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BSA Gold Star and Brylcreem on a Midnight Run

A late-night dash on a logging road nearly ends in disaster for two  boys who packed light, rode hard, and loved their motorcycles, a BSA Gold Star and  650 Twin, in the magical summer of 1964.

As our cooling BSAs ticked in the darkness of 1:00 a.m., Terry and I searched in vain for a light from the island cabin. We grew increasingly concerned as swarms of mosquitoes and blackflies slowly devoured us on the shores of this remote lake in the wilderness of eastern Ontario. It was the summer of 1964, we were young then, and we’d ridden hard to reach this stretch of shoreline, but at that moment there was some doubt we’d actually survive the night. How had we managed to get ourselves into this?

It was the end of July 1964, late Friday afternoon, when Terry and I mounted our bikes and started this adventure—a 350-kilometre ride from our homes in east Toronto to his family cottage located on an island of a remote lake near the eastern Ontario town of Ompah. Terry was riding his “sweet and reliable” BSA 650 twin and I was on my beloved, temperamental, and completely unreliable 1956 BSA Gold Star. However, I was always well prepared for any challenges that “Goldie” might throw at me. In my riding jacket I carried pliers and a roll of baling wire, a couple rear drivechain master links, a spare headlight bulb, and an assortment of wrenches and screwdrivers and a small metal file. Unfailingly, I would never start out on a trip without these items. As we set out that Friday afternoon, I carefully re-checked, making sure, that these essential items were, indeed, in the pockets of my riding jacket.

We were packed and ready for a weekend of fun in the sun: swimming trunks replaced underwear under our jeans, and a toothbrush and tube of Brylcreem were stashed in the breast pockets of our jackets. No saddlebags or duffle bags for us, since “real riders” don’t carry stuff they don’t need. 

For the most part we followed Highway 2 to Belleville, Highway 37 north through Tweed and Kaladar, then Highway 41 north to the start of about 75 kilometres of secondary roads that would take us through Plevna to the village of Ompah. From there, a 15-kilometre logging road would bring us to a clearing beside the lake. There, a boat would be waiting to ferry us to the island. Our intention was to arrive at the lake before sunset. However, as usual, when the two of us set out on a road trip, fate would invariably intervene and alter our plans. 

Terry and I were high school classmates, and because of our shared passion on everything related to motorcycling, became best of friends. In the early 1960s, throughout grades 11 and 12, we would spend our lunch period at Russell Winter & Co. Harley-Davidson, or Firth Motorcycles, both just a short distance from our high school, Danforth Tech. I recall that Harry Firth, who sold English marques, allowed us to sit on the bikes displayed on his showroom floor, while we ate our baloney and cheese sandwiches. No such accommodation was shown at Winter H-D, where we were merely tolerated. No surprise that we became much more attracted to British bikes than to Harley-Davidsons. 

Firth indulged and promoted our dreams while Winter, at best, ignored us. Sitting on a Matchless, BSA, and other British bikes on the floor, we would spend hours planning exotic trips that we would take once we had finished school and saved enough money to purchase our dream machines. The friendship that formed between us, based on a deep passion for motorcycling, still remains after 55 years.   

Following Highway 2 out of Toronto, we passed through Oshawa about 5:00 p.m., well on schedule to arrive at the cottage by nine. It was a very warm, sunny, summer day and the meteorological forecast for the entire weekend was hot and dry: the basis for a memorable ride and a fantastic weekend out of the city. Goldie was running exceptionally well and the traffic was very light. Arriving in Belleville at about 6:30 p.m., we pulled over at a rundown, downtown tavern for dinner. Watered and fed with a Carling’s Red Cap for me and a Black Label for Terry washing down a couple pickled eggs and Polish sausage, we refueled at the Texaco station nearby, ready for the final leg of our trip.

Rolling out of the gas station, I noticed a young soldier about my age in military garb with a suitcase in hand, standing at the nearby bus stop. I stopped and asked where he was going. “Ottawa,” he replied. Hop on the back, I offered, and he accepted. 

As I accelerated to about 80 kmh, I heard a loud bang. A suitcase flew past my right ear as my passenger wrapped his arms around my head and his legs around my waist. I couldn’t see a thing, but heard the screeching rear tire, as Goldie skidded in a straight line down the road. Damn, the drive chain had snapped and wrapped around the rear sprocket before jamming between the sprocket and swingarm. 

After coming to a stop, surprisingly still upright, I tried to assure the soldier that this sort of thing was not a big deal, that motorcycle chains break all the time, and that we would be delayed only for the time it took me to file off the broken chain link, and replace it with the spare master that I had in my pocket, expressly, for just such occasions. 

It took Terry and me about an hour to untangle the chain and replace the link. When finished, I looked up to tell my passenger that all was fixed and we were ready to continue our journey, but he was nowhere to be seen. After picking up the clothes that had scattered when his suitcase flew open on impact with the road, he had quietly slipped away.

We hadn’t planned on this delay and now, clearly, we would not make it to our destination before nightfall. No worries! Terry had occasionally driven to the family cottage at night and knew the roads. Furthermore, his father Vic knew that we were coming and would be waiting to take us by boat across the water to the cottage. Vic had bought the island from the Crown and built a cabin on it a few years earlier.

We were riding hard and making good time. Just before Plevna, daylight turned into darkness, and it was time to switch on our headlights. The headlight on Terry’s BSA lit up but, damn, there was no light from Goldie. We stopped and I pulled the bulb from Goldie’s headlight—sure enough the filament was broken. No sweat, I’ll just replace it with the spare bulb that I carried in my jacket pocket, or so I thought. Damn again, I couldn’t find the spare bulb anywhere on me. “Must have lost it during the chain repair back in Belleville,” Terry surmised. What do we do now with another 25 to 30 kilometres to ride in total darkness without even the light of the moon to help us navigate? 

After a short discussion, we concluded that riding side-by-side on the paved road from Plevna to Ompah shouldn’t be a problem with Terry’s bike lighting the way. Since the road was reasonably wide, straight and flat, we found that our strategy worked surprisingly well. However, at Ompah, where we branched onto the logging trail that would take us the remaining way to the lake, things changed drastically. This dirt trail was simply not wide enough to ride side-by-side. A different strategy was needed. 

At first, we agreed that Terry would lead and I would follow. Bad decision. As Terry crested a hill I lost his light and rode Goldie straight into the bush and the alders lining the sides of the trail. Nothing was damaged so I picked Goldie up and waited for Terry. 

We then decided that I would lead and he would follow me, his front wheel as close to my rear wheel as possible. This configuration appeared to work and I stayed on the trail. Riding at a very low speed, his light lit up the trail in front of us and we were able to successfully navigate the narrow, twisty and hilly trail. This worked well and after an hour without further incident we arrived at the clearing where the boat that would take us to the family island about a half kilometre offshore was supposed to be. It wasn’t.

Now we were in deep trouble, and realized we had to find refuge quickly from the cannibalistic flies. That’s when we spotted Vic’s Cadillac. The windows were up but with a piece of baling wire in hand I was determined to pull the latch and unlock the door. However, before I could cause any real damage, Terry pulled on the handle and the door magically swung open. Vic had left the car unlocked—he hadn’t forgotten us. Momentarily we just stood there and blessed his thoughtfulness. We would live to see another day. Terry stretched out on the front seat and I on the rear, knowing that in the morning Vic would rescue us. All was well. 

By Peter Buehl Canadian Biker Issue #319


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