Steve Wilson
Steve Wilson

Here is a little story about one little incident back in my days of riding motorized two-wheeled transports, also known as motorcycles. Like many of my stories, this one takes place in Greenfield back in the halcyon days of teenhood. (Hey, if there can be a childhood and an adulthood. then there can be a teenhood, and I bet child psychologists would agree teens deserve their own hood; but I digress.)

In fact, it was in the Summer of my 16th year and I was as indestructible as all teens are at that age. But first let me start with my first experience on two-wheelers, which seed was planted by none other than Captain Kangaroo; yes, THE Captain Kangaroo. If you were born after 1984 then either do the research, or continue to read wondering.

One morning back in the year 1963, the Captain, a Schwinn company advertiser, introduced a whole new concept in bikes that struck a chord in our young minds; the Sting-Ray. It was not but a few weeks the first ones made their appearance in town, and the very first Sting-Ray I laid eyes on was gold with a gleaming white banana seat and tall, shiny ape-hanger handlebars. On it sat my friend Rusty. He was the only child of professional people, his dad a bank president and his mom a postal manager, and so it was not uncommon for Rusty to score big when it came to toys and bikes and, well, just about everything.

This becomes evident when you know this new acquisition came on his 11th birthday, July 10, and, I had to look this up, the morning Captain Kangaroo introduced the Sting-Ray was in June; I assume early June because Rusty had his in a few weeks, no doubt after a trip up to San Jose or San Francisco to find one as they were selling quickly.

Now the pressure was on to also sit atop one of these new marvels of transportation, these bold departures from the old, standard bike design; how to talk the parents into getting (read: buying) me a Sting-Ray. A kid without any siblings does not deal with the hand-me-down policy of multiple siblings. For any reader whose parents were of modest means and you had older sibs, I was the middle of three, then you know that often, if not always, certain pieces of clothing, pants, shirts, sweaters and such, along with other things, like bicycles, get handed down to the next child in line.

My birthday was three weeks after Rusty’s, on Aug. 3, and so I pushed for the bike because, and only because, it just happened that the 24-inch Schwinn bike I had ridden for two or three years was the hand-me-down from my older brother: in short, it was my right to a new bike. And a couple weeks later when that date came, no Sting-Ray. What followed was three long weeks until the summer break was over and come September on the first day back to school there in the bicycle rack were two Sting-Rays taunting me with banana seats that looked like two broad, sarcastic grins.

A check of the Word Count function tells me to move this narrative along, so: I got a bright green Sting-Ray for Christmas of that year and to add extra class I sent away for pair of bright orange handle grips in the likeness of Tony the Tiger of Frosted Flakes fame (They’re Grrrr-eat!!); I was stylin’. Not long after this time, Rusty got a Bonanza Mini-Bike and so, of course, I once again petitioned the parents, once again I prevailed, and was soon buzzing around our double-wide yard, up and down the alley and in empty lots on the little 3.5 horse powered speedster. And Rusty and I were not the sole owners of such machines; there appeared all over town manufactured mini-bikes and homemade versions made from bicycle frames with engines attached to what were called Tote Goats, they spawned straight from the backyard designer’s mind.

My friend Darold, whose parents and grandparents lived in two houses both with lots next to them, four lots altogether, owned a homemade Tote Goat that when running smoothly was fast but when running foul was a beast. He once was having so much trouble getting the thing started, he demanded I give him a match so he could toss it in the fuel tank and be rid of the thing. I didn’t carry matches so that probable catastrophe was avoided.

When he was 17 years old, Rusty’s parents bought him a Honda 90 motorcycle and my first advance to my dad on the idea was shut down immediately and, as he said at the time, for as long as I lived under his roof. That ban lasted for decades, until I had been in and out of a marriage and had retreated to Southern California to pick up the pieces and finish getting a college degree.

My first purchase was from Larry, a very used, once stolen, stripped and re-equipped Yamaha 750cc motorcycle which, according to Rodney (another expert motorcycle racer) would never even make it down to Southern California from Greenfield. He was, uncharacteristically, wrong. I made 17, 700-mile round trips and two semesters of three times a week 40-mile round trips from home to the college I was attending on that bike. After that first bike came four more, all owned at one time. I spend many hours on the seat of various motorcycles with few incidents.

Ten years later, while camping with my son at Heritage Ranch at Lake Nacimiento, I rode his 1100cc bike at 35 miles an hour for two miles to a friend’s home and was scared the whole ride. It was gone, that fearlessness needed to ride at 70-plus miles an hour down the freeways. But that is not the story I want to tell; this is: (Continued next issue).

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King City and Greenfield columnist Steve Wilson may be reached at [email protected].


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