by Doug Kephart
This is a story of how to acquire parts the hard way.
I had purchased my 1936 Aero Douglas, and at a motorcycle meet in June (1993) had once again run into the former owner. He had the headlamp for it, which I collected, and we were standing around chatting a bit. An acquaintance of his from Canada was standing near, and hearing talk of Douglases, mentioned he knew a fellow up his way that he thought had some Douglas stuff. I gave him one of our shop cards and asked him to pass it on to his friend when he got back home, just to see what it might be. Shortly after (3 seconds) I forgot all about it.
|Six months later I receive a letter from Canada. Now mind you, I don't know anyone in Canada. Open it up and there is a note from a fellow who cannot remember where he met me, but he has my card with "Douglas Parts" written on the back. Eventually (with some help) I remembered talking to this fellow, who now had sent a name and a phone number of a person that had some Douglas parts. An engine, mudguard, and a wheel it seemed.
So I called the number, yes, it was a Douglas engine, S6 model (1930-ish) by the description, front wheel with brake, and front forks with mudguard. I had some photos sent down and sure enough it was a S6 engine, mostly there, sort of rusty. Front mudguard in good nick, and it so happens, of that peculiar bell shaped cross section that I just happened to need for my 1928 F-28 model Douglas. With the front stays, brackets and wheel stand no less. Absolute bliss. The girder blades looked identical to the F-28 as well, or but later found to be slightly different.
So back on the phone and strike a deal for the whole lot. I did not really need the S6 engine, not having an S6 (well not yet anyway) but the price was reasonable so it was sort of "thrown in cheap". Or so I justified it to myself. How to collect? Well this fellow had no means to ship, but he knew the fellow that contacted me frequently attended American motorcycle meets down my way to buy parts, and would probably haul the stuff down.
O.K., so I write this fellow a letter; could he, would he? Couple months go by and no reply. Well I figure, he wants no further involvement, what now? Well there was nothing else but to drive to Canada and collect it personally; visit Niagara Falls as well, and make a real vacation of it.
So the next three day weekend, Easter Holiday, we set off. My brother was riding shotgun, which meant leaving Friday evening as he did not have the day off. Still, we made it into New York state (from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) before stopping at an EconoLodge (hotel chain). Which despite it's name was not cheap, and much in need of repairs. Credit my brother for picking this winner, too bad he did not pay for it. Mind you, it certainly looked as if it should have been inexpensive, the place was downright seedy. But it's late, road weary you hit the sack. The bed is too soft.
At 2:00 am, one hundred car freight train rumbles through town for ten minutes straight, sounds like it is on the other side of the wall. Sleep in half hour bits.
Dawn, rain. Back hurts like hell from bed (chronic back problems.) Get up and wander outside looking for lounge which is supposed to offer breakfast. Find it down the end, abandoned, but lights are on and places set, though side door locked. Wander around front to main entrance, out in the pouring rain now. Front door is locked, notice mega-freight rail yard directly across the street; try second door. This is locked as well. Wander back around to front desk and discover secret entrance to the grub at side of reception desk. Plenty of food, cheap and editable, four big pancakes griddled in 10-40W SAE multi-weight. Hit the road.
Noon, Buffalo NY and then Canada! Border check point, usual questions about booze, guns and drugs. Then more and more detailed questions; where you going, why, to see who, what's his name, address, how long, reason for, when are you're leaving, are you employed, then "pull over to that canopy." Pull over, guy comes over, tells you to get out of the car and stand back (not towards them, they get alarmed!).
More questions while the car is searched including reciting our address and other detailed information about employment and wanting to inspect how much cash we have. So nervous now I get brain lock when asked what town we stayed in the night before (Binghamton, NY). Questions seem to indicate suspicion we are illegally seeking employment, search seems to indicate suspicion we are smuggling drugs.
Sent on our way with a "have a nice day!" By now we feel criminal and guilty of something. I thought we were good neighbors with this country. I spy a McDonald's, pull in for lunch and yes they do take U.S. currency. Do not have a small bill so exchange a large one, exchange is below market value and I get a bunch of surplus Canadian money back. Great, a whole pocket full of souvenirs. Not only is the exchange rate hedged, but prices seem steep too, even allowing for the weaker Canadian dollar. Should have enjoyed it, it was that last meal of the day, have a BIG soft drink.
Find correct road and address but fellow seems surprised to see us, forgot about our driving up despite calling earlier that week and setting an appointment. Lucky he was in. Collect parts and settle up. Tour barn to look at other motorcycle parts, pick out a Velocette Venom transmission shell I need, look through various frames in loft and manage to disturb resident raccoon. Very strange chittering noise of warning from mother raccoon back under the eves, very dark back there too.
Take leave and head up to Niagara Falls to see the sites, no free parking near falls so park further down in town and walk back up part way (to save money.) Plenty of water going over falls, near flood stage in fact, but somehow expected it to be slightly bigger in real life, like twice as big. It is late afternoon and we decide to move on.
Cross back into United States, at Niagara, expect to breeze through like the people with Ontario license plates going into Canada at Buffalo, New York. After all, we are native United States citizens! Stopped at the check point, questioned by dumb, fat, and extremely suspicious American. Similar questions as earlier, same stupid feelings of guilt. Asks how long we were in Canada, "six hours", slight pause, then confiscates both our drivers licenses. Have to pull under canopy and go in to retrieve our licenses. People inside want to know why we came in! Explain, and declare motor cycle parts and present prepared receipt. Much waiting.
Car is searched, trained dog brought out. Dog climbs all through interior of car then into the back where Douglas parts are. Dog zero's in on the S6 engine. Drug Dog is very much interested in engine. The Dog Handler calls for the dog, but it takes three tries to get the dog to let go of the engine, which it appears to have in a half-Nelson hold. Fortunately the Handler does not at all seem interested in the engine, my brother lamely suggests the dog smells the raccoon scent on it. Oh yeah, I bet they know all about that one, rub raccoon all over to cover up the smell of the dope, smuggler's tip #43, throws the dog every time. However we do not have to dismantle the engine, our licenses are returned and best of all they do not charge duty on the motorcycle parts!
On we roll, my brother at the wheel now. I think back to Niagara Falls, and then that big soft drink I had so long ago... I suggest to my brother that if he saw a good place to pull over, to do so at the first opportunity. My lower back is screaming, or was it my kidney's? Two hours later my brother decides it is time to stop, it is now late at night. My brother picks another hotel, this time a brand new one. The restaurants in town have closed and there was none at the hotel, supper was a canned drink from a vending machine. It was more expensive than the last place but a lot nicer, the bed was firm, and there was a nice view of the propane tank, oh and there was no hot water but other than that... Guess who paid again.
A new day dawned, complementary breakfast turned out to be a cup of juice and a dry Danish. Breakfast took about five minutes, and that included several minutes glaring at each other. On the road again. Two miles on there were half a dozen inexpensive motels, I bet they all had hot water. Finally that afternoon saw us back at home, after logging 935 miles and twenty three hours on the road. Was it worth it?... I plead insanity!
The very next night I got a call from the fellow whom sent me the letter, he would be going to the up coming bike meet in Oley, Pa., just 45 miles away, and he would be happy to bring the Douglas parts down, no charge, as it was on his way...
Don't you just love this hobby?
© 2002 D. Kephart