all was in order for a safe trip to Morwell, I kick-started the motor. I had already pulled in the clutch and, just as I was about to push the hand gear-shift lever to the right of the petrol tank forward to engage first gear, seven or eight Harleys and Triumph motorbikes arrived and pulled up all around me. I was receiving a surprise visit from several members of Satan's Cavalry. I stopped the motor and started talking right there on the street. They had lots of questions for me: "If the God you preach is a God of love, how could He let all those innocent people die in the train crash last week?" "If God is really all powerful, how come he didn't stop that gang from raping the pastor's daughter in Melbourne last month?" and so on.
I patiently answered their questions as well as I could, yet was also aware that time was ticking away. "I don't need dinner when I get to Morwell," I reasoned with myself; and a little later, "If I don't make the prayer meeting, it will be all right, I can pray while I am riding along the road." All this time, I had never seen these outlaw bikers, who would normally make themselves scarce pretty soon after we started preaching to them, so interested in asking and listening intently to the answers to so many questions. "I am really getting through to these guys at last," I thought to myself.
Eventually, the questions ran out, and one of the guys announced, "Let's all go to the pub for an hour or two."
I excused myself and said I needed to get back to Morwell and started on my way. I looked at my watch as I pulled on my gloves ... it was 17:45 (5:45pm). I had only an hour and a quarter to do a trip that would normally take at least two and a half hours!
As I drove up the road, I prayed that Richard or Pepe would realise that I wasn't at the pre-service prayer time and step in and lead worship. I was soon cruising along the highway at about 35 mph and felt strangely peaceful about missing the evening church service. When I was about seven or eight miles out of town I was on a nice straight stretch of road with State Forests on both sides and was thinking to myself how beautiful all the trees appeared in the evening sunlight. Suddenly, almost without being aware of it, I realised that I was approaching the railway crossing to the East of Traralgon. I thought to myself, "I've been day-dreaming while I was riding." "I can't remember any details of any of the towns I went through along the way." " I can't remember passing through Stratford." "Did I cross the Avon River Bridge?" "Did I travel via Sale or via Maffra?" "I have no recollection of passing through Rosedale." "How come it's still daylight ... it ought to be quite dark by now." "I cannot even remember filling up with petrol."
I felt down to the petrol tap, it was in the "Normal" position; I had not yet switched to reserve. I thought to myself, "I must have miss-read my watch when I was about to leave Bairnsdale." I sang and prayed as I drove through Traralgon, up the hill past the Hospital, and along the Prince's Highway to Morwell. As I approached the traffic lights, I made the right turn into the St Luke's Church car-park. I had missed the pre-service prayer time, but was just in time to walk straight in and start the service, still wearing all my motorbike gear. I put my helmet and gloves in the lectern and started leading worship. As I led worship, I noticed that a guy from Satan's Cavalry was in the service, not one of the guys I had talked to in Bairnsdale, but a different fellow.
After the service, he asked me, "How did you get here?"
I responded, "What do you mean, how did I get here ... by motorbike of course."
He continued, "Our guys planned to foul up your day and make you real mad by missing church tonight; they planned to hold you up in Bairnsdale."
I ran to my bike and got out my petrol book (I was in the habit of writing down in a Shell Driver's Log Book, every petrol stop I made: the date and time, odometer reading, the amount of petrol I purchased and how much it cost were all faithfully recorded.) The last entry in my petrol book showed that I had filled it up at Bairnsdale and I compared the odometer reading I had recorded with that on my motorbike now: I had travelled only something like twenty miles instead of eighty!
It was only then that I suddenly realised that I had not miss-read my watch at Bairnsdale after all. The Lord had worked a miracle of the transportation kind. He had somehow moved my motorbike and sidecar and me from somewhere West of Bairnsdale to somewhere East of Traralgon in just a moment. Even saved me a tank full of petrol! I have no explanation of how it was done. Mileage-wise, one could say I had loaded my bike onto a trailer and carried it from one place to the other. But that is not what happened. That week I was stopped several times by members of Satan's Cavalry, "How did you get to church on Sunday?" When I told them that the Lord had worked a miracle, they just said I was nuts. A lot of people said I was nuts, but I can only report what happened to me. You just have to take it or leave it.
In the section above titled "The night that changed my life"
I mentioned how, while I was in the Hospital in Traralgon, that I had
come to a full belief in the Lord Jesus Christ. The nursing
sister in charge of the Orthopædic ward for one shift of most
days was Sister Petrovich. She seemed to be the only one who
really understood why I was going around the ward madly trying to
tell everybody about Jesus. A day or so after my life changing
experience, she asked me whether she could ask her husband and his
friends to come and visit me in hospital. Now hospital can be a
pretty boring place when your nearest relatives live eighty miles
away, so I responded, "Sure, why not!"
It was Saturday, I think, when Pepe Petrovich and a half dozen other fellows all dressed in their motorbike gear came in to see me. We talked for a while and I began to be very excited about the vision that Pepe had for bringing the gospel to guys on motorbikes. The group was called "Christ's Crusaders" and they wore outlaw-style patches on their jackets. They met every Thursday night in a "den" behind the hall of St Luke's Methodist Church in Morwell. Although their meeting place was at St Luke's, I was hastily assured that not all of the members of the club were from St Luke's church. Gordon belonged to the Church of Christ, and someone else was from another church as well.
I made up my mind during that very first visit, that one day, when I was out of hospital, I would join Christ's Crusaders.
The first Thursday I was out of hospital, I rode around to where all the motorbikes were parked at the rear of St Luke's, parked my bike, and hobbled along on my crutches to "The Den".
I thoroughly enjoyed my first meeting and rarely missed one thereafter. At the meetings we would sing, pray for each other, and share testimonies about the wonderful things Jesus was doing in each of our lives. Somebody would bring some teaching from the Bible and many times there would be prophecies or gifts of speaking in tongues followed by Interpretation. We witnessed healings and heard testimonies about many wonderful miracles that the Lord had worked as the members prayed. These were really exciting days.
Every now and again we would welcome a new member. Some of these guys had been members of Satan's Cavalry that had come to know Christ. Others were just ordinary everyday Joe Blow motorbike riders whom we met around town and started talking to and who then decided to acknowledge that Jesus was their Lord.
The club existed to enjoy riding their motorbikes and enjoy serving the Lord at the same time.
We used to plan to travel together to some of the annual motorcycle rallies held in various states and we also arranged to conduct worship services on the Sunday mornings at those rallies.
Many weekends, we would also be asked to conduct church services or youth fellowship meetings in churches throughout Gippsland.
After I had been attending for some months the existing "Patch Wearers" had a meeting at which they decided to make me a Patch Wearer and I was issued with my patch.
After a year or so, Pepe Petrovich who was the leader of Christ's Crusaders, felt that the time had come to devote more time to looking after his growing family and decided to step down. The club went away for a weekend retreat and decided that I was to become the new leader. I held this position until I was married in February 1976 and moved away from Morwell, at which time I handed on the leadership to Joe Tettman.
One of the really fun times we had with Christ's Crusaders, was
the night we decided to "raid" the Satan's Cavalry meeting
which was being held at their "secret hideout." It
came about like this. Years earlier, my family had rented a
farmhouse on River Road at Tyers as our family home from one Mr
George Baillie. Our family had moved away from there in 1965.
One day I met George Baillie while he was delivering eggs and decided
to stop for a talk. He mentioned that he was now renting his
house to "some of your mates." It turned out that he
meant by this that a motorcycle club had rented the house in order to
hold their meetings there. The club turned out to be Satan's
Cavalry. Completely oblivious to the fact that the club's
meeting place was supposed to be a closely guarded secret, George
went on to explain exactly which days each week that they met there
and at which times.
Knowing that Satan's Cavalry kept their meeting place a secret, I went to my next Christ's Crusaders meeting armed with this knowledge. We quickly arranged to meet together and go out to visit Satan's Cavalry at their meeting place in order to try to preach the gospel to them there. We made careful preparations concerning who would watch the gate and so on. I was to lead the ride and I was to do it on my Harley so that there would be a great deal of noise as we arrived.
The night came and away we rode, turning off our lights a mile or two short of the meeting place so that there would be no give-away of approaching motorcycle headlights. We rode as silently as possible so that they would not hear the sound of approaching motorbikes. At the entrance gate out at the road one of the guys opened the gate and we all filed fairly silently in. I led the way as we started down the long gravel track towards the house. I revved up my Harley and retarded the ignition so that it made a long series of tremendously loud backfires and we all switched on our lights and charged noisily down the last 100 metres or so to the house.
All of the Satan's Cavalty members hearing the loud backfires came running out with their guns, but as soon as they saw my sidecar, they knew who it was and allowed us to pull up safely.
The leader approached me and said, "How the hell did you find our place? ... Which one of our members ratted to you? We will kill him! ... And what are you doing here anyway, Smithy?"
I replied, "We've come here to preach the gospel to you. ... and none of your guys ratted about your hideout, the Lord told me where you were meeting, because He wants me to come and talk to you guys."
He turned around to all his followers and ordered, "Okay, everybody back inside!" Turning to me he invited, "Seing as how you're already here, you had all better come in as well."
When everyone was inside, he called me out to the front of the meeting and announced, "Pope Phil here reckons he's come here to preach to us. We don't often have preaching at our meetings, but tonight we will. Okay, Smithy, ... Preach!".
So I gave a solid ten-minute version of the gospel right there in the secret hideout of Satan's Cavalry! At the end of my presentation, I felt it wasn't appropriate to ask people to come out to an altar call, but simply said that each one of them that has felt that they want to ask Jesus Christ to enter their hearts should approach any Christ's Crusaders club member after the meeting and we would help them to take their first steps towards becoming a Christian. We then all had supper together sitting around the roaring log fire. We all promised not to reveal to anybody where Satan's Cavalry held their meetings, and as far as I know, nobody ever did. I think it is fairly safe to assume now that thirty years after that night, if Satan's Cavalry are still riding in Gippsland, that they will have changed their meeting place.
Nobody approached us that night. But during the following weeks several members of Satan's Cavalry approached our members wanting to give their lives over to Jesus and to become members of Christ's Crusaders.
While on the topic of Satan's Cavalry, I must point out that at that time their club miss-spelled the word "Cavalry" as "Cavalary" so that the patches their members wore on their back bore the name: "Satan's Cavalary." They did not take kindly to beng told that their club name was miss-spelled, so that was one matter we all learned never to bring up with them.
When I was married on 8th February 1976, Satan's Cavalry arrived and formed a motorcycle guard of honour in front of the church. I had no idea that they were going to do it, but it really touched me that they wanted to do it.
Now back to discussing my series of Yamaha trail bikes with sidecars:
I rode that DT1 outfit around for a while, but it was definitely slow on a long trip. Now the Yamaha RT1 used the same frame as the DT1, but had a 360cc motor instead of the 250cc of the DT1. I began to watch the papers for a second-hand RT1 to come up for sale. It turned up soon enough.
I bought the RT1 near Warragul and moved the sidecar from the DT1 to the RT1 at the place where I bought it. I also swapped the tanks and the sidecovers since the sidecar had been painted a bright red to exactly match the DT1. I also swapped the hand gear change from the right side of the tank on the DT1 to the left side of the tank on the RT1. Thus it was that I became the owner of a machine that was labelled all over as having a 250cc motor whereas in reality, it had a 360cc motor. Now if someone had given me $100 for every time somebody asked me "How the hell do you get that 250 to pull a sidecar at that speed?" I would have been rich enough to have retired years ago! I once even had the speed verified by the police!
The speed test. One morning at approximately
04:00 am I was heading out Dandenong Road on my way to Morwell.
Now this part of Dandenong Road had three or four lanes in each
direction and fairly decent service roads on both sides. And
all of these acres of roadway were absolutely empty. I had been
wondering for a while what speed my new outfit could go. There
was a tail wind. Now I knew perfectly well that the speed limit
on this freeway-style stretch of road was 35 miles per hour.
But there was absolutely nobody about, so what the heck ... wrap it
on and giver her a real fistfull! I noticed the speedometer
passing 75mph and still climbing. I was thoroughly enjoying
it! Suddenly, I noticed two rubber cords accross the road ...
an amphometer! In those days the amphometer was the preferred
device used by the gentlemen of the constabulary to raise donations
to the state governments coffers from drivers who were not taking
sufficient time to get to the places to which they were going.
Now one of these said gentlemen appeared like a mirage from behind a
clump of bushes and energetically signalled that he was extremely
interested in having a conversation with me at that very moment.
So what could I do? I closed the throttle, applied both brakes
crossed about three lanes and pulled up right beside him. He
shone his torch all over my bike, and I was expecting him to start
telling me off for doing 75mph in a 35mph zone and start writing out
a ticket. Instead he just looked quite shocked. When he
finally opened his mouth to speak, he only uttered one word, "Sh*t!"
After a few more moments of stunned silence he explained, "I also own a DT1 250cc Yamaha trail bike, and I love riding it every chance I get, and mine doesn't have a sidecar, but there's no way on earth I can get it to do that speed. What have you done to get such performance out of it?"
I asked him to come around to the right hand side of the motor and shine his torch on the casting of the cylinder beside the exhaust port. He read aloud, "360cc! ... how can a DT1 be 360cc?"
I told him the bike was a wolf in sheep's clothing; it was actually an RT1 fitted with the tanks and covers from a DT1. We discussed some of the trail rides we had been on and chinwagged a bit, but still he didn't start writing out a ticket. At long last he eventually asked, "What were you doing driving at 78mph in a 35mph zone?"
I simply replied, "Well, I'm sorry, I honestly knew the speed limit and knew I shouldn't have been doing it, but as I also knew there were no intersections for the next mile or so and there was nothing on the road, I thought it might be safe to test out what speed she could actually do. I wasn't even really in a hurry for any reason; I have no valid excuse at all."
He responded, "Thanks for being honest with me. I won't book you this morning. Do you have an ACU racing licence?"
I said, "yes, but it's at home; I only have my Victorian licence with me."
He continued, "That's the only one you need on the road, but next time you want to do some speed testing, go to Phillip Island or Calder and use your ACU licence. Otherwise some of my colleagues might take your Victorian licence from you."
I thanked him and continued on my ride.
I have no doubt that it would be impossible to do a repeat performance today.
The first motor vehicle Crossing of the Alps from Seldom
Seen to Dargo. During school holidays, I would spend
quite a lot of time at my parents' home in Bairnsdale and I would
hang out with members of the Bairnsdale Motorcycle Club. One
weekend somebody proposed attempting to ride an old pack-horse trail
that had been used in the mid-nineteenth-century gold rush days to
bring gold out of Dargo, but had been abandoned since the 1870's.
We had a map upon which someone had marked the trail. We
decided to do it from the Seldom Seen end and emerge back into
civilisation at Dargo. Seldom Seen was the name of a small
settlement in the Alps near Bullumwaal. When I said that I was
looking forward to the weekend, I was told by several that such a
trail would be impossible for a motorbike and sidecar ... that they
did not even know whether solo trail bikes could get through.
The word "impossible" was like a magnet to me. Now I
had to go.
In the very early morning we rode up into the Alps and filled our tanks and spare petrol cans at Bullumwaal. At Seldom Seen we carefully checked the map and figured out exactly where the pack-horse trail ought to be. We found it and travelled along it for many hours. In many places it was overgrown and in others a century of landslides had so well hidden it that we sometimes had to park our bikes and reconnoitre on foot to try to find the next portion of the trail. Fortunately for me, every time we came across a landslide the slope was from right to left so that the sidecar was downhill and lower than the bike.
At one point there was a concave curve in the trail around the mountainside and the edge of the trail had broken away so that it was only about two feet (60cm) wide. We all stopped and the guys were discussing whether they should ride their bikes or walk them past such a dangerous part of the trail. The fall down the cliff from this narrow broken trail was probably a couple of hundred feet. They all decided that it was impossible for the sidecar: I would have to turn back. However I would have none of that. I told them it was time to get their cameras out and wait on the hillside beyond the broken section. Then I got a wedge-shaped rock and placed it strategically on the trail. I pushed the outfit back along the trail a bit to give myself a good run and then put it in gear and opened the throttle. When the sidecar wheel hit the wedge-shaped rock, it lifted the sidecar to about a 45 degree angle, and balancing it like a solo, I simply rode it along the narrow trail with the sidecar hanging out in mid-air off the mountainside. When I reached the point where the track was wide enough again I simply allowed the sidecar to settle back down on the track. As far as I know, all of the guys forgot to use their cameras. If anyone did get a photo of me doing the stunt, I have never seen that photo. Sometimes it is good to have been a stunt rider!
At one notable point, the trail made several hairpins to get down to a river several hundred feet below. A landslide had covered the entire mountainside. I knew that negotiating the sections of trail where the sidecar would be on the uphill side of the bike would be an impossibility, so I had to devise another plan. I announced to all that I was taking a shortcut and headed straight down the mountain in a huge cloud of dust stones and gravel. The bike was sliding at about a 45 degree angle with the sidecar nose leading and all three wheels locked. This was more fun than a roller coaster! I just slid and slid half-sideways down the mountain, becoming airborne a few times after crossing bulges in the mountainside. I have no idea what speed I was doing: the speedometer doesn't work when the wheels are locked; but I was slithering downhill at a high rate of knots. There was a flat grass area beside the river, where I was able to straighten up the outfit but was obviously not going to be able to stop it before I reached the river. The bike became airborne off the nearside bank and then made a mighty splash as I landed in about the middle of the river. I had a few tense moments hanging on for grim death as the water tried to sweep me off the bike and then I was bouncing up the opposite bank, the bike leapt high into the air as I cleared the bank and then landed quite heavily on the grassy meadow. Clouds of steam were rising from the engine. I was soaked to the skin. But I could hardly stop laughing as the whole trip down the mountain had been such tremendous fun. A great cloud of dust drifting lazily across the valley was the only remaining sign of my wild ride.
I waved to the guys who were waiting at the point where I had started my shortcut to indicate that I was okay. They waved back and then started like a bunch of humming beetles to crawl slowly back and forth across the mountainside making their way down to the riverside. Meanwhile I turned off my motor and sat in the grass watching them carefully negotiating every foot of the treacherous trail. The motor made occasional clicks as the hot metal contracted beside me. Eventually the other guys got safely down the mountain and found a shallow place where they could carefully ford the river. From there on it was a relatively easy trail ride into Dargo where the local policeman was very surprised to see a bunch of motorbikes and one sidecar emerging from the mountains on a road that had not been used for over a hundred years. We filled our bikes with petrol and ourselves with appropriate drinks and rode back to Bairnsdale where we arrived well after dark. Someone wrote up that trail ride as "The first ever motor vehicle crossing of the Alps from Seldom Seen to Dargo". I don't know for certain that this was so, but we certainly saw no signs of any other motor vehicles, ancient or modern, for the entire trail.
Setting up for scrambling.
Now, as I mentioned above, I was a member of the Morwell Motorcycle Club and I still had my ACU Competition Licence and the club was very much into Scramble racing (the present day term is "Motocross Racing" but the term "motocross" was not yet then in general use ... the "Motocrosse Championship" [not a typo ... it was then spelt with a final "e"] at that time referred to a specific group of scramble championships held at various countries in Europe, and the annual winner on aggregate points of this series of championships was referred to as the "Motocrosse Champion").
Before I owned my own DT1, I occasionally borrowed other bikes and raced them in scrambles at some of the club meetings. After I bought my DT1, I would take off the sidecar, remove the mirrors and lights, add competition number plates, and take part in scrambles racing. When I replaced the DT1 with the RT1, I continued this practice. Somebody, I think it might have been Noel Einsiedel, challenged me one day: "Why don't you go in the sidecar competitions ... there are not enough sidecars racing in Gippsland." I promptly searched around and found a lightweight scrambles sidecar for sale at a very cheap price. I fitted it to the RT1 with Gary Dunn's able assistance and was ready for the next race meeting. Just for fun I added a sidecar clearance lamp and tail-light which clamped onto one of the grab bars and rode the racing rig on the road as a highly unusual looking but perfectly legal road-going outfit. From then on, the Tilbrook and the scrambles chair would alternate on the side of my RT1. The children attending the school where I was a teacher were amazed at the procession of bikes I rode to school and when I arrived in full racing trim complete with competition number plates, they reckoned that was really cool! The picture at right shows the bike in scrambles trim jacked up on a lump of firewood during routine maintenance.
Now I can't go on and describe specific race meetings and incidents until I describe the competition that then rode sidecars in scramble races. For the 500cc races, there was an Ariel 500 single, and onother British 500cc single. The majority of bikes racing for Senior races were 1200cc and 1300cc Indian and Harley-Davidson machines. In addition to those there was at least one Honda 750cc four-cylinder machine, one Suzuki 750cc three-cylinder "Water Bottle" (so-called because it had a liquid-cooled engine when every bike except for a few Scotts and Velocettes was air-cooled) and one professionally=built WASP scrambles outfit with a Yamaha 650 four-stroke engine. Now this meant that in the Senior races (where engine size was unlimited) my little single-cylinder 360cc two-stroke bike had less than half the engine size of any of my competitors. This would mean that winning any of the races would be impossible, right? ... Wrong!
The Gippsland Senior Sidecar Scramble Championship. In the
scramble season of 1972 I used two guys as my passenger: Gary
Crookes and Paul vanRossum. The last major scramble meeting of
the season was the Gippsland Scramble Championships that were to be
held on a track that was not far from Morwell; somewhere on the
way to Mirboo North if my memory serves me correctly. I went
out and looked at the track and noted that at one point there were
two quite high jumps in a line straight after each other. My
surveyor's mind got to work and I figured that if I hit the first
jump at exactly 73 mph, then I would land exactly on the top of the
second jump and that I would be almost 30 feet above the ground
half-way between them. I discussed the idea with Paul and he
said, "Well, why not give it a try?"
On race day during practice I just went around the track the same way as everyone else did - jumping slightly but otherwise staying pretty close to the ground in between the jumps. When the time came for the Senior Sidecar Championship race - a four-lap race for machines of unlimited cc - I told Paul on the second lap that this was the time I was going to do it. We were a little behind the other machines, but I opened it up absolutely flat-out down the downhill straight towards the two jumps and noted that the speedometer read exactly 73mph. The commentator at this point was reported to have said over the PA something to the effect that "The throttle of Smithy's outfit appears to be jammed wide open ... why doesn't he try to kill the engine ... let's hope they both survive the horrific crash we are about to witness ..." Well the jump went as perfectly as any of the well-planned jumps we used to do in the Stunt team years ago. The outfit lifted cleanly into the air on the first jump, flew about 30 feet above all the rest of the field in mid-air while they were negotiating the track far below, and landed perfectly on the peak of the second jump - ahead of all the other competitors. From there on it was just necessary to stay out in front of the pack and do a wheelie past the checkered flag to win the championship. Pictures at right are: Lining up for the start; Final curve into the straight; Approaching the chequered flag and about to pull a wheelie.
Bike over Sidecar on the Flat Track. Every so often we would go and race in the Flat-track racing at Sale under the floodlights at the showgrounds. Flat-track racing was done on a flat and slippery green grass circuit which, unlike grass-track racing, had bends in both directions. At one of these evening meetings, my sidecar passenger was Gary Crookes. I was a little slow at the start of the sidecar race and had to go very fast to pass most of the field before arriving at a shap bend going just too fast to be able to get around it so we spun out. Left behind again, I had to make up for lost time and passed most of the field and then spun out on another bend. A third time I passed most of the field and the next bend was a right hander. Now I am not certain exactly what happened next, but I think Gary thought we were arriving at a left hander and threw his weight to the sidecar side instead of leaning over the back seat. Anyway, however it happened, in the twinkling of an eye, that outfit was upside down and I was catapaulted along the grass on the oval. I picked myself up completely uninjured, thanks to my training in how to fall received at the BRMCC Stunt Team years earlier, and ran back to the bike. I looked everywhere ... where was Gary? I suddenly realised that if he wasn't any place else, then he must be trapped underneath the outfit. The next thing that happened was one of the strangest things that ever happened to me. I am not normally that strong a person and a motorcycle and sidecar is not that light a vehicle, but with only my left hand I grabbed the rear tray rail of the sidecar and just lifted the entire vehicle as though it were a balsa wood model and threw it over upright onto its wheels. No one helped me do it and I only used one hand. A week later I tried to simulate this incident by a few of us deliberately tipping the vehicle upside down and then having me try to lift it with one hand. It was simply not possible. I was eventually able to turn the vehicle upright myself but only with an extreme amount of effort, using two hands and by using the extra leverage of lifting it by the outrigger grab rails on the outboard side of the sidecar mudguard. There was no way I could do it in the manner everybody watched me do it under the floodlights in the middle of the Sale Showgrounds. I can only assume that at that moment the Lord knew I needed to move the vehicle to save Gary and either gave me an incredible burst of supernatural strength or assisted me by sending invisible angels to help. I really don't know what happened, but anyhow Gary was very relieved to be released from where he had been trapped under the overturned vehicle. Fortunately, he was also totally uninjured. We started the engine and rode back to the pits ... there was no point in trying to win from so far behind and we were both quite shaken by our experience. This was the only time in my life that I had rolled an outfit bike over sidecar. It is quite a rare occurrence.
From Mount Saint Bernard to Mother Johnson's in twenty
feet of snow on the Yamaha-Tilbrook outfit In the section
titled "Mount Saint Gwinear", above, it was plain that a
Yamaha sidecar outfit could not handle snow very well. I was telling
somebody about this and they recommended that I fit several rim clamp
bolts to each wheel and let the tyres almost completely down if I
ever wanted to ride on top of deep snow. I therefore drilled my
rims and fitted clamps in case one day I should find myself faced
with deep snow.
One clear, sunny, August Wednesday, I was returning from NSW to Victoria via the Albury-Wodonga crossing and I pulled up at the border inspection station. While the officers were busy looking through the contents of my sidecar, I looked across towards the glistening snow of the Victorian Alps and thought to myself, "At this time of year I should drive via Melbourne to get to Bairnsdale, but I wonder if I could get over the Alps if I go that way instead." I decided that there was nothing to lose but a few hours even if I had to turn back, and if I managed to get through, I would save many hours of riding time.
Before long I was humming along the Ovens Valley Highway and upon reaching Harrietville, I filled up with petrol. The petrol station attendant told me the road across the Alps had been closed for several weeks; I decided to try to get through anyway. Not very far up the road from Harrietville, the first patches of snow lay scattered about on both sides of the road. I carefully wound around hairpin after hairpin climbing steeply towards the sky. The road became slushier and slushier as there was a layer of half-melted snow mixed with the red gravel. In those days, the highway was still a gravel road. By the time I had reached the level where the trees were so stunted they were no taller than me, the road was completely covered in white snow and there was only a single 4WD tyre print in the snow. I observed that The Twins, two mountains off to the right, appeared to be very deeply covered in snow. I passed the turn off to Dargo on the right and was then greeted by the welcome sight of smoke rising from the chimney at the Country Roads Board (CRB) Mount Saint Bernard Snow Clearing Station. I drove in and was greeted by all the workers who were sheltering inside.
As we shared hot coffees, the guys asked where I was headed for and I told them I was headed for Bairnsdale via Hotham Heights and Omeo. They told me that the road was closed from Mount Saint Bernard to Mother Johnston's because the only snow plough in the district had been out of service for two weeks due to mechanical failure. The new parts would be flown in by helicopter next Tuesday and the snow plough should be in service by Wednesday. After the road had been cleared, then it would be opened again and I would be able to go through. I told them that I preferred to go through today and that in order to do so I planned to deflate my tyres and ride on top of the snow. They asked me what sort of survival gear I had with me in case I got stuck on the way, so I showed them my equipment and emergency rations. One of the guys as soon as he saw my sidecar said, "You're the guy that crossed the Alps from Seldom Seen to Dargo ... I saw a photo of this bike in the paper." He continued, "And you also were in the first party that ever crossed the Little Desert from North to South on foot."
I replied, "Right on both counts!"
The general consensus was that if anybody could make it, I could, so they allowed me to drive around the barricades and continue on up the mountain. With my tyres deflated to almost completely flat the bike easily rode up on top of the snow and soon I was humming along the highway at speeds up to 35 or 40 mph. I think I was driving faster than was possible during the Summer months when there would be dozens of other vehicles using the highway. The highway at Hotham Heights is 6030 feet (1838 metres) above sea level and is the highest through road on the entire continent of Australia.
Now at Hotham Heights during the ski season there are all manner of ski lifts running up the hills and skiers everywhere are barrelling down the slopes at terrific speeds. The road had been closed for weeks and all of the skiers were busy crossing the highway on the ski runs at enormous speeds. Along comes one bright Boeing Red motorcycle and sidecar! Can you imagine the faces of some of those skiers! It was almost incomprehensible to them that a motorcycle and sidecar could be invading their wonderful white wonderland. I pulled up briefly at Hotham Heights to use the public toilets, but was out on the bike again in less than a minute and continued along the highway towards Mother Johnsons.
I stopped only very briefly at Mother Johnsons CRB Snow Clearing Depot, where I pumped up all three tyres and reported that I had travelled through safely, and then on down through the Alps to Omeo where I filled up with petrol. It was then an easy run through to Bairnsdale and home.
Gearbox bearing replacement.
Because the RT1 had never been designed to haul a sidecar
everywhere it went, and because the gearbox had been designed for a
250cc engine but was handling a 360cc engine, the bearing which held
the mainshaft where the final drive sprocket was fitted just wasn't
strong enough to distribute all that load. This bearing was
exactly the same dimensions as a Holden generator bearing, so I
regularly bought spare bearings several at a time and always carried
them with me in the sidecar. Usually, when the bearing would
fail, I would be close enough to home to ride slowly home and replace
it in the comfort of my own workshop. Another item which I
always carried in the sidecar was a plastic bottle of gearbox oil.
I also owned a full set of genuine Yamaha workshop tools, which
contained all of the pullers and special tools necessary to dismantle
every part of the bike down to its individual components and
reassemble it. This equipment also usually lived in the
One warm and pleasant Summer's day, I was riding along the Princes Highway near Lakes Entrance when I heard the tell-tale rumble of the gearbox bearing failing yet again. It was a beautiful sunny day with a clear blue sky, and I was not in a hurry to get anywhere, so I thought to myself, "Why don't I replace the bearing under that beautiful spreading tree beside the highway ... no need to go home to my workshop ... everything I could possibly need is already in the sidecar." So it was that at exactly 10:00 am that day I pulled up under the tree, spread out a couple of plastic work sheets and in just a few minutes I had lifted the engine-gearbox unit out of the frame and onto my temporary workbench set out on the flat top of the nose of the sidecar. I drained the gear oil into a pan, then removed the head and the cylinder. Soon I had the gearbox pulled in half and laid out the gear clusters on clean sheets of plastic. I got the appropriate puller out of the toolbox and was just removing the bearing from the end of the main shaft when half a dozen guys from Hell's Angels arrived. They looked at my head, cylinder, piston, crankshaft, and gearbox internals all layed out in a neat row and one of them inquired, "Hey, Phil, why don't you take your bike to the workshop when you give it a complete overhaul?" I told them that I was perfectly happy working on it under the tree ... wasn't this just the best workshop in the world? They all stood around and watched as I pressed the new bearing onto the mainshaft, reassembled the gearbox, refitted the crankshaft and very rapidly brought the whole engine unit together. Then I fitted the engine back into the frame, filled up the oil to the correct level. put my used oil into the empty plastic bottle and packed all my tools and things into the sidecar. At 11:25, only one hour and 25 minutes after pulling up, my totally re-built engine purred to life at the first kick and I rode with the Hell's Angels guys down to Lakes Entrance where we all had lunch together in the park.
Now some of the guys in Hell's Angels are sometimes prone to exaggeration. Several years after the event described above, the story came back to me that the Hell's Angels were still talking about the day that Phil of Christ's Crusaders had done a complete engine overhaul on the roadside in fifteen minutes!
Exaggerations aside, what the above story does illustrate is how very easy it was to work on a simple single-cylinder two-stroke engine without all the extra items that motorbikes today seem to have hung all over them.
While in Adelaide for one of the Southern Cross Motorcycle Rallies, I have forgotten which year, I was made aware of a 1300cc motorcycle and sidecar which was stored in a shed in a yard at Mount Barker. I went to have a look at it, and it was the same model as the two Harleys which I already owned. The owner only wanted $60 for it, if I recall correctly, so I paid him then and there on the spot and drove all the way back the following weekend with my brother Mick in his Falcon towing a fairly large trailer. We loaded the Harley and took it home to the Garage I was then renting in Yallourn. I dismantled it so that it would take up less room in the shed. At one stage I think I had a maximum of five motorbikes and seven sidecars stored in that single-car garage. My third Harley was kept only as a source of parts for the others and was never rebuilt. When I eventually sold my main Harley, I sold all the Harley parts with it.
The photograph at right shows my Moto Guzzi Californian with DJP sidecar. This shot was taken when the bike was parked outside St Lukes Methodist Church on the Princes Highway in Morwell.
Later in the year 1973, or perhaps it was in 1974 - my memory again! - I went to court where I was awarded damages resulting from my crash on the night that changed my life. Well my Moto Guzzi was still awaiting repairs and it became clear that it would probably never actually get repaired, so Noel Einsiedel offered to buy the wreck from me. I accepted his offer and had plenty of money to order a new Moto Guzzi 850 Californian and DJP sidecar. Apart from the Guzzi and the sidecar, some interesting extras that were fitted were a pair of white Craven Dolomite fibreglass panniers with the original Craven luggage rack, and a canvas lap rug. In the black and white photograph, you can see the chest flap of the lap rug in place covering the enormous single saddle of the bike. Behind the seat you can see the black horizontal bars of the enormous Craven luggage rack. For those who may not remember lap rugs, they were one of the best inventions for riding motorbikes in the wet. They covered the whole front of the rider right up to the neck. the rug was fastened around the bike between the fuel tank and the front of the seat. The side parts were fastened to the frame so that the lower portion was wrapped around the toes of your boots. Side flaps wrapped around your lower and upper legs and were tucked under your bottom while riding. The top half of the rug was held against your chest by wind pressure while riding. Thus, the only parts that could get wet were your arms and your neck and head. When you were not riding and the bike was parked, the chest flap covered the saddle to keep it dry.
The Californian was basically the same model as my previous Guzzi having the same frame, engine and running gear. Important differences were footboards similar to those used on Indians and Harleys, an enormous single saddle which was copied from the Harley's so-called "Buddy Seat", and a very large clear perspex windshield. With the windshield, the lap rug and the removable hood of the sidecar, the Californian was probably the best bike I ever had for riding with two people in heavy rain.
I enjoyed riding that bike for several years.
Now until the 8th February 1976, I had been a single man. But that status changed when Wendy Eades came into my life, we quickly got to know each other really well, I decided I couldn't think of anyone else that I had ever met that I would rather be married to (I am still of the same oppinion now in 2005), and to cut a long story short, Wendy Eades became Wendy Smith on that Sunday afternoon in February 1976. In planning for our honeymoon, we decided to go for a holiday using the sidecar outfit. Some friends from a different church offered us free use of a farmhouse at Briagolong for a week. A few days before the wedding, we hid the outfit in the garage of an elderly widow from yet another church, so none of our friends or enemies knew where it was to be able to "get at it" during the wedding. The wedding was quite an occasion with around 350 or 400 people at the reception. It was a very hot day. After the reception in the evening, somebody drove us around to where we had hidden the bike and we set off for Briagolong in the cool of the evening. For most of the week we hardly started the bike, after all the focus on a honeymoon is not supposed to be on the bike! However one day we left at first light and drove up through Dargo into the Alps via Mt Saint Bernard, Hotham, Mother Johnsons, Omeo, Swifts Creek and Bairnsdale, eventually getting back to the farmhouse well after dark. Our week away passed all too quickly, and then it was back to Morwell and then on to Melbourne where we began married life in the suburb of Kew.
The picture at right is not my bike but is identical in colour and details. In 1975, Honda produced their first flat-four shaft drive Gold Wing motorcycle. It looked and sounded beautiful and I wanted one. But my Guzzi Californian was only a couple of years old and I had looked on that as a bike I might use "for the rest of my life". So for a year or so I kept using the Guzzi. But it was amazing how soon little minor annoyances about imperfect details on the Guzzi began to magnify themselves in my mind so that I began to lie to myself: "You can't really fix such-and-such a problem on the Guzzi, you will just have to buy a Gold Wing to replace it." Its amazing how twisted your mind can become when you are lusting after the latest motorbike. Now as a Christian, I knew that lust was wrong. ... But then a Gold Wing isn't another woman. In retrospect, from thirty years later, with the perfect 20-20 vision that only wisdom and hindsight can bring, I can see how the Guzzi would indeed have served me a great many years and I could have saved a lot of money by not buying the Gold Wing. However there was some annoying little problem on the Guzzi which I exaggerated to convince Wendy that we needed to purchase a new bike. So we did. And the Gold Wing caried us around for years. I cannot remember why we eventually sold it, but I remember that I was employed as the Dean of Vision College in Sydney at the time, so it must have been 1981 or 1982.
After we were married and I was studying for my degree in
Theology, we were hearing a lot about two churches in America where
God appeared to be doing some very interesting and exciting things.
Wendy and I were eligible as full-time students, to get very cheap
tickets for flying to America, so we got passports and tickets and
arrived at Melodyland Christian Centre at 10 Freedman Way, Anaheim in
California on 3rd January 1977. We had nearly two months of
Summer holidays (Summer in Australia, NOT Summer in America - see
below) to look at this church and the Church of the Redeemer, an
Episcopal church at 4411 Dallas Street, South Houston in Texas.
In California we briefly got to know Dean and Linda Davis who hosted
us for a few days while we looked at the church and the Melodyland
School of Theology. We then used a Greyhound bus to get to
Houston and found our way to the church where we were soon put up in
one of their "community houses". We had planned to
purchase a cheap secondhand motorbike for transport to enable us to
see that corner of the US and decided after reading the "Two
Wheels" Road Test that the cheapest and most reliable would
be a Honda CB350. We went to a motorbike shop and bought a nice
secondhand model with sufficient surface rust to lower the price tag
without being dangerous. Wendy christened her "Hilda the
have just found this old photo of the Church of the Redeemer with me
sitting on "Hilda the Honda" out in front. The patch
I am wearing on my back is that of "Christ's Crusaders Motor
Cycle Club" which was based in Morwell, Victoria,
"The Coldest Day in 350 years of Recorded History" The weather in Houston had been misty and murky and generally unpleasant and the house we were hosted in was heated to an almost oppressively hot temperature by the central heating, but then the "Texas Blue Norther" arrived with brilliant sunshine and crystal clear sunny blue skies. "Let's ride down to Galveston!" In just our shirtsleeves we put our Belstaff Jackets in the panniers in case we needed them, and headed off towards Interstate 45. Before reaching the Interstate however, we stopped to put on the Belstaffs. "That's funny ... the sun is streaming down but the place doesn't feel really warm yet." We soon ascended the on ramp and were motoring South on the Interstate with the somewhat irritating ker-thump, ker-thump, ker-thump sound of the endless repetition of badly-aligned concrete expansion joints. After a few miles we passed a tower which had a clock and thermometer which spelled out their readings in lights ... it told us the reading was 32 degrees. Didn't feel like 32 degrees to us, but then we remembered that the US is the one place in the world that still uses the old Fahrenheit temperature scale. 32ºF equals 0ºC ... that's freezing point! But the sky was blue and that sun was just streaming down at us. We shivered along and I noticed the strange look on some puddles by the roadside ... they were covered in ice! As we entered Galveston, another roadside clock/thermometer cheerily announced that the temperature was 30ºF (That's -2ºC to the rest of us). Wendy and I were absolutely frozen so we pulled into McDonalds, more because it would be warm than because we were hungry. There we were approached by the local Highway Patrol police who asked us, "What are you guys doing riding that motor sickle around on a day like this? ... We are paid to ride, and grumbling every minute we have to do so in this weather. ... Don't you know this is the coldest day ever recorded in Galveston in 350 years of recorded history?" Well we didn't know that so we had to take his word for it. During an Internet search while typing this web page in 2005, I discovered that he was not correct. On 12th February 1899 the temperature at Galveston had fallen to 10º by 08:00. It continued to fall, bottoming out at 7½º by 11:00. By 13:00 it had risen to 10º. Details here. Amazingly, the television news that same evening repeated what the police had told us: this was the coldest day ever recorded in the history of Galveston. Seems nobody was looking up their records. But then in 1977 the Internet was not yet on everybody's desktops ... in fact hardly anyone had ever seen a computer.
Anyway, to get back to that ride. We bought the local newspaper, not to read it, but to stuff it down the front of our Belstaffs to try to keep the cold out. We went and briefly stood on the beach out on one of the barrier islands, took a couple of quick photos, and then hurried back up the Interstate to Houston and that nice, warm, centrally heated house.
North to Dallas - Fort Worth After our two weeks or so with the people from the Church of the Redeemer, we headed North on Interstate 45 to Dallas. The photo at the right of Wendy beside "Hilda the Honda" was taken at a rest stop on I-45; it was pouring with rain and Wendy is wearing her bright pink plastic waterproof gear on top of her Belstaffs. In Dallas we found our way to the home of Pastor Jim Hester of the Arlington Christian Church. I had met Jim a couple of years earlier when he had been visiting Australia. We went to his church that weekend. On the Monday we travelled along Interstate 20 to Abilene.
Our First Wedding Anniversary: What a Blowout! The next day, the 8th February 1977, was our first Wedding Anniversary ... how would we celebrate it? We soon found out. Somewhere between Big Spring and Odessa, in the bare countryside, miles from anywhere, the back tyre of the motorbike suddenly blew out. We did not fall off, but I skillfully and carefully slowed down gradually until we wobbled to a stop at the side of the road. Now what to do? We had been strictly warned by many people to never leave our motorcycle unattended anywhere, or it and everything on it would be stolen. Should I leave Wendy to guard it while I hitchhiked to town with the back wheel? No way! This was our very first Wedding Anniversary! So we parked the bike right there beside the Interstate, took out the back wheel, left our bright orange backpacks and our helmets sitting right there on the bike, and prayed: "Lord, you made blind eyes to see ... now make the seeing eyes blind for anyone that might want to steal our motorbike or luggage." Then we hitchhiked a ride in an old ute (pickup truck) back to Big Spring where we bought a new tyre and had it fitted. We then hitchhiked back out to our motorbike and found that God had protected it and nothing had been touched. We soon had it reassembled and continued on to a small town near Odessa where we found the local Pizza Hut and celebrated our Wedding Anniversary with a "Thick and Chewy Pizza Hut Supreme". That mightn't sound too exciting to everybody else, but it made our first anniversary one which we shall always remember. As I type this paragraph on the evening of 7th February 2005, I am looking forward to celebrating our twenty-ninth Wedding Anniversary tomorrow!
El Paso, New Mexico, Arizona, California During the next few days we rode along Interstate 10 to El Paso. Near El Paso we looked across the river towards Cuidad Juarez in Chihuahua, Mexico and marvelled at what a difference crossing a river could make. On the El Paso side everything appeared to exude richness and prosperity; across the river we saw only poverty everywhere we looked. We continued into New Mexico through Las Cruces, Deming and Lordsburg stopping to take many photos of the beautiful, if somewhat barren countryside. We visited some National Parks on the way to Tucson and then some more on the way to Phoenix. It was good to be off the Interstate and enjoying some back roads. From Phoenix we again headed West stopping at Blythe after crossing the Colorado River into California.
The Wrong Side of the Road! Many miles West of Blythe we were running low on petrol so we turned off the Interstate to visit a small village named "Desert Centre" (actually it was spelt "Desert Center" but that looks so wrong to me when I type it today!) where we filled up the tank with petrol. Now while riding on the Interstates and even on the back roads where there was some other traffic, it had not been a problem to us to have been riding on the "wrong" side of the road ... in Australia we ride on the left, in America we ride on the right. But on pulling out of the service station at Desert Centre, I drove on the left side of the road all the way to the town's one and only crossroad. There I stopped at the stop sign just to the left of the centreline, and then made a right hand turn into the left side of the road that took us back towards the Interstate. I must have travelled a couple of hundred metres before I suddenly realised, "Hey! ... This is America! ... I should be riding on THAT side of the road!" I lost no time in getting the bike over to the correct side of the road. It is interesting that, as soon as I found myself in a situation where there was not one other vehicle in sight, I almost automatically reverted to driving on the left. It is amazing to me how well we become programmed to driving on "automatic pilot". The rest of the trip via Indio and San Bernardino was relatively uneventful and we soon found our way to Gloria Street and arrived back at the home of Dean and Linda Davis.
After spending our final weekend in America visiting the Melodyland Christian Centre once again we turned Hilda the Honda North and rode to San Francisco. There we sold the Honda to a secondhand motorbike dealer and caught our plane back to Australia the same day.
Back in Australia it was back to full-time study and a certain limited amount of travelling around on the Gold-Wing. But having seen Melodyland School of Theology, I wanted to attend it for a year. So I got permission to take a one year break for the whole of 1978 while I went there to study.
I arrived in Southern California on Christmas Day 1977. The
first thing I did was went to the local motorbike shop and bought a
second-hand GS550 Suzuki that was only about a year old. It was
in truly excellent condition and I had a luggage rack and what the
Americans call a "Travel Trunk" fitted to the back.
It served me well for the year that I owned it. It had four
cylinders in-line across the frame, six-speed gearbox and a chain
final drive. I lived in "Foxy Glen" apartment complex
on Haster Boulevard, Anaheim and studied at Melodyland School of
Theology. I also worked part time, about four hours per day, in
a part of the church known as the Endowment Department. I
didn't need to ride to work as it was only a ten or fifteen minute
walk, but I usually rode anyway, since I always enjoy being on a
My wife came over to join me in May 1978 and we moved to a different apartment complex in Garden Grove. From there it was necessary to ride to and from work. I was tested for my California Driver's Licence for both motorbikes and cars. Classes ended in the middle of June and didn't start again until sometime in August, so Wendy and I decided we would go and see the country. In preparation, I wrote down the addresses of many students from all parts of the country, saying we couldn't promise, but we would try to visit many of them during our trip. We borrowed sleeping bags and a tent and headed North on Highway 101 which followed the coast.
California: Los Angeles was in those days a smog-ridden place where you often could not see more than a couple of hundred metres and the pollution in the smog made your eyes sting, so we lost no time hanging around the Metropolitan Area. At Santa Barbara, we visited the parents of Linda Davis with whom we had become good friends.
Miracle at San Francisco.
The Boeing factory
Ya got any spuds?
Yellowstone National Park
The big storm
Only 10,000 lakes?
Staying at the farm near Amherst
Meeting Laura in Carbondale
Blue grass looks pretty green doesn't it?
Rear tyre burst near Albany
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts:
Long Island (New York):
Collapse of the carrier rack: emergency repairs
New York City:
Miles away from our planned route on a turnpike with no exits
Horse-drawn carts don't use petrol!
Camping at midnight and a surprise awakening!
The hospitable South
A new definition for "moss"!
Billy Carter - no trains in Plains
Avoiding the pile-up in the storm
The heat that could kill
Lunch below Sea Level ... the levees.
The Minah Bird
"Go North from Shattuck on Highway 283"
The Thunderstorm and the floods.
"Wasn't there some cowboy on telly from Dodge City?"
Silverton to Durango.
The Steam Railway near Durango
Standing on one foot, but in four states.
"What if we roll out of the tent and into the Grand Canyon?"
Zion National Park
Waiting for the night to come.
What did they think at the motel?
Across Death Valley
Arriving at Church
1979: the crash at Euroa. In hospital at Shepparton.
1980:Back on the Gold Wing / DJP sidecar outfit.
1981 To Sydney
1982 Around Australia
1982 To England
[photos from web until my own photos are located]
Upon my return from England I had no job and no transport. My friend from many years earlier, Iain Treacy, rang me one day and asked if I would like to borrow his Honda XL250 and use it to become a motorcycle courier carrying parcels and packages around Sydney. I jumped at the chance and borrowed it from him and sadly, he never got it back as it was eventually wrecked in a collision. It already had a very robust back luggage rack fitted and I soon added a pair of good waterproof panniers to it.
Crisis Couriers "Car 2": I fronted up at Crisis Couriers at 295 Pacific Highway in North Sydney where I met with the boss, Tony Zanelli, and was introduced to the ins and outs of courier work. I was issued with a hand-held two-way radio, as the Honda, having only a 6-volt electrical system, could not support a regular car-type two-way radio. I was issued with the call sign "Car Two".
The Honda XL250 had a single sylinder OHC engine, a very light frame, a high exhaust sytem along the left hand side, and was fitted at first with knobby tyres. It was designed as a trail bike and excelled at that task. It could monowheel very well, something that was more suited to riding the mountain trails than to commuting around Sydney. In fact, I had not been riding it very long, when it suddenly tossed me off as unceremoniously as an unbroken colt would have done. It happened like this: I had stopped in King Street to make a delivery; there was a lot of traffic coming up the one-way street and I was watching for a gap. I spied a short gap, revved up the little engine and dropped the clutch. I think that the poor little bike hardly moved. It just wound itself up over the back wheel and I suddenly found myself upside down on the footpath with the bike upside down on top of me! Just as well I had a good helmet and always wore appropriate protective clothing. The bike was undamaged and nothing was hurt on me other than my pride - I really felt quite a nong for pulling that stunt - and I soon sorted things out and was back on my way.
Being a Christian Courier: bags of cash: secrets: being trusted.
Models in their undies.
Computers out to Hornsby.
A couple of country runs.
A taxi-truck load.
The crash at Brookvale: One evening I was on my way home towards Collaroy Beach and was just sweeping around the right hand curve on Pittwater Road neat the Brookvale Oval when I observed a car with a lady driver coming out of Alfred Road stop at the intersection, apparently to give way to me, which she was required by law to do according to the layout of the roads. It was nearly dark, but I already had the lights on and was travelling at about 50 km/h. Suddenly, when I was almost level with the car, it jumped forward right in front of me. I hit the horn button and immediately swerved to the right, but failed to avoid impacting with the car. The impact of the front bumper of the car on my left foot crushed the engine case and pressed my foot into the left side of the crankcase. In an instant my bike was sliding along the road flat on its side and so was I. I came to a halt with a left foot that felt very sore indeed. I heard the traffic start again as the lights changed back at the Winbourne Road intersection so I quickly leapt to my feet, lifted my bike onto the median strip in the middle of the road, and then immediately fell down again. There was a big enough pool of engine oil that had leaked from the Honda's crankcase to mark where it had slid to a stop. The ambulance men decided that since no bomes had been broken and that I was quite conscious, there was no need to take me to hospital, so they went away and left me sitting there on the nature strip. Eventually the police drove me home in the police car, but I was off my feet for a day or two.
The bad news from the motorcycle shop, Rama Motorcycles, where my bike had been taken was that the bike was unrepairable: because of its age it was impossible to get parts for it without specially importing them: it would be off the road for a great many months at the best, or might possible never be repaired. I arranged to have it brought to my home, and since my livelihood was now gone took immediate steps to purchase a new motorbike. This time I bought a Kawasaki LTD 250.
However, this was not quite the end of the road for the XL Honda. I was able to buy a second-hand non-running engine and other parts and after many long cold nights down in that breezy shed, I was able to rebuild the engine of the Honda and eventually had it running again. As it was still registered I rode it when the Kawasaki was in for repairs. I also loaned it to other courier riders who for some reason or another were without their bikes for a few days.
[photos from web until my own photos are located]
1986 New Zealand
[photos from web until my own photos are located]
Having returned to Australia from New Zealand, transport was
needed and one day an advertisement for a secondhand 250cc Honda
Scooter caught my eye. I am not sure now of the year of
manufacture of my Honda Spacey scooter, but it was probably about
1986. Its previous owner had bought it brand new and had to
sell it in a hurry as his student days had ended and he was returning
to Hong Kong. This meant that I bought a hardly-used, as-new
scooter for a very cheap price. Having ridden everything from
Honda monkey-bikes to Harleys, how did I find the Spacey? Well,
it has to have been about the easiest bike I ever owned to ride
around town. It was a 250cc water-cooled single driving through
"V-Matic" V-belt automatic transmission. No clutch.
No gear changing. Just start it up with a press on the starter
button and drive it away. It was powerful enough that you
almost imagined you could lift the front wheel if you opened her up
too quickly, although I cannot remember having actuall;y done so.
It accelerated magnificently through Sydney's dense traffic and was
great for making the extra lane through to the front of the pack at
every set of lights. Having reached the front, when those
lights changed, I had no fear of being run over from behind; that
little Spacey could take off a lot faster than any four wheeler and a
lot faster than most two wheelers. With the infinitely-variable
gearing meaning that there were no gear changes at all, it just kept
accelerating faster and faster.
Out on the freeway, people would do a kind of double-take when they glanced sideways to see a scooter speeding past when they were already exceeding 100 km/h. I cannot recall what its highest speed was, but I seem to recall seeing 120 km/h or more on the excellent digital speedometer. In fact if I recall correctly, the speedometer was not actually called a speedometer in the manual, but a "Digital Average Speed Computer And Display unit" and had an abreviation of "DASCAD". I would be very interested to hear from any owner who still has a manual whether I have recalled that correctly. It put up a new speed display about once each second, so the speeds displayed were actually very widely spaced figures when you were accelerating rapidly.
At freeway speeds, the ultra-short wheelbase of the machine made for less than desirable handling. Looking back with my minds eye, I would estimate the wheelbase to have been in the order of only 1167 to 1170 mm or thereabouts; once again, I would love to get hold of a manual and find out for sure. Thus the slipstream of other vehicles or gustiness of the wind would interfere with the smoothness of your ride. Also, the smaller diameter wheels along with the short wheelbase made it less than precise when cornering compared to a regular motorbike. However, I soon got used to it and thoroughly enjoyed commuting around Sydney on it. I especially liked driving it in the wet when the footboards and front fairing together with the ample windscreen would keep me nice and dry. Brakes werepretty good, although I scared myself the first wet day by locking the front wheel with the disc brake. The bike was light on the front end and with leading link forks also not causing any of the expected "nosedive", it was just too easy to give the front brake too much of a squeeze. The rear drum brake also was very good and much harder to lock up as there was much more weight on the rear end.
I recall that the V-matic transmission had a habit that was very disconcerting when you were rolling to a stop. Slowing down from high speeds, the machine had a very good engine-braking effect until it had slowed to about 10 or 15 km/h, when suddenly, it was as if all braking had been released and the scooter would start just free rolling, like any normal bike suddenly being shifted into neutral. It only worried me the first couple of times however, and I soon became used to applying the rear brake just before the engine-braking suddenly gave up.
The seat on this scooter was superb: nice and wide and soft enough that it felt like you could stay in the saddle all day. It was a little more crowded however, when my wife Wendy would join me as pillion passenger. Good lockable helmet locks were provided so that the helmets could be locked while the bike was parked. This machine also had a generous rear luggage rack. The glove compartment in the front of the rider could also hold a lot of stuff.
Altogether, the Honda Spacey was one delightful bike to own and ride. And yes, if the situation called for it, I would not hesitate to purchase another one.
Note that I have also seen these bikes in other countries labeled as Elite, Freeway, and Helix, so perhaps Spacey might have been only the Australian name for this model.
Just as its previous owner had to sell the bike in a hurry because he was moving to Hong Kong, so the same thing happened to me. I moved to Hong Kong on 29th March 1989 and had to sell the wonderful Spacey in a hurry to some lucky buyer.
In August 1989, Wendy and I visited Guangzhou in Guangdong Province, China, and while we were there we saw three PLA troops on a CJ750 sidecar outfit. I decided that day that I wanted to own one of these things one day.
The info about my CJ has now been moved to this new page.
A: Adler, Aermacchi, AJS, Ariel, AJW, Anzani,
Argus, Aprilia, Albion,
B: BMW, BSA, Brough-Superior, Benelli, Bultaco, Bridgestone
C: Calthorpe, Chang Jiang, CZ, Cotton, Coventry Eagle,
D: DKW, Dnepr, 1898 DeDion Bouton motor tricycle with original wickerwork passenger trailer, DJP sidecars, Dusting sidecars, Ducati, DOT,
E: Excelsior, ESO, EMW
F: Francis Barnett, Fuji,
G: Gilera, Guzzi, Greeves,
H: Horex, HRD Vincent, Harley-Davidson (many models), Honda, Henderson, Hobby (German, possibly by DKW), Husquvarna
J: Jawa, James, JAP,
L: Lilac, Laverda, Lambretta, Levis
M: M-series M500 (now called "Ural"), MV, Moto Guzzi, Matchless, Morini, MZ, Motobi, Montesa, Maico, Maicoletta, Marusho
N: Norton, NSU, Nimbus, NUT,
O: Oscar, Omega,
P: Piaggio, Prestwick, Panther, Puch,
Q: Quadrant, QUB, Quickly,
R: Rex, Rabbit, Rikuo, Rudge, Royal Enfield,
S: Suzuki, Solex, Scott, Stevens, Sunbeam
T: Triumph, Tilbrook, Triton,
U: Ursa, Ural,
V: Velocette, Vespa, Vincent, VeloSolex, Volkswagen 2WD sidecar outfit, Vulcan, Villiers,
W: Watsonian sidecars,
X: X (made by Henderson),
Z: Zundapp, Zaluki,
NOTE: If you know of any links which you think should be added to this page, or if you find that some of the links on this page do not work, or if links now lead to unsuitable content, please email me at phil DOT drdisk AT gmail DOT com to advise me of the details.
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