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Whitebeard

http://bmwmotorcycletech.info/whitebeard.htm
© Copyright, 2012, R. Fleischer

This is a story I wrote & published about my white R60/2.  It was also published in "Motorcycle Owners News" (now "BMW-ON") in September 1987.   I am a Life Member of BMWMOA, #17058.  Below is an edited version.


"Whitebeard, a factory original white 1957 R60 with European style sprung solo saddle, was purchased by me in essentially new condition, with only a very low amount of miles accumulated.    The original purchaser/accumulator, sporting much gray hair attesting to many years of his own fun and games, had last owned, many decades previously, a Crocker motorcycle. He decided that the R60 and the Los Angeles traffic was too much for him.  Contributing to that situation, and the very low selling price, was a badly damaged rear transmission cover, caused by failure (of dealership?) to check the universal joint bolts (with the failure-prone split-lock type washers).  I fixed the cover by heliarc welding and minor machining, checked the shimming.....and never had another problem with it.

Prior to relieving this gentleman of his R60 burden, I had owned an early 30's Indian, and a 1951 BSA single, and had ridden many different bikes; and, was beginning to collect antique motorcycles.    At the time I acquired Whitebeard, I was trying to find some sort of part time job, so as to finance college time.   With Whitebeard equipped with some truly ugly but functional boxes I had made up (VERY crude versions of the modern ones made by Jesse; without lids ....all this in the 1950's!!), I was now able to obtain a pickup and delivery  job.

For me, this meant that I picked up real blueprints (yep, those smelly old things) at a Hollywood office that made them, and went immediately to the Hollywood freeway, where I proceeded to put on a lot of miles delivering them.  To this day, the smell of blueprints in the making have remained in my memory.   The deliveries took several hours.  It was not unusual to do 500 or 600 miles weekly.  Most of it was at fairly high speeds, around 75 mph or so, which was FAST for that freeway back then.  I did this for several years of this, with only two traffic citations for speeding.  It is still my belief that the white bike color and my clean appearance accounted for such few citations, as my co-workers, riding outlaw-looking Harleys, received many traffic tickets, at substantially slower speeds.  Adding to my mileage was the weekend ride and maybe a beer bust at the beach.  This was all "Before Honda" ....long before 'you meet the nicest people on a Honda').

I had few problems with the R60.  I was a VERY regular customer for the dealership's tires.  The Earles front fork (my R60 was thusly equipped), and the separately sprung and very large plush solo saddle that was on this particular R60, made for a soft comfortable ride, and the bike was very quiet, adding to its escaping police notice.  While true that the R60 was a poor handling machine compared to today's Japanese crotch-rockets, it handled quite well enough, and had many sterling attributes, the first of which was comfort.  The second of which was utopia as far as reliability was concerned ...at least in those years compared to other bikes.  The battery was of little importance, as it was not needed for starting, as it had a magneto and a kick starter.  Tuneups took little time. Seeing as how the R60 was transportation and livelihood, I totally rebuilt it every 80,000 to 100,000 miles.  This meant a total engine teardown, as well as disassembling and working on wheels, transmission, rear drive, etc., all as needed.    Of course, regular maintenance was done along the way to this 100K.  The removal of the crankshaft for slinger cleaning (no oil filter) was the primary item here at 30K, then as oils got better, that got extended a modest amount.  It was usually surprising to find out what was NOT worn out at 100K.   The bike was cleaned, waxed, and lubed weekly, the oil changed at least monthly, and wheel bearings and other such items were serviced regularly.  So many tires were used that I had modified the wheel hubs for easier servicing.  Tires did NOT last like today's tires do, and neither did engine oils.

At this point in this tale, I should change names and details a wee bit, to protect ...whomever... BUT.....

Whitebeard was sold soon after the R75/5 became available.   The sale was to a close friend named 'Jerry', who was a long time admirer of the bike.  Whitebeard then had 274,087 miles.  Jerry was a True California Character.   His burning desire was to own the White Beast I called Whitebeard, ride it to the tip of Baja California, no doubt consuming vast quantities of tequila and Acapulco Gold along the way.  Having heard stories about the dangers of riding at night south of the border ...and being a fool,  ...Jerry planned to do at least some of his riding at night.  Thus a new battery was fitted, the electrics gone over, and Jerry asked me to modify the bike for large 'driving lights'.   The next few days found me just beginning to make up brackets to mount a pair of Harley headlights ...when Jerry showed up with two Lucas FlameThrowers, in 12 volts, and...I think...100 watts each.  It was now time for more beer and more discussion.  The conversation drifted between 6 versus 12 volts, sidecars to hold batteries, conversion to 12 volts, etc.   After enough beer (of course!!), I stupidly agreed to mount any and all lights and electrical equipment that Jerry thought he would need.

Some beers later I found out that this would include my oldest vacuum tube HAM radio station, together with its power robbing dynamotor power supply (I had begun to put another version on my replacement bike purchase, the R75/5).  Jerry agreed to pay handsomely for all this work.   It was no problem to temporarily stop blueprint deliveries, and work on the R60 for Jerry, a man of some means.  Being a minor machinist at heart, and having access to all sorts of machine shop equipment (Hughes Aircraft Co.), I adapted a 12 volt high output Leece Neville alternator of the type used on California Highway Patrol cars.   I had to convert the R60's lights.  The bike generating system would not be powerful enough, even if converted to 12 volts, hence the Leece Neville unit.  With the stock alternator gone, I had plenty of room.

The battery area was heavily modified, and an oversize battery fitted.  With access at Hughes, I made parts of stainless steel where I could, and made a new wiring loom as appropriate, and then had the Hughes wire looming machine make it all look pretty.   This was truly an overkill installation.  The alternator drive and mount was relatively simple, but looked ugly, as on all outside belt driven conversions on the later bikes, the Airheads.  The machine was wired using very heavy duty copper-silver aircraft wire (thanks to Uncle Sam and Hughes).   The suspension was modified as well.   I had so much fun doing this, as well as working part time for the local BMW bike dealer, that I only went back to blueprint deliveries for a short while, on the new-to-me R75/5; ....instead, I continued my part-time job at Winklemann Motors (BMW bike dealership).

The R60 had a $$$ Heinrich 9 gallon tank and $$$ Heinrich hand made aluminum fairing.  Very pretty items. There is a photo of this bike in this website's photo galleries.  Jerry had NO problem with money at that time ...he was into the California-Friend-to-Everyone business ....that is, he imported Mexican and South American marijuana, which he distributed widely in California.

One Monday morning, Jerry was ready, he thought, and over at my house Whitebeard was ready.  Jerry arrives and loads up Whitebeard with many personal items.  Jerry leaves, planning on meandering down through Baja California.  Baja and Jerry had the same sort of reputation.  Jerry, and the R60, would then take the ferry to Mazatlan.

UNfortunately, the first section of the trip was cut short after about 50 feet, when Jerry dumps the R60, just past the end of my driveway, as he was turning into the street, sliding into my "always grumping about Bob and his noisy motorcycling friends"  neighbor....well, not the neighbor himself, it was the neighbor's Cadillac.  My neighbor was very proud of it, as it attesting to his wealth (he wasn't wealthy), or his status in the no-Cadillac's neighborhood (which sported Fords, Chevies, and the occasional Buick and Chrysler).   The Proud Cadillac now sported some nice new scratches with a substantial dent in the driver's door.  Attesting to this was my neighbor, who at the time was in the driver's seat. 

Back goes the R60 into my garage-shop for some repairs....neighbor following...Jerry following...loud words....cussing...neighbor's wife gets into the act...night shift policeman who lives on other side and is trying to sleep...opens his window to check on the action.........and.......amid all the screaming, cussing, and general fun, Jerry's possibly pregnant girlfriend shows up.

Turns out she did not know that Jerry was planning on this trip.    Meanwhile, I have escaped into the kitchen, where I follow the action sneakily, and where my 6-pack of California Valium (BEER)  is being rapidly depleted to a 4-pack.

With neighbor and fellow groupies eventually satisfied that I am going back to College full time, that Jerry is leaving the U.S., and that Jerry will pay, things calm down, and Jerry decides to leave Wednesday afternoon.

I remember that Wednesday afternoon very well. I had been showing off for my girlfriend on one of my bikes, and I slid for maybe 40 feet, after trying a very dirt-riding-like maneuver, through an unseen (if you saw my girlfriend, and how ever-so-lightly-dressed, you'd realize why) stack of slippery leaves, in front of the same neighbor's house (of course!).  This was on the same 1951 BSA 500 thumper (B33) that I pulled the SAME sort of stunt, with nearly the same results, in front of HER folks house a couple months later! ....in full view of her sister ...who I was dating at the SAME time ... and .....all was being watched by her parents.   The only thing I ever learned from this was to NEVER date sisters.

My bandaged thumb was still trying to bleed through the bandage when Jerry came by that mentioned eventful Wednesday.  The R60 was ready. It isn't easy doing mechanical work without a usable thumb.   Jerry said he couldn't stand the sight of blood, and, last night, why did he ever do something stupid like proposing to his girl (wine), and she was coming over, and he wanted to leave, NOW!! ...and make Tecaté by dark ...ETC.  Jerry takes off on the R60 after paying me and we dealt with paperwork, finishing up the ownership transfer, etc.

Somewhat later, Jerry's affianced drops by.  "Gee, honey, yeah, I did see Jerry, he's out test-riding the bike; and, no, I don't know exactly when he will be back ...I'll tell him you dropped by ...and, hey, congratulations....".

 

Later, with a third-time bandaged and still rather painful and throbbing thumb, I took my Black Shadow, with a sleeping bag and tarp, and caught up with Jerry, after a tiring days ride of ....about 3 miles ...as I saw the R60 outside a local disreputable tavern.  I am smart enough to drink ginger ale.  A while later, after many sarcastic remarks from me, towards Jerry, about his un-happening long tour, we are off for the border.  This 130 mile trip took 3 days, as we stopped to 'party' along the way, upon meeting some of Jerry's friends who were everywhere.

After a thorough checkout of the manufacturing methods and quality of the product at the Cerveza Tecaté facility, and having some fun at the old abandoned airstrip near the even older abandoned leprosarium outside Tecaté, Jerry heads south, and I head North.

The trip back North was on a favorite road, just then occupied only by myself ....and a CHP officer who is eagerly anticipating catching up with me, as I rode by his Chrysler Patrol car at a quite brisk pace.  He loses me, or I lose him, as I take off across the desert ....at warp 12.

Back in Los Angeles, after a considerably shorter period of time than it took to get to Tecaté, I decide that an advanced degree, settling down, getting married, and increasing my stable of motorcycles and sports cars, are all great ideas.  I did not do all that at the same time...putting marriage off for quite awhile.  I was well and fast into this planned program when I noticed that many of my older (age 21-1/2) friends were getting drafted.  I decided to, at the prompting of friend Bucky, and his Marine Colonel father (whose daughter was my chase of the moment), take my life into The Government's Hands (?), and join the Marines.  I gave up motorcycles ...for 3 months actually.  I even had a French Poopette (a type of wee tiny motorcycle, actually called a Mobylette, that was the basis for the later MOPED) on Base ...and drove it after hours into an unmentionable field facility in the wee hours ...quite a mess to clean us both, hell-of-a stench too.  There is a photo of the scooter-bike on this site too.

After my initial servicing of the Service, and their reciprocal and heavy-handed life-changing servicing of ME, I found the pleasures of the perks that go with being an employee of a few companies.  Yes, I was in the Service, AND in Civvy life at the same time!   The motorcycle stable thinned out somewhat, but what was left was always interesting.  I did marry.  I went back to racing sports cars and bikes, including a Vincent and Norton Manx(s).  I drove to work in a Porsche RS550-1500.  I raced and set a record at Bonneville, on the day before my birthday in 1971, on the Norton/Vincent hybrid that I built.  My Boss, and his Partner, the owners of Linear Corporation (I was the Chief Engineer) were my Pit Crew Members.     Yes, I really was in the Service, and in Civilian employment, at the same time.  Don't ask.  By early 1970's I was really into R75/5 bikes too.  More and more.    I was doing 'lotsa fun things'.   Truth was, I gained a modicum of 'respectability & responsibility'....and there was the flying and the Marine Corps ...not to hardly mention my involvement with BMW.  I was wearing a suit and tie too often.

Just after the 70's began, I started to burn out on the Corporate Engineering life, and L.A. Lifestyle.    I quit my well-perked job as Chief Engineer with Linear Corporation, and did some odd consulting, divorced a while, and burned-out some more.  I gave up L.A. and moved to beautiful Lake Tahoe, where my lifestyle became far more laid-back.  I hunted, fished, hiked, etc.  I even learned how to ski on snow.  I mostly stored my bikes in the Winter after the first year of riding the R75/5 with mounted outrigger skis (no car).  I did re-acquaint myself with serious mountain roads carving.  Eventually the Service and I parted company; well, for awhile.  It was a fair deal ...I eventually would have a Pension to look forward to, and they got rid of me; but I went back a couple of times for a few to 6 years each.  I started several businesses, and even started doing custom BMW Airhead work ...again.

In early 1985 I decided that my last R75/5, of several, was getting long in the tooth, and it was time for a brand new BMW. After all, I needed a newer fashion (and, practical) statement.   ((I wish I'd kept the /5!))

I made the Sacramento dealer (Capitol Cycles) a bit nervous as I tried out his new K100RS demonstrator, along the river road.  I did not like it.  The store owner had TWO identical, unsold, late 1983 R100RT bikes on the floor.   I found out, while outside shmoozing with someone while eating lunch nearby, that the BMW dealership owner was going to jail soon, something about a trunk load of pot, and that I might be able to make QUITE a deal.  So it was that I went back to the dealership, not just to look at the two 1983 R100RT's ...but to chat a bit more seriously.  While chatting, I noticed a strange weird type looking at my R75/5.  There was NO sign on it offering it for sale.  We made a deal on the spot; and he would pick the bike up at my place at Tahoe in a week or two.  He even paid me, most of the $, in cash ...right there ...I wrote him a 'receipt' on a NAPKIN.   I am NOT KIDDING!

I now needed a road touring bike, as the purchaser of the /5 was coming to Tahoe soon to get it. I made a deal for BOTH of the new RT's, and purchased them at WAY under dealer cost.  Never quite understood all that, but I THINK they were under a flooring situation, and since he was going out of business, he was screwing either BMW or the flooring company, or both.  I rode one RT, the Maroon colored one, and sold the other (green, ugggh).  It was during this period of time that Oak and I had most of our longest conversations, and I had expanded my BMW business.  I helped Oak get gray hair with my phone conversations (no E-mail back then).  Oak and I had already become pretty good friends.

Meanwhile, I stayed in touch with Jerry over some years.  Jerry did not do ANY of the same things I did.  Jerry was having a lot of fun staying up with his own image.  He was riding all over Central and South America, making deals of some sort or other.  Occasionally I would hear from him when he needed some sort of advice on maintenance or repairs.  The R60 was still running just fine with normal maintenance; and he was nearing time for the crank to be removed to have the slingers cleaned.

September, 1986:  Jerry was in New Zealand if I remember correctly, with Whitebeard, and was shortly leaving to visit friends in OZ.  OZ .....just that slang name .... seemed to fit Jerry.   In early 1987 Jerry is riding back, at his usual slow pace, with many stops for weeks at a time, up through South America, to visit me, at Lake Tahoe.  He mentions as how maybe I could 'put him up for awhile', and WE could have lots of fun. I explain that his projected 'late 1987' arrival is likely to mean the COLD time of Winter here, surely he has had enough of cold, and I like being warm, and my present lifestyle is NOT conducive to long term house-guests.....but...but...why not have the R60 serviced at this place I know of in L.A., which will do a good job;...and; .....oooops;...comes the additional words "and we'll go to Escanaba for the MOA National together".  

Jerry thought THAT was a great idea, and so planned. Jerry was back in the U.S. earlier than he had originally planned. Yes I had him as a houseguest for a few days, before the proposed tour to the East, planning to ride side by side, going east on Highway 80, towards, we hoped, Escanaba.   Another longish story, best left UNSAID, here.

I lost track of Jerry after 1989.  In the original website version of this story, I had said:  ".....a bit after I returned from a wee stint back in Government Employment, I heard from his sister.  Jerry had gotten cancer.   Since he never smoked tobacco, you can draw your own conclusions. I was told by someone that he only lived a short while after the lung cancer diagnosis.  He supposedly left me a few things.   One of which was the R60.   But, I never actually saw it or anything else.  I gave Jerry's sister the name of a few folks I knew, and, yes, she sold the R60 to one of them.  I still have the other wee items he had long previously left with/for me, motorcycling memorabilia, and some flyers and other items from my racing days.    Someone in October 2006 actually read this story, and asked me if I had heard from Jerry...and I facetiously responded that I had "not heard from him in some years (I was thinking he was dead)".   Jerry's sister lives in Boston, and I had not talked to her in a very long time. On a whim, I called her.   She informed me that Jerry had gotten cancer, but it was NOT lung cancer and he had NOT died.   The truth was, and probably still is, that he was, then, in a Federal prison someplace, for the second time, this time for a VERY LONG stretch,  for selling drugs.  I haven't been able to be sure I have all these facts, factually.   My last contact with his sister was around 2010....nothing new to report. 


© Copyright, 2017, R. Fleischer

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Last check/edit: Sunday, January 15, 2017