The Motorcycle Years
(1974 - 1990)
by Russ Lancaster
I’m sure you remember the big gasoline shortage that began in 1974. Gasoline supplies became short and prices rose quickly from the 35 cent rage to well over $1.00 a gallon in a span of only a couple of weeks. In 1974, most folks owned big cars and gasoline mileage had never been much of a concern. We were living in the richest country in the world, gas was cheap and driving was an American institution.
As television gave us our first hint of a gasoline shortage and our first reports of climbing gas prices, many of us thought it as being no more than a scare tactic by the big oil companies and that it would only affect big cities, not our little Hamlet tucked away so serenely in the sandhills of Richmond county. We were wrong.
We quickly became like the rest of the world. Not only did we have to deal with sky rocketing gas prices, there really was a shortage. The state began gasoline rationing allowing those with state tags ending in even numbers to buy gas only on even numbered days and vice versa.
Driving that big old Chevrolet Caprice I had soon became a problem. It was a gas guzzler. Now I not only had to pay a much higher price for gas than I was used to, I could only buy it on certain days. The lines at the service stations that had gas were long and the waiting in line sometimes lasted for hours. This was too inconvenient for me.
So, on the spur of the moment, I decided to buy a motorcycle. Oh yes, I had always had a secret desire to own a motorcycle. That desire went back to the 1950’s when I first saw Kent Hicks delivering groceries for Earl Bradshaw on his motor scooter. I had dreams of owning a Vespa or something along that order. Now, I had a legitimate excuse to buy a real motorcycle.
I had my wife and kids drive me out to the Harley Davidson place near the 74 – 220 intersection in Rockingham. It took less than 30 minutes to pick one out; Not much of a bike but one I could afford. I made a modest down payment and signed the papers and became the proud owner of a Harley Davidson TX125.
I asked the dealership when they could deliver the bike and they laughed. There would be no delivery, I would have to ride it home. Great! I had never even been on a motorcycle before. They called a mechanic out, had me sit behind him on the passenger seat and he drove me around the building three times showing me the brakes (front and rear), clutch, gears and how to handle the bike. After the third trip around the building I was given my opportunity to try. It was a piece of cake even though my heart was beating fast. I never had to go through more than two or three gears in the parking lot even though it had five.
I told my wife to drive the car home and I would be there shortly. She left while I was still learning the ropes and on my third trip around the building on my own, I hit the highway. I must have been grinning from ear to ear. I was excited.
Then, my first problem showed its ugly head. The stoplight at the intersection of US 1 and 74 was red and I was going to have to stop. The car I stopped behind was my wife’s. The kids were all in the back seat looking out the rear window at me. As the light changed, I gave her a few seconds to move out of my way, popped the clutch, gave it some gas and found myself doing a wheelie. Yes, the front wheel was high in the air and I was riding on the rear wheel only. I couldn’t get the front end down. The harder I reached, the more gas I gave and I continued down the road doing my wheelie. The kids were ecstatic and I could just hear them screaming about how great I was doing. Little did they know how afraid I was.
Once I finally got the wheel down, I drove home using the back roads as much as possible. As I drove I got settled down and began to enjoy the experience. The wind in my face was exhilarating and the looks from passing cars and pedestrians was one I took as envy. I was on top of the world.
I got home (I lived on James Avenue at the time), parked the bike on the carport and stood back and just admired it. It was a dream come true. I began to look for excuses to ride. Surely someone needed something I could pick up. Indeed, I could ride up to the Pixie Pantry and get a newspaper. So, off I went happy as a kid at Christmas.
As I pulled up to the curb at the Pixie Pantry I ran into trouble. I got the clutch and brake calipers mixed up and ran into the curb a little fast and fell with the bike landing on me. I learned quickly that it was heavier than I thought and how quickly the exhaust could put a burn on my leg through my jeans. I looked around and saw no one and righted the bike. I wasn’t hurt, neither was the bike.
Later that evening as darkness fell, I wanted to ride again. I needed to see the difference at night. I wanted to see the speedometer light up in the darkness, I wanted to see how well I could see with only headlamps to guide me. I went out to crank the bike (it had a kick starter). I kicked the starter for what seemed like 10 minutes to no avail. It would not start. I kicked it so long that I sprained my ankle. Then, my wife came out and asked why didn’t I turn the key on and then kick it. How embarrassing that was, but she was right.
The next day would be my first day of driving the bike to work. I worked the second shift as a clerk at the railroad yard office on Highway 177 about 5 miles north of town. Riding to work was another great experience, seeing the expressions on my fellow clerks faces as I passed them along the highway. I was enjoying it immensely. I parked my bike and limped into the yard office aware of the stares I was getting. Remember, I had sprained my ankle the night before simply trying to start the bike. Yes, they thought I had taken a spill and hurt myself that way. I didn’t bother to explain except to my best friends how I had actually hurt myself.
From the big plate glass window where I worked, I could see my bike in the parking lot. I couldn’t keep my eyes off it. I was still caught up in the thrill of a boyhood dream coming true. As I got off work that night at 11 p.m. it felt great to ride home in the dark. Somehow, the experience of riding, the feeling of the power in the motor, the wind in my face… all of those things had a way of relaxing me. It was a feeling like no other in the world. Unless you have experienced it you would never understand. This was fantastic.
This was a diverse method of transportation. The bike had 2 rear sprockets, one for trail riding, one for road travel. I never did figure out how to change the chain from one sprocket to another but it didn’t matter. It would serve its purpose well.
This model required mixing of oil and gas and maintenance I knew little about. I have never been mechanically inclined. There was a reservoir to put the oil in and it was supposed to automatically inject oil in with the fuel when needed. The problem with this system was a fine mist of oil always came from the rear exhaust pipe and sprayed a black line up my back. I learned to wear the same thin jacket over my clothes to overcome this problem.
I had my bike less than a week when I ran into the first real problem. The fuse to the ignition blew and I had no replacement. I called the Harley dealership but they were closed on Mondays. So, I came up with this bright idea, to wrap the blown fuse in aluminum foil and try to start it that way. Well, the bike started all right but the wiring down under and between my legs caught fire. I was in trouble. Luckily, my wife was outside watering the lawn and turned the hose on me to put the fire out. The bike was under warranty so I wasn’t real worried, only disappointed. When I finally got it to the dealership the next day they told me it would take a month to replace the wiring. They saw the sad look on my face and offered me a free loaner to ride during the interim. Thank goodness… I would not have to give up this great feeling of freedom I was experiencing.
That bike, the first one, served its purpose well. Then, about a year later after a round of golf at Loch Haven golf course off Battley Dairy Road, I met a young man in the clubhouse who knew of my love of motorcycles. He owned a much bigger bike than I and couldn’t afford the payments. He wanted to know if I was interested in owning his bike buy just taking over his payments. He had the bike with him, a Honda 550. He gave me the key and let me take it for a ride. It had many features my Harley didn’t. It even had electronic ignition in addition to the kick starter. I rode off on his bike down the dirt road leading to the back roads in southwestern Richmond County. I could feel the immense power and quietness of this fine machine. I had to have it. I went straight to the bank with him, signed the necessary papers and became the owner of my second motorcycle.
This 550 was to become the bike I enjoyed the most. I owned more bikes later, more powerful and more beautiful but I never owned one that I got more fun out of than this Honda 550. It was green and black, fast and quiet. I found others that like to ride and it became not only my favorite form of transportation, it became my favorite way of fun and relaxation as well. From 1974 until 1990 you could always find me on a motorcycle going to or from work or just out having fun. I found others who like d to ride and ride we did. Trips to Greensboro for the GGO in March of each year were made. Long trips, short trips, I did them all. Once, after working the 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. shift, I immediately left on my motorcycle for a 300 mile round trip in a driving rainstorm. My wife was having car trouble far away from home and was short on money. The rain bothered neither me or my bike. My wife needed me and I would be there for her.
I eventually equipped the old 550 with a windscreen and added a CB radio. That was a big fad in the middle 70’s. The old bike was so much fun and now it had it all.
Helga became involved with this great hobby of mine and was a willing passenger for me when we found time. My children were taught how to ride behind me and they seemed to enjoy the experience as much as I. My youngest daughter was riding with me on the tank before she ever learned to walk. They trusted me, I trusted the old 550 and it never let us down. Riding was great for my entire family.
Then, in 1979, gas prices returned to normal, there were no more shortages. Owning a pickup truck began to be the new fad among us baby boomers. The only way I could afford one was to sell my faithful old 550 Honda. I did exactly that and went out and bought a pickup truck. I kept it less than a year. I needed the motorcycle much more than a truck. Riding with the wind was in my blood.
I sold the truck and bought my third motorcycle. This time I bought an even more powerful machine, a Honda 750. It was two tone blue and chrome was everywhere it could possibly be. In fact, it had so much chrome it hurt your eyes to look at it in the sunlight. It had 4 exhaust pipes. I equipped it too with a windscreen and saddle bags. Again I was in heaven, riding free as the wind. Year round I rode that bike, to work, for relaxation, on long trips. Again I experienced the freedom only a motorcycle rider can explain.
In 1984 I bought my last motorcycle. This one was a V-Twin Honda Shadow 1100 original year model. This was the most powerful and reliable motorcycle I ever owned. The price was a real shocker, they now cost nearly as much as a new car but I had to have it once I saw it. It was super fast and the most beautiful of them all. It could do things the old 550 and 750 never could but the 550 would still remain my favorite for all time.
But this 1100 Shadow encouraged me to take even longer touring trips. Trips on my days off would take me on the back roads beyond Greensboro or Raleigh, Durham or even Wilmington. This was a road machine that caught everyone’s eye and my heart. To this day I can’t get the feeling of riding a powerful machine like that out of my blood.
I still owned that Shadow in 1988 when I moved from Hamlet to Jacksonville, Florida. The moving company told me they couldn’t put in on the van, that I would have to ride it to Florida. So what? That was right up my alley. But then, on moving day, they changed their mind and off it went in the van.
Riding a motorcycle in Florida also has its benefits. So many miles of beaches and untamed wilderness to experience. But riding to and from work in a city of a million people during rush hour is more than a little dangerous. I learned how to deal with the situation though and became one of the few at my new work place to get around on a motorcycle. The feeling of riding home after work was still just as good, the feeling of completely being different from the rest of the world. I had more than my share of close calls but still never an accident. Helga would not ride with me as often as before but I still needed that feeling and chose to ride whenever possible.
Then, in 1990, I drove down to the beach (about 5 miles from my house) to a motorcycle show. Before I even got the kickstand down, two old Greek gentlemen from Orange Park came over and wanted to buy my bike. I explained to them it wasn’t for sale but they assured me that they would make it worth my while. They did. They paid me more for the Shadow than I spent when I bought it new and it was now 5 years old. I fell prey to the cash offering and sold my bike to them.
Here I am now in the year 2000 and have been without a motorcycle for 10 years. I may have saved myself a broken bone or two in those 10 years but I feel that part of me is missing. I still have the need to ride with the wind again but wonder if I am too old. Helga is against my owning a motorcycle again because of my age and back problems that I won’t get into. But I have a sneaky feeling that it will happen again one day.
I will never get that special feeling out of my system. I remember the experience of that first bike and that first ride as if it happened only yesterday. I remember the feel of the wind in my face, the sting of sand or rain on my hands. I remember the special feelings of being different from the crowd. I remember the relaxation and exuberance of riding free and of being at peace with my surroundings. I especially remember the old 550 and the fun we had together. I remember my children reveling with me in our feeling of freedom. I remember the first and last motorcycle and the ones in between. I remember the sadness of selling the Shadow here in Jacksonville and I remember the gladness of riding the roads of Richmond County and North Carolina. And, as always…. I remember Hamlet
This section is to honor the works of Russ Lancaster who started the “I Remember Hamlet” web site years ago. Without his pioneering the web at that time we might not have gathered all these memories of our Hamlet, NC. We thank you Russ for what you started in 1996, may you Rest in Peace. Russ was kind enough to let me download his web site before he took it down. Thank you Russ.
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