In over 40 years in the trade you meet some characters in this industry, journalists, work mates, employers, employees, sales reps and apprentices to name a few I think now is the time to share some of the weirder ones I have met
The first journalist I remember was Editor Les Swallow he ran the "Green Horror" better known today as AMCN I was working at Vic Wreckers and Les would deliver the latest copy personally, at that time he was building a Triumph Trident road racer and got on very well with my then boss Brian Cripps a good move as Brian would wreck the odd triple and Les had first option on parts. The best thing about Les was he was a amicable chap and could take it as well as give it so many times he would get shit piled on him from high, a example was when the XS-650 Yamaha came out and was put head-to-head against a T120 Triumph the headline was "Did it ever stand a chance" it was aimed against the Triumph and in those days only a very brave man would favour a Jap bike over the British flagship, the readers comments for weeks ranged from Les being compared to a paedphile to and navel fluff miner! I could never work out if Les did this as a deliberate ploy to increase readership or create more people that would dislike him, whatever I think both happened.
The next was Derrick Pickard a ex-pat pom who wrote for Motorcycle Illustrated, Motorcycle Sport, Haynes Manuals and quite a number of contemporary UK magazines before moving to the USA and working for Cycle World, and Peterson publishing eventually he ended up in Australia and worked for Two Wheels, the "Green Horror" and others these days he does articles for Old Bike Magazine. Derrick was/is probably one of the most knowledgable journo's around and one of his most famous lines is what ever I write about you right or wrong will still turn up in years to come" he was right and a article he wrote in 1982 on me wad quoted back to me a couple of years ago when someone dragged out a magazine article on me! Even today some of the stories he tells of Barry Johnson at Amal carbs and testing BSA's at MIRA for speed tests are captivating.
Guy Allan (Guido) current honcho at Unique Cars and a avid motorcyclist is another top class journo I first met him after he left Canberra after being born in Brisbane I knew that he would be different on that alone, I queried him on his previous occupation, sheepishly he said a real estate agent, hmmm at this time the new and green Guido had the job of testing for AMCN a G80 Matchless from LF Harris and the boss had sent him out to me the importer, now the Matchy was a svelte machine and a middleweight 500cc fitted with a Austrian Rotax enduro engine with a thumping great DeLorto 36mm carb that if you even looked at the twist grip would flood and then very reluctantly start. Guido was a strapping 6ft 4" suntanned Brisbane boy with a enthusiastic vigour that may write a memorable article I thought, he was reserved while I discussed the starting technique which involved a kickstart lever on the left side, emphasising the twist grip procedure only a little choke and a vigorous kick and it started. I made him start it then let him waved him goodbye. All was well till eventually he stopped it at headquarters and a couple of hours later had a bugger of a vicious work out on the kickstarter to no avail a sheepish phone call to me saying the article would not be favourable as none of the he-men at the AMCN headquarters could get it going, I made a deal with Guido saying if I put a new plug in it and started it with my hand would the article be favourable? Sarcastically Guido said yes and I went down and started it, needless to say that article would be worth for a Pulitzer Journalism prize and I even sent the article to the manufacturer Les Harris who wanted to meet personally with Guido and tell him the article was so good that even he (Les) would buy one. Today I count Guido as a personal friend and we chuckle over that test.
Paul Muir (Greasy) worked with me at Vic Wreckers he was a patch member of the Immortals M/c and a 1% he owned a K1 Honda 750 Four with 4 into one and the obligatory black colour Paul had a dry sense of humour and watched "chromie"a co-worker dunk his Arnotts Teddy Bear biscuits in other peoples tea as "chromie" never liked the soggy bits in his own tea! Anyway one day Paul came to work and I always asked what he did over the weekend and sometimes he would have a few "bluey's "from the cops over the weekend break I read these at morning tea time,now one particular time he went into Elizabeth st and put the Honda's front wheel up against the shop front outside Stanco's and proceeded to shred his rear tyre before buying a new one, and the police infringement read
" I approached the accused Mr Paul Muir of etc and asked
"Sir what are you doing causing excess noise and revving your motorcar to wit motorcycle to cause the rear wheel to skate on the pavement with smoke from the rear revolving tyre to obstruct vision across Elizabeth st and on the public walkway" the accused answered " I'm hanging a burn-out man" I was amused thinking of a conservative old "beak" reading this & viewing "Greasy"in the dock
Paul came in after one week end and I asked the same question as I had read of a motorcycle chase from St Kilda to Northcote up Punt rd through Westgarth and onto the wrong side of St George's rd in The Sun newspaper, it was him 8 roadblocks, crossing controlled intersections about 30 of them at over 140 kilo ( slowing down from over 180) over ten cop cars in the chase and shots being fired as the motorcyclist was riding on the wrong side of a two lane carriageway, those days police didn't call off a chase. He chuckled and handed me about 70 "Bluey's the cops had over double that amount but decided that would jail him and they couldn't be bothered typing them all up! Paul was out on bail and he had escaped the police as he turned off while he was on the wrong side of the road, by the time the coppers turned around he was gone and at a party at his mates place, they got Paul after a few hours because somebody reported a noisy party and the police came round an found the Honda, which was impounded and then arrested him. Anyway Paul had a good lawyer and told me he would see me in the morning, he did 3 months later!
Another guy worked with me there as well and is a reputable mechanic and still in the industry he used to ride a buggered G3 Matchless that he used to park at Vic Wreckers in a vacant dusty car park opposite, this Matchy leaked like the Tory Canyon and each day he parked it a large bowl was placed under it to catch the litre of oil that ran out of it, amusingly he would come out of a night before riding home, pick out leaves and grass etc pour it back in the oil tank and ride off home!
When I started at Musset's the Triumph importers there were quite a bunch of dedicated blokes, team work was the only way to survive and I remember a apprentice Peter White we had a eager and ambitious, intelligent young lad who I still admire now, Peter was a mischievous person that would always play a joke, he rode a Suzuki T250 with a telephone taped to the tank (this was before mobiles) and for a laugh in traffic at stop light sprees his horn button that was wired to the phone he would pick it up as if answering it and knock on the car window beside him telling the bemused motorist and handing him the handset "it's for you" Peter could pull a wheel stand on any bike and especially Nortons, cross-up and changing gears, he was a top M-X rider and did this effortlessly and occasionally did them in Sydney rd passing trams, one day a customer recognised his front wheel going past, and yes was upset. Peter had to ride the 1948 model U Harley outfit that was our works breakdown vehicle and this was the old Millege Bros outfit fitted with a large box, the wheel in the sidecar was a old 1948 Hillman car wheel for the weight it carried, now Peter would ride this old Hog at death defying speed into the city and delight in reversing up one way streets or riding down Elizabeth st flat out locking the rear brake and pulling it on full right lock causing it to reverse slide into the gutter on the other side of the road. One day it slide into the curb so hard the sidecar wheel collapsed he rode it back very slowly and was worried about the replacement wheel rim fortunately the hose reel bolted to the workshop wall was the same size and with a bit of re drilling for the studs fitted on, the buckled rim mounted on the wall again. He rang one day to tell me the Harley was bogged in Settlement rd Coburg, now that area is well populated and is in suburbia, turns out he had gone off road riding on the way to the refuse Tip on industrial land and was bogged up to the axles!
One hot day the old Harley was boiling fuel in the petrol tank and vaporising it cut out and stalled in Sydney rd in bumper to bumper traffic Pete was kicking it viciously as a W class tram driver impatiently dinged his bell behind him, Pete walked backed to the driver and stepped in the cab with the driver and said " You fucking start it while I ding the bell" needless to say no more "dinging" Another episode involved the then workshop Forman who used the weld fuel tanks he would run water through the tank and shake it about and after 5-10 minutes remove all fuel taps and petrol cap. Immediately light the oxy plant and slightly nervously stick the lighted torch in the filler neck for a second sometimes a slight "thump" noise would happen then he would start welding. One day the ritual was performed and he was welding away young Pete snuck up behind him and dropped a lighted "penny bunger" cracker on the ground, the Forman elevated about a metre off the ground dropped the torch and chased Pete around the workshop with a ball-pein hammer while swearing at the top of his voice, I reckon it took years from the foremans life.
My first boss was a ex Tobruk maintenance mechanic Fred Cottrell that told me that it's amazing how fast you can repair a vehicle in sand when the Wermach is strafing you with cannon and machine guns! This guy always kept a loaded 12 G shotgun under the counter at the garage he owned and offered to shoot a Turkish customer that accused Fred of being a thief because the self service pump had gave him no petrol and taken the money after midnight when we were closed, Fred nonchalantly dropped the barrel on the counter and said" Thirty years ago the Army paid me £6 a week to shoot bastards like you" needless to say the guy stopped with the spurious accusations.
The next employer was Brian Cripps from Vic Wreckers a ex-bulldozer driver that was bankrupt and worked his way out of it to start a successful business, Brian was a tough man and carried lots of cash to buy motorcycles is his leather valise and a sub-nose Colt to protect it, his customers were often told he would stand on the counter and he would urinate on their head if they continued to waste his time or bullshit to him, some others would be escorted to the front door where a expansion cut was in the concrete and told "never pass this line" he definatly had a way with words and his loyal customers loved him.
Frank Mussett was a man of old fashioned values, he had a quite personality that could change to anger and the burocrats in the Brunswick Town Hall next door annoyed him the most, Frank had one come in one day yelling about polluting the Merri Creek (some four miles away) from steam cleaning as there was no grease trap, Frank shuffled the Triumph spares books on the counter, then bang hit this guy square on the head hard with a stack of them! The bloke was more stunned than anything and turned around and left Frank never said a word and we never saw the council bloke again! It was always a problem getting tools and toilet paper, the toilet paper was the Yellow Pages cut in half and a hole drilled through for some wire to hang it up the problem of getting a 1/16" drill bit was that Frank hid them in the safe so getting one was a trial. Morning tea on a Saturday was shared by the staff of 8 on the spares counter Frank would always get a coffee scroll and a coffee and each week supposedly some one would pay for it although a couple of times a year Frank would say I suppose it's my turn and take the money from the cash register. The amusing thing here is Frank always paid the boys unbeknown to him took the money out of the register every week!
They come really good or extremely bad with nothing in between, some are loyal and devoted to the customer others are to the firm they work for. One crotchety old bastard used to visit me and when I placed a order it usually arrived, damaged, this got to be routine and for a while every time he turned up he took as much away as I ordered. Still and all these guys are around today in the trade, no not the same people but the characters that are behind the scene and I'm glad that I'm probably one of them.
Phil Pilgrim 2016