Friday, January 1, 2010

Jaguar Project (part three)

I finished the Jaguar, and put the bike on the street for the first time since the mid 1980's. Of course, there were a few minor glitches, but I got them worked out. The brake pads are hard, and they barely stop the bike. The shifter is a little touchy. I remember when I first got the bike that the shifter wouldn't stay in gear. The spring was weak, and the notch that holds the indicator lever in place was worn, and rounded. In my Dad's can of miscellaneous rubber pieces and parts I had found a large rubber washer that seemed like it was made to fit the inside of that shifter. It did the job, but, like I said, the indicator is still a little touchy. Nothing you can do about fifty year old brake pads. I did a damn nice job on that thing, if I do say so myself. It whirls along like a brand new bicycle.
Yesterday it rained all day, so I took the camera out into the garage, and tried to get a very cool, moody, low available light picture of the newly reassembled cruiser. Tried. Most of the pics were shitty, and I don't know why I was surprised and a little disappointed that the bike ended up looking just like it did when I started. The picture I posted is probably the best. Anyway...

I mentioned earlier that I found my three classic Schwinns during a brief period of good luck. Finding those bikes was the only thing that remotely resembled luck during that period of time. The rest of my life was on track for a major train wreck. That I pulled those bikes out of the fire is pretty remarkable in itself. I can count the good choices I made in that year or so on the fingers of one hand. And the bikes count for three out of five good choices, at that. Hell, those bikes kept me out of jail. Like I said, the bad decisions started with taking the job. I hated the job. But, as luck would have it then, I got introduced The Cowboy, and that only helped to set up the impending disaster.

The Cowboy was another one of the service crew at the base. He was a tall, raw boned man in his early sixties- gray, weatherbeaten, mustache, cowboy boots, and Stetson hat. Looked, and talked like The Marlboro man, pardner... Drove a new Corvette, and carried a sawed off, side by side 12 gauge in his coat pocket- right chamber, rock salt; left chamber, buckshot. He didn't drink, or get high, but he sold weed for a hobby. That, for me, was not a bad thing. But back then in the early eighties, cocaine was becoming a fad, and all the cool kids were doing it, so The Cowboy sold coke too. Which brings me to another less than wise decision that I made: hooking up with a gal who liked cocaine, and kinky sex. She had a budding sociopath of a daughter to boot...
I'll let you infer the rest. This narrative is about bikes.

I had walked out my front door and found the 1955 girl's bike. This was what I'd been hunting for. This was the real thing.
The first thing I did with the old beast was to soak every nut, bolt, and screw with Liquid Wrench. I let it sit a couple of days, re-soaking all the fittings, and then I began disassembling.
Despite the thick coat of barn paint, the bicycle was in very good shape. The fenders had dings, but the struts were straight. Of course, the horn, and light were ruined from corroded D-cells, but the tanks were undamaged. I actually got the old horn to work; the light was beyond repair.

I got a few cans of paint stripper and, piece by piece, started brushing it down. The thick coat of red paint peeled off easily revealing the bike's true colors- white, with rose pink trim, and the model: Starlet. I bought more stripper, and took the whole thing down to bare metal, and then fine sanded it all until the whole collection of pieces and parts was gleaming naked metal.

The painted frame looks like a single curving piece. Stripped of paint it reveals an assembly of beautifully bent segments of tubing, mated with elegantly brazed joints- shiny gold against the cold white steel, and ground so smoothly that a blind man's fingers would not detect a seam. As I disassembled the Bendix coaster brake, the brass shoes, friction polished like two pieces of gold jewelery, tumbled out into my hand. I think this is where I really began to fall in love with these old machines.

I hadn't painted anything with a spray can since I built model cars when I was in Jr. High. And I had never tried giving anything a two tone paint job. Original or not- white and pink was an unacceptable color combination for a bike I planned to ride around. I bought a bunch of rattle cans: forest green, and antique ivory. I'll have pictures up in a subsequent post, and I wouldn't have sidetracked into talking about the Starlet at all, except it was fixing up the Starlet that led to my finding the Jaguar. One coincidence set up another.

The house I was renting was a couple of blocks away from the San Gabriel River Trail. If you're not familiar with Southern California, that may conjure up an image of a serene path following the green banks of a flowing river. It is nothing of the sort. The riverbed, all but dry for most of the year, is a concrete culvert some hundreds of feet wide with smooth cement banks some fifteen or twenty feet high. The bike path runs along the edge of the trough, and if you're courageous enough you can dive off the path, and skate a bike up and down the steep walls like a wheeled surfboard on a concrete wave. Seal Beach was about two hours away, and that was my first destination once I got the Starlet finished.
I remember that I had just reached the end of the river trail. I was lifting the Starlet over the bike gate when another bicyclist noticed it, and stopped to talk. He knew someone who had some old bike like that- wasn't sure what it was. I gave him my phone number, (I used to carry pen and paper just in case.) and forgot about it.
Many weeks later I got a phone call from a stranger. Was I interested in buying an old Schwinn? When I saw the Jaguar I was too excited to do much bargaining over the price. I think he was asking $275. or $300. (remember- 1980 dollars) The only problem was that the bike was missing the front carrier, and the four-reflector rear rack. I had those parts sitting at home on the girl's bike that I had bought some months earlier.

Jaguar Project Part Four


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