#281 Advice from self-reliant men

When did thinking for yourself and making do with what you have become a social faux pas? These and other thoughts as mail arrives from unexpected places.

In this issue, Bertrand Gahel boards the 2012 GSX-R1000 for a farewell rip on what he calls, “the last of the analogue superbikes.” Though it’s a highly sophisticated motorcycle by any past standard, the GSX-R has not yet fully adapted the techtronics of its sport class contemporaries. Bert reckons the big Suzuki will have all that in its next variation—likely two years hence—but for now, the bike relies on the human touch for all its operational inputs. Call it, the DIY contender in the superbike class.
Some people say the DIY spirit is fast disappearing in North America. But one of the more curious examples of self-reliance came the other day in a handwritten letter from a fellow who identified himself on the return side of the envelope only as M. Sprague from Garibaldi Highlands, which is a small community north of Squamish, BC, enroute toward Whistler.
Mr. Sprague is apparently an inventive sort, or perhaps a habitual answerer of questions nobody’s asked. For him, riding season began last Oct. 24 when he purchased a small Honda Rebel mainly because there was nothing else available locally. Problem: Mr. Sprague is a big dude with two dogs and in the habit of hauling building materials and what not here and there.
But our man Sprague solves his own problems. “Trailer hitches can be fashioned from shelving verticals,” he writes. “Bolted to the frame with an eye to clearing swingarms and 2 or 3 inches of rear tire.”
But what about the livestock? Was he going to neglect his pets now that the Rebel was in his life. If you think so, you don’t know Sprague.
“Can’t leave home without the dog you understand, and on the seven km of mountain road, snow/ice, lightly graveled at best, it does work as a stabilizer … the dog trailer that is.”
Quite so, quite so, Mr. Sprague. But what about winter road conditions in the mountains where you make your back-country home? How does all your ingenuity see you through that?
“This is my sixth winter,” says Sprague. “No chains, street tires, no sudden movements. Though when I had the [Suzuki] 250 GS, and two dogs in the trailer, with at least another 100 lbs. of accumulate, there were several occasions of rearward slippage till I made re-contact with a slight amount of sand, reversing my direction to a forwardly go.”
His preference for small-displacement bikes is obvious, even if they do lack sufficient power for a “forwardly go” under certain circumstances. Like the time he flogged a 250 Yamaha Exciter uphill over “extreme washboard” tugging a load that included “2 dogs, an 8X4 sheet of plywood, a sliding glass door (3X7), and 100 lbs. of miscellaneous.” Mr. Sprague himself tilts the scales at 190 lbs. It was, he freely admits, “a relief to get home.”
Now, if you’re under the impression that this is a man who constitutes a road hazard, be advised that what Mr. Sprague does is “small town,back road driving stuff.” Mind you, he once did attempt to take himself and the two dogs to the Vancouver Jazz Festival. This nearly proved disastrous. “A friend followed until the out-of-square washer-style chain tensioners lost their grip and a rear-wheel high-speed wobble ensued,” he says. “The trailer buffered my buffoonery until I got it down from the 80 k. Very excitering.”
Get it? Exciter(ing). Such a versatile man, this M. Sprague: inventive and with a sense of humour. He offers one last pearl of wisdom. “Just to mess with your new BC Hydro Smart meter, turn out all the lights in the house (Year 5 man myself). With a headlight (on your head) you have maximum illumination at all times.”
Too often, people like Sprague are considered eccentric because they refuse to march in lockstep to trends and norms. They eschew modern conveniences because they regard them as traps, the “system” uses to lure and enslave free people. When did it become “wrong” to be self-reliant? To think against the grain?
How did that thinking creep in?

FOR THE PAST FEW ISSUES, I’VE invited readers of this page to write in with stories they’d like to share of any favourite or special tools they might have on their bench. The invitation was inspired by Rick Epp’s “The Four Laws of Acquisition” (March). The feature recounts the various ways tools—especially the ones that have meaning—end up on our workbenches and why they stay there.
Ed Pretty of Langley, BC has written to say, ”I read Rick Epp’s article with great interest and had no difficulty relating to every single thing he said.” Ed is not only a regular contributor to CB, but also a highly-skilled wood turner whose family has deep roots in BC’s logging industry. Ed shares the following tale of a handbuilt tool:

“My shop is filled with tools that are my grandfather’s, father’s and my own. Some are purpose-built, repaired “old stock,” repurposed “just about anything into just about anything else” and some were actually purchased.
The career span of all three generations is represented by an ox yoke on one end, hand and power logging and farm tools in the middle and speciality tools for working on helicopters at the other end. When my motorcycles appeared in the mix, I had no difficulty finding something to get the job done.
Oddly enough, the one thing that I pick up and use on just about any day in my shop is the mallet that Dad helped me make (well, I guess he did most of it) as my first project on a wood lathe. I was nine at the time, so it is more than 50 years old. Besides motorcycle touring, woodturning is my other passion, so it often comes into play for minor adjustments or carving on turned pieces.
That mallet isn’t directly linked to motorcycling but it was something we needed in a pinch, so we made it. To me it represents the “can-do” attitude that was required to keep any motorcycle on the road back in the day and what is sometimes needed at any time to keep going during the hottest, coldest, wettest or longest days on the road.

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