Basket Cases: No Need For A Stigma

•January 25, 2015 • Leave a Comment

“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?

-J

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

An Open Letter To People Boycotting Businesses For Opening on Holidays

•November 9, 2014 • Leave a Comment

The pies are baked. The turkey is tender. The homemade noodles are thickening up. Your aunts and uncles have brought their families from afar and the house is raucous with old stories of adventure from childhoods spent together. There is a magic in the air, and your favorite family holiday is a sacred gathering of epic proportions.

That’s truly wonderful. I’m happy for you, but not everyone has a fairytale story when the holidays grow near. Not everyone’s family is close, geographically or emotionally. Not everyone holds Thanksgiving as dear as others. And not everyone is disgusted that the world continues to turn even while your family tries to put life on hold for one Thursday each November.

If you’re from a fairytale family (don’t take that as a slam against you! I’m from one of these families myself), you may not realize that others are less fortunate. You may not notice the co-worker who isn’t gushing about seeing his or her family for a big dinner. You may laugh off the friend who doesn’t eat turkey. You may scoff at the people who look forward to shopping on a day when most people stay home, free to get good deals and good parking spots while avoiding the crazy rush of Black Friday.

The reality is that being offended on someone else’s behalf is an epidemic in America. You think it’s wrong for employees to be at work while you’re at home enjoying food, family, and relaxation. But you don’t get to speak for me. You don’t get to speak for everyone.

Around my house, it’s always been a tradition to have Thanksgiving dinner early. By 2 o’clock, everyone’s ready to burst from my mom’s legendary mashed potatoes, the pumpkin pie, and the turkey my uncle Dave carved up. By three or four, people are gone to other dinners. Hardly anyone in my family only has one place to be for Thanksgiving; it’s not the romantic one-location affair it may have been in years past.

When I was younger, I worked at a few retail stores, and each time the holidays came around, I looked forward to working. Thanksgiving at Walmart, for instance, was worked by volunteers only, and paid more than the average day. It was a chance to bank some money for the holidays when I would need money the most. The management would always make sure it was an enjoyable shift, and not some sort of slave-drive. We had pies and food and everyone was in good spirits, including the customers (a rarity!). We all worked with cheer in our hearts, and we really appreciated those days. Very few work shifts in a year are as thoroughly fun as Thanksgiving and Christmas. For the families who had early dinners, we were able to volunteer for evening shift, and for those who had dinners later in the day, they could volunteer to work early. No one was ever forced to work a shift on Thanksgiving.

Some customers would come in and comment that it was a shame we had to work on Thanksgiving. It was always a chance (and a chore) to educate the general public that we weren’t there against our will. They would make faces as if they could see someone with a whip standing behind us, but their impressions of the situation were dead wrong, and so are yours.

I’m sure somewhere someone is being told they have to work the holidays, and that’s unfortunate. But I’ve seen the list of businesses that you’re calling to boycott, and while I’m not privy to the practices of all of them, I’m familiar enough with a few of them to know you’re off base. One huge thing you need to know about huge corporations is that they don’t do anything unless they can make money. With regard to opening on the holidays, they did market research and determined by an overwhelming response that they would have plenty of people wanting to shop on those days. Based on the willingness of people to go shopping, it’s reasonable to assume that not everyone wants Thanksgiving to be the way you want it to be.

If you don’t want to shop on Thanksgiving, you don’t have to. No one is going to make you feel bad because you don’t want to leave the house. No one will smack the stuffing out of your mouth and demand that you go spend money. But for those who want to shop, who do you think you are to tell them they can’t? And who are you to tell a business they can’t accept a willing shopper’s money?

This all boils down to your not seeing eye to eye with a business about the hours they wish to operate. How much sense does that make? Do you boycott your bank for closing at 5 each day? (Don’t you hate that?! It’s so inconvenient!) Law enforcement and emergency personnel have to work on Thanksgiving, despite the fact they have families who likely eat Thanksgiving dinner too. I don’t believe if your kitchen goes up in flames because you tried to deep-fry a frozen turkey you’re going to stop and say “No, don’t call 911 because they shouldn’t have to work today.”

Your feelings or values or opinions don’t determine what happens in the world. You don’t get to decide who should or shouldn’t have to work on a holiday. If you own a business, you can choose not to be open, but you don’t get to tell me that my business must be closed. It’s mean-spirited to try to convince others they should boycott a business just because you don’t like them being open on a particular day. To celebrate Thanksgiving, how about being thankful we live in a nation where a business owner has the freedom to open whenever he or she wishes?

-J

A Run-In With A Fellow Coal Power Shovel Enthusiast

•August 25, 2014 • 1 Comment

As some may recall, I’ve previously written about my affinity for old things, including my enthusiasm for vintage motorcycles and mining machines of a bygone era. No less frequently than once a year, I visit McConnellsville, Ohio to stand in awe of the bucket of the Bucyrus-Erie model 4250-W dragline “Big Muskie.”

Muskie bucket being transported to its preservation park
Big Muskie’s bucket being transported to its preservation park.
Photo: Dingey Movers

Its size is legendary, and for those who never saw the machine to which the bucket was once attached, no imagination is sufficient to capture the colossal size of the excavating marvel. It was the largest dragline ever built in the world. I appreciate history, and respect its preservation and remembrance. I also respect property, and try not to trespass.

Yesterday, after a lovely lunch with my mother, my fiancé and I took some back roads out of St. Clairsville hoping to run into a few opportunities for some nice photographs, as we often try to do. I had never been to the Harrison Coal & Reclamation Historical Park, but in anticipation of the annual Stumptown festival September 6th and 7th, I decided to stop and see the bucket of a mammoth called The Silver Spade that had been scrapped in 2007.

Spade compared to a football field
Spade compared to a football field.
Photo: NESYS.org

Before I get too far into that part of my story, let me start from the beginning…

I grew up at the edge of Belmont County, bordering Harrison County, which was quintessential “coal country.” My childhood was filled with visits to various strip mining shovels and draglines, bulldozers, dump trucks, and equipment junkyards. One of my fondest memories is from going to see the Bucyrus-Erie 1950B “GEM of Egypt” (GEM stood for Giant Earth Mover or Giant Excavating Machine, depending on which knowledgeable authority you ask) working in the cut. Another vivid recollection is of my grandfather driving me out an old haul road for what felt like forever until we came upon the Marion 5760 shovel “Mountaineer” being dismantled. Built in 1956, it had been the first of the giant power shovels.

Mountaineer posed with a steam engine for a Life Magazine photo shoot!
Mountaineer posed with a steam engine for a Life Magazine photo shoot.
Photo: Does anyone know who took this photo?  Please e-mail me.

Throughout the 1980s, the landscape was dotted with excavators weighing thousands of tons, and I was captivated by their majesty. By the early 1990s, however, strip mining had fallen out of favor, and most of the 60s-era behemoths were cut up for scrap, buried (yes, REALLY!), or left to rot. When the GEM of Egypt was scrapped in 1991, my dad took me to see what was left of it; the boom had been dropped and taken away, the bucket was gone, and the inner workings of this once-breathtaking monument to engineering had been heartlessly ripped from her.

This is the state I last saw her in.
This is the state I last saw her in.
Photo: Dale Davis via Stripmine.org

Despite signs that passively prohibited our entrance, we drove right alongside the GEM and saw her carcass from beneath the shell. I was 9, and it was the most amazing thing I’d seen up close since before my grandpa passed away in 1989. We weren’t on site long before a worker in a Consolidated Coal (now Consol Energy) truck drove up and chased us off. We weren’t there to cause any trouble, and the risk was worth it, as I’ll never forget that day along that flat section of Ohio SR-9 between Fairpoint and New Athens. Whenever I travel that road to this day, I can never stop looking over at where the GEM once stood.

The GEM working in the cut
The GEM working in the cut.
Photo: Historical Stripping Shovel Archives via Facebook

In the early 2000s, after various shutdowns due to low coal prices and mechanical failures, the sister shovel to the GEM, the “Silver Spade”, another BE 1950B (albeit with a slightly longer boom and a slightly smaller bucket) was fully refurbished and working again along SR-519 outside New Athens. It was my childhood all over again. I would often drive out to its work area and daydream that I was operating the shovel. I would take photos and post on reclamation-themed message boards about my experiences. I would read various stories about attempts to preserve the Spade as a museum after its work was done, and I was heartbroken each time I heard the news that another proposal had failed. As work continued stripping back the layers of Ohio’s surface, its future grew more and more uncertain. Finally, with more costly breakdowns and more competitive mining methods taking hold in the area, the Spade’s last bite of earth was no longer a near future, but a memory.

Unfortunately for all of us who passionately hoped the machine could be driven the few short miles to the proposed reclamation park, the breakdown had occurred in the cut—that is, it was down below a high wall, which rendered the dream of its preservation hopeless. In 2007, with little hullabaloo, onlookers sighed as the charges were detonated, the cables gave way, and the massive boom slammed into the ground, a mangled, twisted wreck. It wouldn’t be long before the Spade found itself in the same condition I had seen the GEM all those years before. Thankfully, Consol saved a few things for the Harrison Coal & Reclamation Historical Park. One bucket, a length of cable, a gear, a cable pulley, and the operator’s cab are preserved at the park, just west of New Athens on SR-519.

Bucket and cab
Bucket and Cab

Now back to my story from today…

I was eager to see the bucket of the Spade up close, and to investigate whatever else might be sitting at the park for posterity to see. When we arrived, there was a slack cable drawn across two posts to prevent anyone driving into the reclamation park. There were no signs with hours of operation, and no notice about trespassing. When the park for the Muskie bucket is closed, visitors are welcome to park outside the gate and walk up to see the historic piece. Assuming a similar policy, I parked my car and we walked in to see the equipment. A mid-sized scraper sat to the right, along with several dozers, dump trucks, cranes, and some other pieces in the back. But the jewel I’d come to see was front and center. The bucket of the Silver Spade is in rough condition, by any standard, but its size is undeniable.

Silver Spade bucket and me
Silver Spade bucket and me.

We took a few pictures, and just as I was looking and hoping there was a way to get a closer look at the operator’s cab, an older gentleman in a silver pickup truck pulled up to the entrance. I continued to marvel at the remnants of the Spade when it appeared the guy in the truck had unlocked the cable at the entrance. With this being a reclamation park, which to the best of my knowledge was established at least in part by donations, and for the enjoyment of generations to come, I assumed he was going to come say hello, maybe give me some knowledge, perhaps remind me that “Stumptown” was right around the corner, or otherwise just check things out.

A mural featuring the Mountaineer, GEM of Egypt, and The Silver Spade had been painted on the blade of an old dozer, and as I framed up a photo on my iPhone, this guy’s truck pulled right up into the shot. If I had stepped the wrong way, he probably would’ve run me over.

Mural... note the truck, which had barreled up to me... in this shot, it wasn't even stopped yet.
Note the truck, which had barreled up to me. In this shot, it wasn’t even stopped yet!

He angrily asked, “Who are you with?”

I was taken aback by his tone, and startled a touch from his storming up on us. I have a theory about attitudes rubbing off on people. I asked for clarification, “What do you mean who am I with?”

He repeated his question with a rude tone, and feeling demonized for no reason, I got an attitude as well (I shouldn’t have). I told him I wasn’t there with anyone, and that I was just taking pictures. He told me I was trespassing and that he was going to call the cops. I told him I wasn’t opposed to his calling the cops because I wasn’t a criminal and was doing nothing wrong. He told me not to get smart with him, despite the fact he had set just such a tone for the engagement. I took off my sunglasses, apologized and told him that I was from an hour away and I wanted to take a few photos. He again told me he was going to call the cops, and drove off toward the back of the park, where he sat in his truck and watched as I took a few more photos. “I’m already here, I might as well,” I thought.

Gear and chain from Silver Spade
Gear and chain from Silver Spade.

Much older boom and bucket
A much older boom and bucket.

An older shovel
An older shovel.

Strip mining truck
A strip mining truck.

I explained to Patty how the boom and bucket work on a stripping shovel (leaving out the explanation of the knee-action crowd that made the GEM and Spade special), along with what made them different from draglines. Again, the guy drove back up to where I was. “Hey!”

As I turned around, he took a picture of me. He then told me that they had been vandalized and someone had taken $3500 worth of radiators from the machines that were sitting in the park, and that he thought it was probably me. I told him I was sorry that had happened, that I appreciated his concern, that I come from a family of honest workers who hate thieves as much as he did, and that I wasn’t trying to cause any trouble.

By now, I was much more calm and collected, and was as nice as I could be to this guy. He then told me he had my license plate number and in a sort of prideful tone said “We’ll see what the prosecutor thinks of you.”

I reassured him that I wasn’t there to cause anyone any harm, and that I was an appreciator of all the relics at the site. I asked him, “Isn’t this park here so people can remember this stuff?”

He shook his head and quipped, “How would you like it if someone just walked in your house?”

I replied with disbelief, “I wouldn’t like that, because it’s a privately owned domicile, but this isn’t a private home; you don’t own all this stuff so your analogy is off.”

He about blew a gasket. “The hell I don’t! That yellow shovel back there is mine!” he stressed with a raised voice.

I acknowledged his machine and thanked him for donating it. He said his was one of the machines that had been vandalized. Again, I told him I was sorry someone had done that.

He squawked, “You people always say you’re just here to look, but then you come back and take whatever you can get!”

It’s the worst when someone steals from you. You feel completely violated and helpless. I said “Sir, I feel for you, and I can understand that you don’t want strangers taking your things, but I promise you I’m not the guy who did that.” I then extended my hand to his truck window to offer a handshake and I told him my name. I told him I live in Byesville, that I’m from Holloway, and again that I didn’t mean him any harm.

He shooed my hand away. Again, he told me the park was closed and that I was trespassing, that he was calling the cops and the prosecutor, and that I needed to “get the hell out.” He then informed me he was recording our conversation.

I told him that was perfectly fine by me. I again told him my name and once more tried to shake his hand, but again he shooed me away like a child.

I asked him when the park would be open and he said “Sept 6th and 7th!”

I asked, incredulously, “All this stuff is here and it’s only available to look at two days? When else is it opened in the year?”

He shook his head and again told me to get the hell out, adding, “It’s open once a year during Stumptown!”

I was shocked, honestly. Without a bit of attitude, I asked him if he thought that was the best way to have all this history remembered, but he just shooed me again and told me I better leave before the cops got there. I asked him if he thought I should just wait and talk to the cops, since I felt I had done nothing wrong, but he rolled his window up and drove back to the other end of the park again. I just shook my head and slowly made my way to my car, taking a few extra pictures on my walk—not to be a jerk, but because I couldn’t resist the history.

Small dragline bucket
Small dragline bucket.

I took a couple pictures of the small dragline bucket that sits outside the park, and made sure to get photos of the cable he had unlocked, which had no signs of any kind, just to hopefully cover my rear in case this guy wants to press the issue with the police. I hope to see him at Stumptown in two weeks and formally introduce myself, at which time I plan to offer him a donation to help with his stolen radiator. I don’t know the gentleman’s name, but I plan to try to find out and also contact the reclamation park to see how I can help preserve this old stuff. I’d love to get involved somehow.

-J

Awful Nightmares

•June 13, 2014 • 1 Comment

Last night I had a ridiculous pair of terrifying dreams.

It’s dusk and I’m at my parents’ house in Holloway and mom and I are outside in the driveway. For some reason she wanders over to the edge of the drive where the forest starts. Out of nowhere she lets out this blood curdling scream… “MARK’S COMING!!!! RUN!!!” Mark, if you didn’t already know, is my dad. What the hell?! My mom comes barreling toward me continuing to scream that we need to get in the house. I’m shocked and can’t move. I don’t see anyone. Then out of the woods comes my dad at a full sprint with a psychotic look on his face that would put the creepiest scary movie antagonist to shame. He’s running as hard as he can and as he gets closer, I can see he has a gun. Mom had run for the house, and now my only hope was to slow him down, so I try to get in his way, shouting at him to settle down and think about what’s happening. Before I can do anything, he shoots me in the throat and I collapse, bleeding profusely.

I realize mom is in danger, so I try my best to apply pressure on my throat and get myself up and inside. I can’t yell so I’m stumbling through the house looking. I come up the stairs trying to be quiet and my dad is standing outside the door to the bathroom. He isn’t moving or saying anything. His arms are at his sides. Imagine the basement scene from the Blair Witch Project. Again, I can’t speak because of my throat so I grab him from behind and pull him to the ground. He’s still holding his gun, and I’m trying to wrestle it away from him. He shoots a couple times and I finally choke him to sleep. At this point I’m going in and out of consciousness from losing so much blood, and I recognize that he and I are lying in front of the bathroom door so mom can’t open it. I somehow drag my dad away from the door and mom comes out, never saying a word, just in shock. She had the phone with her and had called 911. In my mind I picture dad getting arrested and someday getting out and coming back to kill my mom so I get the gun and tell him I love him and then I shoot him in the head! Then I woke up crying. Wow.

It took me a little over an hour to finally calm down enough to fall back asleep, and that’s when I had the second crazy dream. It’s about 3:30 a.m. and my phone rings. I see it’s my parents’ number, so my heart sinks; the only reason they would call at this time of night would be to tell me tremendously sad news. I answer, and it’s my mom, crying. I can barely understand her through the sobbing: “Jacob I love you so very much. Hug Lily for me.” Before I can say anything, I hear a gun shot! I start screaming into the phone for her to say something, but all I can hear is my dad in the distant background yelling for her and getting closer and closer as he’s yelling and running down the stairs. I hear him saying “No! No! No! No! No! Please no!!!” and I’m yelling for someone to pick up the phone. But I hear another gun shot, and then I wake up, bawling my eyes out.

Eventually I drifted to sleep again, and when I woke up this morning, it was all so fresh in my mind. What a terrible night!

Love you mom and dad!

-J

Hobby Hopping – Gateway to Relationships

•May 17, 2014 • Leave a Comment

I wish I could be one of those people who is just absolutely amazing at something.  A virtuoso.  A guru.  A phenom.  Whatever the term, the people who can call themselves the best at what they do have my utmost admiration.  I’ll never be in that position, though, because I’m all over the place when it comes to my interests.

Growing up, I used to wonder why my dad seemed to have so my unfinished projects.  He certainly had the know-how to complete all of them.  He has a building full of vintage motorcycles in various states of disrepair, and a room full of guns that he never shoots.  He’s dabbled in loads of other things as well, and they all take time.  That’s the issue: there’s never enough time for all the things he wants to do.

Much like my dad, I have never been content to pursue a single hobby.  I get heavily into one thing and then switch gears suddenly to something else.  I feel like my mind is always pulling me in various directions, and that can be frustrating.  Other than spending time with my family, my days consist of any combination of riding and reading about vintage British motorcycles, vintage enduros, and modern motorcycles, getting tattooed, playing guitars, basses, and seeking out and using effects units, following Pirates baseball, Penguins hockey, and UFC, and watching a bunch of television shows religiously.  I’m never 100% focused on any one of these things, so I’m always somewhere in the middle when it comes to my knowledge and expertise.

I used to really wish I could focus more on a single endeavor.  But is it really all it’s cracked up to be?  Variety is nice, and one great side effect of diversified interests is all the different friends and acquaintances I’ve made from all these walks of life.  The worlds of each of these areas are filled with interesting people, and I’ve been fortunate enough to meet and befriend countless characters over the years, from presidents of major corporations to old-timers set in their ways, and from all over the United States, and from all over the world as well!

My fiance used to always comment that we couldn’t go anywhere without running into someone who knew me.  I thought it was just in her mind until we drove 3 hours to Pittsburgh on a long weekend and ran into someone whose wedding I had attended years ago, and later confirmed further when an acquaintance of mine who once hired my band to play a party was on a flight I took to Las Vegas.  It seems to be less of a fluke and more of a normal reality that I know people all over the place.  And who could complain about that?

I don’t have the drive and focus to engross myself in one single hobby, but the relationships I’ve made with people over the years are worth so much more to me than that.  I hope our children share this wide spectrum of interests to they can feel the joy of meeting new people and constantly growing their experiences.  I continue to be extremely appreciative of all the opportunities I get to make new friends and share ideas.  Although I admire the level of accomplishment reached through one-minded drive and devotion, I also pity those people, because they’re missing out on the beauty of diversity.

-J

Sentimental Attachment

•May 8, 2014 • 1 Comment

We’re all in love with our hobbies… that’s what makes them hobbies!  We gather with like-minded enthusiasts and share the passion we have with them in a way that makes us feel alive.  As collectors, we remember the immeasurable time it took us to amass our possessions.  We might fondly recall the fun it was to acquire one item, or the dreadful misery overcome to secure another.  Sometimes the people around us become enamored with our interests as well, but more often than not, our families simply don’t see what we see.  And there’s a good chance our parents, aunts or uncles, or grandparents had hobbies we didn’t particularly fall in love with.

Someone on the BSA page I follow posted an old motorcycle that belonged to his dad and offered to sell it. Everyone’s reaction on the page was encouraging the person to keep the bike for its sentimental value and warning him not to sell it because he would regret it. The bike in question is probably worth between the mid teens and $20k, maybe more.

A beautiful BSA B33 Pre-Unit

This got me thinking about all the different hobbies we have and the differing interests we pursue.  My grandfather on my mom’s side was heavily into fishing.  He had two boats, boat motors, a ridiculous collection of fishing poles and lures, a bunch of fishing magazines and books, and a fair amount of antique fishing-related items.  In his later years, fishing was a huge part of his life, and for me, that was the only George Lancaster I ever knew.  When he passed away, I was just 7 years old, and I remember feeling extremely betrayed when the decision was made by the family to sell all of his fishing stuff and one of his boats.  I felt like these things WERE my grandpa.  As years went by, though, I realized that no one in the family was as crazy about fishing as he had been, and that it made sense not to hold on to all that stuff.

My dad is a big-time motorcycle guy.  He’s the whole reason I ride, and the reason I have so much interest in vintage bikes.  My inheritance of bikes, parts, and specialty tools from him some day will be appreciated, and I will cherish those things.  But my dad is also a collector of firearms, and though I am marginally interested in guns, most of his collection of old WWI and WWII rifles does not appeal to me or my sister.  He’s also been a collector (or accumulator) of welders, lathes, and countless other machines and tools from his years of working as a machinist and welder.  Those items are as close to the essence of my dad as any others.  His honesty, work ethic, and willingness to roll up his sleeves and get his hands dirty defined him.  But when he’s gone, no one in my family will have a need for all those things.  If the sale of those possessions could give his children or grandchildren a better life, he would want that.  After all, what are we supposed to do with a 20-foot, hundred-year-old lathe?  I don’t foresee starting a machine shop any time soon.

That’s not to say I don’t appreciate my father’s belongings.  To the contrary, I have amazing memories of watching him fabricate on these very machines.  I’ve seen my dad make something out of nothing so many times it hurts my brain.  I wish I had an ounce of his mechanical know-how and ingenuity.  Whenever anyone makes mention of my dad’s knowledge, he’s never boastful or proud.  Earnestly, he always replies “I know just enough to be dangerous.”  That’s quintessentially Mark Mackey Foster.  But I don’t need a lathe to remind me he could use one.

My dad on a ’71 Bonneville he built.

One of my greatest fears as a father is someday passing away and having my children keep items that belonged to me but mean next to nothing to them.  I’d much rather they sell my things to buy what they’re into.

If you have something you’re holding on to just because someone else loved it, you’re doing yourself (and them) a disservice; your memories won’t disappear just because that item’s not around. Chances are good that your loved one would’ve wanted you to have something else YOU want, and for his or her beloved possession to find the hands of someone who might appreciate it as much as he or she did.

If I die tomorrow and my family wants to keep my guitars and motorcycles to use them, that would be great. But if they need money and aren’t going to use them, by all means, contact people who know about these items and get as much as you can for them. I won’t be needing them! It’s a great way for someone to posthumously help his or her family out financially, which is one more fond memory to add to the collection!

-J

I Had It Good: Falling In Love With Riding

•February 26, 2014 • 2 Comments

Looking back, I was as lucky a kid as there may have ever been, because I enjoyed a fulfilling life jam-packed with camping, exploration, travel, and all-around excitement.  But as a kid, I lacked the maturity to recognize my fortunate lot and often felt disappointed by my family’s modest income and my list of possessions, which consisted primarily of hand-me-downs and yard sale finds.  While all my friends were getting new bicycles, my first bike had belonged to a cousin, and then my next one came from a flea market.  My clothes were never hip or cool.  I didn’t get the fancy backpack or the expensive shoes.  I got the cool toys the following year once they had hit the clearance shelves.  And my first dirt bike had been my uncle’s, passed down to me by my grandpa.

That gold 1970 Honda Trail 70 was an absolute blast; you all know the one—guaranteed you all had one, or knew someone who did.  I bet I put a thousand miles on that thing in the summer of ‘94.  I might as well have been Fonda, or the Fonz.  But something strange happened later when I began riding it with the other kids from my town.

One of my friends had a much newer RM80, and his little brother had a similar RM60.  Their dad rode a brand new RM250—no kickstand!  I thought for sure he must be a racer.  Another boy in town had a CR125, and a high school kid who had just moved to town had a beautiful YZ125 that absolutely screamed.  We all rode together, and I felt embarrassed by my little 70.  I started picking it apart, noting that the grips were nothing like the pillow tops on all the other bikes.  The right slightly rusty chrome handlebar was bent in a bit, and the steel fenders had some rust on them, and some dings.

I’m a big guy—nowadays, 6’5”, somewhere north of 320 lbs—and I was still riding that little 70 when I was 14.  I felt like a polar bear on a tricycle, and I felt ashamed of all the “old” features on the bike.  “It doesn’t even have a clutch,” I remember saying to my parents in a plea to convince them that I needed a different bike.  I attempted to mask my desire for a newer bike with the reasonable claim that I really just needed a bigger bike.

My parents, though they never had much money, always provided for me.  I always got straight A’s, which my mother absolutely loved, and I was a well-behaved kid.  My mom especially made sure that I always had everything I needed, and tried to give me as much of what I wanted as she could.  They couldn’t afford to buy me a new bike, of course, so they started looking around for something used.  I remember going to look at an old Kawasaki 100 street bike of some kind.  It needed a lot of work, and it wasn’t much to look at.  But I remember begging my dad for it.  All I knew was that it was bigger than my 70.  He thought better of it, and held off.

My friend Shawn with the RM80 had an uncle who would ride with us sometimes, and he had an IT400.  What a bike!  I used to get so giddy when we’d stop for a rest and I had a chance to look at that thing.  What a beautiful machine.  As fate would have it, Shawn’s dad was looking for a bigger bike for Shawn around the same time I was.  He stumbled upon a good deal on a couple bikes, and offered to let Shawn pick which one he wanted.  He chose a fairly new DR200, excited about the convenience of not mixing fuel.  Shawn’s dad knew we were looking for a bike, so he called and invited us to look at the other one.

My jaw dropped and I almost passed out when we walked into Pete’s garage and I saw the 1978 IT250.  The glorious plastic fenders, side plates, and gas tank absolutely screamed “MODERN!” and that mono shock setup was outstanding.  The bike was huge, and I knew at that moment that I couldn’t leave that garage unless that bike came with me.  Pete was asking $500, but he offered it to us for $400 and my dad could see how lit up I was.  He asked if I wanted to ride it the quarter mile or so back to our house, and I couldn’t get on fast enough.  I had never operated a clutch before, and the 1-down-5-up shift pattern was drastically different than the 3-down Trail 70, but nothing short of a lightning bolt was going to stop me from riding that beautiful creature.  I tried shifting down into 2nd gear about 15 times on my way out of the driveway before I realized I needed to shift up.  It was perfect from then on.

I had graduated from the kid on the tiny, old mini bike struggling to keep up with the pack to the kid with the best bike in town (in my opinion).  Aside from a frayed throttle cable and a flat tire, that bike never let me down in the years I had it.  Kevin’s YZ125 had blown up while he was doing some hill-climbing, the CR125 down the street was constantly in disrepair, and Shawn’s DR200 was never very impressive.  My IT was the fastest off-road bike I’ve ever ridden to this day, and it was damn reliable.

I grew up in the Ohio Valley—coal country.  In any direction, I could hit a gravel road and trek anywhere I wanted.  Some of the places I found on that 78 Yamaha were breathtaking, and many of them don’t even exist any more, because much of the land I explored was later strip mined.  Once I had that bike, I felt like I was on top of the world, and that notion was strengthened when I parked atop some of the foothills of the Appalachians.

Much like the end of Stand By Me, though, things changed.  My friends discovered girls, got jobs, and all but abandoned off-road riding.  When I was 16, I started driving, got my first pickup truck, and rarely rode the IT.  I sold it for $400 to buy my first bass guitar (to impress some girl; she was unimpressed), and the kid who ended up with it spray-painted it the ugliest black I’ve ever seen and promptly blew it up.  I don’t know if he ever tried to rebuild it, but it was a shame the way things unfolded.  I still have the Trail 70, and I hope my kids will eventually be interested in it.  Maybe one of them will find an old IT of their own, or maybe they’ll pry my DT out of my hands.  Whatever they fall in love with, I hope I can give them half the childhood my parents gave me.

-J