My little brother was a creative and mechanically oriented person. He was good at fixing just about any engine or vehicle. He worked on keeping his toys running and fixing things to use. In his younger years, one of his teachers in junior high, decided that the best way to work with a bunch of unruly adolescents was to bring in a bunch of non-functioning small engines and let them have at it. Evidently, that was an approach that worked well and kept them focused for a little while. Then as opposed to now, it was more common to have hands on experience during the early 1970’s, teachers could get a little more creative with their teaching methods! My brother was often getting excited about riding snowmobiles and two wheeled vehicles. He was a good outdoorsman. He did a lot with my father and they frequently hunted together for deer and turkey. I’m sure he kept Dad’s lawn mower running smoothly.
When I was in college and working on a teaching degree I would come home periodically to see my folks. My brother and sister, both younger than me, lived at home. During one visit that I remember, Jeff was a teenager building a mini bike as he called it. It was a gasoline engine from a mower and a few metal rods welded together to make a frame. He made a nice throttle on the handlebars and it looked reasonably balanced for speed and comfort. He was proud that he made it himself, taking time to find the parts and piece it all together.
On this visit of mine, he invited me to take a ride on it. I thought about it for a minute and decided to oblige him. I mounted the seat and he gave me a couple of lessons on how to operate the controls he had fashioned for it. I sped out of the driveway and up the dirt road a half mile or so. I turned around up near the intersection at the “Y” that went up over Densmore’s hill.
My ride home was a fast and furious one. While I tried to see how well it would turn, I leaned left and right, and crisscrossed the center of the dirt road all the way back to the house. A little wild streak I’ve always had, took over about a ¼ mile up the road from the driveway. I revved it up to top speed and planned on entering the driveway with a skid on the dirt to come to a showy stop about 50 feet or so in.
As it turned out, one of my mother’s friends had decided to pay her a visit between the time I’d left and the time I’d return home, which was only about 4 or 5 minutes, tops. Their car was parked where I’d planned on making my “big stop”, and I was shocked into awareness a moment too late. I had already entered the zone where braking, and or stopping, were not going to allow me to safely miss objects in my path. My choices were to either hit a stone wall with a 2-foot-deep ditch in front of it, the house, or the visitor’s car.
As a split-second decision, I chose the car because it had a bumper which I thought would absorb some of the momentum. I hit it squarely in the center, ejected up across the trunk, went over the rear windshield and roof and elegantly rolled off the hood onto the driveway in front of the car.
Coming back to assess the bike, I saw that the forks of my brother’s recently welded frame were bent backward till the tire pressed against the center supports. The handlebars were slightly twisted, apparently from my last-ditch effort to gain some cushion upon impact. As for myself, I was only slightly bruised, but seeing my brother’s facial expression caused enough guilt to make up for it. The look on his face was somewhere between shocked and pain.
“What happened?” he asked. I had no legitimate answer except that I hadn’t expected a car to be parked there between my leaving and returning.
“Look at my bike!” he gasped. I offered to help fix it but he just shrugged and told me he’d take care of it. He was already working out a plan to fix it.
One thing was for sure, I wouldn’t be in the running to be a test pilot for the next version of his mini bike rebuild. There would be other times he’d let me ride on his gasoline powered toys, with similar results, but we would get through them as well.
(c) Rick Wyman