Friday, December 28, 2012


…in pictures

Click on any picture, and SHAZAM! it expands.
Third Runner Up for Picture of the Year:  The quintessential theme of the “Church” is “the Open Road.”  This shot typifies the feeling of distant horizons and miles left to go.

January calls us to stray relatively close to home.  The Sacramento Valley offers nearly year round riding. 

The Cosumnes River Preserve is a nice destination with miles of paved trails through bottomlands populated with migratory fowl.

February of a dry rain year:  Let’s see what had been inundated with the construction of Folsom Dam.  This old bridge once carried traffic from the El Dorado side to the Placer side.

Fourth Runner Up for Picture of the Year: Stuck in the mud, a more recent artifact may be this slipper.  One wonders the tale it has to tell.

March’s longer days invite us to revisit old friends like the Capay Valley on SR 16 passing old farm houses…

…and, beyond where 16 intersects 20, a great old derelict truck.  There seemed to be a lot of great old truck photos this year.

April found us exploring the Grand Canyon, having left the bikes at home.  Stunning photos of this wonder abound, but there was this maiden sitting atop a rock wall awaiting the sunset.  Unless she shows up every day about the same time, I’m thinking this is a pretty unique shot.

The warmth of May demands more saddle time.  Taking turn-offs to places we’d passed by saying “maybe next time” – like Fiddletown (Amador Co.)

 Or revisiting places we’ve come to cherish: Malakov Diggins State Park...

...via Edward’s Crossing…

And Dutch Flat where the Big Four contracted with Theodore Judah (in this very house) to engineer the first rail crossing of the Sierra…

…where this critter served as my guide-about-town.  (He shows everybody around town, I am told.)

June: the old stompin’ grounds north and east of Chico…

…including the near-mythic Humbug Valley…

…and circling home under Robber’s Roost.  There are "Robber's Roosts" everywhere throughout the Sierra.  This one is just east of Humboldt Summit (Plumas Co.)

A July family vacation to Colorado prompts me to think I must return on two wheels.

August sees a return to Modoc County via the in-flames Feather River Canyon…

…to visit an old friend…

…and enjoy a bit of prairie shared with horses.  Nice spot in Modoc, perhaps, the most western of all California Counties.

North from there found us crossing MacKenzie Pass outside of Sisters, Oregon.

Staying close to home in September: the high country gold rush era skeletal remains of Graniteville…

…returning home via the delightful Relief Hill Road.  (This is the area from which rescue parties staged their attempts of save the Donners.)

In October, we broke into Canada, creating an international incident by having left the passport at home.

Kootenay Lake on the Selkirk Loop in BC offers some nice sweeping curves and crystal clear views of the Canadian Rockies.

Returning over WA SR 2, the high grasslands and wheat fields allow lovely panoramas and glimpses of days gone by including this old schoolhouse…

And (second runner up for picture of the year) this great old Chevy.

As 2012 closed, time claimed yet another of what Tom Brokow titled “The Greatest Generation.”  The Church’s Picture of the Year is an attempt to record the strength folks of that generation tried to pass unto us. 

Most interesting this year was the discovery that the gentle man who is subject of this photo, while clearly leaving this plane, isn’t really all that far away.

© 2012
Church of the Open Road Press

Wednesday, December 26, 2012


The reason God created the side of beef was so that David Alioto and his crew could hand form seven-ounce patties and grill them to the exacting demand of each customer at the Healdsburger.  On the very next day, God created the russet potato.

I checked the odometer.  My beautiful grandchildren live just an eyelash under 140 miles from my home on the outskirts of Sacramento.  But the second-most reason for visiting this region of Sonoma County is not the plethora of world-class wineries.  No.  It is the Healdsburger.

High on the list of Church of the Open Road ethics is trade with the small independent businessperson – places where you know the profit you allow goes into the pocket of someone not associated with Wall Street.  Local restaurants are an excellent place to engage in this practice; local burger stands even better.

The Church defines a local burger stand as a stand-alone building with parking in the front, and perhaps on the side and in the back.  There is always outdoor seating and, occasionally seating indoors.  The folks working there may wear a t-shirt commissioned by the owner, but they may just wear what they put on prior to attending morning classes at the local high school.  The menu is posted, but generally, it is a signboard made up of those individually moved letters slid along groves in a backlit plastic.  When something changes, the letters may not always match.  That’s okay.  Because what really matters in the fare.  The food.  The burger itself.

At the Healdsburger, the fries came out early.  Fresh cut from real potatoes – I saw them do this – seasoned to perfection, a young man delivered them to my table from behind the counter. 

“Is this comin’ with the burger I ordered?” I asked.

“Burger’s comin’,” he said.  “Couple o’ minutes.  Wanted you to have these now.”

The fries were – just as I would find out about my sandwich – what that same God intended when (S)he created the russet potato.  They were crisp on the outside, steamy and soft on the inside and not swimming in “Task” or some other such vegetable oil.  Served with the large fountain Coke I’d ordered, not a Pepsi, thank you very much, these tuber delights proved to be a noon-time “hors-duerve” to be relished at a time when fries as a prelude might not be the first thing one imagines when lunching to a burger joint.

I’d nearly polished ‘em off when the entrée arrived: a seven-ounce hand formed – I saw them do this as well – burger patty grilled to my medium-rare specification placed on a fresh bun and garnished with a slab of cheddar, red onion, iceberg lettuce and dollops of perfetto condimenti.  I craftily folded the waxed paper wrap to channel juices onto the tray rather than the lap of my riding togs.  Once I grasped the sandwich, it never made it back to that tray.

The Healdsburger is at off the beaten track the far south end of the main drag through this quaint Dry Creek (California) Valley wine community – off US 101 14 miles north of Santa Rosa.  David and his crew hustled to keep a 1:00 PM crowd fed with efficiency and a personal touch.  Each crewmember wore a company shirt with the tag line: “So good, the locals keep it secret.”  I suspect they do.  This is certainly a place I return to time and time again – when I can sneak away from the grandkids who, at less than three years of age, might be overwhelmed by the fare.  Besides, I want to bring ‘em up eatin’ healthy.  You know, Vegan?

A burger joint runner-up would have to be located on the historic Highway 40 (parallel to I-80) in Loomis (Placer County) California.  Taylors Drive-In serves burgers, fries and about 150 different varieties of milkshakes.  The only black mark in my book is that their fountain cola is Pepsi, not Coke – but that’s because, in my younger days, I worked for a restaurant supply wholesaler who pedaled Coca Cola product.  (“If you want to let ‘em know you sell a quality burger, you gotta sell ‘em a quality drink,” my boss said more than once.)  Taylors is one of those stand-alone stands that probably used that be called “the Jolly Cone.”  The sandwiches are as wholesome as a hamburger can be; the fries well seasoned and delicious.  A large dispenser of catsup is available with a nice stack of those pleated portion control cups available to the customer.  And the young person who grilled the repast, carries it out on a tray, greeting the customer and inviting said customer to ask should there be a need for anything else.  I don’t seem to remember that ever happening at my most-local Taco Bell.

Another runner up is found in Dunsmuir, (Siskiyou Co.) CA on business route I-5.  The Burger Barn is staffed by the owner and by several handsome area high schoolers just learning the ins and out of working for pay.  The fare is most excellent and, if traveling north from Sacramento, just the perfect distance from home for the lunch stop.  (Downtown Dunsmuir is a delightfully historic berg.  I-5 laces across the top a couple of times and it is easy to whiz past never knowing the old place exists.  Travelers’ loss.  If the town is tiny, always take the business route.)  The proprietress at the Burger Barn graciously not only served a classic burger and fries – I ordered a Dr. Pepper because their cola choice was Pepsi and I am not of that generation – but she also coached her young crew about presentation, punctuality and chipperness.  On my rocket trip north to Portland, this was a place I was glad I found, one I will now revisit any time I find myself entering the Siskiyous. 

Not corporate, the Healdsburger in Healdsburg, Taylors in Loomis, the Burger Barn in Dunsmuir and a thousand other places dotted along the byways of our travel – like the Jamestown Frosty off CA 108 in Jamestown, CA, or the Pine Shack Frosty on CA 36 in Chester, CA – offer prices that compare quite favorably with Mac and Jack and food that didn’t spend a week and a half in the back of a reefer big-rig travelling from some place half way across the continent.  And the money spent at these small town independents more than likely goes to the folks that own the joint.

There’s a degree of satisfaction that goes along with such a lunch.

© 2013
Church of the Open Road Press

Friday, December 21, 2012


“Now you own a Schwinn Bicycle!” the announcement, circa 1960, began.  Coiled into a tiny tube and tied tightly with curling ribbon, the owner’s manuals for our new Schwinn three-speeds hung among the branches of the Christmas tree like an ornament. 

December 25th dawned and brother Beebo and I awoke early, as young children still close to single digits in years are wont to do.  We tittered and giggled and fingered the bounty of wrapped packages beneath the tree until Mom and Dad wandered in, bleary-eyed this Christmas morn.  Their arrival signaled something akin to the bugler’s call at Churchill Downs.  Within minutes I was in possession of a new cap six-shooter, a felt cowboy hat, a copy of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and, I suppose, a mom-sewn shirt or a pair of Towncraft jeans from JC Penney.  Likewise for Beebo.  It wasn’t until the last of the wrapping paper had floated to rest on the floor that Mom and Dad reached into the branches and pulled out the coiled manuals.  Cluelessly, we leafed through them briefly and shrugged thinking, “That’s really odd.  We don’t own Schwinn bicycles.” We tossed the brochures amongst the mountain of wrapping paper and returned to pointing our six shooters at each other. 

Breakfast was served on the former screened in porch between the kitchen and the patio and it wasn’t until halfway through a waffle laced with bacon and drowned in Log Cabin syrup that Mom’s patience ran out.  “Why don’t you boys just stop and look?” she asked with a familiar tone of exasperation in her voice. 

She was pointing to the patio.  Outside the window rested two brand new Schwinn Bicycles: the Racer models with Sturmey Archer three speed gears and skinny tires beneath pinched front metal fenders.  These bikes were likes of which big kids – college kids! and adults rode.  Heck!  Dad commuted to work at the Post Office every day on a Schwinn Traveler model quite similar to these beauties. 

Still clad in pajamas, we bolted out the back door. Beebo claimed a big blue one and a slightly smaller red one waited for me.  We kicked up the kickstands, pointed them to the gravel drive and began pedaling out toward the road.  Pride of the neighborhood, we now had means of personal transportation to and from school, over to the CARD Pool, down to town for a Saturday matinee at the El Rey, on rides through Bidwell Park with Mom and Dad and the freedom to go just about anywhere in the world we wanted.  (I even rode mine up the Honey Run – and I do mean up – to neighboring Paradise, California, some 16 miles away one spring day to see a girl who’s door I ultimately didn’t have the courage to knock on.)

A couple of summers later we used Dad’s 8N Ford tractor and a wooden skid to grade a racetrack around the perimeter of the four-and-a-half acres of almonds out back of the house.  It seemed like a good idea at the time, but the narrow tires of our Racers didn’t handle the dust and dirt clods of the orchard too well.  

One day, a neighbor kid named Curtis came by on his new Sting Ray.  A Sting Ray was a bicycle built on a tiny frame using small wheels with fat tires.  It sported an elongated “banana seat” molded to look like tuck ‘n’ roll.  Its high-rise handlebars wore sparkly grips the same color as the frame.  No three-speed, this single-geared, coaster brake marvel took to the dust and mud like it was engineered for it. On our racecourse, Curtis stood on the pedals and cranked them round and round.  When he came to the curve at the far corner of the orchard, he boldly put his foot down and bat-turned like he was pivoting on a peg.  Then down the straightaway he’d race.  Neither Beebo nor I could catch him. 

Awe struck, we knew what we needed to do.  Much as we were to revere our big Schwinn Racers, all of a sudden, they simply didn’t cut the mustard.

Vern Pullin had owned a bicycle dealership in downtown Chico for about 160 years.  It was said that the local Mechoopda Indians bought bikes from him before the white people settled the area.  Why would we not believe this?  His shop was located at Eighth and Broadway.   

The front room was a neatly arranged row of Schwinn’s latest offering.  The back room was a dark tangle of used frames, derelict wheels, seats, forks, and various parts.  It looked like a rat’s nest, but Mr. Pullin could burrow into that thicket and, within moments and without exception, return with exactly the part the customer needed.

Setting our bikes on their kickstands out front, we entered Vern Pullin’s ancient shop.  First in the neat row of shiny two-wheelers was a clutch of Sting Rays: red, green, blue, gold, every color imaginable.  I ran my hand along the length of the white vinyl banana seat on a metal-flake burgundy ‘Ray’ several times.  Mr. Pullin stood behind the worn oak display counter, ages-old grease ringing his cracked and weathered fingers.  He was flipping through a ledger of some sort and barely looked up.  Apparently little boys frequenting his store, pining for the latest and greatest Schwinn was nothing new to him.  After a time, he asked: “Help you boys?”

“We… we…  we wanna swing a trade for a couple of Sting Rays.” 

Vern looked us up and down.  “What cha got?”

We retreated to the sidewalk and began to wheel in our Racers.  He stopped us.  “Whoa, boys.  Whoa.  Them’s two mighty nice machines you got there.  I’ll bet they was Christmas presents not too long ago.”

“They were,” we unisoned.

“Well,” he said, scratching a gray stubble that looked permanent, “I’m not so sure Santee’d be too pleased if you was to give up a present he picked out special just for you.”

“I’m too old to believe in Santee,” I blurted, figuring it was far enough away from next Christmas for Santa to remember I might have said this.

Mr. Pullin dug at his chin a bit more.  “Tell you what.  I’ll call your mama and let her know how much I can offer you’n trade.”

“But she doesn’t…”

Raising an eyebrow, he turned to his ledger, leafed through a page or two and rattled off a phone number.  “I’ll call your mama.”  Unstated was and that’s final, boys.

We pedaled home.  Mom must have heard the crunching of our bicycle tires up the gravel drive.  She dropped the laundry she was hanging out and met us before we could settle the Racers on their kickstands.  The only part of the tirade I specifically recall was: “I’ll not have you roaring through the neighborhood like some damned motorcycle gang member!”

Fifty-plus years later, somewhere out behind Beebo’s house (on acreage similar to Mom and Dad’s) there is a collection of old bicycles gathered from years of our riding and then our children riding.  Deep in that pile of frames and wheels and rotted Brooks leather saddles, I suspect, one would find remnants of the old Schwinns.  With a little bit of grease and Tri-flow and polish and care, I’d wager they’d be fit to ride again.

Should that happen, I know one of Santa’s elves – an older one named Vern – will be viewing the scene, scratching his stubbly beard and smiling.

© 2012
Church of the Open Road Press

Monday, December 17, 2012


“Don’t trust everything you read on the Internet.”
- Abraham Lincoln

Returning to my old office of employ, my former secretary said, “My son is thinking of getting back into motorcycling.”  I cringed a bit.  “He doesn’t quite know what he wants, but I told him to log into the Church of the Open Road and see what’s there.”  I cringed some more.  (See Lincoln’s quote, above.)

Most everybody’s initial foray into the sport of two-wheeled travel is a shot in the dark.  So many makes and models to choose from!  What to own?  My first bike was a 90cc Honda.  It was great for putting around town and knocking out some forest service roads up in the hills, but getting to those dirt roads was a bit more problematic.  As I raced up (and I do mean “up”) state highway 32 toward Forest Ranch at 27 miles per hour, even at seventeen years of age, I knew the bike wasn’t intended for the demands I was asking. 

My daughter’s experience is similar yet different.  Her soon-to-be husband had come home on a Triumph Bonneville Black – one of the Hinckley models.  Daughter went for a spin on the back and wondered why we hadn’t told her what a blast motorcycle riding could be.  She took the course, got her license and some gear and went shopping.  She fell in love with what would become her first – and only – bike: a 2007 Ducati Monster S2R.  No amount of counsel could convince her that something a bit more mild would be a better selection for the new rider.  One first-day spill and the thing was sold.

My secretary told me that her son’s first bike was one of those lean over motorcycles and this time he was looking for something he could sit up straight on.  He’ll have a fire-related job up in the mountains this summer and would like something to commute on.

I immediately thought of the KLR 650 I’d owned a while back.  The thing could clip along at highway speeds.  For sight seeing on back roads and forest service routes, the thing was terrific.  But, the handling wasn’t too precise and the brakes were anything but state of the art.  Still the upright-ness is good as long as her son’s inseam isn’t as short as my brother-in-law’s.  He’d straddled the Kawi once and could barely reach the garage floor using the tips of his toes. 

I reverted to son-in-law’s Bonneville Black, recently sold.  There’s a bike with some solid engineering, a moderate sit-up position, and cool retro looks - especially the McQueen signature Scrambler derivative.  Downsides might include the weight and the fact that in the mountains or far northern California, it might be tough to find a nearby dealership.

My two current rides are a BMW 1200 GSA – probably too big and undoubtedly too expensive for an I-wanna-save-money-on-my-commute livery – and my beloved and thus-far rock solid Guzzi Breva – see issues with dealer networks.

There are a ton of great bikes to choose from now.  Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki and Suzuki are all producing some mid-weight bikes that are reliable and economical.  They come in a range of styles and seating positions and dealers are always close by.  Triumph has some 800cc Adventure triples and BMW some 800 Adventure twins that set butterflies loose in my tummy.  A Ducati Monster would be fabulous on the paved mountain roads where I know the young man will be stationed.  Not so hot off the tarmac.

What counsel I would offer this young man? 

Substance over style:  Determine where you’re going to ride, why, and on what surfaces.  Cross out anything on the list that doesn’t match.  Those bikes you check off will be there when your riding circumstance changes – and it will.

Dealer network:  If he lacks the mechanical skills I lack, having someone within shoutin’ distance who can keep the thing in top condition will only lengthen the life of the machine and greatly increase the enjoyment of ownership.

Fit:  Sit on several making sure your feet can rest firmly on terra firma at full stop.  Ensure the relationship between the handlebars, seat and pegs don’t cramp your style.  (After an hour on my old R65, I routinely had to stop, get off, and reestablish blood flow to my butt and joints associated with my hips.)  After you’ve narrowed it down, insist on as lengthy a test ride as the dealer will allow.  Sitting on it in the showroom and operating it on the highway are two completely different arenas.  Both need to be experienced, with the fit on the road being, by far, more important.

Research:  Read reviews from multiple sources and be prepared to eliminate that favorite bike that the press just can’t seem to get its arms around.  Look also for user reviews.  (I just eliminated the BSA 441 Victor from my wish list because circa 1969 reviews I found on line made the thing – new – seemed like it falling in love with a beautiful woman who had no intention of loving you in return.)

Gear:  Get good gear and wear it all the time while riding.  (Click the Church’s ATGATT label at the bottom of this post to link to some thoughts.)

Training and skill:  This is the most important consideration of all.  If you haven’t been riding in a while, take the MSF safety course.  Again.  The stuff you forget or the stuff you’re rusty on will be the stuff that gets you hurt.

I know the area where my secretary’s son will be summering. I used to live up that way myself.  I know the bike I’d want to have if I were blessed with the opportunity to ride those ranges.  But I’m not going to share that thought here, because what I’d choose bears no relationship with some other rider’s needs.  I hope my secretary’s son finds the perfect bike for him and that it will bring him great pleasure and very little pain.  I also hope he looks further than the Church of the Open Road for advice.  (See the quote from Abe Lincoln at the top of this piece.)

© 2012
Church of the Open Road Press

Friday, December 14, 2012


Friday, December 14, 2012

My Dear (fill in the representative):

The time has come to have a rational discussion about firearms in our country.  Too many innocent people have suffered and died because you and your colleagues are simply unwilling expend the political capital necessary to impose reasonable limits on private gun ownership.

Make no mistake: I am not in favor of taking guns away from the citizens of this nation.  However the Second Amendment’s “Right to Bear Arms” does not allow my neighbor to possess and surface-to-air missile or a nuclear warhead.  Neither should it allow for rapid-fire semi-automatic weapons or thirty-round clips.  Most of all, the Second Amendment should never have been allowed to trump the general citizenry’s right to life itself, which is what appears to have happened.

As my elected representative you are charged with protecting my interests against all enemies foreign and domestic.  You may begin by standing up to pressure groups – including our increasingly radicalized National Rifle Association – and put into place those firearm restrictions necessary to protect the citizenry’s most basic right.

Twenty-seven families in Connecticut might suggest that you are already at least a day late in this endeavor.


The Church of the Open Road

Sunday, December 9, 2012


Robert Hamilton (Papa Bob) Stewart embraced ne’er-do-wells.  This I know.

My first marriage was ending.  I’d been invited to a gathering at the old Boy Scout Camp at Chico Meadows (northwest of Butte Meadows, CA) to “entertain” congregants there by leading some songs, playing my two-dollars-from-a-junk-store Martin ukulele, telling a few jokes and doing some impressions.  One young lady was particularly captured by my Jimmy Stewart. 

The gathering was that of the Trinity United Methodist Church of Chico, California.  Evan, my commute buddy, a member, had volunteered me to provide some campfire cheer. I flopped, I’m certain.

The Reverend Stewart, at one point either before or after the “show,” cordially asked, “How ya doin’?”

Unfortunately, at 10:00 AM that very morning, I’d been in the Superior courtroom in Oroville being granted my dissolution of marriage’s final decree.  Caught up in the emotions of the day, my response was something far different from simply: “Fine.”  I was a loser – and certainly not an entertainer. 

Apparently, Papa Bob didn’t agree.

Months went by and Evan said, “You know, up at church campout, there was a young lady who, well, thought you were kinda funny.  She’d like to meet you.”
I offered a few self-deprecating remarks, but he insisted.

A few years later, I returned to the Boy Scout Camp at Chico Meadows where the Reverend Stewart officiated at the wedding of 'the young lady who thinks you're kinda funny,' his daughter, to me.

After more than two decades and several moves for both Papa Bob and 'Nana' Pat, and for Candace and me, both of our households wound up in Placer County, CA.  A weekly tradition became dinner at our home with good food, good wine and great discussions.

In the interest of full disclosure: I am not a churchgoer.  I’d attended for a while during my first go-round at wedded bliss.  But a straw broke my religious camel’s back when a fellow parishioner explained his reasoning for attending our particular church in Chico:  “It’s the church where business is done.”  My knowledge of the Scripture was scant, but I knew the bit about the moneychangers and I never returned.  To this day, I prefer to explore spirituality on the Open Road. 

Carved wood self portrait*
Still, after dinner evenings with an 80-year-old Papa Bob recalibrated that which I had come to believe about churches and Christianity.  He listened.  He laughed.  He nodded.  And he challenged.  He knew the Holy Bible, but also knew the times during which the particular scriptures were gathered and the reasoning behind their selection.  His knowledge drove him to blend in his teachings of the historic church text and its current applications.  We care for the people of color (got him kicked out of a Texas seminary in the 40s), we listen to grievances openly (got him kicked out of SI Hiakawa’s office in the 60s), we find reason with our place and need not assume the trappings of something greater (got him kicked out of Jim Jones’ manse in the 70s).  We minister to the dispossessed (and married one of 'em to his only daughter).

Time advanced.  A particularly cruel cancer took his wife.  Six years later, a variant set in on him.  No longer living independently, our weekly dinners became a bit less frequent but were always a treasure.  No matter how great the pain, there were countless words of wisdom and perspective, laughter and joy.

Six weeks prior to his passing in early November, he’d somehow lost his hearing aides.  We weren’t sure whether they’d gotten tangled in his bed sheets or fallen on the floor to be vacuumed up by personnel at the home.  In any event, he was deaf.  I’d found a new recipe for Cajun salmon and sautéed some.  Although, he’d not been eating of late, he downed the tidbit offered, and then reached across to the platter.  He worked through the better part of two servings.  His eyes shared his satisfaction with our little repast while communicating sadness for the circumstance.  The inability to hear had ebbed his spirit.  We were reduced to either speaking uncomfortably loud – and he could pick out a little of what was said – or writing things on notes.

As the “conversation” waned, someone thought of Paul’s letter and wrote on the pad of paper, “What is the greatest gift?” 

His eyes darted from the paper to me, to his daughter and back to me.  That nearly irrepressible smile creased his tired face.  He took up the pen and simply wrote:

 * Self portrait photograph (c) Jason Powers Photography

© 2012
Church of the Open Road Press

Thursday, December 6, 2012


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 driveway. 

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 that truck.

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 era. 

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 and bumpers.   

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 hinted. 

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 Grass Valley.

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...

© 2012
Church of the Open Road Press