Wayne Stork was a gentle giant who loved machines. Growing up as a car nut, it was hard to miss the fact that our neighbors had almost every kind of cool machine you could imagine. Their driveway was graced with motorcycles, trucks, cars and boats, while their yard held even more mysterious machines like tractors, hay bailers and even a couple of bulldozers. If it rolled, floated, or crawled, it’s safe to say that Wayne probably owned it at one time or another.
For a guy who loved machines, however, Wayne had one, terrible fault: he never kept up with the maintenance. The result of his lack of attention was that every machine he owned died within a few years, but that never seemed to be a problem. I think Wayne looked on the death of one machine as an opportunity to purchase another and so, when a machine finally failed to work, he simply dragged it out into the many acres of forest behind his home and brought home something else. Once a vehicle had made that final journey, nature took care of the rest.
Like everyone who loves machines, one day Wayne brought home a motorcycle. I can see it now in mind’s eye like it was yesterday. It was beautiful black Honda 305 Dream with chrome exhaust pipes, rubber pads on the side of the tank and hard plastic saddle bags with red felt linings. It was the first real bike I can recall being close to, it was quite simply mesmerizing. Every kid in the neighborhood felt the same way, while it was parked on the Stork’s driveway there could be no playing. We could only stand and stare in awe.
Wayne was proud of the Honda. He doted on it, bought various doo-dads from JC Whitney and polished it religiously. The bike never missed a service and, unlike so many machines that had preceded it, Wayne took great care of the bike. As time passed, his interest in the bike did not wane and so this machine, it seemed, would never meet the fate of so many others. And so it was for many months, until the day of the big crash.
I was young and don’t remember all of the details, but I do recall that it happened in the latter part of autumn. Likely as not it probably involved pine needles or leaves on a wet, Western Washington back road; knowing Wayne as I do, speed may also have been a factor. Fortunately, whatever happened, the accident was not enough to put Wayne in the hospital. The bike too came through in good shape and damage was minimal but, with two little kids at home, I think Wayne took a good long look in the mirror and decided the risk just wasn’t worth it. He brought the bike home, parked it under the eaves of the house and, sadly, never threw a leg over it again.
The years passed and the Honda suffered as it sat semi-exposed to the elements. The saddle bags filled with water and their once bright red linings rotted away. The seat split and its orange foam spilled out into the elements where it eventually hardened and chipped away in tiny pieces. Chrome parts dulled, and then rusted and the paint faded to a hopeless shade of black. Generations of spiders lived in the nooks and crannies of the engine and their webs collected debris. The tires cracked with age and grass grew up through the spokes where it withered and died every autumn. The bike sat there so long that it ceased to be a vehicle and became a part of the yard, alone and forgotten, for more than a decade, until the day I brought home my own street bike.
The summer of 1986 looms large in my memories as a golden time to be alive. My Kawasaki sparked renewed interest in motorcycles among my peers in the neighborhood and soon every young man was thinking about how he could join me on two-wheels. Wayne’s now 17 year old son, Kenny, was especially excited, but because my bike was off limits, extraordinary steps had to be taken. The answer sat outside his house, as it had for years, quietly rotting under the eaves. That old Honda would have to come out of retirement.
I wish I could say Kenny restored the Dream, but that didn’t happen. Together, we rolled it away from the side of the house and pulled the many strands of dead grass out of its rusted spokes. We then used the garden hose to wash away a decade’s worth of cobwebs, dead bugs and dried leaves, pumped up the tires and added some lawn mower gas to the odd smelling liquid sloshing around in the old bike’s tank. After cleaning the spark plugs with a wire brush, Kenny used a screwdriver to jimmy the bike’s ignition switch to “on” and started kicking.
He kicked once, then twice and on the third kick the old bike fired and struggled into a clattering, uneven idle. As it sputtered and belched smoke, Kenny revved the engine, pulled in the clutch and kicked it into gear. Easing out the clutch, he rolled the old bike down the driveway and into the street. After a moment of amazed shock, I followed on my Kawasaki.
Foul smelling gasses poured from the old bike’s pitted, twin pipes as it chugged down the road like an ancient steam locomotive and although hills loomed before us and the bike’s forward progress slowed, it simply would not quit. On and on it ran in defiance of everything I knew about mechanical objects, unwilling to accept the fact that it had been consigned to an early grave. Eventually, a few miles out, Kenny turned the old Honda around and headed back home. Once there, he rolled it back to its place under the eaves and used the screwdriver in place of the ignition key to turn the bike back to “off.” The engine died with a fatal sounding wheeze and a final puff of smoke. So far as I know, it never moved again.
In the almost thirty years that have passed since the Honda’s last ride I have often wondered what exactly it was that I had witnessed. An engineer could probably tell me for sure, but I’m not so sure I want to know the details. I prefer another explanation, one that pairs a young man’s fierce desire to ride with a bike that was simply not ready to die. They say that machines can’t have souls, but I know better.
Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.