Apr 21st, 2005 - 21:10:55
American Friends Service Committee
Friends Committee on National Legislation
National Catholic Reporter
British Broadcasting Company
Christian Science Monitor
The Register Guard
Environmental News Network
Federation of American Scientists
Car Free Times
The Travels of our First Webmaster
Voices of Spencer Creek
|Norm's Notebook: New Bike and The Three Acre Wood
Further adventures at Fire Road: A beauteous Bonneville and vole wars
By Norm Maxwell
Posted on Oct 12, 2004
Email this article
Printer friendly page
|Norm on his new joy toy, also a practical mode of transportation. Photo by Linda Corcoran|
I turned fifty this year and this apparently triggered a sort of midlife crisis that could only be resolved through the purchase of a new motorcycle. Some men my age buy sports cars but I am Scots enough to appreciate the much smaller outlay for a lot of bike as opposed to the price tag of a Corvette or Viper. Then, too, a good motorcycle can get 50 miles per gallon of gas--a practical consideration in this day and age.
I've always been a "take care of business" sort of guy, routinely overachieving on my mortgage with the Oregon Department of Veterans' Affairs to get it out of my life. I stuck with the ODVA even though I could have gotten a considerably lower interest rate elsewhere when mortgage rates dipped dramatically a couple years ago. I want to see the Vets' home loan program to continue for future generations of vets like it was there for me. Anyway, I have become inured to being mugged by bills every month and then spending half again more than minimum on the mortgage payment. I am reminded of the story of the late 19th century BIA agent who took all the supplies sent to his charges on the reservation (say a load of blankets for example) and tossed them through the rungs of a ladder suspended horizontally between two saw horses. Anything that fell through the rungs became his personal property to sell. Anything that hung up in the ladder went to the Indians as originally intended. Any dollar bill that fails to fall through the rungs of the ladder is mine to spend.
In addition to the monthly bills and mortgage, I make political contributions and small time philanthropic gestures. Household bills, early, additional mortgage payment, car payment, vet bills, new furniture, airline ticket to Florida for a family reunion. I feel like Anthony Quinn's character in the film Lawrence of Arabia where he plays a nomadic sheik who has just taken a cash payment from the English government to fight the Turks and says something like: I who just have received fifty thousand pounds from the English--live in the worse tent of my camp. I have nothing. I am a river to my people!
Last year, a few days after Christmas, a man in the office where I work, who could have/should have retired years before, died at his desk. I wasn't there when Neil passed on but it made a big impression on a fellow worker who was an other overachiever when it came to putting his mortgage away and never spending a dime on himself. Rob took the lesson to heart and scaled back his mortgage payments and started buying target pistols and a new performance car to replace his worn out pickup. We both have an interest in firearms and so we would compare notes on different types.
I had been seeing a few new Triumph motorcycles on the road over the past few years. Triumph was an English marque that started out a hundred years ago when a couple of German brothers who had been building bicycles in England motorized a few cycles in 1903. Triumph's factory in Coventry was bombed flat by the Luftwaffe in 1940. English MI-6 knew it was coming but did not order evacuation it as it could not afford to reveal the fact that it had the capability to read German radio traffic like the Sunday comics. After the war, Triumph rebuilt and started producing twin cylinder motorcycles--most of which were sold in the US to generate cash. Triumph continued to produce motorcycles and was the last English company standing to mass produce bikes after the Japanese dominated the market in the 70s.
Triumph died in the early 80s and English riders had few choices other than Japanese machines or American Harley Davidsons. In the mid 1990s a group of people got together and decided to resurrect the Triumph name and start building liquid cooled, three and four cylinder motorcycles--little different than their Japanese competitors. Ho hum, yawn. In the final twilight of the 20th century, somebody finally decided that perhaps a modern version of a classic Triumph design from the 60s might sell. The new company had been copying the trademark shape of 60s Triumph gas tanks on their new bikes so one step further was logical. I liked the rendition of the new Bonneville. It looks a lot like the old Bonny but has modern updates like horizontally split cases to minimize oil leaks. It meets the 21st century emission control standards, at least for now. Very strong rumor has it that all new motorcycles will soon have to be liquid cooled in order to meet increasingly stringent emission standards. Liquid cooling keeps everything the same temperature and allows for tighter tolerances. Even Harley Davidson sells a liquid cooled V-twin now.
As a Triumph Bonneville is half the cost of a middle of the road HD, I decided that I deserved a new bike and signed my life away with my credit union and bought one. I avoided the bilious blue (genuine 60s paint scheme) examples and the bastardized "America" model that showed unmistakable signs of miscegenation with Harley Davidsons. I selected the one basic black, plain Jane in the Triumph shop and loaded it in the back of my old pickup. On the way home, several old farts pulled up alongside my truck in order to eyeball my new bike. Everybody has a new HD, but new Bonnevilles are quite scarce. I can't remember ever seeing one on the road.
Since turning fifty, I have decided that I will no longer commute to the salt mines on my old BMW flat twin in the fog and dark and rain and even snow like I have for the past ten years. If it isn't light out and clear when I leave in the morning, I will drive my four cylinder pickup. If nothing else, there are entirely too many suicidal deer that wander Lorane Highway in the darkness. Iron Annie, the old BMW, will never die. It has started to leak oil and the US-made fairing is breaking up. The exhaust system is rusted through in places but the incredible flat twin motor will run as long as it has gas and an oil change now and then.
The long and short of it is, life owed me a new motorcycle and I took it. I certainly understand that I am going to be paying for it but on another level it all makes sense.
Some fool called at 0600 this morning wanting to buy the old BMW motorcycle I had advertised in the Register Guard. Iron Annie is a black 1978 800 cc BMW flat twin with 125,000 miles on the clock.
I bought it in 1987 with low miles for 12 hundred dollars. It has spent the last decade as my hack for riding to the salt mines and back at 65 miles round trip each day. Rain, sleet, dark of night, even snow on occasion, the R80 (R=radden-or German for motorcycle) would putt-putt-putt to life and bumble off to the dreaded office. my personal best was 19 degrees (F) on dry pavement.
For a while I had an English girlfriend who was taking law school at Boalt Hall at UC Berzerkely and I would ride Iron Annie on long weekends to the Bay Area. That didn't last but the BMW sure did. 45 miles per gallon commuting to work and fifty or better on the freeway. When I lived on Svarverud Road, the bike lived under an old camper shell supported by poles. Now it sits in a corner of the shop by an unused woodstove and a pile of sawdust and ends of lumber, taking up space.
The shop has an old BSA in residence, a 20 year old liquid cooled BMW and a new Triumph so something needs to go. Since turning 50, I have decided that I no longer (need) dodge deer in the darkness on two wheels on the way to the salt mines and will ride only in dry daylight. Iron Annie no longer has a raison de etre.
John, the guy who called this morning, says his hobby is rebuilding old BMW R 80 motorcycles. He should get his money's worth on this one. Sounds like the old black machine will have a good home. BMW started out making air cooled aircraft engines for the German air forces during WW I. After the Armistice, the company swiftly designed the flat twin motorcycle engine and produced the most reliable motorcycles ever built. Harley Davidson has spent almost a century treating the symptoms of having one cylinder in the wind shadow of the first on the HD V-twin design.
During the Second World War, the US Army contracted with Harley to build replicas of BMW bikes captured in North Africa as no other machine was as reliable with shaft drive and both cylinders directly in the breeze. In the 80s BMW toyed with dropping the flat twin design and building only three and four cylinder liquid cooled machines. I bought one of the first "K" models ever built when it was ten years old with a little more than a thousand miles on it. It swiftly turned out that the K 100 had a defective design where the drive shaft met the differential on its first year model.
This was corrected in 86 but this didn't do me much good as the original parts were now unavailable. After a phone call to the head US BMW office in New Jersey, Phil, the prez, told me that the problem would be fixed. It took a while, but eventually a one off differential made for my first year K bike, compatible with the later, heavier duty internal drive shaft arrived at the local BMW dealer via UPS from Munich. No charge.
Harley Davidson probably would not go to this length to rectify a mistake on a ten year old bike. BMW buyers convinced the company that it would be a mistake to quit building the incredible flat twin air cooled motorcycle. It even developed the Cruiser model which is cammed to make the blub blub noise that the V-twins do. It must have driven the German engineers nuts--Why must it go blub blub?--designing something to make a noise for no other reason than people buy bikes for that particular noise. Now BMW makes the liquid cooled K model and the flat twin machines in addition to the line of luxury cars they have developed. In one of the Classic Bike magazines I have, you can read about some guy who pulled out a fifty year old 1939 500 cc BMW Kompressor (supercharger) and ran it against modern 500 cc machines in a European bike race and WON.
John came and gave me 500 UDS cold cash and loaded Iron Annie into a covered trailer after removing the windscreen on the broken fairing and now there is an empty corner in the shop where I can start in on all the crap that piled up, protected by the old bike.
You may enjoy an other piece by Norm about motorbikes in the Song of the Open Road
Three Acre Wood
About 12 years ago, I decided it would be a good idea to plant a tree farm on the three acres of flood plain pasture between the old railroad right of way that bisects our five acre shoestring lot, and the Siuslaw River. A bunch of cronies from the salt mines showed up and we planted close to 2,000 left-over seedlings in the alluvial clay out back in a couple hours one February afternoon. I managed to rope my brother into this fun as well in order to share the experience. We used shovels and broke open the heavy soil and inserted little doug firs in the holes before stamping them shut.
Summer came and the grass grew tall. The neighbor's horses had been keeping it down but they had been evicted to spare the new plantation. I walked back amongst the rows of struggling trees and noticed that many of them were brown and moribund. The next winter, I was out replacing the mortality with new little trees and scalping the heavy grass around each planting for good measure. I noticed that a few seedlings at a low spot near the east fence had been gnawed around their bases as if by tiny beavers. Voles?
That summer, the grass waxed high and green and more trees died in a widening circle from the epicenter in the fence. I responded with my weed whacker and cleared three foot circles around unharmed trees so the little rodents responsible for the damage would be exposed to hawks and owls. (The little rascals were the common ground vole.) This worked very well and the voles concentrated on the overgrown trees. Max the Manx would bring home voles and leave them on the front porch now that they had moved into his turf. They look like small rats with half tails and beaver teeth. They like to move through the roots of the grass in "runnels" that are like shallow trenches that don't require the effort of a full scale tunnel to dig but provide protection from predators through the high cover. They live in underground warrens and the dogs would get into some major excavations whenever they followed me back to the plantation.
The next winter I got serious and replanted the gnawed area and then wrapped every tree in the entire three acre unit with kitchen foil six inches up the trunk to discourage gnawing. It was quite obvious that the voles were infiltrating from the scotch broom forest across the fence to the east but the foil discouraged them and I was done with the majority of replanting. The same winter, I finally had the property surveyed and discovered that the fallen down fence wasn't even close and that I had a long narrow triangle that needed to be planted in order to be part of Maxwell National Forest. I had a few Willamette Valley Ponderosa Pines that I planted in the middle of huge scalps right next to the new fence I had built on the property line. I carefully foiled the huge hairy pine seedlings. I left the fallen down old fence where it was for then.
The next summer, many of the more vigorous trees were starting to shoulder their way above the grass and some were even four feet tall. I noticed that the firs weren't doing well in the "lagoon," a low spot, first to flood when the river rose, so I planted this area with western red cedar and Ponderosa pine in big scalps with lots of foil. I put heavy plastic net tubes over the cedar since deer love to eat western red.
That winter I removed the old fence that had originally defined the east boundary of my plantation. The cedar posts had rotted off at ground level and the wire was very rusty so I estimated the fence had been built at least forty years ago. I carefully pulled the staples with my fence pliers and collected them in a gallon coffee can. I carried the old posts to my burn pile in the RR right of way. Then I rolled up the old field wire into rusty mattresses by bending and rolling and stamping flat until if they were any bigger, they wouldn't fit in the back of a pickup. After hauling that away, things looked much better and I pulled a little scotch broom that had seeded in from the broom forest across the fence.
That same winter, I actually started pruning the bottom whorls of limbs off of some of the largest fir trees. Commercial pruning is usually done when the trees are thirty feet tall and you can prune all the trees in the plantation 9 feet high so some day you will have an eight foot knot free saw log. When you prune one whorl at a time like I do, you get the limbs cut when they are very small and there will be only tiny knots in the very center of the log.
This is all labor intensive and my plantation is more of a hobby than any thing else. The grass has gotten wild and unruly since the horses haven't been eating it down. Deer browse through it and there are still voles although the trees are now too big for them to vandalize. Last fall, I finally broke down and bought a slightly used riding Murray lawn mower. I followed the precepts of Clark Howard and made the rounds at all the garden centers in Eugene until I found a 17 horse power mower for five hundred dollars. (The garden center manager was motivated to sell it so he didn't have to store it over the winter.) I loaded it in the back of my four cylinder Dakota and took it home and pushed it in the back of the shop.
This summer I decided to mow out back around the trees in the three acre wood. I was impressed to discover that I had bought an extremely low geared mower. The neighbor's similar mower is at least twice as fast in high gear on the pavement but balks when the vegetation gets too thick. My mower inches through the grass when it is three feet high in bottom gear. The red machine howled as it discharged a continuous stream of silage and left a swath of clear ground behind it. I wove as close to the trees as I could get. I was pleased to see voles fleeing in terror from the advancing destruction of their habitat.
We had a lot of problems with theft around Lorane last winter so I had written all over the riding lawn mower with high performance white magic marker, HANK in four inch letters on the front of the engine cover. And "Do you feel lucky, punk?" on the side, and my name and address in several places. The theory being that if punks were to break into the shop, the lawn mower would be too marked up for them to want to steal and try to sell for beer money.
The mighty Murray mower relentlessly hacked down the grass and mulched small scotch broom and dry fir limbs left on the ground around the trees from seasons of pruning. Descending the slope to the lagoon, I flushed a few big fawns that had been hiding in the wild parsnips. The three acre wood is its own little distinct ecosystem now that Linda has the scotch broom forest subdued and mowed across the fence. (See Battling Broom.) The pines in the bottom of the lagoon are starting to look like they are going to survive and the cedars are bursting out the top of their yellow tubes. Voles like the damp bottom of the lagoon for some reason, but I guess I have used enough foil to preserve the young trees. With vast spaces of grass cut down to ground level, Ben the Bengal cat thoroughly enjoys his improved hunting preserve. Half Egyptian Mau and half Asian leopard cat, Bengals are not far removed from wild animals and are great hunters. Ben loves to catch and eat voles.
When he is full, he brings them home to share. Sometimes Max the Manx acts like Major Hoople and starts tossing one of Ben's voles around like he caught it...Egads! that reminds me of the time I caught 14 voles in 15 minutes... I have finally begun to thin the plantation now that some of the trees are approaching 20 feet tall. The dominant trees are readily apparent and I cut the smaller saplings around them. There are many places where I planted another tree by one that didn't appear to be growing. I cut the least vigorous. I leave anything that isn't absolutely clear as I can always thin the next year or the year after.
I treat the cedars as if they aren't there, as they do well in the shade of the sun-hungry firs and pines. The selected trees will grow rapidly until they reach crown interlock--when the trees have grown together. By that time I should have trees every 20 feet or so with pruned trunks at least 12 feet above the ground. The plantation could provide a commercial thinning in my lifetime. A more likely scenario is that I could sell the timber rights when I am old and feeble and Lane County is trying to tax me off the place. Time will tell.
Copyright © 2004 by Norm Maxwell
A Line Revised 10-21 04 by author.
Norm Maxwell has just received the Best of West By Northwest award for his article, The Fire of South Canyon: Remembering Storm King. Tens of thousands of readers have "voted" with their mouse by their selection of this story. Visit Norm Maxwell's other pieces about land use, firefighting and life in the country and more at West By Northwest.org.
Norm's Notebook: A Helicopter and a Hometown
Norm's Notebook: A Different Kind of Pre-Emptive Strike
Norm's Notebook: "Goodbye Dear, I'll be Home in a Year"
Norm's Notebook: Dead Cars and the Six Million Dollar Manx
(Editor's note–Norm's "Dead Cars" story inspired a feature story in the Register Guard, "Heaps of trouble in the woods.")
A Homey Homage to the Homelite: The Stone Age of Powersawing
Take Two: Jackson Road
Norm's Notebook: Battling Broom
Norm's Notebook: A Last Look from the Big Rabbit
Norm's Notebook: From Forest to McMansion, How It Could Happen Here
Norm's Notebook: A Few Acres, a Few Chickens–Who Is Living on the Land Now
Remembering the 30 Mile Fire
Old Men and Fire
The Fire of South Canyon: Remembering Storm King
Wee-wee for BB
Norm's Notebook: The Story of the Spruce Tree, and Mosby Creek, a New Land Use Lot Adjustment>
Mentoring Military Style
Three Dollar Hammer
Remember Fire Road
Home, Home on Fire Road and more.
© Copyright 2000-2004 by West By Northwest.org
Top of Page