Chasing Your Hobby Abroad
I would like
to thank all my friends for such a wonderful time while on holiday
in the U.K., back in July of '93. Yes, I know it was last year [originally
published 1994]; I am still a bit behind! In no way could my brother
and I have run such a tight schedule without the help of such friends.
In fact it nearly did us in, by the time I got home I was shattered,
and ready for a vacation! Now that is what I call a successful trip!
Not that one would have noticed, but this trip had been in planning
for quite some time. This was necessary as I could only obtain ten
days off from work, and for that I had to give them six months advance
notice (the sods!). Another day was gained by incorporating July
4th (hint: our Independence Day). So by swapping shifts with a co-worker
(I work second shift) I was able to depart Friday evening, the 2nd,
and not return till Monday the 19th. This gave three whole weekends
in the U.K.
Things got off to a rather bad start before I had even left. I worked
my normal second shift Thursday, then stumbled in bright and early
at 6:00 a.m. Friday to work a dayshift. Plan was that after work
I would pack some last minute items, and have a snooze before the
overnight flight. Fortunately dayshift never does a bit of work
(second shift carries the load) so it was a relatively easy, if
a bit fuzzy, day. Which was just as well, as I had promised someone
a Douglas centerstand, which by working through the night and into
the next morning, had only just finished Thursday before appearing
I think they must have appreciated my valuable observations on dayshift,
as I had two offers for in-flight insurance coverage. Back home,
last minute packing turned into last minute chaos, and I never did
get to take a nap. Sometime during this I was baking the centerstand
in the oven so the paint would dry in time and not stick to my clothes.
It seemed in no time, we had to be off to the airport.
Guess who set off the metal detector? The attendant was trying to
describe something on the X-ray tube, and gesticulated international
sign language for Douglas centerstand. After handing it over they
examined it for explosive devices. Not finding any, they returned
it with the comment "Well I guess you can't take out a plane
with that." to which I replied "Not unless I clocked the
pilot over the head with it". They must have heard that one
before, as they did not even smile. (A comment that probably get
me arrested at security in these post 9/11 days.)
Can not say I got much rest in flight, being too cramped, even for
my small size, in coach to sleep. We had three infants on board,
they were not sleeping either! They also worked in shifts, wailing.
much trouble at Heathrow, collected the car, a Renault Clio,
and by ten-ish was on my way to Aberystwyth, Wales. I had to
go there, as the first week I was attending a Milling Symposium
(wind and watermills) at the University of Aberystwyth. Stopping
for lunch I tried some chicken curry, which looked harmless
enough. What I did not realize was how incredibly hot it was!
! It vaporized the slight cold I was developing, and made me
break out in a sweat.
Now for someone
from the States, driving in the U.K. is very different, and I do
not mean just driving on the opposite side of the road. First you
have to figure out the system, who has the right of way. Unlike
the States where everybody works on the "I" plan, ("I"
have the right of way, also known as the 'me first' system.) Then
you have to get use to driving quickly on narrow roads with poor
lines of sight. Either that or you feel like a clod with a string
of cars backed up behind you, looking for a lay-by to hide in. Some
of these turned out to be reserved for buses or police, oh well!
It is hard to get use to the fact that people will not intentionally
pull out in front of you. Which is why I am so dependent on a good
line of sight. They also seemed most tolerant of ignoramuses on
the road, I mean no one pulled out a gun and took a shot at us.
Back home, the other driver will make eye contact, pause till you
get a little closer, and then pull out in front of you, all the
while staring right at you! (Or through you, I suppose.)
Driving in England started off well enough, as I was using the M4
all the way to Wales, then struck north to the A40. Somewhere I
lost the A40 and ended up on a very minor road (B4558 I found out
later) that followed a canal (Monmouthshire and Brecon). So in truth
it was a bit of a sudden change from the motorway! The road alarmingly
(for me) got narrower until it was reduced to a single track; at
which state it stayed for about several miles.
It could have been rather scenic if one were not spending their
first day driving in a foreign country, due at a place 236 miles
away by early evening to register, lost (well sort of, I figured
we were headed in the right general direction; Brecon), on a one
lane road half up an embankment in a queue trying to get past logging
lorries; and while waiting there for the lorry to peel the side
off this little French tin I rented, wondering why I opted for the
damage wavier (well because I'm cheap!). I would have sworn it would
never have fit, but I got past the various oncoming traffic (observing
the British system) without rubbing the tin on the oncoming vehicles,
or the paint off the on the surrounding flora (gorse?).
Actually this was a similar experience to the last time on holiday,
back in 1988, when I ventured into Wales, and promptly got lost.
After forever, I was dumped out in Brecon, and found my way to the
A470. I followed that on up through Builth Wells, thence Rhayader
and on up to Llangurig (very scenic bit of road worthy of a more
casual drive) to the A44 which took me west into Aberystwyth.
Aberystwyth has this clever little road trap for the unwary, you
enter the town on the main road, but a system of one-way streets
has you going round and round in circles in town. After a few laps
I was spat out on the Promenade, which, though not quite were I
wanted to be, made a change of scenery from circling town. I crawled
along the Promenade north, turned west at the cliff, and via some
back streets, edged my way to the main road north out of town without
getting sucked into the in-town vortex again. The collage campus
was just up the hill from town. Actually, once one got use to it,
there were plenty of different routes to chose, and Aberystwyth
did not seem such a big town after all. You may gather I am not
a town dweller.
I checked in,
attended the welcoming dinner, but by 8:00pm during the entertainment
I had to call it a night as it had seemed ages since I last had
some sleep! Which in strait linear time would have been thirty three
hours, with possibly a few catnaps in flight, though I sure don't
remember them! I also had very little sleep, and an disrupted schedule
the few previous days which did not help matters much. All this
was the prelude to probably one of the worst cases of jet lag known
previous lack of sleep, my internal clock said rise and shine at
four a.m.! So as to re-adjust to the new time zone as quickly as
possible, I kept the shades drawn and stayed in bed till seven thirty.
This I did every day, and retired at a reasonable time most every
night, (except for one or two occasions!) However, at mid-morning,
I would become drowsy, a state which would last for an hour. After
two weeks, the only improvement I affected was to gradually shift
this period of drowsiness to late afternoon! This was in contrast
to my last holiday where I adjusted completely the first day, and
thought jet lag was a myth.
During the days of scheduled excursions our group ranged over a
good portion of Wales, southwest to Cardigan, northwest to Welshpool.
The coach driver knew no fear as to where to hurl such a large vehicle,
no lane was too small, no area too tight. Solid objects passed mere
inches outside my window, leaves and portions of branches fell in
the open skylights, it was a wild ride! I was most impressed, I
had a hard enough time finding enough road for my little truffle
tin, what with narrow roads made even more so with parked cars.
We did not collide with anything, how I know not.
On days of presentations
that I was not interested in, I took the car and did some exploring
of my own. First, right in Aberystwyth is the Vale of Rheidol Railway,
which I rode to Devils Bridge. I believe they are going to clear
some brush from the right of way, which would do much to open up
some spectacular views into the valley floor far below. In my ignorance,
I decided to walk the path at Devils Bridge, which introduced me
to another British passion, steps! Steps three hundred feet down,
and three hundred feet back up! These are no ordinary steps either,
we are talking strenuous, ligament stretching, thirteen inch flights!
I almost died. Second interesting thing about the U.K., you can
find a pub just about anywhere you may be, why there was one directly
across the road from where I emerged exhausted from walking hell!
Perhaps I was not the first tourist nearly to perish on that trail.
Well, I missed my train and had to wait for the next one anyway,
might as well be refreshed!
I also rode
the Welshpool and Llanfair R.R., and the Ffestiniog R.R.. On the
way back I stopped at Harlech Castle and climbed yet more steps
to the top of the bluff, only to find you could drive up to the
back side and walk straight in at a second entrance!
Now the Welsh
are very friendly, once they find out you are not English. They
go to great lengths to impress upon you that theirs is a separate
country. Show the flag a lot, use difficult pronunciations a lot,
and ply you with WELSH cakes at any opportunity. Now at Felin Crewi
there was a sign not to feed the animals as well as a plaque in
memory of their pet pony who had died a painful gastrointestinal
death from being fed too many welsh cakes by the tourists, which
struck me as quite ironic! I felt kindred sympathy for that departed
Just prior to
this trip I had been in contact with Taff, of vintage motorcycle
horn renown. Not only did he fix me up with a horn for my 1936 Aero
Douglas, but with all kinds information on interesting sites to
visit, local newspapers, and some basic instruction on how not to
murder the Welsh language and pronunciation, which I did anyway.
Far better than any tourist bureau would have done.
Went to visit
the owner of a T35 Douglas in Aberystwyth, once we got talking,
and that bottle of wine got opened... well it was quite late when
I left there! Then I heard about the more interesting side of Welsh
history, like the Sons of Glendower Real-Estate Brokers!
the symposium over, I set off after breakfast for the London Douglas
Motor Cycle Club (LDMCC) Annual Rally at Bainton, running in and
out of rain squalls all the way. I arrived quarter past two, just
in time to see everybody gather to set off for the road run, and
the rain to start again! I waited to watch all the machines off,
hopped back in the car and went in search of a B&B. Which proved
quite difficult till I went up to Banbury. Back at the field people
were still arriving and the rain stopped.
threat of more rain, I thought quite a number of people turned up.
Time to renew old acquaintances, and make new ones.
One member had
on display some of his developmental engine work for a 450cc Mk
Douglas short circuit racer, as well as some bits and pieces that
failed the track test! Some rather good ideas there.
There was quite
an amusing incident that evening involving push starting a machine.
The reluctant machine finally came to life causing the pushie to
fall nearly prostrate on the ground. This could have been injurious
but the individual found a particularly soft spot in the pasture
to land, let's just say no one wanted to shake his hand afterward!
Probably not the first time this has occurred. The cows had not
long ceded their pasture.
was there with his rotary plus Douglas special (featured in Classic
Bike), it required several shots of antihistamine to get it's breath.
We both like to tinker with metal working machinery, it is a pity
really that I only get to see him every five years.
committee members I'd met last time, great was there concern for
my well being. In fact most everyone had a kind word to say. I finally
got to meet Malcolm (the intrepid chef of the Bainton burger); and
our LDMCC archivist, who had a wonderful parcel of New ConRod magazine
(NCR) back issues for me. Other members also contributed some more
back issues to my collection. The NCR Editor also gave me a current
issue, as my copy was probably just arriving back home. I should
have read it there and then, as unbeknown to me, I had been recruited
(and simultaneously uncovered) as an accessory to the Malcomgate
conspiracy! Oh well, ignorance is bliss! A small party was still
going on late into the night when I left for my own digs (I do not
camp if there is a place with hot running water within 200 miles.)
Sunday was quite
nice weather, with more people turning up all the time. Browsing
through the jumble was nearly a full time occupation. Plenty of
breaks though to meet new people, people whom, up to that time were
only names in the NCR. In fact, I would walk the circuit and get
involved in a conversation; when next I looked around more stalls
had sprung up to be investigated! Being a veteran of the big antique
car fall swap meet at Hershey, PA, I am a pro at the technique of
walking past a stall and scanning it instantly for promising bits.
These usually reside tucked under the back of the car, or right
in the boot. Upon inquiry it can be found the desirable item is
not for sale, as they had only just bought it! Like radar, this
scanning tends to miss things up close and low, my excuse for missing
things sitting at the front of the table!
I do not doubt
that very shortly one could assemble a nearly complete Mk of sorts
from bits collected around the jumble. Unfortunately I was not looking
for Mk bits, the bits I sought proved more elusive.
Still there was the chance to stock up on regalia items, and harass
the Pre-War Spares emporium (weren't allowed a spot in the tent,
were we?). After scouring the stalls all morning for seat springs
for my Aero, I find they have been concealing from me the fact that
the Pre-War Spares had new sets made. This was very naughty of them.
More NCRs arrived
courtesy of a club member. In my turn, I had agreed to collect a
set of Douglas Dragonfly forks on behalf of someone else. Fortunately,
as it turned out, I did not have to transport them all the way back
home, they are quite bulky and heavy.
offered the use of his Mk for the gymkhana, then bravely volunteered
his daughter as pillion passenger. Somehow I (unconsciously I'm
sure) contrived to miss the start, thus sparing myself from certain
embarrassment. The last time I rode my Mk3 in a gymkhana like event
I nearly fell off, though I still maintain it was due to spontaneous
loose headstock bearing syndrome!
Also I was able
to do a brief bit of research on current usage of the prewar o.h.v.
engines. Not as much as I would have like, but a start none the
less. All in all, quite a successful weekend; but I had to be off
early to meet up with my brother in Stourton, west of Birmingham.
I did stay long enough to see the awards presented.
The timing was
perfect, I pulled in the drive at Stourton Castle, just as my brother
and company were pulling out to go to dinner! Another minute and
I would have missed them, not to mention dinner!
The next day
we had arranged to met LDMCC member that I had been corresponding
with in Bridgenorth at the Severn Valley Railway. We were supposed
to meet in the snack bar, prior to riding the train. We waited and
waited, but no Allen. Finally as the time approached, we went ahead
and got tickets and prepared to board the train. The ticket agent
was there to flag off the engine. At this moment a fellow came out
of another bar/pub at the end of the station and approached the
ticket agent and us. As this bloke was clutching an NCR, I knew
it must be Allen, who I had never actually met before. He asked
the ticket agent if he had seen two Americans about, to which I
replied on behalf of the agent "yes, they are here" or
something to that effect. Misunderstanding this he turned to look
in the station, and I had to hastily add: "No, no, here, right
here, we are who you are looking for!" He did not seem entirely
convinced at first, but we held the train till he could get a ticket
due to talking and looking at photos I did not notice much of the
train ride! It turns out we both have an interest in Austin Sevens
- he has one and I wish I had one. We arrived at Kidderminster,
where Allen was prepared to pay up on the pint he owed me for a
past favor. And here is where I have a shocking confession to make,
I had been feeling poorly since the previous day, and had to let
Allen off the hook as I had no wish to antagonize my stomach. It
galled me to do so, by which you can judge the serious of my discomfort!
Allen and my brother went off to explore Kidderminster, whilst I
was content just to sit on a bench in the sun, and read the current
NCR. It was then I discovered belatedly my role in the Malcomgate
conspiracy. Perhaps I had a closer escape then I'd realized, after
all Malcom did personally fix me up a rally burger himself, was
it a warning, an attempt to silence me, had he read something I
Actually I think it was some clever trick on Allen's behalf to get
out of buying a pint, but damned if I can figure out how he did
it! [Postscript: Malcomgate only makes sense to those in the LDMCC
at the time, reading the events as they developed (or were created!)
in the NCR. And I am not sure it made complete sense even then.
It is too difficult a joke to explain the nuances here.]
Still we had
a good time, but sad to say one can not poke around the Bridgenorth
engine sheds no more, despite Allen trying argue his way in saying
we had come all the way from America to do so; well, er, sort of!
As you can guess by now, I also like old steam trains.
Bidding our leave, we were due to join the LDMCC Northern Section
at The Railway (pub) that evening for club night. They had also
found us a local B&B, though finding it was a bit tricky. Actually
we came upon The Railway first, then turned back. Next we tried
what seemed to be the correct lane, this lead to an abandon military
depot. The next dirt lane to nowhere actually turned out to be the
correct one, leading to the Logwood Mill, our B&B. Inexpensive,
quiet, and spotless; a very good pick by the Northern section, though
it turned out they had exactly the same trouble locating it as we
did, and it is only a quarter mile down the road from The Railway,
We arrived back at The Railway by 8:00pm, and it seemed everyone
was already there, in fact it was packed. Concerned for my stomach,
I tried to gracefully decline a pint, a futile action if there ever
was one in that crowd. Much to my dismay, rather than upsetting
it, I suddenly felt a whole lot better. Damn!, Allen got off Scot
One member brought along some tools which he thought he might stump
me with, but I guessed them before he had them halfway out of the
bag. Better luck next time! Then to add insult to injury I inquired
when he was going to start using his Plus model which I had seen
at the rally. Seems he has been! My mistake, it looked so clean,
I really ought to start paying closer attention to past NCR issues!
My thanks to The Northern section for a jolly evening. We also got
some handy tips on the I.o.M., where we were next bound.
The next day was a leisurely drive up to Heysham to catch the midday
ferry to the Island. As we had a little time to spare we located
Brunnel Engineering (model steam) and got a tour of the machine
shop. The old gent that was working there gave up his lunch break
to show us around, once he found out we dabbled with old machinery
The ferry trip over to Douglas was uneventful, though it seemed
we left the sun behind in Heysham. We took the Mountain Electric
Railway up to Ramsey, inquired at a pub, and they directed us to
a guest house further up the street.
The next morning
we had made arrangements to visit a club member, so we walked over
there. Now that was an education! I particularly liked the four
cylinder Vauxhuall motorcycle, there was a tremendous amount of
effort put into replicating the missing frame, and quite an interesting
history. And of course various Douglases to look at as well. I like
looking at as many various models as possible, as it gives one a
better sense of the gradual evolution of the marquee. When one only
sees several of the more common models spread over many years you
tend to overlook all the small changes that occurred from year to
By afternoon we were back down at Laxley, and the rain had stopped.
We rode the Snaefell Mountain Railway up as far a Murry's Motorcycle
Museum, which has quite a few motorcycles packed inside to say the
least. Douglases, and Douglas engines are sprinkled about here and
there. I found two things upsetting though. One, visitors had stolen
many of the petrol caps off the machines on display, a downright
petty thing to do. Second, it was quite damp inside, which must
be hard on the exhibits. The infamous Mountain Mist, though it was
clear outside. I do tend to favor museums cram packed with lots
of related exhibits, like Murry's, I am partial to clutter myself!
We caught the next tram down, and spent the rest of a sunny afternoon
exploring the Laxley Wheel and surrounding area. The Lady Isabella
waterwheel is quite impressive by any measure, no matter how big!
Further restoration of the mine head area can only but enhance an
We continued on the MER down to Douglas, were we lodged for the
night. We hung about the MER shops looking for and invitation in,
but they have it well posted to stay out! By this time the rain
decided we had quite enough sunshine for the day and resumed!
The next morning it was quite foggy. I had hung my jacket up on
the wardrobe to dry, which turned out to be right were there was
a leak in the ceiling! We walked to the station and rode the steam
train out to Port Erin, and examined the interesting railway museum
they have there. At the station, a nice fire was burning to dry
out by. Could not see much of the town as visibility remained nil,
in fact on the ride back one could not see much beyond the immediate
right of way. I was not till we got back home and viewed the video
I purchased, that we saw were we had ridden! Peering into the shops
we saw some flat belt drive machinery in use, but could not get
a closer look, in other words standing around looking hopeful did
not get us in! Some people can just barge their way in places, but
I was never much good at that.
The next morning it was still fog and drizzle, which disappeared
as if by magic halfway back across on the ferry. I think the Island
was trying to tell us something! Despite the indifferent weather,
we saw enough to see another visit in the future is warranted.
Back at Heysham, the car was intact, much to our surprise. Our friends
had thoughtfully primed us with all sorts of horror stories about
un-attended cars being broken into. Not that I am paranoid, but
we had taken the precaution to disable it, and hide the extra luggage
out of view. This, and probably the fact that it was just a Renault,
discouraged anyone from bothering it.
Motoring along southeast, we called in on friends, above Manchester,
who we were staying with once again. Saturday was visiting some
local emporiums, doing a deal on a set of Norton Roadholder forks
I needed, and capped off with a ride on the Kieghly and Worth Valley
Railway. As my friends had been over to the American Mid-West, we
had lots of holiday stories to talk about, as I have never been
out to that part of the country.
Parting Sunday morning, we drove down to Bridgenorth to attend the
Annually Rally of the Panther's owner club, as my brother is a member.
We had some difficulty finding it, so only caught the tail end of
it (it started Saturday).
We were due that evening at my friends place near Heathrow, and
arrived sometime after five. My friend's backyard had turned from
a jungle into the proper English garden since I had last seen it
five years ago. Perhaps the bikes are going to be sidelined by a
new hobby? Another acquaintance came by latter with his wife, and
we talked clear into Monday. Mind you, we were due to fly out Monday
I mentioned that I had been on the lookout, during our trip, for
an engine suitable for my A31 chassis. A little rummaging and he
turned up most of the bits of a wrecked engine, which I can rebuild.
This on the very last morning we were in the U.K.! Since the A31
is a basket case, and only 85% at that, plans are to build a spartan
little trial bike out of the bits to potter around in the local
vintage trials. We have a few informal events nearby which I spectate
We had to do our final packing, and all the garbage that was in
the car had to somehow fit in the suitcases. This included not only
the clothing we came with, but the pamphlets, books, and videos
we acquired; the headlamps, dynamo, Norton forks, A31 engine; sixty-five
or so back issues of NCR; and two large wool blankets from a small
waterpowered mill, and other odds and ends.
A lot of juggling was required to split the weights up, as well
as some high density packing! This involved stuffing dirty socks
and shirts inside the cylinder barrels and crankcase! The large
suitcase weighed 88lbs, the medium one 56lbs, my carry-on was 44lbs,
in all it was over +200lbs for the lot. I even used my camera bag
as a second carry on, stuffed full of displaced clothing.
We dropped the car off, and arrived at the terminal in good time,
only to find out our flight was over booked. Despite booking six
months prior, it is filled on a first come serve basis. Needles
to say, we were delayed until the plane was safely off the ground,
leaving an angry mob of passengers at the counter. They offered
an alternate flight to Dullis, D.C., with a connection to Philadelphia,
and things we starting to look ugly, till they offered £250-00
compensation and an up grade to business class. That made everybody
happy right quick!
Proceeding on to customs (after cashing my refund check) I anticipated
some problems with my 30% metallic carry-on bag. I dropped it on
the conveyor with a hell of a bang, and told the attendant to "watch
this". I'll give the x-ray operator credit, he almost kept
total composure, but I did notice a slight bulging of the eyes.
They were quite pleasant about it, they let me unload the bag so
they could examine the magneto armature, dynamo, smaller bits of
the Norton forks and such. Minus this they sent the bag through
again, and it still flunked! Rooting around I found a few more ferrous
objects to remove, and the x-ray machine finally deemed it safe
for travel, though it was starting to glow a bit...!
The luggage that went into the hold, on the other hand, never so
much as raised a comment, despite being loaded with all the larger
iron objects. Nor the fact it was overweight, thankfully!
The flight back was much more pleasant, entirely due to the nicer
accommodations of business class. Better food, private little color
LCD T.V., roomier seat, I should get bumped more often! The original
cost of the return tickets was £341, less the compensation,
a round trip airfare for only £91! The connecting flight from
Dullis to Philadelphia was pretty bad, but mercifully brief. It
was like a cattle truck, and about as dirty. So much for being spoilt!
We got home much latter than intended, but were able to call from
Dullis to warn our ride of the change in plans, so everything worked
out in the long run.
I had bruised collar bones from having 44lbs hanging from a shoulder
strap of my carry on bag, while lugging heavy cases up and down
airport concourses! The things I put myself through!
Next day back to work, all my vacation was gone and over with! Quite
a strain, but a lot of fun. Perhaps in another five years I can
do it all again!
© 2002 D. Kephart