Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Jaguar Project (part two)

I started reassembling the machine today. This is the fun part. First , pack the headset bearings, then put the forks back on the frame. Get the front and rear wheels hung, flip it over and put it on its feet. Pack the pedal crank bearings, and put the chain wheel back on. The crank threads turn backwards so you always have to think twice when you go to adjust the bearings.There's no instruction manual for these old bikes, but then again, you don't really need one. These are simple machines. Anyone with a glimmer of mechanical aptitude can work on one. Nonetheless, it is an axiom of all machines, that they come apart easier than they go back together. There are hundreds of parts to one of these things and every one of them goes exactly in one place, and it goes there in exactly the right order, or you have to stop, go back, and disassemble. None of it is really hard, but you do have to pay attention.
Mount the gooseneck, and handlebars, and it's beginning to look like a bicycle again, but this is the easy stuff. The Jaguar is a three speed, and there are tanks, racks, light, horn, fenders, and levers to mount, cables to route, adjustments to be made on both brakes, and the shifter.

I didn't get it finished today. In a way, that's an accomplishment. In years past I would have caught the burn, and worked all night until the bike was finished, or I was too exhausted to tell a wrench from a hammer. Today I took my time, solved a couple or three minor problems, and quit while everything was going OK. So now- well- at least I'm here in the den after a bath and a meal, and not out in the garage in the cold and dark on an obsessive burn to finish the project TONIGHT! I've mellowed just a little over the years.

Taking that job with the utility company had been a bad move. At first it sounded like a very cool gig- out all day driving around the city, going house to house servicing simple machines. Work at your own pace...
It sucked, and I hated it. But it gave me the opportunity to search around in damn near every neighborhood in the southeast corner of Los Angeles County. You see- I had this picture in my mind's eye. I'd get a call at some old house, and back in the corner of the garage, behind a bunch of junk would be that mint old tanker, and I'd ask if the guy would want to sell it and... Over a year went by. I didn't find shit. By this time I'd moved out of La Habra, and rented a house nearer to where I worked. Some of the other guys at the base knew I was looking for old bikes, and once one of the guys actually spotted one, and got me a phone number. Another letdown. It was a girl's bike from the sixties, a Hollywood, or a Starlet, I think. Anyway- it was a middleweight bike with chrome fenders. At least it had a front carrier, a half tank in the frame, and a fancy four reflector rear rack. But it wasn't what I was looking for. I already had one girl's bike. Nonetheless, something told me to buy it anyway. Besides it was cheap. By that time I'd pretty much given up on the idea that I was ever going to find some rare gem of a bike when I was out on a service call. It never did happen. I just gave it up, and quit looking altogether.

There is a thread that runs through a lot of new age baloney, but that also shows up in more respectable spiritual practices- The thread goes something like this: When you pray, or wish intensely, or imagine a thing that you wish to come to pass, you create a sort of energy in the cosmos. But that energy does not get released until you stop the imagining, wishing, praying. You know the old story- as soon as you quit looking for a mate, you find the love of your life. Maybe there is some truth to it. It seemed to play out in the Great Bike Hunt. As I said, I never did find a really great old bike when I was out on a service call. The first true classic Schwinn quite literally came my way when I stepped out my front door to go to work. It was trash day. I opened my front door, and the first thing I saw was an old guy rolling up on a bike to search the trash for aluminum cans. He was on an ancient bright red girl's Schwinn. Full balloon tires, tank, rack, light, chainguard, fenders, trussbars, all intact. Did I say bright red? Both tires, and everything in between- right down to the spokes and chain was brush painted barn red. I bought it on the spot for fifty bucks.

Jaguar Project Part Three


Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Jaguar Project (part one)

The picture actually represents the second part of a four part project: disassemble the bike. Take it down to nuts and bolts, fix what's broken, and give everything a thorough cleaning. Part Three: Put it back together. (not as easy as part two) Part Four: Ride it around. The first part, of course, is finding a bike like this one, and replacing all the missing stuff. I had that mostly done by 1980, but I never quite got around to part two. Thirty years later, I'm finally getting around to it. The bicycle is a 1961 Schwinn Mk IV Jaguar, the classic cantilever frame boy's bike updated for the space age with middle weight tires, four reflector rear carrier, a three speed gearshift, and stainless steel fenders. Here's another shot of the Jaguar:

After years of searching for a classic Schwinn, I found the '61 Jaguar, a 1955 Starlet, and a 1950 model B-6 during a brief burst of luck that lasted from the spring of 1979 until the fall of 1980. I rode it around for three or four years- actually took this heavy metal cruiser on fifty mile rides. It did service as a living room decoration for about a decade, but it's been crated up, and buried deep in the rat's nest of my garage since 1997. This was the second acquisition during that burst of luck so many years ago, and the first in line for a total overhaul now.

Of the three bikes, only the Starlet came into my care intact. The Jaguar here, and the B-6 (we'll get to the B-6 later) were missing major parts when I got them. And it took a wildly improbable web of coincidences to get all three machines into my hands, and help me spin together the missing pieces that put them within nuts and bolts of being 100% original.

I was nine years old in 1961. Back then I had an Evans 26" middleweight with a half tank, and rear carrier. Bikes like the Jaguar, and the the B-6 were around, and kids rode them, but back then they were just- you know- bikes. No one really paid a lot of attention. The first time a full dress Schwinn caught my eye was some time in the late seventies.
I'd been surfing at the Huntington Beach pier, and I was waiting to cross Pacific Coast Highway at the light at Main Street. A guy rolled up to the crosswalk on the gaudiest, most outrageous, and stone gorgeous thing I had ever seen on two wheels (without a motor, that is). I had to stop and ask him what it was. The bike was a fully restored 1948 Schwinn Autocycle, painted God and Country red white, and blue. It was big, round, heavy. Bulbous tires. Built in horn.Tanks. Racks. Lights. Springs. Curvy steel draped in gleaming sheet metal and dripping with chrome, and reflectors. This thing was Mae West with fenders. It was cool incarnate, and I knew right then and there that I was going to have one come hell or high water. But where did you go about finding obsolete bicycles?
Well. Sometimes you find them right around the block from where you live. Soon after, someone opened a small, what was then not-quite-antique shop on La Habra Boulevard just a few blocks away from the apartment I lived in. The place was called The Nostalgia Store, and sold all sorts of goodies, and trinkets from the 1950's. It seemed like an odd idea- keep in mind, that stuff was barely twenty years old at the time. The store didn't last long either. Anyway- point was- the coolest thing that the guy had was a perfect 1950's Schwinn Panther. For three hundred bucks. That was the price of a decent used car, or a good used motorcycle. No way. So I checked want-ads, and garage sales, and auctions. All I found was a 1950's Co-ed. A girl's bike. No, I wouldn't find my first full dress Schwinn for a few years to come. Not until I'd quit surfing, left my old job, and moved out of La Habra altogether. My new job with the utility company would have me in and out of neighborhoods, houses, yards, and garages all over a big chunk of L A County. If there were Old Schwinns out there, I would find them.


Jaguar Project Part Two

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Big Loo. A True Christmas Story

This story was first posted on Robot-Japan in '03. The pic came from google images.

I saw “Big Loo-Your Friend From the Moon” for sale on e-bay. Asking price was just over $1800.00. One thousand, eight hundred dollars for a forty year old plastic robot from the Marx toy company. Big Loo was a “Christmas toy” from the early 1960’s; kin to the likes of Great Garloo, Odd Ogg, Robot Commando, and Thinkatron.

Big Loo was the most desperately wanted toy on my 1963 Wish List. He could shoot balls out of one hand, and bend over and grab things to destroy with the other. He had blinking eye lights, and a crosshair sight for the dart shooters, missile launchers and water squirter. He could talk too. He had a crank operated voice with ten different sayings. Not to mention the warning bell, a two-tone whistle to further terrify the bad guys, and a compass and Morse code clicker in case you were lost in the wilderness and needed to send a message in code. Not only that- Big Loo was huge. 37” tall to be exact. He was just about everything I wanted in life that fall.

But late in that summer of 1963 we had returned home to Trenton Michigan after visiting friends who had moved to California. My younger brother had asthma; the pollen laden eastern summers were killing him. He had done remarkably better in the dry southwestern climate. Instead of spending time in the emergency room he had been running around, swimming, and skinning up his knees and elbows riding a steel wheeled sidewalk surfboard. Sometime around Halloween a ‘For Sale’ sign appeared in front of our house. My folks announced that we too would be moving to California. We were going to a place called La Habra- sort of near Disneyland, and sort of near the beach.

The house sold in November, and one Friday afternoon a fragment of broadcast broke across the loudspeaker in sixth grade Music class. The teacher turned directly to me. "John. Get down to the office right now, and find out what happened". Against all school rules, I ran down the ramp, through the lobby, and into the main office. “What Happened?” I asked.
The secretary looked at me for a moment and said in a flat, stunned voice,” Someone shot the President.” That was Friday, November 22.

Three weeks later, Friday, the Thirteenth of December was cold, and wet. The moving vans had gone. After school we said goodbye to our friends, finished packing, and took a last look at our home. The tree out front was a bare stick. The lawn was brown, the windows black, and everything else drizzly and gray. It was dark by the time we left. Mom piled my two brothers and me into the car, and my Dad drove south that night, into Ohio.

Many days later, our bedraggled family pulled up to the door of our friends’ house in La Habra California. It was after ten o’clock at night when we got there. The moving vans had been delayed, so we spent several days sleeping on the floor in their living room and everyone got the flu at once. One of the moving vans arrived Christmas Eve with half of our furniture and goods.
We spent that Christmas Eve moving into a shabby sprawling ramshackle house right off Whittier Boulevard. There were avocado, persimmon and loquat trees all overgrown in the huge shaggy yard. There were real poinsettias, too. Somehow in the midst of all that confusion my parents managed to get a Christmas tree set up and decorated in our otherwise empty living room. My Dad explained that Christmas might be delayed this year. At eleven, I understood what he meant, but my younger brothers still believed in Santa. He took my brothers and me to “Freight Outlet” and gave us each a few bucks to spend so we’d have gifts to give. My brothers and I never knew how broke we really were then. We got dinner that night from Burger Q, which was right across the street from our new home.

And the next morning my brothers and I woke up to Christmas. The house was half empty, and strange. Stranger still, it was warm, and sunny out. But it was still Christmas. I don’t know how my parents did it, but they did. We had presents. All the silly, wonderful Christmas-toy junk that my brothers and I had coveted, wished for, and figured we just wouldn’t get, appeared beneath the tree that morning. Including my talking 37” tall, ball firing, dart shooting, missile launching, water squirting eye blinking, waist bending, thing grabbing, bell ringing whistle blowing “Big Loo Your Friend From the Moon” robot from the Marx toy company.

That was Christmas 1963. By the spring of 1964, I had discovered car models, surf music, and then the Beatles. Big Loo went the way of most real toys, which is to say that I don’t know when or how it disappeared. And now there’s one for sale for eighteen hundred and some odd dollars on e-bay. There’s not a chance I’ll bid on it. Nonetheless, if it were mine I wouldn’t sell it.

A merry, and joyous Christmas to all my friends in the Coonosphere. John M