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Almost Fiction: Swap stories

By Sam Jones

For as long as I can remember, motorcycles and swap meets have enjoyed a classic symbiotic relationship; a cooperative, mutually beneficial one.

Swap meets like to tailor their events to a specific clientele, but there is no question that the Harley aficionados far outweigh any other group for their interest in such events. For years I have seen sellers unload boxes of bent, broken, beat-up Harley parts and buyers paw through the greasy mess looking for that one wayward part in the pile of scrap needed to finish their project bike.

“Do you know what year this is off of?” asks the potential buyer.

“What are you looking for?” responds the seller.

“I’m looking for a half- inch shouldered bolt to hold the T-bar bracket pivot on a comfort flex seat of a 1977 FLH.”

“That one there is off a ’76, but from 1975 to 1979 they’re all the same. It’ll fit your ’77 just perfect.”

“How much do you want for it?”

“$3.00.”

“$3.00?!”

“It’s a genuine Harley bolt and not one of those cheap Asian copies.”

“But… $3.00… its flats are rounded, the threads are stripped and it’s bent.”

“Look here: it’s an original. With a file you can straighten out the flats and with a half-inch die you can chase the threads. Put it in a vice and make it straight and then you have a perfect bolt, better than new old stock and certainly better than any replacement parts.”

“OK, would you take $1.00?”

“Oh no. Couldn’t take that. I’ll split the difference and we’ll make it $2.00”

The seller made a good deal on a bolt that was taken off a motorcycle because it was bent and the buyer purchased a half-day project so he could say that his bike was totally original, with no cut-rate re-pop parts. His pals would be so proud of him knowing that he spotted this exotic treasure in the bottom of a coffee can full of rust.

Swap meets are wonderful things, supportive to all concerns.

My personal favorite kind of motorcycle parts-jumbles are those that are non-exclusive to one brand and those that cater to the antique motorcycles. Often they run concurrent with a classic motorcycle show. On one side of the parking lot is the junk and on the other are the antiques. In the middle there is confusion.

Rarely do Indian parts mix with Harley parts, Anglophiles know the idiosyncrasies of all the English makes, BMW people disdain anything French and the self-important Italians speak to no one.

“What is that oil tank off of?” is the question from the potential buyer.

“A Velocette Thruxton,” is the answer from the potential seller.

“Will it fit a Triumph Bonneville?”

“Sure, with enough time and enough money anything will fit anything.”

“What I meant was, is it a bolt-up? It looks similar.”

“Not quite… you have to elongate the bolt holes on the mounting brackets so it will fit, but it will still be a Velocette oil tank on a Triumph. My buddy in the adjoining space is the Triumph man. Hey Marvin, do you have a Triumph Bonneville oil tank?”

“What year?” asks Marvin the neighbor in the next seller’s space.

And the story repeats.

Of course, disagreements on technicalities do occur, especially in the show ring. One of the worst arguments I ever witnessed was between two elderly gentlemen, both in their late 70s or early 80s. As it happened, one of them pushed his motorcycle, an Ariel Square Four, into the show area and parked it right next to another Ariel Square Four. As alike as two bikes could be, they were both potential class winners.

Nasty looks and sneers started the argument.

“You have the wrong taillight lens on your bike. It is not original.”

“No, it is correct. It is original.”

“No it is not. Your taillight lens is plastic and it should be glass. It is not original. You should push your bike out of here. This class is for original motorcycles only.”

“I am not pushing this bike anywhere. First of all, it is original. Ariel had glass taillight lenses in the early years, but this was the first year they changed to plastic.”

“Bullshit; you made that up because you couldn’t find the proper glass one.” The first gentleman pointed to his glass taillight lens.

“Are you calling me a liar?” The second man became adamant.

“Liar or stupid, you are wrong.” With that the two octogenarians left the world of common sense and resorted to fisticuffs. A dozen people had to separate them.

Unlike most people I love confrontation. And the best kind is when a know-it-all is shown up to be wrong or a charlatan is proved to be a crook. My personal world record of watching this happen was at an antique motorcycle meet in Hanford, California, several years ago.

While walking around looking at stuff, I happened to pass a man holding court, trying to sell a BSA that he said had an enviable racing history. He told the story that Dick Mann (a great motorcycle racer from the ’60s and ’70s) had personally raced this exact bike to a race win. With that sort of provenance, not surprisingly, he was asking a great deal of money for the motorcycle. I listened politely and moved on.

About an hour later I made another round and happened to hear him retelling the same story to a new group of potential buyers. He went on and on and finished by saying that, “This is the exact bike Dick Mann rode and won on.”

“No it isn’t,” came a voice from the crowd. A man walked up and challenged the seller by saying, “This is wrong and that is wrong,” pointing at many things on the motorcycle. The man then checked the numbers and said definitively, “I never rode this bike.” It was Dick Mann, who then walked away quietly without saying anything further.

The seller was loaded up and gone in minutes before the potential buyers had time to finish heating up the tar and feathers.

Men are passionate about those things of which they are passionate and fools are not suffered lightly at the swap meet.

 

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