City and Country of Origin: Escondido, CA
What does your family think of your racing? I can still hear my dad telling my mom “It’s just a fad”. Forty six years later …
Professional Life: Retired carpenter/cabinetmaker/jack of all trades for a retail display manufacturer.
Favorite Race Bike Growing up: ČZ what else is there?
What was your first race, and what kind of bike was it: My first race was at a place called 4 Corners in Ramona, CA on a 1970 Yamaha DT-1 in 1971.
What would you like to take home that symbolizes your experience with racing here in the Don Matthews? New friends.
Awards and accomplishments: My only moto claim to fame is riding a Kawasaki Mini-Enduro from San Diego to Bangor, Maine for a Kawasaki Escondido in 1973. Flying solo, no back up.
How many times have you been to the Don Matthews? This will be my fifth year.
This photo is of my Grandfather Thaiss in Germany about 1923/24..
In 1969 I rode my first motorcycle. It was a 125 Honda that belonged to a school buddy of mine. We called it the Chicken Scooter because of the reflector that stood straight up off the front chrome fender and looked more like a chicken beak than a safety reflector.
Ditching high school one day to get something to eat, I pulled into the intersection of Broadway and Mission in Escondido. Having never ridden a motorcycle before or used a clutch for that matter, I began a crash course in how to survive on the streets with machines bigger, heavier, and more powerful than me.
That event started my “passing involvement” with motorcycles -- my dad said I would get tired of the fad and move on to other things. When I let it be known that I wanted a motorcycle, I was forbidden to even ride a motorcycle let alone own one. (I think my parents would have allowed me to play football first -- that wasn’t going to happen either.)
So most of my experiences with bikes were on the sly until 1971. I was almost 20.
About that time I was looking through some old family photo albums and ran across two photos that would change my existence from having no motorcycles to buying my first bike, a 1970 Yamaha 250 (DT1).
The photos were of a young man and woman on a motorcycle. I soon realized that the photo with the young couple were my mom’s parents in Germany in the mid 1920’s. The other photo was of the same Grandfather a couple of years earlier.
The secret was out. My grandfather rode “motorbikes” in his youth. Shocking!
So one can say that I came by my interest in motorcycles quite honestly. It is in my blood, so to speak.
This photo shows my grandparents in front of his employer’s machine shop. The note on the back of this photo reads “One of the motorbikes we build in Schairer’s shop 125cc, 1926”.
We later found this to be a bike special built with parts from Jawa/CZ.
After stripping the lights and adding a 21’ front wheel, I raced the Yamaha for about a year. I then bought a used 1970 CZ 250 with the chrome high pipe that was practically bulletproof.
Except for when I rode it. I think I was the only one in the US that blew the bottom bearing out of a piston rod. Parts from the CZ factory were slow in coming if at all. But it was fast and otherwise reliable.
Fast forward to 1973. I was hanging out at the old Cecil’s Cycle Center, turned Kawasaki Escondido. I was looking for parts for the CZ, what else? The owner of the shop, John Peterson, and his salesman, Gary, were discussing a promotional contest that Kawasaki was putting on.
The contest was for the most unusual use for their products. They came up with a motorcycle trip across the United States, from San Diego to Bangor, Maine.
However it was not a trip on just any motorcycle, but a trip on a mini enduro – a 90cc 2-stroke with 14” wheels that was barely street legal.
John asked if I knew of anyone who would be willing to undertake this ride. Being young and stupid, I said, “I will”.
Thanks, Rex. I know there are many more stories out there in our club that could be told with a little patience and time. It would be a terrible waste to let the stories behind these pictures die. They are all interesting. I wish I could talk to my Grandfather and get the full story on the two photos of him. That chance is gone, yours hasn’t.
My ride and I, ready to go. Clothes are in one saddlebag, tools in the other. Sleeping bag is on a seat bar I fabricated and the maps are bungee corded to the handlebars.
In July 1973, after getting a smooch from Shamu at Sea World (everybody wanted in on the action, even the whale community), I was off on a great adventure. I took my sleeping bag, three changes of clothes, tools and a trip route map with a few extra items and traveled east on surface streets and highways across the United States.
Day one saw the desert and 115 degree heat that would have melted your shoes to the road.
I took old 395 (I-15 didn’t exist) north to highway 79, traveling east on the “Pines to Palms Highway”, and then through Amboy and Essex, two towns that time forgot. Finally setting up camp across the state line outside Bullhead City, AZ.
The next morning had me traveling through Flagstaff and most of Arizona without any trouble. Again camping, I stopped in the Four Corners area.
The third day was the first time the inherent challenges of the trip started to present themselves.
With about 75 pounds of gear and a 195-pound rider on a 90cc bike, climbing would be, to say the least, interesting. Into Colorado through Durango and Pagosa Springs it was a gradual climb until I got to the base of Wolf Creek Pass.
My max speed, 45-55 mph, would seem like “light speed” compared with climbing to 10,800 ft. at 10-25 mph. Finally at the top and in the clouds, I set up camp for the third day.
Day four saw me finishing Colorado, one of the most beautiful states in the mountains (Is there a word bigger than mountain? Because it doesn’t describe the terrain in Colorado), traveling northeast to highway 36 and Kansas.
Now if you know any thing about Kansas, you know it is flat, very flat.
Highway 36 is a two-lane road that might as well have been drawn on the map with a ruler. The state must be a thousand miles long. Tunnel vision is a side effect that you wake from quickly when a triple semi passes you and then ducks in front of you as another triple semi passes coming the other way. You involuntarily change lanes to a lane that doesn’t exist, or as it is commonly known, the shoulder and bushes.
The folks so far on my trip had been what America is about – helpful, friendly and courteous. That was about to change. About halfway through Kansas I stopped at a gas station to refuel. Since I only carried 1.6 gallons at about 85 mpg, I thought it was time. I should have been more alert because there was a whole fleet of early model Cadillacs and Lincolns in this station all in various stages of disassembly, a graveyard for huge American Iron.
The attendant, using the term loosely, ambled out to the pump and began telling me he didn’t know why he even bothered to start the pump because people like me (motorcyclists) didn’t buy enough to make it worthwhile. At that point I kinda figured he wasn’t going to take a check. I got my gas, paid up and before leaving took a picture of one of the truly clueless local hicks on this trip. In contrast to the last fellow, I played tag through most of Colorado and Kansas with a couple of Harleys.
Catching up with them in the evenings, sharing stories, food and equipment. This stretch of roads had the best system of roadside stops and campgrounds I had ever seen.
On the seventh day the Harleys turned south at the Missouri border. I kept going east. This was unfortunate because in Macon I broke the points. Not a problem except we didn’t pack an extra set of points. Doh! As luck would have it I got a ride from a farmer who was going to Kirksville, which had a Kawasaki shop.
We loaded the bike onto the flatbed and drove to the dealership. The owners were so surprised at the bike getting that far they gave me the points and installed them for free while I was buying the farmer lunch because he would take no money.
Saying goodbye to the dealership and the farmer, I headed for Keokuk, Iowa.
Now, Keokuk is at the southernmost point of Iowa where the Missouri River and Mississippi join. I am sure Iowa is a fine state, however, as soon as I crossed the Missouri River bridge, the skies got black as night and then opened up with a rain storm the likes I had never seen.
Not very hospitable to a guy wearing a jersey from Central College (see picture), which is just up the road a bit. It rained so hard scuba gear would have been appropriate. At least a snorkel for the bike would have helped it from flooding with water. Which it did. I ended up pushing the bike about a mile over the bridge at the Mississippi before I could get to shelter. By then everything was wet.
To this point I had been able to camp on the road but for the rest of the trip I would use motels. I would outrun the storm during the day and it would catch me in the evening. The next day I would do it all over again. This would be the drill for the remainder of the trip.
I stopped in Highland Park, a suburb north of Chicago, to visit friends. I spent two days there seeing Lake Michigan and Chicago. It was a much-needed respite from the ten to twelve hour days on the road. By then I had a major case of TB syndrome.
After saying goodbye to my adopted family I headed across Indiana and Ohio. South of Cleveland I was stopped by an alert police officer. He spotted my California dealer plates and was very skeptical of a test drive to Ohio.
After a phone call to the Escondido shop he just laughed and sent me on my way. I crossed through the upper corner of Pennsylvania into New York.
At this time I started having trouble with motorists. Apparently they don’t like being passed by something so small. One fellow in Vermont was traveling maybe 25 mph. When I would try to pass he would speed up and try to push me into oncoming traffic. Needless to say I steered clear of that yahoo. That was an extreme example but I found the drivers in Vermont particularly discourteous.
So putting Vermont behind me became a priority.
On the eleventh day I said goodbye to Vermont. Crossing Hew Hampshire I made my way to the Atlantic. I was disappointed though, because Highway 1 was so far from the coast most of the way to Bangor.
I still had fun with the people who would see the California plates and just point and laugh in amazement. The twelfth day I pulled into a very surprised dealership in Bangor, Maine.
After a few phone calls to Escondido, I was questioned about riding the bike back. I pondered the return trip for about 10 seconds and respectfully declined. I was sent a ticket for the return flight the next day.
The dealership crated the bike and shipped it back to Escondido. Bangor International Airport was austere and stuck in the 50’s, but it would do. It reminded me of Palomar Airport in size.
Back to Escondido and my own bed.
Asked by a staff writer at the local paper in Escondido if I would make the trip again, I replied, “Yes, however, it would be on a much larger bike and some company would be nice.”
I was told at one point there was a note in The Guinness Book of World Records, but never could find it. Oh well, it was a lot of fun and in retrospect a little dangerous going solo without backup. Thirty-five years later it still sounds like an adventure worth taking.
Though I think this time my R1200GS and some club companionship would be more appropriate.
That is how a family secret turned into a long trip and a lifelong passion for motorcycles and racing.
This article was brought about by searches for old pictures of myself for Rex’s Vintage Pick and remembering things forgotten long ago. Also Rex’s persistent prodding to do something more with the photos I had than just a short blurb under a picture.
Fill the Road Signs pages with past stories as well as the new adventures.
P.S. We didn’t win the contest, but did get honorable mention. It was still worth the experience.