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Southern Rail: Keep on truckin’

By Robert Filla


It was the summer of 2003 and it had been a tough year. An old friend had been shot to death on New Year’s Eve, my mom passed away due to cancer and I’d been turned down repeatedly for a bike loan. And then, apparently due to a fluke in the system, some bean counter somewhere miscounted my credit score and, in short order, I was the proud owner of a 100th Anniversary H-D Road King—my first new Big Twin ever.

One week after my purchase I was back at the dealership for the 1,000-mile service checkup. A week later I was changing my fluids and motor oil filter again, this time at 3,000 miles. By the time I took off for Harley’s 100th Anniversary party I’d logged over 7,000 miles on the bike. It was less than a month old. To say I was a happy owner would have been an understatement.

Within a week after returning from Milwaukee I’d sold my truck, a 1990 F-150. That was the last vehicle with more than two wheels that I’ve owned since the fall of 2003. Sure, I’ve had access to trucks and cars during that time but, for day-to-day transport, around-the-state excursions and cross-country travel, it’s pretty much been two wheels only. That is until this spring.

It was a screaming deal on an older model Chevy longbed—big nasty V-8, the entire body coated primer gray, polished diamond plate toolbox, HID headlights, L.E.D.s in the back and a killer sound system. So, in a moment of weakness, I made the deal. And surprise… I liked it.

I scored the truck one week before I was to ride to Daytona Bike Week. And the madness of getting ready for that trip and the crunch of magazine deadlines had me scrambling the entire time. Needing to run to the auto parts store for oil, I grabbed the truck keys, jumped in the cab and took off. As I was about to go inside, I caught my reflection in the store’s window. I had on a sleeveless T-shirt, a pair of shorts and was barefoot. It was then I realized that before I left I completely neglected my standard checklist:

1) Don proper riding attire including full-length pants and adequate footwear
2) Do temperatures require need for jacket and gloves?
3) Locate helmet
4) Scrounge up earplugs
5) Rain? Shades, goggles or clear glasses?
6) Open up shop, roll out bike, close shop, secure all locks and alarms

And then I thought, no wonder cars and trucks are so popular—how damn convenient. No hassles, no second-guessing the weather conditions, no gearing up for road hazards. Oh, and no soul. Well, that part sucks… but they sure are user friendly.

A few days later I was headed east to Florida, all thoughts of trucks and four-wheel conveyances left at the curb while I enjoyed the bliss of a job that allows me to ride a motorcycle. And Daytona was an absolute blast, as always.

The return trip was uneventful (unless you count 150 miles of torrential rain between Tallahassee and Pensacola). My last day on the road before reaching Houston would be a short 370 miles and I awoke refreshed and ready to hit the highway. After loading all my gear, I hit the starter button and received nothing but a series of electrical clicks and clanks. The starter wouldn’t engage. Luckily there was a dealership in town so I knew if this was serious there was a solid remedy. But being a bull-headed Texan, I jacked around with the bike for a bit and got it started, but it sure didn’t want to. When I wheeled into the gas station, I already knew I was not going to turn the bike off. No matter how dire the posted warning signs were, “NO SMOKING—Turn OFF Vehicle Before Fueling,” that Road King could sit right there idling for a few minutes while I topped off the tank. No problem.

My next stop would be Lafayette. The Harley dealership there sits right off I-10 and next door to a station carrying my favorite brand of petrol. So if anything did happen, I could simply push the damn thing into a service bay. But all was good once again; leave bike idling and gas up. This time, I also locked the steering head, and headed inside to use the facilities. I came back out to that oh-so familiar Milwaukee shuffle as my baby sat obediently at the premium pump, shaking and rattling, patiently waiting for her master. And off I rode. Next stop Beaumont.

Cowboy Harley-Davidson is also conveniently located alongside Interstate 10 with my favorite gasoline a short distance down the access road (just in case). After refueling and locking the forks, I headed inside for a coffee. Shaky Baby waited outside. Next stop—home, 125 miles away. In the end, I rode that faithful Road King for more than six hours without ever turning it off.

That last stretch had me thinking about my primer gray rat truck, the convenience it offered and how easy it was gonna be to tear that starter off and haul it around town until I found a fix. But those jealous motorcycle gods would show no mercy. Yes, the truck was gone, being purchased by my brother-in-law while I was away. He’d hinted before I left he was interested in it and when I got home I discovered he’d already secured insurance and, with a hefty down payment, sealed the deal with my wife. So after almost 10 years I was a truck owner for less than three weeks, never having driven the thing more than 50 miles. So does that really count against me?


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