Article and Photos By: Scooter Tramp Scotty
Originally Published In The February 2017 Issue Of Cycle Source Magazine
In the backwoods of Virginia, Shovelhead Steve toiled in the freestanding garage nestled at the forefront of his isolated property. This structure served as a makeshift Harley Shop—the only one for many miles—and it was here that customer jobs piled up. So intent was Steve’s concentration and worry over the completion of his responsibilities that he spent almost all his time and energy doing nothing else. In fact, Steve had all but forgotten he suffered from, but was not yet disabled by, a terminal disease that would most likely end his life before its time. He was so busy that when two heavily loaded motorcycles pulled into the shop and a man ambled inside to tell him about a transmission problem, Steve said simply that he had neither the time nor special tools required for deep tranny work. Still, seeing the couple’s rather desperate dilemma, Steve offered space in his yard (no room inside the tiny shop) and the use of his tools so that the man could work on the bike. Later Steve would allow them to make their camp down by his creek until they could rectify the motorcycle’s problem. It was soon decided that the transmission would be pulled, strapped to the girl’s motorcycle, and then would be taken to a friend’s shop in Asheville NC where it could be overhauled. The job of pulling a transmission from the old Electra Glide took two days during which Steve had spent hours talking to the guy. It turned out that he was a writer, as was Steve—he’d almost forgotten. The camp, packed up motorcycles, and talk of distant adventure had stirred something inside… and Steve remembered. He remembered those rides, those adventures, and the way they’d made him feel. How long had it been since he’d been on one? Steve could not recall when last he’d made the time, or even taken a short ride to the nearby town of Asheville.
In truth, it had been years. So, as the day of the tranny’s departure approached Steve hinted he’d like to ride along and was warmly welcomed. I’m often asked what my favorite parts of the country for riding are. For me the Smoky/Appellation ranges are always one of them and it was through these beautiful mountains that we rode that day. For our lollygagging and pleasure riding, this 100 mile trip took most of the day. At our stops, I noted a new glow in Shovelhead Steve’s eyes. It seemed something inside him was waking up. Upon entering the Asheville city limits, Steve bid us adieu. Although staying a few days, he was here to visit old friends and would later see us back at his house. Asheville is a town I had passed through years ago and by some strange outrageous circumstance accidentally ended up staying for two months. Asheville is mid-sized and is neither too big nor too boring. It is set deep in the fantastic Smoky Mountain greenery. Downtown offers an array of bars, espresso shops, restaurants, etc. This place is also a super-mecca for artists from all over the country and art shops adorn its narrow streets. Asheville also hosts street performers nestled among the strange mix of hippies, yuppies, and tourists.
On Fridays, a drum circle held at the downtown park generally attracts hundreds of drummers and even more attendees. Likewise, on Thursdays there’s a music and hula hoop thing put on in the same park that attracts almost as many people. On those occasions when someone asks where I’d choose to settle, I always say Asheville. Some years after that initial visit, my bike had broken while I was in Asheville and I’d repaired it in the parking lot of a one-man shop called Mountain Cycle Works. The owner and I have been friends ever since and when I visit the area I always make camp in the yard of his home. Jody’s Asheville shop is equipped to handle heavy transmission work so I had placed a call and he was expecting us. Next, I’d put in a call to an entrepreneurial friend who makes most of his living selling Harley parts. Rather than send only the gears I needed to replace those broken ones, he’d insisted on shipping a complete Andrews gear set, brand new and still in the box. I’d given him the address for Mountain Cycle Works and the parts were waiting for my arrival. It was time to work. Although it has moved to a larger location since, at this time Jody’s little shop still resided in what looked like a small freestanding garage that sat atop a grassy hill. He seemed happy to see us; though I don’t know why since I certainly wasn’t a big money customer— just a friend. My transmission problem had been caused by a broken shifting fork. I’d known about it for a while but must have forgotten I guess. Betsy’s model year had been recalled for weak shifting forks. Still, the defective originals had lasted almost 400,000 miles.
Jody showed me the new gear-set Derek had sent. It came complete with shifting forks. They looked much heavier than the originals. I threw the tranny on the table and started to disassemble it. Although there are only a few special transmission tools, Jody had them all. On occasion, I’d gutted one of these things before, but this would be my first shot at completely disassembling all gears, bearings, and shafts as well. I’d do all the work I could (which was most of it) and Jody’d show me how, or help with, the rest. Fortunately, Harley’s 5-speed is the simplest transmission they ever built. Once gutted, Jody showed me that each gear is simply held on by a c-clip. Remove that and the gears just slide off the shafts one by one. I made sure to lay them in the proper order lest I forget what went where on reassembly. I seem to be one of the world’s slowest mechanics and the completion of this job would undoubtedly run into days. That evening we set camp in the backyard of Jody’s home. We’d arrived late in the week and Friday was quickly upon us. Mountain Cycle Works would close because Jody refuses to work weekends. Hes kind of a party animal, which I find interesting for such a quiet man. Guess he just likes to be where the action is.
Unlike many smallish towns, Asheville has a lot of action and on most any weekend finding things to do is an easy job. After a Karaoke bar on Friday night, we all went to the big drum circle in town on Saturday afternoon. Sunday offered a smallish motorcycle event and of course we had to go. Jody took his 1986 FXR while Michelle and I rode the Honda. Having some extensive history in this little town, I ran into old friends, and made a few new ones. The little motorcycle rally lasted well into the night. On Monday, we were back at the grind. In years past I’d had a transmission bearing go south. It had dropped fine metal into the oil and destroyed the other bearings and the secondary shaft. I was afraid that had happened again and therefore wanted to tear the tranny completely down, inspect all parts closely, and replace every single bearing. But as I took the thing apart it became apparent that, because this time it had been a broken gear which had dropped only large chunks of metal into the tranny case, none of the bearings had suffered any damage at all. I could simply replace the shifting forks and one broken gear. Still, since the Andrews gear set had come with all new bearings, gears, etc., I decided to just install everything.
For the job of pressing new bearings into the case, Jody held it in the press while Michelle operated the pump. Although there were some setbacks, within a few days my new transmission, complete with high dollar Andrews gears (shift much nicer than stock) was once again whole. In the end, Jody never charged me for the use of his place, but while I was there I made sure I spent a little time working on his customer’s bikes. Michelle even got into the action by helping with simpler jobs more suited to her abilities. By late in the week our work was done. For Michelle and I there were no time limits and, still enjoying the time here, we found no reason to hurry off. An idea occurred to me then: Michelle’s bike had a bad front end wobble and I knew it needed neck bearings. Jody suggested we do the job now. The little Honda’s neck had originally come with ball bearings, but we managed to get a kit that converts those to Timken style bearings which are much better. That job had been done in a day. The weekend was rolling around again and Jody had a little BBQ party planned for his backyard on Saturday. There was food, friends, guitars, and amateur karaoke (Jody has a good voice and loves to sing). It proved to be a wonderfully relaxing time. We left Monday morning. When we got back to Steve’s place it didn’t take long to reinstall that tranny and in short order the bike was again roadworthy. I’d notice a real change in Steve since our return. He was quite obviously more relaxed, and talked about his ideas that lay beyond the boundaries of his shop. Not only had Steve allowed me use of his place without charge, he also thanked me for coming. It was still springtime and the summer’s travels lay just ahead. Michelle and I repacked our things and resumed the journey. Steve and I occasionally spoke on the phone after that. He told me he’d gotten back into writing and had found some way to make money with his art by using the internet. He was also doing some traveling on his motorcycle again. Again, he thanked me for coming (which under the circumstances seemed kind of ridiculous) and I thanked him rather profusely for all he’d done. We kept in touch for quite some time, but eventually lost track. Years later I was passing by and stopped in only to find Steve’s house and shop abandoned. Life is short for us all, and no matter what became of you Steve, I hope the majority of your time on this planet has been a wonderful and enchanting experience. After all, what more can a man ask of this life?