The Bike in the Box : For more than 50 years, the military-spec Triumph TRW had sat in its original factory packing crate. Now the time had come to open the box.
For as long as Tim Hastings could remember, the box had been part of his family, like a piece of old, weird furniture. It had sat in the basement of their Nanaimo home since 1977—eleven years before Tim was born. His father Gerry was the actual owner of the box but, tragically, he was killed on his HRD Vincent last year while returning from a California ride. Gerry’s wife, Joan, and Tim then had to determine the box’s fate, which they knew contained an old motorcycle of some description.
The box actually contained a 1957 TRW military spec 500cc Triumph, one of 40,000 designed and built for WW II and post-war use by Britain and its allies. After construction in Meriden, England, it was shipped to a military distribution point in London, Ontario, then to CFB Esquimalt in Victoria, BC, where it sat, unopened and neglected, until declared surplus and sold at a 1976 Crown Assets auction to Gerry. It had not seen the light of day for more than 50 years.
Since entrusting the box and contents to a family friend, Robin Mullett of Robin’s Classic and Vintage Motorcycles, the bike in the box came to reside in Victoria’s Sidecar Cafe, a motorcycle-themed restaurant owned by Kevin and Deb Dunn. Unlikely as this may first seem, it was the perfect venue for what was to follow … the Dunns planned to open the crude military packing crate with the stencilled “TRIUMPH MOTORCYCLE” and actually build it inside the cafe.
To Victoria’s motorcycle community, this was like opening King Tut’s sarcophagus, or Geraldo Rivera revealing the contents of Al Capone’s safe. A crowd gathered for the occasion, including the likes of 91-year-old veteran Ted Coombs and former WW II dispatch rider Stan Mayer, who recalled his beach landing during the 1944 D-Day invasion of Normandy. His Norton was destroyed that day, so he hitched a ride on a tank until he discovered an identical TRW Triumph, which had been abandoned after “Operation Market Garden” at the Dutch town of Nijimegen. He mounted this new bike and rode it for the duration of his war.
Also on hand for the uncrating was technical support team that consisted of Victoria’s classic cycle icons: Ken Brown, whom Dunn describes as “the best pre-unit guy around;” Robin Mullet, a wizard at restoring and finding new homes for classic bikes, Roy Bennett, owner of a 1956 Triumph TRW, mechanic Patrick Blais, and Major John Reilly, who owns a 1942 military Harley that now resides just inside the front door of the Cafe.
The big day dawned with a huge invited crowd, including period military riders, jeeps and veterans, who were almost hoarse from repeating their stories. “I’m amazed that this old bike has resulted in this great gathering and the collective talent putting it together,” enthused Joan Hastings, as the Sidecar’s parking lot became a jumble of riders and vehicles, including another TRW that was one serial number away from the bike in the box.
Inside, the anticipation grew as the hammer neared the crowbar and the first board was pulled off the crate to reveal brown, waxed wrapping paper. The next board off showed some bright green paint and subsequent boards exposed cosmoline coated side covers, rims and frame.
Gradually, the bike came into view, laying like a baby in a cradle, with about a hundred proud aunts and uncles craning to get a better look at the new arrival.
The reassembly team, led by Brown was amazed at the condition of the bike: the fine rubber taillight gaskets, the cadmium plating of the nuts and bolts, the chrome rims, not a spot of rust after 50 years.
“Where are they now?” mused Mullet as his thoughts turned to the original factory members who had assembled the bike in 1957, tested it, disassembled it and then finally packed it in this very box. “Here we are (in 2007) putting it all back together,” said Mullett.
Dunn had to stop the action several times so that everyone in the crowd could get a closer look and take a photo. After the boards were removed, each of the parts was hoisted out and raised overhead like the Stanley Cup, drawing cheers from the crowd.
“Seeing it out of the box is great,” said Tim Hastings. “Now it is going to be used and appreciated. Dad would have loved that.”
Hastings plans to incorporate the remnants of the stencilled packing crate into a coffee table or sideboard as a tribute to his father.
– Bill Gedye