Rancher cutting off the head of a dead rattlesnake before burying the head and leaving the body for birds, coyotes or his cats and dogs to eat.
“My bikes are a secret. Please don’t tell anybody.” The rancher was smiling when he said these words, but his tone implied it was not a friendly request.
I replied, “Tell anybody what.”
He then flashed a real smile and said, “I knew when you introduced yourself and didn’t want to get off your motorcycle near the pissed-off snake you didn’t just look smart. Come on and let me show you some of my stuff.”
I had been exploring several remote gravel roads well off the guided tour routes along the front range of the Rocky Mountains when a rattlesnake erred when crossing my path. The loaded KLR650 wounded the snake but did not dispatch it. I made numerous U-turns and ran over it again and again, all failing to send it into the next world.
From a nearby ranch house a pick-up truck sped out of the driveway with the owner and his wife and sister inside and came to inspect what I was doing riding back and forth along the owner’s fence. When he and I met at the spot in the road where the coiled rattlesnake was madly buzzing it’s rattles I said, “I can’t seem to do it much harm and I’m not getting off my motorcycle to deal with it.”
The rancher said, “I’ll take care of it.” He opened the door and stepped down from his truck, lifted a shovel out of the back and quickly ended the life of the rattler with one stab of the shovel’s blade. And then the rancher taught me a rancher’s lesson for dealing with dead rattlesnakes.
The rancher opened his pocket knife and cut the head off the dead snake. With his shovel he dug a hole by the side of the road and buried the snake’s head. The body of the snake he left for “the birds, coyotes or my cats and dogs.”
I told him I usually left the dead rattlers on the road or hung them over the wires of a nearby fence. He said, “Not good for cats and dogs. They’ll eat the whole thing, including the poisonous head. Out here we don’t care about the coyotes or birds but our cats and dogs keep the two- and four-legged animals away.”
(Above) An unlocked door to a workshop was worth a peek and a few photographs, starting with the Vincent on the lift. (Below) Hidden under some painters clothes were a few gems like those pictured here, a BMW and Ducati.
Our conversation continued for a couple of minutes while I answered questions about my KLR650, where I was going, where I had been and what I was doing near his ranch. I commented on a collection of cars he had parked in a field behind his barns, saying they looked interesting, and were in the direction the snake had been headed before I brought its adventure to a halt.
He thought for a few seconds, and then said, “I’ve got a few bikes in the barn. If you’re alone maybe you’d like to take a look,” and then made the comment about them being secret.
After I spent an hour looking at and photographing his old cars and motorcycles I asked him if he had ever had a problem with thieves, his ranch and motor collection being so remote. He said once he had shown it to two motorcyclists who had stopped and were poking around in his field. Several days later his barn was broken into and many things, including a perfect Cadillac, were stolen.
I asked him if I had been with another motorcyclist would he have offered to share his secrets with me and he quickly said “No. One guy, alone, I can trust. Two or more make me uneasy.”
I’d had a similar experience in South America while filming a nicely restored Indian motorcycle parked on a main street. When the owner returned we started to talk about the BMW R80 G/S I was traveling on and my riding solo through South America. The Indian owner invited me to meet him, alone, at a restaurant the next day and said he would show me his private collection. When we met he asked me to park my motorcycle in a secured parking garage. I rode passenger in his car through a maze of side streets and alleys to a neighborhood I could not find again.
Disguised as a run-down store front in a middle class neighborhood, the interior of the building held 20-30 well preserved or restored Harley-Davidsons, Indians and two Henderson motorcycles. His story was he had quietly been collecting old motorcycles when they were cheap and restoring the ones that were not solid runners. When the government of his country devalued their currency his collection, purchased with US dollars he had earned when working in the United States, held their US dollar value while doubling in value as the local currency tanked. He had become a multi-millionaire overnight. While he faced a serious potential tax on his valuable collection, he planned to quietly sell them through a neighboring and tax friendly country to overseas foreigners. Again, it was my being solo that cracked the door to this treasure chest. While he allowed me to take photographs of his collection he specifically said had I not been alone he would have kept his secret from me, worried about two or more observers being able to overpower him once they arrived at his hideaway.
The owner of the gems in the workshop invited me to inspect the interior of his house, where I found this Harley-Davidson parked between the kitchen and dining room table.
On another occasion I had been told of an old motorcycle resting among some rusting farm machinery in a field. With some trepidation I drove to the owners work shed and followed the instructions of his neighbor to make myself at home. The unlocked door to a workshop invited me to look inside where I saw a Vincent and several other motorcycles under covers. A return visit found me invited inside the owner’s house to photograph another dozen motorcycles he had placed throughout the first floor, including a Harley-Davidson that was parked between his kitchen and dining room table. His wife admitted that her husband was responsible for keeping the dust and oil from collecting around his motorcycle-jewels. The collection and the house were spotless, as well kept as any museum.
The invitation to drive past the owners gate and make myself at home was again based on my having been solo according to the owner’s neighbor who said, “You’re not going to be able to ride more than one motorcycle back out and most of his need some work to fire-up.”
On another occasion I was again alone, spending a night as a guest at an acquaintance’s home, when he asked if I’d like to look at his friend’s collection of old motorcycles. A telephone call was made, we rendezvoused at a restaurant and after an interview of sorts I was allowed to wander through a private collection housed in the basement of a construction company. Outside there were no signs indicating that inside were 40-50 motorcycles and a few hot rods, a secreted display including rare models like a Brough Superior. When I asked the owner about the general public seeing his collection he said, “I’m kind of a private person so wouldn’t want to see a lot of traffic through here or bikes parked out front.”
(Above) This private collection was hidden in the basement of a construction company. (Below) This Norton may have been hidden, having been secreted out of Burma and then several time zones away. I found it under a tarp before it was moved to a third country.
While traveling through Malaysia I stopped on a street to photograph a classic Honda that was parked in front of a food stall. As I was admiring the reproduction paint work the shop owner was admiring my 25 year-old Kawasaki. We started to talk about motorcycles, mostly old ones, and he asked if I’d like to see some other motorcycles he had stored a few blocks away. He had a small collection of 250cc and smaller Hondas, which in Malaysia were quite expensive when new. His collection were older and some well used, but he was quite proud of what he was showing me. And according to him, I was the “first photographer” he’d let look into his dark and cramped storage room. He said if some bad people knew what he had secreted away, they’d likely break in and steal them and therefore he kept them a secret.
A small motorcycle repair shop in Thailand let me help work on a Yamaha that was being rebuilt. When I looked over the wall and into the back storage area I saw a motorcycle covered with a tarp and when I asked what it was I learned of its secret life. The Norton had been discovered in Burma and quietly purchased and more quietly transported across the border into Thailand. It was soon to move into a third country. When I asked permission to take a few photographs I was told it was OK, as long as I did not give out information about its soon to be new home.
A 1954 BSA B-33 was parked in front of a restaurant on a side street when I rode past. I parked and went back to take a photograph and while doing so the owner came out of his restaurant and we shared some motorcycle stories. He invited me in for a drink and told me interesting tales of how he had acquired the BSA and how unique it was in a country where 99.9% of all motorcycles were 125cc and smaller. While the motorcycle being displayed in front of his restaurant was not a secret, some of the tale he shared with me was and remains.
I met Mr. Honda Collector with riding up the Dalton Highway to Deadhorse, Alaska. We traded motorhead talk while swatting mosquitoes and swapping business cards. He invited me to visit him at his home in the Lower 48, where he said he had a “couple of Hondas” I might like to look see. Three years later I accepted his invitation and stopped at his house while on one of my solo Kawasaki KLR650 adventures.
(Above) Mr. Honda Collector had some other Hondas in his secret Honda Cave, these lining one wall and all were “runners.” (Below) The living room Honda CX650 Turbo had both wheels off the ground to insure no miles were recorded on the odometer.
Mr. Honda Collector first showed me a trio of older Hondas that were gathering dust in a corner of a 10,000 square foot post barn building. I took a few photographs and commented that I had once owned one like he had. He said, “Well, maybe you’ll like these over here,” and showed me a group of Honda 650s, all of which he said were runners. At the end was a 1983 Honda CX650 Turbo that I said looked close to brand new? He pointed to a round pile of blankets and said, “The one there in the bubble, that’s a -0- miles Turbo.”
When I told Mr. Honda Collector I thought the -0- miles Turbo was quite special he said, “Come on down to the house, I’ll show you something special.” In his living room he had a -0- mile 1983 Honda CX650 Turbo on a special pedestal that kept both wheels off the ground to prevent them from rolling and turning the odometer.
One secret old motorcycle find was an unmarked private museum in a small Montana town. Through the dusty glass of a former store I could see several motorcycles parked in a showroom display. A handwritten sign on the door said “By appointment only,” with a telephone number to call. Inside I found an interesting collection of Indian and British motorcycles that the owner was happy to tell stories about. He lamented that he was so far off the regular tourist route he had few paying visitors to his museum, reminding me to double the small entry fee. When he asked if I’d like to look at some of his “special projects in the back,” I said “Yes,” if taking photographs was permitted to which he replied, “Yeah, as long as you don’t tell nobody some of their restoration projects are kind of behind schedule,” and laughed.
In his back rooms I found enough special projects to keep a team of mechanics busy for a year or several. Looking at a row of secreted motorcycle frames he had lined up against one wall he said, “Those aren’t spares, they’re works in progress…”
As I left his treasure trove of special projects I noted a sign on a wall in his museum, a warning to possible customers about bringing in a project for work that might be a waste of his and their time. When I asked him about it he laughed and said, “You’re the only customer I’ve had all day, the secret behind that sign is cash talks, BS walks, but that’s not really as secret is it?”
All of my old motorcycle adventures seem to have had some common elements, one being that I was usually traveling solo when I had them. The other element was my willingness to keep secreted those motorcycle tales the owners wanted kept under wraps, hopefully disproving the old adage that three people can keep a secret if two are dead.