Motorbikin in the 40's-50's pt.2


Sep 8, 2008
MEMORIES AND SILLY STUFF The motorbike was a way of life and a learning experience. We usually took the engines apart just to scrape carbon or just see how much wear the bearings and piston had. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to do it, but we learned by doing. One of the reasons I always wanted a transmission was because Charley Bacon came riding up one day with an 8 HP Wisconsin engine in a 20” bicycle. He had a 2-speed transmission out of a box Cushman scooter! Oh how I envied him! He burned a donut in the Mayor’s front yard and he came out storming and screaming about $600 he had put into the yard. We used to sit under the shade tree and show our MACHO by holding the spark lead and turning the flywheel as fast as we could stand it. Charley bet me I couldn’t hold his plug wire at ANY speed. That was like a double-dog dare, so I tried it cautiously. WHAM!!! I was about in orbit and Charley was rolling on the ground. That was the day I learned all about IMPULSE magnetos. It would come up on the firing point and a spring would snap it over quickly and it would shoot a fat blue spark 1”! Some of the early bikes used a Brigg & Stratton model “Y”. It had plenty of displacement but in stock trim with a tiny suction carburetor it only put out about ¾ HP. If they added a model “N” carburetor it would give about 2-1/2 HP. It must have weighed 40 Lbs. You would see them all over town doing the starting drill. They backed it off compression and lifted the rear wheel off the ground and started running, dropping the wheel and putting the arm pit over the seat horn and fanning the choke with the right hand and trying to make a deal with God. It wasn’t until recent years I learned what was so wrong with the Y’s It was the bad iron they used in the flywheel magnets. It didn’t hold magnetism well and a local shop had a device especially for re-magnetizing them. If they had only known then! I was 11 when Dad built me my first motorbike. I had traded a pretty sharp “pushmobile” he built me for an ancient Briggs & Stratton model FH. It was a real wonder, with a suction activated intake valve and a spindly 3/16” pushrod outside working a rocker arm for the exhaust. It had two flywheels like millstones and a small diameter tube running from a mixing valve on the fuel tank in the bottom of the engine all the way up to the head. It didn’t get in any hurry running but it was an ENGINE and it belonged to ME! In his true engineer fashion dad contacted the factory for parts and found it left the factory in the middle of October 1927! Someone had thrown away an old American Moto Scoot frame and I got it for $1.50 from the kid that found it. We tracked the owner down and he sold us the wheels, jackshaft, and brake band for $10 and we were in business. He put a wood floorboard on it and a simple angle iron box for a body with a top board and a seat cushion. The brake was a flat drum with a strap of metal with leather riveted to it for brake lining wrapped around it. The clutch was a jackshaft that pivoted on the axle held back with a stout spring to tension the engine belt. The final drive was chain. Dad made a clutch peddle that wiggled sideways slightly and provided a notched piece of angle iron mounted next to it I could put the peddle shaft under to hold it clutched for starting, etc. Naturally the first thing to go was the muffler. That didn’t help much as the intake valve was floating at “high” speed. I found if I stuck a screwdriver in the intake spring to make it stronger it would rev faster. This was followed by a wedge of sheet metal pivoting on one end and pulled with a “go faster” string and returned with a spring. Dad just shook his head but didn’t say much as he was wont to let me make my own mistakes on the learning curve. I also discovered that if I revved it as tight as it would go and snapped the clutch peddle out from under its catch it would either jump the front wheel about a foot in the air and/or break the drive belt. By the time I was about 13 I was ready to build my own motorbike. Dad had a Masonic brother that ran a welding shop and told him he would be glad to stick a frame together for me. I hacked up some angle iron and a bike frame and headed for the weld shop. Somehow he didn’t seem too happy to see me as it was a busy day there. I quickly laid out my crudely cut parts and showed him what I wanted. That was my first experience with “GARBAGE IN—GARBAGE OUT. It was a real misaligned piece of crap and from then on I fitted my joints to where you couldn’t blow smoke through them and wired them all together with boards and tourniquets of wire. I re-made a frame and Dad paid to have it welded up right. That was my first real practical motorbike and I was proud of it. It served me to school and back all year with no problems other than I caught my pant cuff in the drive belt and flipped the motor pulley off the shaft because I had failed to tighten it very well. It rolled under the boardwalk surrounding Phillips Petroleum Co.’s new office building construction and was history. I charged a new one to Dad and caught **** for it. When many of us got Whizzers we learned survival mechanics. They had an inserted rod that was poorly oiled and not very big. Consequently we carried a Pepsi bottle with the required amount of oil in it and a Phillips screwdriver to remove the side of the crank case and an allen wrench to remove the allen bolts on the rod cap. Also in the “kit” was a Prince Albert tobacco can and a pair of scissors to cut the can into strips to put behind the rod inserts to make it fit tighter again. If the gasket was torn beyond use, a Montgomery Ward catalog cover made a pretty good gasket. This stuff was all carried in a couple of war surplus saddle bags. Sometimes not, as occasionally the spokes would wear holes in the canvas and some of the stuff just wasn’t there. Once I was riding my 1949 Whizzer and felt something touching my leg. It was the little rod that ran all the way thru the engine the hollow camshaft turned on. I managed to push it back in without losing cam timing and peined the end of the hole with a couple of rocks to keep it in to get me home. Whizzer manufactured a “blooey pipe” to replace the flexible exhaust tube and muffler. Our next move was to stick a churn-shaped buttermilk carton on the end with friction tape to get a louder boom. We all had black mastic around the end of the pipe. That is where I learned to love buttermilk. That was the only way to get the megaphone. Back then it was REAL buttermilk and would take the skin off your tongue and stand by itself without a glass. (almost) I guess what this dissertation is all about is the sadness I feel at the passing of the era when if you wanted something badly enough you figured out a way to build it yourself. You learned a lot of life’s lessons and built self esteem by your accomplishments. I especially have fond memories of my father’s indulgence and advice IF I asked for it, and not belittling me for my failures. He was very proud of me but I had to find it out from others, as he was a very reserved man. God bless him. I grew up with the confidence that I AM DAMNED GOOD AT WHAT I DO AND DON’T NEED TO PROVE ANYTHING. (^)


New Member
May 23, 2008
Keith, although that story is a bit hard to read because of the lack of indents, the content more than makes up for it. Thanks for sharing. And hopefully you will be posting some pictures when you get a chance?