8 Ball In The Wind

Sunday, May 13, 2012

It's In The Blood

Dad in the late 30's on his 31 VL

Growing up, I knew that my dad and uncle used to ride back in Illinois.  Dad never talked too much about his adventures.  When he did tell me about riding back in the 1930’s and 40’s, it was in broad terms.  Things like riding from the south side of Chicago to Peoria for the races were considered a big deal.  That covering the 320 miles or so between them was a major undertaking considering the condition of some of the roads back then.  I just consider that a decent day ride now.

I always got the feeling that my dad wasn’t the adventurous one of the Lange brothers back then.  He rode his 31 VL, and loved it, but either he didn’t raise too much hell back then, or he just didn’t talk about it, I may never know.  Dad was like that, and didn’t really talk much about the things he had done in his life.  Only an occasional story here and there.  But always either a humorous one, or a very vague one when talking about a more darker memory.
Now my Uncle Marty on the other hand, I heard more than a few stories about.  He was a good man, but he definitely had a mischievous side to him.  I even have a photo of him and my dad as very young boys, taken in the mid 1920’s, and the look on Mart’s face is pure mischief.

One of the things I have learned about my uncle; he loved fast bikes.  I remember one story about him doing some ground level flying there on the streets of the ‘South Side’ only a couple blocks from home.  A cop car went by the other way and began to turn around to chase him.  Since he was so close to home Marty grabbed a fist full of throttle and took off.  He made a couple of tight 90 degree turns as he changed streets heading home.  Then another to ride through the gate, and another to roll under the porch where he finally came to a stop.  Just like in an old Keystone Cops movie, the cop car roared right passed the house and kept going.  He’d lost them in just a couple of quick blocks on his Henderson 4 cylinder.  Marty always told me that the Henderson had a needle, or a “Max Stick” on the speedo to show what the top speed had been.  When he looked down at it there in his safe haven under the porch, he was surprised to see it was above 90.  He had been doing around 50 when the cops first saw him, but the Henderson ran up to 90 in that short couple of blocks home.  That is including the four 90 degree turns he had to make on the way.
Uncle Marty on his 1st bike: a '27 Harley JD

Marty had several bikes over the years.  As my cousin Jo Anne told me recently, they didn’t even have a car until she was about nine or so.  If they all went somewhere, they all piled on a bike and rode.  With Aunt Kate on back, and Jo Anne on the gas tank, acting as Marty’s windshield and bug catcher all in one.

There is another story I often heard as a kid, but always doubted.  But both Marty, and my cousin Jo Anne swear there is a photo showing it happened in an album somewhere.  It seems that the roof of the local Catholic church sloped down low to the ground in a back corner.  Well, as I recall hearing the story, Uncle Marty was bet he couldn’t climb to the steeple up the roof.  He said not only could he do it, but he’d do it on his bike.  The bet was on. 
They rigged up some planks, and secured them to the roof about 4 feet off the ground.  Marty rode back the length of the parking lot and grabbed a handful of throttle.  He shot up the ramp, and fishtailed his way up along the roof finally coming to a stop at the peak, with his front tire against the side of the steeple.  He told me about it when I was about 14, and said going up wasn’t the scary part.  It was a whole different animal getting turned around on that roof and riding it back down.  He still didn’t know how he hadn’t dumped it coming back from the top of that roof.
Uncle Marty on one of his Harleys

I may not be quite as crazy as Uncle Mart, but I have always felt the need to ride for as long as I can remember.  It must be in the blood.  Both of my brothers have rode, and the oldest still does, and I am proud to say the next generation is carrying on the family tradition as well.  A couple years ago, I actually had the pleasure of riding alongside one of my nephews and his wife for a couple hundred miles.  Somehow, I think both Dad and Uncle Marty are looking down and smiling.

Catch ya on the road sometime…

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