23 May 2014

My First Motorcycle, Part 1

Responding to my call for guest blog posts, Jay P., whose essays placed first or runner-up in this blog's writing contests, submitted a version of an essay he wrote that appeared in BMW Owners News. Jay's guest post is another example of his prize-winning writing. Given its length, I'll split the post between today and next Tuesday.

Oshkosh, Wisconsin, first famous for sawmills, later for blue jeans (B’gosh), now for airplanes (Experimental Aircraft Association), is a city in two halves in a couple ways. It’s bisected by the Fox River into fairly equal North and South geography. This division also produced a once vibrant social disparity with the North populated by the “haves” and the South being the “wish we hads.” This rivalry was so significant early on that two names were proposed: Athens, for the North, and Brooklyn, for the South. That never became official.

The North side had Main Street, the upscale shopping district, with banks, movie theaters, hotels and a fairly well known opera house. The South side had a mini Main Street called Oregon, with its own movie theaters, no live performance facility, but Southside branches of the public library and First National Bank, which were sort of half-scale reproductions of their parent edifices.

An amazing place to young boys like me on the real Main Street was Vern’s Cycle Center, a seeming palace of Schwinn Bicycles. It was a long narrow store. Entering the front door, there was a distinctive odor of tires and bicycle grease. Arrayed ahead was a narrow aisle flanked by all models of Schwinns. These were parked closely together on either side and generally placed on the right or left according to gender of the lucky prospective rider.

Hung on the showroom walls high above the two rows of bikes were bunches of tires on long hooks and also a couple rare and exotic Schwinn Paramount racing bicycles, unobtainably high placed and high priced. At that time, before “10 speeds,” I was not sure who would want such bikes as Paramounts. They had a frail looking diamond-shaped frame, skinny tires and drooping handlebars, but as the name suggested, they were the very best Schwinns. Vern’s was an impressive place to a 12 year old--from the Southside.

National Cycle and Repair, located on the
south side of Oshkosh, was the city’s only
Harley-Davidson motorcycle dealer.
As with Main Street and the library, Southern Oshkosh had its own version of a Schwinn dealer. This was a smallish shop, with maybe a half dozen bicycles at any one time, called National Cycle and Repair. The scant Schwinn selection was not such a problem, however, because this was also the city’s only Harley-Davidson motorcycle dealer. We had the Northsiders on that account. If you went there to look at the Schwinns, you might get to sit on a Harley!

Joe, the proprietor of National Cycle
and Repair, was one of the first
Harley-Davidson dealers in the state.
The aroma of this establishment was tires and grease mixed with gas, oil and leather. Joe was the proprietor, and since 1929, one of the first Harley dealers in the state where they were devised and manufactured. He was a good guy, often sporting a partial, unlit cigar and unconcerned about maintaining an impressive looking dealership.

The showroom was about 20 feet by 20 feet with a hardwood floor that creaked like old wooden floors do. It was like a converted living room housing a single row of three or four Harleys next to as many Schwinns. About six feet ahead of the front tires were glass display cases with a jumble of cool accessories, license plate reflector jewels and American Motorcyclist Association and Harley hats and pins. A large open double doorway on the other side of the room revealed the repair shop area where Joe, by himself, fixed motorcycles ‘til the early morning.

There were no signs restricting the shop area to only the most authorized of employees. Anyone could walk back to converse with Joe or just look and marvel at how he got the job done on work benches piled high with pistons, gears, wrenches, wires and whatever the last broken motorcycle, or one five years ago, left behind. Joe’s adult son Arden had a separate workbench. He was in charge of the Schwinns. Joe’s family lived upstairs.

Jay’s essay will continue next Tuesday. I hope you’ll be back. Thanks for stopping by.

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