Chapter 5 - Bicycles & Motor Bikes
The first half of my life was very much centred around bicycles. When I was about five I was given a bike that was a most difficult and ungainly thing to ride. It looked like, and in fact was, a modified version of the old “penny-farthing”. It had a solid steel frame (not tubular) and the front wheel was about twice the diameter of the back one. The pedals were directly on the axle of the front wheel and the tyres were of rubber, but solid, like oversized pram wheels. It must have been very difficult to ride, but I must have managed somehow as there are a few photos still around showing me doing just that. After a couple of years of this contraption I was given what was known in those days as a “half-sized” bike. This had wheels about fifteen inches in diameter but, in other respects, was a conventional “push-bike”. I was given this to enable me to ride to school. Later on I was given a “three-quarter” bike and the smaller one handed down to Wally. When I was ten I was given a full sized bike because by that time I was getting pretty tall. I think I was fully grown (vertically) when I was thirteen.
I shall never forget the first day I rode my bike to school. Dad had been taking me by car until I got used to it, and then the day arrived when I was on my own. I had never been on the road before with the bike, all my experience having been in the yard and around the orchard. It was drilled into me that I must keep well over to the left. Well, I got to school all right but coming home for lunch I saw Cecil Branz coming in the opposite direction in his utility truck. So I moved right over to the left, got into the loose gravel and ended up in the gutter with a nasty gravel-rash.
I didn't enjoy bike riding until I was twelve or thirteen years old. This was mainly because of the terrible roads, either red gravel, sand or shelves of rock. And there were some pretty steep hills to negotiate. But the worst thing was having to deliver milk before school. The milk was carried in large Golden Syrup tins that had a wire handle. They also had a tight-fitting lid which was an advantage compared to a billy-can as the latter allowed milk to splash out. With one of these tins in each hand, also gripping the handlebars of the bike, I would ride a mile past the school to deliver milk, pick up the empty tins from yesterday's delivery and return to school. At lunchtime it was home for lunch, then back to school until 3.30 when it was home for the day.
When I went off to High School in Parramatta my bike was handed down to Wally and his to Neil. Lois didn't get one of her own until she was about sixteen.
I was without a bike for two years at Parramatta but was given another when I changed to Gosford High School. To get there Wally and I rode our bikes four miles from home to Central Mangrove where we caught the bus to Gosford and did the reverse in the afternoon. As the bus didn't leave Gosford until after four o'clock and it was a sixteen mile trip to Mangrove we were seldom home before six o clock. Darkness sets in about five o'clock in mid-winter and the roads were little more than bush tracks in places. Not a happy state of affairs and home-work suffered.
After a year and a half of this I got a job at Regents Park, a suburb of Sydney. I rode my bike from Kulnura to Northmead where I boarded with Nurse Jackson and rode my bike to work from there each day. Later on I rode from Parramatta to Regents Park, a distance of about five miles.
After three years of this I had saved up the deposit on a motor-bike. I did this by paying five shillings a week to the man who ran the motor-bike shop, Mr. Ritchie. His shop was in Church Street, Parramatta just north of the Western Road junction in a spot where motor-bikes are still sold today, but in a much, much larger shop.
Eventually I had saved enough to take delivery of the bike, which had been kept in the showroom all the time I was building the deposit money. It was a second-hand 1936 model B.S.A. 250cc side-valve. I think it took me another year to finish paying for it. I really loved that machine. I had become a strong push-bike rider, developing very strong legs from the time I was about sixteen, and I was enjoying bike-riding by this time. But there was nothing like that “Beeza”.
By this time I had made friends of other motorcyclists, Teddy Baker, George Mackay, Harry Gorton, etc and it was my pride and joy. It went with me into the Army when I joined the Second Armoured Regiment as a Despatch-rider. I think the Army paid me two pounds a week for it in addition to my army pay.
It had a pillion seat which I filled as often as possible with a variety of young ladies, but mostly with the one I married. Mind you, I never indulged in the tactics employed by Ted Baker who had an illuminated “Vacant” sign affixed to the pillion seat on his Velocette! After I was discharged from the Army to resume work at Babcock's in a reserved occupation because of the defence contracts they were engaged in, it didn't seem worth keeping the motor-bike because the petrol ration was one gallon a month. So I sold it and invested instead in a push-bike again, and an engagement ring. I kept the push-bike for another five years until I got my first car and then gave it (the bike) to Dad who was then working at Rydalmere Mental Hospital as a nurse and whose own bike had literally worn out!
Looking back now, I remember the cycling days with a lot of pleasure. Riding on the main roads and in the city and suburbs was very different to what it is like now. The roads were perhaps not as good, but the traffic was slower and much sparser. When I was at High School at Parramatta I frequently borrowed Grandpa Pegler's bike which was the very old, very heavy, but almost indestructible machine that Dad finally wore out during the war. I used it to explore all around the Parramatta area and to go to cricket on Saturdays when I was playing with the Parramatta Rovers who frequently had matches as far away as Carlingford, but mostly in Parramatta Park. All of this riding was done alone as I had hardly any friends at school.
After I started work and had a bike of my own I travelled from Northmead up to Beecroft every second week-end to spend Saturday and Sunday with Uncle Les and Auntie Gwen Pegler and Cousin Roy. I suppose his two sisters Marjorie and Gwenyth were there too, but strangely, I can hardly remember them. Roy and I spent Saturday afternoon at the Beecroft Boy Scout troop doing boy scout things. We also explored the very rocky and precipitous gullies on the eastern side of Beecroft. How we escaped injury is a miracle! On Sunday we went to Church in the morning and I rode home again after lunch. The alternate weekend Roy and I got the train up to Gosford on the Friday afternoon, were met by the family and spent the week-end at Kulnura. This arrangement continued until Mum and Dad moved down to Parramatta and I left Nurse Jackson's at Northmead and lived with the family again. But I continued my bike-riding to work during the week and all over the place on Saturdays, always with a camera over my shoulder and sometimes as far afield as Watson' Bay of which I have photos for proof. The City itself, the Botanical Gardens, The Art Gallery, the Science Museum, the Harbour Bridge were included in my trips.
After getting the motor-bike the trips became longer and more social-seldom alone. At first I travelled about a bit with Harry Gorton who had a series of bikes ranging from a little 125cc two-stroke to a massive Harley-Davidson. Invariably with him was his future first wife, Jean Rose and on my pillion-seat was a young lady called Pat Fleming, soon to be replaced by the girl I had been attracted to for several years but apparently thought unattainable-Jean Jackson-who then supplanted all others. Although we had some interesting trips in company with Harry Gorton and Jean Rose, to Mangrove Mountain and to Jenolan Caves for instance, we soon decided that we preferred to go on trips on our own. And many were the trips we enjoyed to the northern beaches, south coast, and lots of shorter runs. In those days I had to work every alternate Saturday morning so the longer trips were usually on public holidays. But the petrol rationing and my Army activities eventually put a stop to our travels until we got our first car after the war was well and truly over.
One aspect of both push-bike and motor-bike that I enjoyed very much was taking them to pieces, seeing how they worked, and putting them together again. With the help of people like Ted Baker I did all my own maintenance on the motor-bike and got a good grounding in mechanical things which, with my work in the boiler industry, helped along my engineering career. In those days motors were not as refined as the present ones and the petrol and oil additives were not as effective. As a result it was frequently necessary to decarbonise the engine, grind the valves and change the oil, etc. The B.S.A. had a hand-operated gear lever on the side of the petrol tank whereas more expensive bikes had foot operated levers to change gear. So I invented a conversion for the gears and made and fitted it myself, a feat of which I was very proud at the time. Not long before selling the bike I decided it needed a rebore so I took it apart, took the cylinder block to a local machine-shop for boring out and then got the whole thing together again with new piston, rings and gudgeon pin as well as a new set of valves. Again I was pretty proud of this because I had few facilities for that sort of work in our so-called workshop at home which was really set up for carpentry rather than motor repairs.
Yes, I had a love affair with (and on) that old Beeza 250.