Content Tools

290 Apple Tree Drive, Media, Pennsylvania 19063

Back when I was a boy in early high school down on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, the fascination of motors had already begun to possess me. Trucks, tractors, farm gasoline engines or boat engines of that period were all fairly familiar; however, outboard motors, motorcycles and airplanes were quite scarce there and so I would walk or hitchhike a good distance to examine such.

Naturally in a country high school the FFA (Future Farmers of America) courses taught were popular with boys, since many of them aspired to follow the plow as had their fathers. Though my father was a farmer, some early revolt within grew into a distaste for the farmer's life and a more intense love of mechanical things. However, in addition to the courses dealing with better pig and corn raising, the FFA program offered two years of agricultural shop practice. As I look back on these now, they were pretty good and a lot of fun. We were all required to help build a large chicken house, make single and double trees, repair harness', make new cart bodies, repair implements including making and fitting wagon wheel spokes. To pass the course, one had to become pretty good at blacksmithing, since we made all farm implement hooks, eye bolts, chain links, etc. used in the projects with the open hand cranked forge, using hammer and anvil.

I enjoyed these courses immensely and some long lasting friendships began there, one of which I have good reason to remember in particular.

Boys in that area began to partake of the habits of their fathers pretty early, be they tasteful or otherwise. Tobacco chewing was popular with some of the boys in shop class, particularly during hammer and anvil sessions, as they could spit into the forge while the iron heated leaving no evidence of this misdemeanor for the teacher to note. I was persuaded one day by a buddy to take a chew from his plug of 'Apple' brand as we jointly used the forge to taper and bend our single tree hooks. We busily hammered and spat for the hour class, but I was too hasty when the bell rang for class change, spitting out the tobacco and swallowing the juice. Needless to say Science Class was pretty awful as the teacher noticed me turning pale and I just made it outside in a great rush through the hall holding my stomach.

Our shop teacher bought himself a small boat and then a Sears 'Waterwitch' two cylinder outboard motor. He made the great mistake of sometimes keeping it clamped to a board in the agriculture shop. Most of the boys had little interest in it, but a couple of us were fascinated by it and its availability ate upon us to no end. One afternoon during athletic period, when the same teacher took the class out for soccer practice, we sneaked back into the shop by jimmying the lock. Then began a process of 'chicken' to see who would have nerve enough to try his hand at starting the outboard first. I finally backed down. Due to my having more motor knowledge, I manipulated the knobs and levers while my partner wound the cord and pulled.

It ran all right, and we had sense enough to cut it off after a short run as it was not in water. However, the shop was filled with smoke and smell and the athletic hour was nearly over. Desperate measures were called for, and we opened the windows, peeled our jackets and frantically fanned the air with them, just managing to be in our seats with innocent faces when the class returned. The teacher sniffed the air, immediately surmised the cause, and then began the war of nerves as to which of us would 'squeal' under his threats of collective class punishment if the culprit did not own up. I finally did, and we were promptly sent to the principal's office and duly punished.

About this time, another of my pals turned up two 1927 Harley Davidson JR model motorcycles both in horrible condition, which he bought for a total of $20. I used to spend a lot of time on weekends with this boy and we had built a shack on the edge of the woods on his mother's farm, complete with potbellied stove. We would hitchhike five miles for a gallon jug of cider on Saturday afternoon and spend the evening feasting on biscuits and cider while we repaired bicycles or tinkered with something else.

With acquisition of the two Harley, we dropped all else as we plunged into a giant part's swap hoping to get a runnable one from the two. The results after many Saturdays of struggle left parts scattered all over his yard and even up the bam loft, which we used as safe storage. The cycle itself was a battered mess with bald tires, a bent frame and fenders, leaky gas tanks and no battery. However, we were certain it would run so we pooled resources for four dry cell batteries which were put in a box and strapped to the tank. I got some gas from my Dad's tractor and some used motor oil. It took several Saturdays of cranking and pushing the cycle down the dirt road through the tomato patch to get it going. The carburetor caught fire many times and we could not get the valve timing right. Finally with much smoke, we felt it was good enough to risk a road test. Neither of us had a driver's license, so we took the back roads. Actually, the cycle ran pretty good for about five miles but then a knock developed. A few shots of oil with the hand pump came too late and we slid to a halt a mile from the nearest house with the motor jammed. The August heat did not help the two mile push back to a friend's house who had also had a small part in the build up. We left it there and hitchhiked home.

Next day upon return we found this friend riding up and down the road on our cycle. He had spent most of the night tearing the motor apart removing the rod and broken piston and getting it running on one cylinder again. By simply making a nuisance of ourselves at the local garages we found an old Chevrolet piston that was a fair fit in the Harley cylinder. An inch was hacksawed off the shirt length and the bushing knocked out of the cycle connecting rod, as the Chevrolet wrist pin was bigger but fit pretty good in the bare rod. Back together went the engine, and it ran rather well except for greater vibration of unequal piston weights.

Well, this setup lasted for a couple of back road dashes during which we hand pumped oil into the engine periodically. Then the other piston broke. Another used Chevrolet piston was secured and we were back in business. But in the ensuing exhilarating of riding plus arguments over who should drive we forgot to pump oil in often enough and several more jammed engines finally caused the cycle to be swapped for a very sick Model T.

Many years later and with more motor knowledge, I investigated this particular model of Harley Davidson motor again and came to realize that our failures were due to not knowing the proper setting for the worm type oil pump or the importance of timing a certain rotary breather valve which drew oil vapor through the engine.