Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Growing Up in Himni Utah - Episode 5

1938 Harley

Lew Hopkins always rode a motorcycle. I knew nothing about them and am a little fearful of them even to this day, probably because of hanging around with Lew.

Lew lived up the Canyon on a nice little farm nestled against the Dry Fork of Omner Creek. The creek ran in the spring and early summer, but most of the year was just a strip of cobble rocks. His dad rarely got a third crop of hay because the water petered out. Funds were tight for the Hopkins’ and 12 miles to school didn’t help. Mostly Lew rode the bus. After his sophomore year though, he got a job at a Winslow’s Auto Parts and bought a Honda 350 to ride to school and work. Even then he didn’t have a lot of pocket change.

School lunch was 25 cents and often Lew would offer to do loony stunts for a quarter so he could eat with us. One time he said, “If I lay down in the middle of the crosswalk to the Seminary building and using my shoulder as a pivot, spin a full 360 in the road with all the girls watching, would that be worth a quarter?” “Sure.” Or, “If I jump off the folded up bleachers in the gym, onto the, six foot in diameter, push ball, would that be worth a quarter?” “Sure.”

Heck, now I’m going to have to tell you about that one. Lew was a big kid even then. The top of the bleachers had to be 12 feet off the floor. That’s a six foot drop to the ball. I feared the huge canvas covered ball might pop. Or what if he missed? He stood there calculating a moment and leapt. He did a seat drop and landed slightly forward of top dead center. He sank deep into the ball and then shot at a 90 degree angle out across the gym floor, where he gracefully slid to a stop against the bleachers on the other side of the gym. I gave him a dollar.

Often, after work on a Saturday, Lew would pick me up on his Honda and we’d head up the canyon for some exploring. One evening we were coming down the canyon and we spotted a doe running beside us on the opposite side of the fence that paralleled the road. Lew decided to race her. We’d nearly caught her when she decided to jump the fence and cross the road in front of us. She landed right on the front fender and was gone, as quick as that. We stopped and shook it off. Examining the bike we found deer fur jammed between the fender and the front shocks.

Early one summer Lew got word that his friend and hero Billy Wainwright had been killed in Viet Nam. They were neighbors and Billy had been the big brother Lew never had. Lew was devastated. After the funeral Billy’s mom took Lew aside. She assured him that Billy loved him. Then she explained that she wanted Lew to have Billy’s old 1938 Harley Davidson motorcycle. “Billy would have wanted it that way.” Lew was thrilled.

He worked on the old worn-out beast for a month. One afternoon I was up there helping him try to get it started. Nothing seemed to work. The Hopkins’ lane had a nice downhill slope to it. It ran along an alfalfa field to the bottom of the slope then made a hard right and went out to the main road. We decided to try to push start it. The Harley had a foot clutch on the left side and a hand shifter on the side of the fuel tank. Lew put it in second gear and depressed the clutch pedal. I started pushing him down the road. The first couple of clutch pops had no results. We still had some momentum though so we kept going. On the third attempt she fired up and the old hind wheel started churning. Lew was way too close to the corner though, and was forced to cross through the hay. Flames were shooting six feet out of the exhaust pipe and a 20 foot rooster tail of green alfalfa was spraying into the air. I laughed so hard I had to step into the bushes.

Now she was running, we had to go to town and show her off. We put our ball caps on backwards and headed down the canyon. There was no second seat so I had to sit on the back fender. We got down to the intersection of Himni Avenue and Main Street and stopped at the light. We were in the left turn lane. While we waited for the light to change Mitch Warner pulled up next to us in his rod. He rumbled the engine. Lew responded by wrapping up the Harley. Just then his foot slipped off the clutch and the bike pulled a wheelie, through the red light, right out into the intersection where it dumped me smack dab on top of the manhole cover in the middle of the street! Lew went on to careen over the curb where he finally got control in the parking lot of Hanley’s Department Store. Aside from a sore rear end and singed eyebrows I was no worse for wear, just a little smarter.

I rode home with Mitch.

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