07 September 2009

Symbol of an Era

If you know me, then you know that I do this sort of stuff all of the time.

A few months ago, while working on my blogsite, I had inadvertently deleted an entry that I had posted last winter titled “Symbol of an era”.

When I discovered my error, I tried to find a copy of it that I had stored in Word perfect. Usually I file it as the title, this time I didn’t. To make a long story short, I couldn’t find it and gave up my search to repost the entry back onto my blog.

This morning while working on a new entry, I found the old post. As it turns out, I forgot to file it as a Title so word perfect just named it as the opening sentence of the entry. Like I said, I do this sort of thing all of the time.

A lot of you have already read this, but some of you haven’t yet, so here it is. This post was kind of special to me, I'm glad that I was able to find it so that I could share it with you again.

F.Y.I.- The blue helmet that is mentioned in this post still resides up on the shelf with all of the other helmets that I have worn through the years. So here it is again, the lost posting................

Symbol of an era

I wasn’t really in the mood to get started on it, but I had no choice. I had family flying in from New York in another week and my guest room was in no condition for accommodating guests. I don’t receive overnight visitors all that often and as a result the bedroom that I reserve for that purpose always ends up as a storage room for all sorts of stuff. I tried to reserve this chore of straightening out the room for a rainy day, but the weather turned out to be perfect for the past couple of weeks and the rainy days never seemed to present themselves; I woke up Saturday morning to another perfect day for a ride only to start putting the things that were in the guest room back where they belong.

The room wasn’t necessarily that bad, but it did have stuff in there that didn’t belong; one of my workbenches that I use for doing trimwork (base/crown moldings and the like), a couple of different carpenters bags with special tools in each bag for specific tasks, a chop saw, clamps and an assortment of hammers. Most of this stuff belonged in the back of my truck but it has been in the body shop getting a new paint job for what has seemed an eternity.

Then there was the other stuff that I brought out of storage about six months ago; an assortment of boxes collected over the years, which I had intended to sort through and decide what I did and did not want to keep.

I began the ritual of re-organizing my various tools and then transporting them from the house out to the shed, making several trips back and forth. After that, came the stack of boxes that I had pulled out of storage, old corrugated produce containers of all varieties, Potato, Tomato, Apple and Orange, some in better shape than others; many of them followed me to the Northwest when I moved out here from New York almost twenty years ago. I had some space still available in the shed, a corner where they wouldn’t get in the way of more important tools should I not be able to cull through them anytime soon.

I began stacking them in fours and fives so that I could use my hand truck to carry them to the shed quickly, it was during this process that I picked up an old and rather musty smelling Navel Orange box when one of the contents inside let out a clunk and rattle. It was a familiar sound, one that I hadn’t heard in a number of years, but one that I recognized instantly. I stopped what I was doing and sat down on the bed, placing the box beside me, I pulled off the telescopic lid. There wasn’t much inside, three old pictures from High School of girls that I lusted over back then, an old checkbook register and one of my old motorcycle helmets. The familiar sound was that of the tinted face shield rattling where the buttons connected to the helmet. This was the helmet that I wore back in the early 80’s, back when my family lived in Montana, I was somewhere between the ages of 12 and 14.

It was a dark metallic blue with an orange and white stripe wrapping around the back and that ridiculous looking dark tinted bubble-face shield that I thought was so cool, there weren’t two square inches anywhere on the helmet or face shield that didn’t wear a scar from any number of mishaps I may have encountered while wearing the thing, back in those days, disposable helmets didn’t exist, helmets were considered an accessory and Dad only replaced the helmets that I outgrew in the same fashion that my sneakers were replaced. At some point I got a hold of a label maker and tattooed the back and face shield with the things that were most important to a 12 year old boy; the kind of bike that I rode (Honda) the name of my horse (Babe) and the name of my dog (Pancho).

The bike during those years was a Honda XL125 that Dad bought right off of the showroom floor for me for my 12th birthday; My first brand new motorcycle.

Earl circa 1983

Babe was the Chestnut colored Arabian mare that adopted me, a disinterested young man who loved only dogs and motorcycles and eventually through the years, made me absolutely crazy about her.

Technically, Babe was my sister’s horse. Though we were all raised “horse people”, my little sister Andrea was the serious equestrian in the family, she still is, and even though all of the horses were considered Andrea’s, I was Babes “person”.


Anyone who has been raised around horses or has spent any quality time with them might agree with me when I explain that it is not uncommon for these animals to pick a person, and I was Babes. I was the one who fed her, brushed her down and tended to her hooves. Babe preferred that I was the one who cared for her, and over time, I was the one who preferred to do it.

Pancho was a large pure bred Collie that my father brought home one day when I was around 9 or 10 years old, from the moment Dad brought him home, we were inseparable.


In 1983, we moved from our home, up in the foothills of the Highland mountains of Southwestern Montana, to a new place out in the Jefferson Valley at the base of the Tobacco Root range. The Tobacco roots are an immense mountain system located on the eastern slope of the Jefferson valley separating the Madison and the Jefferson Rivers, at least 30 miles wide and 50-60 miles long, the range holds more that 40 peaks that rise to elevations greater than 10,000 feet. The Highland Mountains are a smaller system out on the western slope of the valley; though they covered only a fraction of the land mass of the Tobacco roots, the Highlands also soared well above 10,000 feet.

Despite the fact that I missed living up in the mountains, I appreciated our new place down in the valley because of the reasonable distance that I lived from my two best friends, Ben Sholey and Chris Anderson.

Ben lived 5 miles south from my house and Chris was 8 miles to west. Both were an easy ride by motorcycle along the graded county roads. A couple of things to note about growing up in Montana;

1. As long as we stayed on the county roads that were not paved, an unlicensed youth rarely received a second look from any Sheriff’s deputy patrolling the roads, mainly because of reason number 2.

2. Montana is a huge state with a low population density, in other words, folks were spread out. A lot of the kids on motorcycles were actually working the large family owned ranches and bikes were the only reasonable way of getting around. To see kids riding or even driving (farm vehicles) was quite common and as long as you didn’t take off down the paved highway or through town, nobody complained.

Moving out to the valley also presented the opportunities of new found freedoms and responsibilities.

Almost every night after school, the bus would stop to drop me off at the end of my driveway and I would sprint, duffel bag full of books clutched in my hands, towards the garage to jump on the Honda and beat the school bus to Ben’s house. Ben and I would do our homework together at the dining room table and then run out to the old dairy barn that we converted into an indoor basketball court to play our own version of basketball that we named “Basket brawl”; 3 point shots were counted if you were able to shoot the ball over the guy wires that held the outside walls together and “body checking” the opponent into the wall was well within the rules and was actually quite an effective tactic at getting rebounds under the net if your timing was right, come to think of it, I can’t recall what we had to do to draw a foul.

Sometime after dark, I would ride the 5 miles back home, the only rule that I had to obey was to be home before dinner. Even at 13 years of age, I understood the privilege of riding my bike alone at night and the responsibilities that went along with that privilege, I rarely abused it.

During the summer months, when school was out, Chris was allowed to stay with me for extended periods and we would ride two-up on my Honda every morning over to Ben’s house.

Those Montana summer days were usually filled with fishing in any number of the rivers and streams around the Jefferson valley, intense games of basket brawl, playing catch, or swimming out at the old railroad trestle that spanned the Jefferson river. Some days found the three of us just lying out on the roof of the old dairy barn idling away the hours in the warm sun like three flies on a window sill, gazing into the clouds and dreaming about our futures.

All three of us had similar dreams to be pilots. Ben was going to fly helicopters and Chris wanted to be a fighter pilot, and as for me, I just wanted to fly, the specifics weren’t important. None of us had ever actually flown, that didn’t matter, as our imaginations took us up into the sky often enough just lying on the roof of that barn. In reality, years later, Ben became a miner at a large Gold mine down in Nevada, Chris became an Electrical engineer in Alabama and by some strange fate I became a pilot here in Washington State.

By summers end, Chris would return home, and Ben and I would resume our after school activities through the autumn months on into winter and then spring, my motorcycle, a constant vehicle of my freedom, both in reality and metaphor. One of those rides does stand out a little more than many of the other rides that I had made between my house and Ben’s.

I had tied down my duffel bag on the rear of the seat and removed the tinted visor from my still new metallic blue helmet with the white and orange stripe and tucked it under my jacket (this was the normal routine when I rode home in the dark). During the ride home, there was a pair of railroad tracks that I had to cross; the tracks had an access trail alongside of them that led to our swimming hole at the old trestle on the Jefferson River. From the trestle, another trail turned north and followed the banks of the river, through a forest of Aspens and Cottonwoods, up to a series of irrigation ditches that intersected the main county road that led to my driveway. I had taken this route a number of times during the day, but never at night, until now.

It was a different experience, riding beneath the canopy of Aspens alongside the Jefferson at night. My single headlight illuminating a forest of ashen trunks and branches, casting shadows off of one tree and onto another. The white of their trunks contrasting with the autumn gold in their leaves; to my right was the inky black of the Jefferson wandering gently to the south; looking over and beyond the river, the majestic Tobacco root range soaring almost straight up out of the valley floor, up into and then well beyond the timberline, at their summits, a nearly full moon reflecting in a silver glow off of the snow covering their peaks. It was the first time as a young motorcyclist that I felt Goosebumps form on my arms and the back of my neck simply by the experience of the ride; I rode on, humbled by the experience.

I had not thought of that evening ride through the aspens that lined the Jefferson River for decades until that moment where I was sitting their on the bed in my guest room with the now musty old blue helmet in my hands.

I carried the old helmet out of the guest room and placed it upon my shelf with my current helmets and riding gear, that blue helmet serving as a reminder of my youth, of growing up in Montana, of independence and responsibility; it sits there to this day, a symbol of an era in my childhood.

I went back to the guest room and finished storing the stacks of boxes out in the shed; new linens on the bed, polish on the furniture and a quick vacuuming; once again, I had a suitable guest room.

With my chores accomplished, I still had a few hours left in the day for a ride. All geared up, I loaded my camera on the bike and headed south out into the Palouse, hunting for sunsets.

I wandered the back roads down through the small farming communities of St. John and then Endicott and further south still, through endless harvested wheat fields laying fallow until next spring, where I crossed the Snake River into Garfield County. Following Rte. 12 east towards Lewiston, Idaho, I eventually found myself riding along the banks of the Snake River on my approach into the Lewiston, Clarkston area.

There were no soaring mountain ranges beyond the river nor were there any Aspens, the moon had not yet risen and the road was well paved, not a dirt trail. None of that mattered; all that mattered was that I found myself once again alone with my thoughts riding beside a slow moving body of water on my motorcycle in the crisp autumn evening.

Leaning into the long sweeping curves of the highway sidled up against the canyon walls, my thoughts began to digress to another time; back to a time of shiny new blue helmets and Chestnut Arabians, my childhood dog and of lifelong friendships; three friends daydreaming together on the rooftop of an old dairy barn on a warm Montana afternoon and for that moment, as I made my way east in the waxing hours of darkness on my return home, I dreamt like a 13 year old boy once again, and imagined what it would be like to fly someday.

Ride Well



Lance said...

Earl, I am glad you found this, and thanks for posting it. I remember reading this from last year, and today's read was just as nice.

fasthair said...

Mr. Earl. two words... Google Cache... next time this happens and you really can't find it try searching the great internet archives of Google Cache.

this post is just as good the second time around!


cpa3485 said...

Well I have not read this before and I am glad you reposted this!
Very heartwarming!

bobskoot said...

Mr Earl:

Nostalgic post. You do have beautiful scenery down in the Palouse. Based upon one of your prev entries, we made our way to Palouse Falls last June and tried to link up with Lance, but he decided to take a nap instead.
I also find that the older you get, the more you reminisce about the good ole days

bobskoot: wet coast scootin

Charlie said...

So last fall after I read this post I was at Earl's place and went into the room and grabbed aformentioned helmet. I even made an attempt to put it on but was quickly reminded of what we as teenagers smelled like back then. Thank goodness I/we learned to wash things.

irondad said...

I, too, remember reading this before. I commented on it then, I believe. Just wanted to offer greetings and let you know I was still lurking about!

Chuck Pefley said...

Earl, thanks for your visit and comment on my blog. I'm glad I followed the links to your blog. You have a great gift for story-telling, and I'm glad you found this "lost-post" because I would have missed out otherwise.


George F said...

You write beautifully and I'm glad I stumbled upon your blog, I will be reading your future posts. It made me think about my early life in Africa and how I started with motorcycles, I'm now going to dig old photos and hopefully will be able to put something together too. Thanks :-)

Touring Motorcycle exhausts said...

A great writer you are. I love following up your stories on motorcycles and other issues. I am glad you re-posted this because i had not seen it yet! Keep it up Earl and thank you for the good work.