Custom Bike Builder Kevin Baxter Shares The Story Behind His First Motorcycle, And The Life Lesson That Accompanied It.
A new year and the second decade since the big Y2K scare is finally upon us. Twenty years later, and the human race didn’t suffer from a global computer meltdown despite the chaos that ensued in the months leading up to December 31, 1999. It is also 20 years after the night that Prince sang about, reminding us a few years before just how big every party should be. This is the day after my birthday and my annual reflection on another fateful trip around the sun. As I have done in years past, I offer a writing as a muse to those who may have opportunity to entertain the reading of it.
Sitting in a living room with family, preparing to countdown those last 10 seconds of 2019 while sipping on my third Old Fashioned, I found myself completely engaged in articles and advertisements from old Popular Mechanics magazines printed in the late 1960s through early 1970s. I sat flipping between the cover pages and found ads for items like cigarette brands I’ve never heard of, cars I’ve worked on or restored, and how-to articles offering tips on adjusting your rooftop antenna or modifying it to receive more AM radio stations. Despite those distractions, two particular themes began to emerge within the ads and articles, both of which stood out…popping off the pages and equally as obvious as the single large ice cube from the bottom of my glass, tapping the tip of my nose telling me it was time for a refill.
On nearly every page, there was an ad for information on how to start my own business.
For only 50 cents and a self-addressed stamped envelope, fifty years ago I would have been on my way to being my own boss as a locksmith, saw blade sharpener, automotive technician, leathersmith, or TV repairman. On the facing pages I found articles about outdoor activities like motorcycling or bicycling….on nearly every page in every single magazine.
Fifty years ago, people were concerned about earning a fair wage for hard work with a special skill, reliant on their own eagerness to succeed. They were also concerned about how they would enjoy their recreational time outdoors, on two wheels. A computer powering up or instructions on how to party in 1999 was far from their minds.
Who remembers these entertaining ads the brands used to create back in the day?
I recall one significant lesson I learned as a child from my stepfather. He, my mother, older sister and I moved out to the country to live in a log cabin he built. The house was surrounded by 100 acres of fields and thick forests. I was only 8 years old when we moved there and I was quickly given the responsibility of mowing the front 5 acres of field grass with an old 8N Ford Jubilee and a bush hog. I simply wasn’t strong enough to use my left foot alone to operate the clutch but figured out quickly that I could jump off the seat, press the pedal by standing on it, shift to neutral, then jump to the other side of the gear case, landing on both steering brake pedals to stop. I was a pro.
Those 5 acres were relatively dangerous to mow for anyone standing within 100 yards of the tractor. The field was covered in rocks. One day, my stepfather came to me with a notebook, a calculator, and a pencil. I was instructed to remove every rock from the field and keep a record of how many. In exchange for my efforts, he would pay me 5 cents for every rock I removed. Some were large, others small, but there was one, right in the middle of the field, that was massive- nearly 4 times bigger than me, if memory serves me well. “How much for the big one?” I asked.
“I told you, 5 cents for every rock big or small,” was his answer with a grin and a pat on the head. “Just get it done.”
I sat on the front porch of the cabin for what felt like an eternity, taking in what seemed to be a monumental task for an 8 year old. Finally, I decided to go after the biggest rock first. I found a chain in the basement, wrapped it around the hitch of the tractor and the rock, dropped that old girl into low range, then 1st, and hopped onto the seat from standing on the clutch. The rock rolled and the chain popped off. So I reset the chain, repeated my well thought out procedure, the rock rolled, and the chain popped off again… and again, and again, and again. All day. One rock noted in my notebook. 5 cents earned for the day.
The next morning I headed for the tractor. I was a bit angry because I was told to ride with my stepdad to the local hardware store. Right next to the hardware store was a Honda dealership. When we arrived, I begged to go inside the Honda shop while he went into Ace Hardware. As I walked inside, I found my dream bike. A bright red CR-60 with a bright blue seat. It was magnificent…except for the huge SOLD tag hanging from the handlebars. I was crushed and made my way over to Ace Hardware.
Who had one of these growing up? The perfect little starter bike for a kid on a farm.
After 30 minutes or so sifting through bins of plumbing supplies and nuts & bolts, we checked out and headed for the truck. In the back of his little red Dodge D50 pickup, was my dream bike with the big SOLD tag still on it. Little did I know just moments before, his exercise was a test. The day prior, he watched me work on that one rock all day, right up to the point he made a phone call to the Honda shop before they closed.
I rode that motorbike for years, remembering how hard I worked to earn it.
That one day me, an old 8N Ford Jubilee tractor and a chain earned only 5 cents. I rode that motorbike for years, remembering how hard I worked to earn it. Yes, I still had to remove all the remaining rocks from the field and the reward was far greater everyday. I was taught that hard work, determination, and ambition pays off. I learned that reward comes often when you least expect it. To this day, I tackle the biggest challenges first, not expecting a reward…but if it comes early, I still finish the challenge with the same tenacity I began with.
I wish I had clearer photos of me and my little bike, but I have the cherished memories, crystal clear in my mind and heart.
Like those who browsed the pages of Popular Mechanics magazine fifty years prior to my rock moving adventure, I was exposed to a work ethic. Reward for a job well done. Pride in even the most mundane task. And when I completed those tasks, I was shown how wonderful two wheels can be. I wasn’t concerned with how I would party in 1999, and I didn’t care if my computer powered up on January 1st.
All I wanted was another opportunity to learn skills, an opportunity to earn- and to ride my dream bike. It seems that folks fifty years ago simply wanted the exact same things. They recognized the value of self-motivated hard work and reward on two wheels, no computer required. Yes, we have progressed in technology…but the 1960s-70s didn’t seem so bad either.