Motorcycling is a genetic thread running through my family’s history.
Grandfather Lawrence “Goofy” Scott delivered moonshine during Prohibition on a 1920 Harley Model J, bragging he could ride standing on the seat with both arms extended horizontally for balance — with the throttle tied off.
He earned the nickname “Goofy” after a teacher slapped him for disobedience and he made a face that cracked up the class, even the teacher.
He somehow didn’t graduate from high school after “accidentally” dropping a quart jar of skunk oil on the marble floor in front of the principal’s office.
A gifted mechanic, he was assigned to building tanks at R. G. LeTourneau’s (predecessor to Caterpillar) in Peoria, Illinois during WWII.
My dad – a tenant farmer – wasn’t long on cash, so my brother and I grew up in the 1960s riding inexpensive motorcycles, mostly Japanese. Our first ride was a Sears Benelli, followed by a 200cc Triumph Tiger Cub, a 305 Honda Dream, a chrome-tank Hodaka Ace 100, and a Yamaha RD 350 that easily burned down rich kids’ hot rods in the quarter-mile.
One day it overheated and started dieseling while parked and dad pulled the gas line as the tachometer pegged out at 13,000 RPM.
Covering our heads with our arms, we knew it would fly apart, but it hung together. If a motorcycle ever overheats and begins to diesel (exploding the carbureted gasoline without the need of a spark), simply cover the exhaust with a gloved hand. My cousin Tom, a trials-bike enthusiast, and life-long motorcycle mechanic taught me this nifty trick.
Brother Jim and I wore out more bikes than I can recall – there was a shed stuffed full of broken frames and parts when I left for college – but our pride was a single-cylinder 1967 Ducati 350 Sebring that handled better than anything I’d ever ridden before. That classic would bring nearly $10,000 today.
Jim’s rare 1966 250cc Ducati Scrambler is now on view at the Wheels O’Time Museum in Peoria, Illinois. Our Cousin Greg completely rebuilt, restored, and donated it for a “perpetual” display.
Fast forward five decades and I’m now riding a 2011 Can-Am Spyder while my son Andrew pilots a 2006 R1200 BMW GS.
Rode one myself for ten years and still consider it the best motorcycle I ever possessed, especially for long-distance two-up riding.
The 1200 GS will go virtually anywhere, and I was dumb enough to try that idea. Luckily, my lonely corpse isn’t rotting unattended on a mountainous fire road in the middle of the Cherokee National Forest where I almost bit the dust two decades ago. Happily, my son is a firefighter and trained in accident avoidance, and smart enough to learn from another’s experience.
We’ve talked about visiting the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum for years, and we recently rode through the pine tunnel (Interstate 59) to Birmingham, rented a nice old house for two days, sucked down a couple of dozen oysters two nights in a row, and gawked at motorcycles until our eyeballs squeaked.
Spending $33 each on a guided tour was a no-brainer. Our guide “Coffee” knew Mr. George Barber personally and could answer any question we threw at him, along with stories to illustrate his points.
When I told him I thought T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) died on a Vincent, he corrected me and pointed to a 1935 Brough Superior SS100.
Ironically, my wife and I visited the UK in 2015 to witness Eric Clapton’s 70th birthday concert at the Royal Albert Hall and happened to be sitting on a park bench in Hyde Park when two elderly sisters sat down next to us and revealed they were Lawrence’s neighbors — as children — in 1935 when he crashed in Dorset.
This massive museum — expanded in 2016 — now has 230,000 square feet of display space and hosts more than 1,400 motorcycles spanning 100 years of production and sits on 880 acres boasting a full race track that can accommodate F1 and Indy race cars.
Each October they host a Vintage Motorcycle Festival, and we’ll do our best to head back down the pine tree tunnel to the land of fresh raw oysters and vintage motorcycles.
Lawrence Scott and Lawrence of Arabia would be jealous on both counts.