Gear head. A term affectionately coined amongst my friends, and possibly amongst yours as well, to describe someone who is into the inner workings of something. They are fascinated by the technical aspects. They want to know how it works and they ask “why” it works. They were the kids that tore their transistor radios apart. My dad was a gear head. He had a shop and I mean it was THE SHOP. There was nearly every tool known to mankind in there. If the tool didn’t exist that he needed, he would fabricate it himself. He grew up on a farm where you fixed things if at all possible, he then became a machinist in the army, then a pilot, moving on to an engineer for the US government where he was allowed to invent things for them when it was needed and it didn’t exist. From a young age I was in THE SHOP. I learned how to drive nails, work the band saw, weld, solder, and was the assistant to many a machine being repaired. At the time I don’t think I appreciated all of it but in later years it has come in handy and saved me a lot of money. When the blender doesn’t work in our house, I open it up. Printer on the fritz, I pull the cartridges out and start diagnosing. Sometimes I find the problem and sometimes I have to concede to the professionals to solve it. But I give it a go and about 90% of the time I can figure it out. As my dad taught me…. look for the obvious first. Usually its a wire out of place or a lack of oil, or something has slipped off track.
I’ve been blessed to marry a contractor so much of the driving of nails and wood work has fallen to his expertise but I am still the one who installs the modems and fixes the small machines that don’t work.
On a recent visit to my dad’s farm, my dad gave me a very large machine. His beloved 1966 Honda S90. It is a beauty. Clean, simple, purposeful. Transcendent of time. It’s beautiful and it works really well. Everything on it, is where it naturally feels “right”. It’s easy to use and self explanatory. This is a fine example of good industrial design.
I’ve been riding on the back of this bike since I was 4 or 5 and could barely reach the back pegs. I had my favorite riding outfit at that time which consisted of a bright orange poncho and white go-go boots. I’m not sure if I can top that now but I’ll have to look into this.
So the motorcycle wasn’t working and dad and I went out to the shop and we worked on it. Back to our usual roles. “Can you hand me the straight slot, get me the meter, I need a rag.” I quickly found whatever item was needed as my dad explained what he was doing. We went through the usual paces and he checked what he thought would be the most likely suspect of why it wouldn’t start. We filed the points, checked the battery, pulled the spark plug and tested it. The list went on and each time it led to a dead end. Frustrated, my dad was getting tired. He is 76 now and pulling apart a motorcycle in the summer heat is no longer his idea of a good time. I interjected that maybe it would be best if we took it to the motorcycle mechanic. I knew that the local mechanic, who I heard was quite good, could probably find the problem. If dad tinkered with it long enough he could probably find the problem but it might need a part that we didn’t have on hand. Plus I knew he was getting weary. I suggested a trip to Cascade motorcycle and then a final stop at the local Dairy Queen for a cone. That got him.
We took it down to the repair shop and the owner, Dave, came out. He had been working on motorcycles since he was 14. Definitely a gear head. He had owned this small shop since 1987. Dave told us stories of other vintage bikes that have been brought in to his shop. Many in much more advanced forms of disrepair then my bike. He had to have at least 75 bikes queued up in front of his shop doors. When I asked him about this he told me that, unfortunately, people can’t always afford the fix when they find out how much its going to cost and they ask him to allow them to make payments towards the repair. So he patiently holds the bikes and has to roll them in and out of the repair bays each morning and night. He told my dad and I that it takes him about 45 minutes each day to one by one, roll the bikes out into the yard and then roll them all back into the shop at night to be locked up. This man is a saint. A non-productive saint, but a saint nonetheless. to hold those bikes for these people as they work their way towards final payment, is an act that only a man committed to his cause could do.
He rolled my bike in and within a couple of days it was repaired and ready for riding. My dad sent me this picture of it out by the barn after he had taken it for a spin. I know he is sad to see it go but I think it helps when he sees my own daughter riding behind me as we cruise through the field.
I had to return to Seattle while it was being repaired but Ill be going back down next week to Oregon to pick it up. I’ve been doing my research on the bike and I’ll be getting my full tutorial from dad when I arrive. I’ll need to know how to service this large machine. I’m sure I’ll have to buy a few more tools for the job. I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. An official gear head in training.
Photos courtesy of MidAmerica auctions and Ian Britton.