Narratives about motorcycling on Northern California's back roads; Reflections on the history and geography of the North State; Memoirs and early recollections of youthful visits to towns and forests and mountaintops.
Also middle-of-the-road takes on current issues in politics and education. Middle of the road? Isn't that dangerous?
Thursday, December 6, 2012
BROADSIDED BY MEMORIES – AND AN OLD GMC
Sometimes it’s a bar or two of music:
a line, a lyric, a verse.Sometimes it’s an errant fragrance carried on a gentle vesper from a
place unknown.Sometimes it’s
simply a feeling like déjà vu only you haven’t really been right here or
experienced quite this ever before.
Today, the something that set my brain to making
connections was the sight of a ’50-ish GMC tractor, the likes of which pulled all
of our worldly belongings to the new house on five acres back in 1957.Jack Coulter – owner of the local
Bekins franchise – monkeyed and jimmied the trailer back and forth in the road out
front so he could back the rig straight about 150 feet between the white rail fences lining what-was-now our narrow gravel
As five-year-old I inhaled the sweet exhaust and
quaked as the big diesel growled up the way and shook the ground beneath its
massive tires.I remember peering
upward at the windows of the tall snub-nosed tractor, wondering how Mr. Coulter
could back the thing up. Even I
had figured out that the rounded art-deco trailer obliterated any view might
have he had.But somehow he did it
on the first try.Around town, for
years later, when I’d see the big GMC, I’d tell whomever I was with, I knew
Fifteen years elapsed and I took my
first real job while attending Chico State.It was the afternoon shift at the local candy and tobacco
wholesaler.Across the street, the
Rainbow Bakery ran a classic GMC – same era as Jack’s – delivering product to
hamlets and wide-spots up and down 99E and 99W.The local legend was that Jack Coulter and the bakery
ordered two tractors on or about the same day from Mr. Giberson, the Pontiac
GMC dealer over on 2nd Street near Wall.They arrived on a flat car on the same day and must have
come off the assembly line back in Flint or wherever one right after the other
because the serial numbers were consecutive.My boss at the candy company told me this.
Click on any picture to expand
The old ’50-something GMC has been
sitting halfway between Auburn and Grass Valley for months.Today – a drippy December day where the
high and low temperatures will be identical 46-degree readings – I decided to
take a closer look.The old
truck still towered.
The cab sported a split windshield and two nicely curved
windows at the back corners, just like the classic five-window pickups of the
The interior was all but gone, but he round speedometer and
slotted vents reminded me of those classics we drool over at shows.Outside, rust worked on exposed metal.Nothing shined.
Really click on this one! Really.
Curious designs of lichen decorated the hitch plate, frame
If this thing could talk.
Inside a cramped shop, proprietor Al
told me the thing was up for sale for five thousand dollars and that included
two Cummins diesel engines and three transmissions.He said it would be an easy task to drop the (he stated me
the engine model number and I nodded as if I knew) into the frame.
I told him the story about Jack Coulter and the look-alike
GMCs and asked if I could take a few pictures.He laughed, shook my hand and said, “Go ahead.” Perhaps this wasn't the first time such a question had been asked.
Camera in hand, I looked closely into the truck’s exposed
history.Oxidized paint had
deteriorated in layers exposing life after life of this brute.More than one company’s name was
And one of them was “Bekins.”Immediately, I was again five years old.Jack Coulter was backing the thing up
blind and my life growing up on five acres outside Chico was just beginning. The derelict old tractor had broadsided me, sure as shootin'.
Alan (Al) Casner owns “Ride in the
Past” Antique Airplane and Motorcycle Enthusiast.His shop is located on State Route 49 between Auburn and
Aside from the big GMC tractor, what prompted me to stop was
the three vintage Honda Trail 90s parked out front: a ’65, a ‘67 and a ‘69 –
one of which will be mine, I just know it.
Inside, his shop is divided into at least two rooms with his
service counter in the far back of the furthest one.In between, one finds a clutch of vintage and not-so-vintage
motorcycles in various states of restoration: A 60s era Royal Enfield, two BSAs
– Lightnings, I think.
File photo from classics show
And– boy, oh boy, oh boy – a ’69 BSA 441
Victor.Clean.Full pipe.Immortal aluminum and yellow tank with the red winged BSA
logo.I want that more than the 90!
Awe struck upon entering, I said to no one in particular:
“This is a gold mine.”
Al, the only person present, responded:“No it isn’t.”He laughed and our chat began.It was soon clear that this man enjoyed
reviving the glory rooted in old machines.I was glad I stopped and delighted he took a few moments to share his passion...