Basket Cases: No Need For A Stigma

“You want to come see if it’ll fire up?” I had no idea how my life would change.

A couple weeks before my dad had posed that seemingly mundane question, he had brought home several boxes he had bought from a friend of his. They were filled with junk as far as my mom was concerned, and to most people, her point of view would be completely reasonable. But it wasn’t junk. The boxes were a jigsaw puzzle, and my dad’s ability to work the pieces like a seasoned professional was fascinating to me—it still is.

A welder and machinist by trade, my father was no stranger to making something out of nothing. For over thirty years I have been witness to countless ingenious fabrications, repairs, corrections, and work-arounds for job and home. Although I’m impressed at every turn, I don’t recall a moment more awe-inspiring than the evening he brought me out to that little shed in the backyard and started that motorcycle.

Not exactly a state-of-the-art facility.

I would come to learn these projects are known as “basket cases”—a double entendre perfectly suited to the scenario. The parts are in boxes, or “baskets”, sure, but in addition to the literal meaning of the phrase, it’s also slang for the psychological state of someone who is overly stressed or anxious. Taking hundreds of old, grungy, chewed up parts and tackling the job of assembling them is surely a stressful endeavor! Are all the parts there? Are they even the right parts? What kinds of issues led to this machine being torn apart in the first place? After all, no right-minded person would reduce a perfectly functioning motorcycle to a collection of unlabeled bits and pieces for someone to stumble upon years later.

“You want to come see if it’ll fire up?”

I was twelve. I eagerly followed my dad outside and my eyes lit up when I saw that 1963 Triumph 6T Thunderbird 650. It was dirty and dusty and grimy, but alas, it wasn’t wheeled into that shed! It didn’t exist when its components were carried into that makeshift workshop. The phrase “greater than the sum of its parts” is a perfect understanding of that motorcycle. Was every part on it perfect? No. Was everything original? Probably not. But it was glorious nonetheless.

The one that started it all.  TLC needed.

He turned the key on the headlamp nacelle and “tickled” the carburetor. His eyes were as wide as mine, and in hindsight, I didn’t have the awareness then to acknowledge the gravity of this moment for him. He threw his leg over the bike, and kicked it over slowly, looking for a good place to begin. I admit I don’t remember if it started on the first or second kick, but I will absolutely never forget the sound of that exhaust, and I will never forget my dad’s smile, ear to ear.

I just had to stop writing for a moment to cry a little, thinking about how much I will miss moments like those someday when my dad is gone, and how unfortunate it will be for the world when the inevitable becomes reality, hopefully decades from now.

That Triumph is the one that started it all for me. For my dad, his moment had happened in his youth. No, this formative discovery was for me. This event ignited a spark in my soul that grew over the years, culminating in my first street bike. The very first mile I put on a licensed motorcycle was on my 1970 Triumph TR6R 650. My dad had done some work on the bike for the owner, and shortly after, he phoned to ask if my dad or anyone he knew was interested in purchasing it. It had the most impractical handlebars I have ever seen before or since, a cheesy king-and-queen seat, and no mufflers. Luckily, my dad had some stock-style bars in his shop, the previous owner had given him the original seat, and I was able to find some old Thunderbird exhausts in a junk pile at a swap meet.

My first road bike. 1970 TR6R

I had never been more proud to own anything in my life, and my love for motorcycles immediately went from struck match to blazing inferno. I’ve since owned a number of bikes, and I have enjoyed working in the motorcycle and powersports industry for more than six years now. A vast majority of my friends have been made through my job, and I can trace it all back to that moment in that shed.

“You want to come see if it’ll fire up?”

My dad, Mark Foster, on a ’71 Bonneville basket case he put together.

My dad started more than a motorcycle that evening.

Some people see an assembled basket case only for its mismatched numbers, its missing badges, its bastard front end from some other donor bike, its incorrect seat or tank, or its questionable paint job. I see a revelation. I see a box of parts someone else cast aside like garbage. I see an engine that everyone thought had taken its last sip of gasoline. I see a twelve year old boy’s eyes glimmering with anticipation in the glow of a Coleman lantern in a dirt-floored shed. I see a moment that boy shared with his dad that will reshape their entire relationship forever, for the better.

I bet I’m not the only one who can see these things. What do you see?


Trying to get our daughter interested.

Trying to get our son interested.

331 isn’t a very busy road.  😉

Piedmont Lake

Playing around with Photoshop.

71 Triumph Trailblazer that took a road trip with a friend to get.

75 DT250 Yamaha at Cables Campground in Toronto, Ohio

05 Yamaha FJR1300 at the Big Muskie bucket, near McConnellsville, Ohio


~ by hamiltonjacobs on January 25, 2015.

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