- This is from the "magnum opus", Dad's memoir of his life up to middle age.
This Chapter is not, strictly speaking, only about motor cycles but they had a significant effect on my life and it is difficult to cover all the details in a logical fashion without missing out some important facts. I should first like to 'flash back' to the first machine that I bought, a Triumph 3T, a 35Occ twin cylinder OHV machine which was offered by the two Freeman brothers, Fred and Frank, of Hammersmith who ran what was considered to be the best motor cycle shop in West London. I had almost ignored friends and colleagues who described how to ride and this was just as well owing to the fact that the Triumph gear change is upside down in comparison with other makes. After five minutes of Frank's instruction I set off across Hammersmith Bridge and was amazed to find myself travelling at 45 mph. Within about two weeks I had my first accident. An International Stores van in front of me pulled over to the right with no signal to be seen. I assumed that it was turning right and moved up its nearside. The van turned sharp left and we collided. The driver subsequently switched her ignition 'ON' and the left trafficator started. Quick thinking, which taught me a lesson of which feminists would never approve.
My next milestone was to pass the test. I took advice from Alan (the Architect) who owned a BSA C10, a 250cc single cylinder side valve machine. He advised me to give plenty of hand signals. As a consequence of his detailed instruction I signalled my intention to slow down and then to turn at every junction. The examiner quite rightly failed this arm waiving dervish and I hesitate to think what the rush hour drivers in Acton must have thought.
My second test proved to be a copy book demonstration of how to ride a motor cycle. One of the Highway Code questions was: "How would you turn a corner?" Ready for a trick question I gave, as my answer:
- "Decide on your course
- Look behind you
- Give the appropriate signal
- Slow down and select the correct gear
- Position yourself in the appropriate part of the road and
- When it is clear and safe to do so,
- Make the correct turn, giving way to other traffic and pedestrians."
I passed myself with flying colours but the idiot Examiner thought otherwise, as the ensuing conversation revealed.
- Examiner: "You don't look behind often enough."
- Expert: "I look behind before I make any manoeuvre."
- Examiner: "That's not enough. You should know more about the traffic behind than you do about the traffic in front."
- Expert: "********"
At which point I drove purposefully away. My third test was something of a record. The Examiner asked me if I had been tested before. I could see no advantage in not being honest and replied that I had. He asked me why I had not passed and I told him the whole story. He said: "Drive up this road, turn right, turn right, and then turn right again. When you come back on to this road, pull up outside the Test Centre." I followed his instructions and, as I pulled up he asked me just one Highway Code question:
- Q: "What is the road sign for a school?"
- A: "A flaming torch." (This was the correct answer at that time.)
He produced a Certificate of Competency to Drive, shook hands and was gone. The point could have been made more forceably but I suspect that the offending examiner didn't last long.
My first motor cycling tour had a rather dismal start and I waited for about an hour, hoping that the rain would stop. In the end, I decided to get away from London in the hope that the weather would clear. As I drove over a hill in Surrey I ran short of petrol but was able to roll to the bottom of the hill, where there was a filling station. Just then the sun came out and the next time that I saw any sign of rain was at Minehead. I saw a scene that I wanted to photograph but the light was failing and so the next morning I went back about a mile or so. On the way back towards Minehead I passed over about 100 yards of wet road that could only have been caused by rain. The rest of the tour was in good weather.
I had two early brushes with the law. The first was in Fulham Palace Road where I was timed by two Officers in plain clothes. I wrote to the Court that I was hurrying to the Labour Exchange following six weeks unemployment, was pleased to say that I had got the job and begged the mercy of the Court. I was fined 5 shillings (25p).
Six months later, 'Tommy' had had an accident and was in hospital. I was keeping both machines in running order. At about 7.30 one morning on 'Tommy's' machine, I was riding along Castlenau, towards Hammersmith. I would not have been there but the clocks had been put forward. In order to make sure that I wasn't late, Marjorie had put the clock on, not realising that I had already done so. Having an hour to spare I rode over Putney Bridge, across Putney Heath, Barnes Common and back over Hammersmith Bridge. I did not exceed the speed limit at any time and was following a 'bus when I was stopped by a Police car. The two constables who alighted, inspected the motor cycle, and its rider. They thought that I was a novice as the machine had 'L' plates fitted and I was wearing an old Army greatcoat. They said that the speedometer was faulty as it was still indicating 1O mph. I gave them a short(ish) lecture on the chronometric instrument, including a demonstration of its ability to zero when not suddenly stopped by a Police car, causing the back wheel to lock at 1O mph. I objected to the tyres being kicked and their general tone. I think that one of the pair was newly appointed and, to give him some experience, the other left him to charge me with speeding. On my day in Court, a lorry driver who had overtaken in Putney, exceeding 30 mph to do so was then followed to Twickenham with no further offence. In view of his good driving throughout that journey and having had no previous convictions, the Magistrate fined him a 'nominal' £3. I could hear the prison gates being slammed and so decided to 'have a go'. The constable gave evidence about an offence being committed at 8.30 am. I denied the charge, saying that I could produce proof by way of my 'clock card' of the fact that I was in Temperature Limited at that time. There was a hasty consultation of notebooks and the charge was then repeated with the time corrected. I described the events in detail and, by the time that I had finished, the constable was blushing and hopping from foot to foot. I pointed this out to the Magistrate and said that I felt that it would be unwise to accept his evidence rather than mine. The Magistrate said: "In view of the unusual nature of the evidence I will only fine you 10 shillings (50p)". A clear case of a miscarriage of justice.
I was so incensed by the case that I considered an appeal. As a first step I went to see Michael Stewart, our local MP. He said that an appeal could be expensive, may be lost and might have no real effect. He suggested leaving it to him to raise with the Home Secretary. A watch would then be kept on the administration of justice at Mortlake Court for six months. We had a chat about his election campaign during which I had taken a photograph in Wandsworth Bridge Road. The Conservative Committee Room was a shop and the first floor resident, supporting Michael Stewart, had allowed a banner across the whole width of the premises reading:
- "KEEP LABOUR ON TOP"
The second long tour which I did was with Alan. We decided to go to Scotland and toured up the West coast to the Great Glen Cattle Ranch, across to Edinburgh and home via Liverpool. We took camping gear and we agreed, after the tour, that we could tell when we had entered Scotland because the attitude of people changed entirely. South of the border we had difficulty finding places to camp. Once over the border we could not persuade farmers to let us pitch our tent in a field but would always be offered a barn. There was one stipulation: "No cooking in the barn". In view of the fire risk this was perfectly understandable and in view of the usual offer of supper and breakfast was very willingly obeyed. We always offered to pay, usually rebuffed except on one occasion following a substantial supper and cooked breakfast with most of the evening spent in the farmhouse and a most comfortable night in a hay barn when the good lady said: "Will half-a-crown (121/2p) each be alright?" We agreed that it would not be alright, gave her double the amount and agreed that it had been worth every penny. I took dozens of unidentifiable photographs and was enthralled by the fact that cattle are 'ranched'. The only slight blot was that we arrived after eight weeks of drought. The farmers were delighted to see the rain which marked the end of the period when cattle had been dying out on the range. However, getting soaked and dry three or four times a day was not really a problem during a hot summer. Alan's BSA C10 was a nuisance because it seized fairly often. This meant that an hour's ride could only be achieved on level roads or downhill. My only problem was that when a Scottish Omnibus Company 'bus overtook a lorry between Shap and Kendall it only left 9 inches of road for me. The collision resulted in the front forks being jammed 'down' for the rest of the journey home and I can assure you that riding a 'rigid' motor cycle is not comfortable. That portion of the journey through Liverpool's cobbled streets was sheer agony because I had been well and truly bruised during the accident.
Having purchased the Speed Twin I decided to refurbish it. I stripped it down and this was really thorough, including removal of spokes from the wheels. The engine was also stripped down, ignoring advice that the flywheel assembly might create problems. The frame, rear mudguard, petrol tank, oil tank,headlamp shell and front fork casings were all shot blasted to ensure thorough de-rusting. This work was done at the Rover Service Depot in Fulham, a previous employer of 'Ernie'. Some thin sections were revealed in the petrol tank and I 'tinned' these with silver solder. While the tank was being treated in this way I introduced a refrigeration unit 'sight glass'. This allowed light to shine from the instrument panel on the tank into the tank at night. The sections of 'body work' were then re-sprayed by a local stove enamel works, the chosen colour being black and not the original Triumph colour of amaranthe. I chose to replace the front mudguard with one of BSA 'Gold Flash' type because I felt that it was a better design.
I had a detailed discussion with Weldandgrind, a Wandsworth company whose name saves on explanation. They contracted to do work on the motor cycles of the three 'W' speedway teams, Wembley, West Ham and Wimbledon.. The norm had been to renew the cylinder bores by either re-boring or re-sleeving on an annual basis, it being not unusual for an engine to fail in less than a season. Weldandgrind had therefore developed a technique for chrome bores. In order to avoid the complete scavenging of oil that would otherwise occur with scraping of a piston ring on a chrome surface, they introduced a helical row of holes in the chrome surface to hold oil so that each ring passed oil during each stroke. This sounded so radical that I was reluctant to use their services. However, I was then told that the 'W' machines had all been running for three seasons and showed no signs of failure. When it was then explained that the cost would be almost exactly double that of a brand new cylinder block I almost went for that option. However, I decided to have the work done. The process involved boring out to clear the .O65 inch of wear (no wonder that it rattled), followed by sleeving back to standard. The bore was then taken out to +.O1O and chrome plated back to standard. Finally, a sleeve with a helical line of holes was inserted, the polarity reversed and thus the plating removed, leaving the oil holes in the plating when the sleeve was removed. Weldandgrind also re-plated the white metal bearings. Other plating was done at the Tewkesbury Plating works in Gloucestershire because that was the only place I could find who apply .O1O inch of 'Diamond Hard' chrome to exhaust pipes. These were guaranteed not to discolour in service. They insisted on brand new pipes and, compared with the usual decorative finish of .OOO5 inch it is not surprising that their finish was superior. Other plating by them was also thicker than decorative finishes and was all clearly superior. The cost was a secondary consideration, the exhaust pipes, for example, costing far more to plate than the price of the original pipes.
Where this was warranted I replaced the wheel spokes, otherwise they were re-used. Each wheel was balanced by fitting two clamps to prevent tyre 'creep'.
The generator was upgraded from 36 to 6O watts and the cables were re- routed out of sight by using, for example, multi-cored cables fed via holes in the centre of the handlebar and out at the two switches, at either end so that all the operations of lights, horn etc could be controlled with both hands on the bar. Another simple electrical device was the fitting of two push 'ON' pull 'OFF' switches. One of these cut off the battery so that children could not irritate neighbours by sounding the horn or irritate me by flattening the battery and the other 'short circuited' the magneto so that the motor cycle was unlikely to be stolen. The usual arrangements of crankcase and primary chain case breathers irritated me because it seemed to be bad design to simply allow oil, however small the quantity, to drip on the road in front of the rear wheel. I diverted these to the air intake to lubricate the car- burettor.
Lubrication of the steering head was no different from a bicycle, the ball races being oiled or greased when they are stripped, with almost 'pot luck' lubrication at other times. I sealed the front tube of the frame by inserting a short length of aluminium alloy tube. I then fitted a grease nipple so that when the grease gun was applied, there was evidence of grease being loaded into both races. There were some cosmetic touches such as a chrome windtone horn (ex LCC Ambulance), on top of the front mudguard, white lining of the petrol tank and extra instruments in the tank-top panel. I included vacuum gauge, ammeter and oil pressure gauge. The final drive gear was increased in size by a small margin (2 teeth) and having re-assembled the machine it was ready to be carried down to street level by 'Ernie' and me (a dead of night job). It was then given the finishing touches for the road.
The great day dawned and I set off over the Cromwell Road Bridge. I have never, but never, experienced such total disappointment in my life. There was virtually no power from the engine and it was as 'lumpy' as it could possibly be. I sat down to give some thought to the likely cause and, in an optimistic moment, it occurred to me that a low friction engine might not need as much fuel. I fitted the smallest available main jet, dropped the needle to its lowest position and fitted an air slide having the smallest cut-away.
It is impossible to describe the difference. A colleague at Smiths calibrated the speedometer to match the over-size rear tyre and also because I wanted a fair idea of my true speed. The top speed was 'over the ton' and on a 1700 mile tour of Ireland, with 'two up' and a fortnight's luggage it averaged 79 mpg. Details of individual journeys might prove boring but we made a 160 mile journey in two and a quarter hours. Once the Motorway was opened there was a real chance to show off the performance. I once had some grit in the carburettor and it was necessary to close the throttle quite frequently to allow the grit to settle. The average speed from Nottingham to Fulham was 82 mph. One of my colleagues had a BSA 650cc 'Gold Flash' and when three of us went out together while I had the 350cc Triumph, he took the passenger and I was then easily able to keep up with him. One day after the machine had been 'run in', a process over which I took 2,000 miles, 'Julie' (who was my girl friend at the time) and I were driving along Western Avenue and had stopped at Traffic Lights. A 'Gold Flash' pulled up alongside and the rider looked at our machine and sneered. I think that he assumed that it was a 3T because of the colour scheme. When the lights changed he began to show off his acceleration. I drove alongside as we wound up through the gears. When he reached 85 mph, I looked at him, as much as to say, "Is that it?" and thoroughly enjoyed his reaction as I made a clutchless change up to top and drove away.
Some years earlier I had hopes regarding a local girl, who eventually married 'Bert Bighead' (I never knew him by any other name) who owned a brand new 'Speed Twin'. He said that it rattled but it sounded perfectly alright to me. However, I agreed to go to the Triumph works at Meriden with him and the expert ear of the Service Manager, StJohn Masters, detected the offending noise, ordered the cam followers to be changed for the new type which had stellite tips and 'Bighead' was satisfied. The whole operation was completed in such a short time that we were amazed. Before we left, the great man inspected the machine, noticed a small scratch on the front mudguard and, while it was being replaced told us he advised the clutchless change from third to top. The technique was to apply upward pressure on the gear lever and then simply 'snap' the throttle closed and then open and drive on in top gear. It took a bit of courage the first time but after that it became routine and was certainly impressive.
Another experience worth noting was that somebody wanted to sell me a Douglas 350cc Horizontally opposed Twin. This was under-powered and over- geared so that it would accelerate up to 65 mph in third gear and, in top, would then slow down to 60 mph. An even bigger disadvantage was that its stability was in question so that, after only one journey, during which I felt myself to be in grave danger, I gave it back. While we were still at Temperature Limited together, the bug bit 'Tommy' and he liked the 3T which is why he bought one, as did Peter, an old friend of his.
Accidents were a regular nuisance but I never suffered serious injury and in spite of many long and/or fast journeys with 'Julie' aboard, in wet weather and in fine, we never came to grief together. My accident toll was about 15, ranging from falling asleep between Rhayader and Aberystwyth only to wake unhurt in a field and colliding with a number 52 'bus that pulled across Ladbroke Grove quite suddenly. The witnesses were excellent but the only comment made by the driver was: "You oughter know the 52 'buses turn ere."
Two accidents were interesting in their cancelling effect. One morning I was riding down North End Road when a man who was standing at a 'bus stop signalled vigourously and I braked firmly. The motor cycle went out of control, turned and slid down the road backwards and came to a halt in a fairly undignified way. The man said that he was just warning me that there was ice on the road. If he had done nothing I should have passed over the icy patch without anything happening because there was only a short stretch of road with no services under it that used to ice up. The machine felt odd and it was obvious that the steering was affected. The usual cure was to slacken everything, 'pump' the forks down fully a few times and then re-tighten. Two weeks later, I had still not made the adjustment and was driving up to Windmill Street where I was helping 'Chris' to do some shopfitting work. A car shot out of a side road and I hit it. His rear wing was pushed in and it looked very expensive. The car was a brand new Wolseley. The driver signed a statement that he was entirely to blame and, as he drove away, his car made the most dreadful 'graunching' noises. When I continued on my way along Piccadilly the machine felt decidedly different. I then realised that the frontal impact had merely re-aligned the forks.
One morning I was driving up to Park Street and had just changed up into top gear when I saw a helmet which I recognised, the owner being at the side of the road. I immediately braked very firmly and ground to a halt alongside. When I enquired about his obvious problem he said: "I just came off on the ice." There were some tiny patches of ice on the road and, being a scooter rider, his wheels were of small diameter.
The 'Chapman Triumph' gave excellent service. At the end of the first year, I had driven 27,000 miles and so removed the cylinder head and inspected the rocker gear etc. The graphite grease which I had applied to the spindles had been 'topped up' by the additive in the oil (Atcheson's Colloidal Graphite and the engine looked to be in superb condition so I simply re-assembled it and carried on.
I mentioned that we toured Ireland. We did have a problem en-route A rear wheel bearing fell in due to the collapse of a retaining ring. I drove up to the cliffs at Holyhead and a caravan resident at the Air Sea Rescue Station lent me a 'junior' hacksaw and a pair of pliers. I cut a length of galvanised wire from a fence and formed a ring which I fitted to retain the bearing. When we got to Ireland we kept a 'look-out' for a triumph agent but never did find one and so the wire ring served its purpose until I sold the machine.
Memories of Ireland are many and mostly happy. Seeing a Policeman armed with a Sten gun held at the ready outside the Post Office in Londonderry had me doing an elaborate coughing routine in case the engine back fired and caused him to turn the sten on me. This was an exception, amazing to think that this was in the 195O's. The porter at our 4 star hotel in Portrush who sombrely carried the pannier boxes from the motor cycle, which was parked in between limousines, followed by black plastic suited motor cyclists gave us a joyful moment. The luxury of eating in the Silver Grill in Dublin where the number of courses was exceeded only by the number of waiters per table. Then there was the hotel manager who convinced us that the salmon was caught fresh that day from the passing river. Guinness Brewery in Dublin where I enjoyed two glasses of Stout ('Julie's' and mine) having vowed not to risk it again after I once had a glass in London on Doctor's orders. Delicious! And so hard to believe that the water makes all the difference. Kissing the Blarney Stone. (One has to hang upside down over a 1OO foot drop - honestly). The Waterford Crystal Glass Works and the woman there who had obviously been to Blarney before us and assured us that all the glass ware was: "Par excellence".
The scenery was spectacular and although the weather was not perfect, we had enough sunny days to make it the great pleasure that it was. Having carefully avoided Irish jokes I must include what seemed to us to be a standard policy. The roads were being improved and the process was that the edge of the verge was cut away with long handled shovels, the spoil being thrown into the pot holes and 'patted' in.Passing vehicles promptly scattered it again and it was than patiently returned. How many times this operation was repeated is a mystery but it kept a large labour force busy. Lorry loads of scree were being removed from the land to improve its quality and these were tipped onto the road. There were no signs indicating "ROAD WORKS" and it was not unusual for a 5 mile stretch of road to be worked on over its full width. 5 miles of scree on a motor cycle can be wearing. Presumably the traffic crushed the scree and a tarring vehicle than spread tar over the entire surface. A thick layer of grit, again quite a thrilling ride, was then spread and again the traffic did its job. When the surplus grit was finally swept it left a widened road, having an excellent surface. I think that the methods used by their Countrymen on the mainland are superior.
The cost of vehicles has increased enormously in the forty intervening years but it may help to note that, having paid £96 for the machine, I then spent £70 on it, a total of £166. An alternative would have been to but a brand new Speed Twin for £260. It served us for 8 years after refurbishment without any real problem and I am quite sure that the machine owes me nothing.
I decided that motor cycling and fatherhood don't mix and when we were expecting our first, Guy, the machine had to go. that was in 1963 and I last saw it in 1973. I enquired how much wear had taken place in the bores and Weldandgrind would be delighted to hear that there appeared to be none. The Tewkesbury Plating Company would also be delighted to hear that the exhaust pipes still gleamed. The galvanised steel ring was still doing its job and holding the rear wheel bearing in place.