Wednesday, December 9, 2009


Studebaker Commando

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Fred's Barn

Every year at this time, Dad grabs a few of us and we head down the hill to Fred's and and grab a 100 bales.

As we pull in, Fred comes out and lends a hand. In his late 70s, he climbs the rafters quickly and tosses bales with ease. Fred's barn was built in the late 19th century. He feels that there is a nicer one farther down the valley. "It has straighter beams and has held up better over the years." He keeps count as we toss bales to the trailer below.

When I ride, I pass old farmsteads and hay barns like Fred's. Most are more than a century old. Built by hand, the their beams are worn smooth from decades of use.

As a child these barns hosted endless games of hide-and-go-seek, supplied a refuge from the prying eyes of parents, and offered the occasional stolen kiss. The air in the barn is sweet and smells like late August. And as I climb the ladder to the hayloft, the worries of my week pass. I am a kid again.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Red Mo

There are some things time just can't fix.

If you head north of Snow Shoe, above Moshannon, you come to the little town of Grassflat. This is where my dad and I would put in for a run down the Red Mo. And where he taught me how to run fast water.

In the spring the water is high and there are deep pools separated wide lazy flats. In the summer it's barely navigable, but a heavy rain makes it passable for a day.

Decades of abandon mine runoff has stained the riverbed red and left it unsuitable for most aquatic life. Recent developments will tax it again as gas companies look for water resources to drill the Marcellus Shale.

I worry about this creek and the waters downstream, and I wonder what it would have been like before the mines, before it went red.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Long Shadows

Winter is closing fast.

The leaves are off the trees and from the looks of it, they have taken up residence in my back yard. A fact that I choose to ignore along with the rest of my home maintenance. A near 70-degree day found me out on the road for what could be the last good ride of the fall.

I've been hitting the same roads lately. The back way to my father's house remains one of my favorites. Winding with rolling hills, it's perfect for a lazy ride in the afternoon sun.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Jack's Snack Shack

I can't help but wonder if this is Jack.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Things I've learned

There many constants in the world. With an old bike, it's the mystery sound. The odd rattle. The annoying tick. I suspect some of them never go away. But, I have found that most can be solved with a wrench, a bottle of lager, and a little help from FedEx.

After dealing with the electrical issues that plagued me this summer, I pulled the head covers to go after a pinging sound in the forward left valve. I learned that the difference between .007 and .009 inside in engine significant—cavernous in the context of valve gaps—and that things shift and gaps widen when torque is applied.

I learned a lot about tolerance and patience, and why you use a closed faced wrench when breaking a nut covered in 50 weight. Wrenches slip, fingers get caught.

And by not riding much this summer, I learned how much I missed it.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Basement bars have always had a special place in my heart. Perhaps that's why I never really found my home in Seattle. Their bars weren't dirty enough.

Sure, Linda’s had a great jukebox, and I'm fairly certain that the floors of the Comet went unswept for the nine years I lived there, but they were surface level and lacked the character and wisdom that can only be found at the bottom of a flight of stairs.

Dim and smoky, I prefer places where you find old men nursing whiskey before noon. Geezers and coots with hard-luck stories. These were the men of my neighborhood—the bachelors and widowers on my paper route and in my barber shop. They knew things. They kept score. And they are disappearing fast.

When we were young, they were the ones who called us by our grandparents' names, and remembered our parents as children. They were men that fought wars and built railroads. I look for them when I ride.

Sunday, August 9, 2009


It still won't start.

The bike has been sitting most of the summer, and in attempt to get to the bottom of this little mystery, I pulled the front plate.

There are disadvantages to having an electrical system designed to withstand a nuclear blast. Humidity and an old rubber seal can wreak havoc on even the best Cold War engineering.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Fooling Trout

On foot, and off the black top.

The bike is still down. It is something that will press the limits of my patience. So I've bailed on the idea of getting any riding done in the immediate future and have taken to the back country—on foot.

Somewhere off the Ridge Road, a mile or so deep in hemlock, is a little trail my father showed me. It follows a small run that drops into the west branch of the Susquehanna. It smells of age and cool earth. The stream is clear and cold. The native trout are dark and wear a red stripe.

They live alone—one per pool.

I hiked here often as a child and come back when I need to escape. This is where my father taught me how to fish the small pools. To sneak up low and not cast a shadow. To set the hook on the first hit because there are no second chances.

We used worms or crickets—the natives were hard to fool. But now, as an adult, I fish the nymph. Somewhere along the line, it became less abut catching a fish and more about fooling the trout.

Sunday, June 28, 2009


I really need to get that new battery.

We've been soaked with rain this spring (one of the many reasons for me not being on the road), and my friend Todd asked me to check in on the family cabin at Pine Creek. He lives in Florida. I live an hour and a half from from the cabin. Scouting report? No problem. I love it when a reason to ride falls into your lap.

I rolled the bike out of the garage. It started on the first try. Things were looking good. I stopped at Graham's Exxon to check tire pressure and tank up. It's an old school service stations with three bays, a small office, and full service.

I switched on the bike—no go. The battery only had enough juice for one start.

We tried to jump it, but bike batteries being what they are, the terminals were too difficult to reach for the standard cable clips. I'll log this as a four block ride and try again in the morning after the battery has had a chance to charge.

Sorry Todd, you'll have to wait until tomorrow for that scouting report.

Saturday, April 25, 2009


I had forgotten how much fun you can have with a wrench.

My father is a practical gift giver. As a kid I had received countless pocketknives for Christmases and birthdays. Fishing rods, sleeping bags, and all things outdoors would appear wrapped in the Sunday comics. At 13 I became the proud owner of a Ruger 10/22, skipping the BB gun and proceeding directly to rapid-fire plinking.

But the best present, the one that has traveled with me to every dorm room, attic apartment, and summer rental, was the Craftsman 250 piece mechanics tool set dad gave to me for my high school graduation.

As a kid, the mysteries of the internal combustion engine escaped me—as did my father's sense of irony.

During the years of working for my dad’s tree service, I had managed to avoid the wrench. When pressed I could change the plugs and distributor cap in the old Ford, or swap out a starter or the occasional water pump. On rainy days I learned how to tune chain saws and change the blades on the M&M. But generally, I avoided vehicle maintenance—too many parts, not enough patience. For most of their life, the tools had gotten away with the assembling of flat-pack furniture and light bicycle maintenance.

But people change. Our lives get busier, and we look for things that force us to slow down.

I bought an old bike because I wanted to do my own maintenance—to get dirty, to tinker. The airhead, with its heads and carburetors exposed, seems to be the perfect match.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Spring Keeps Its Own Schedule.

We had a snow squall yesterday. Forty degrees and relentless wind.

I put the bike on the charger over the weekend. It started on the first try. A little backfire. Some white smoke. Then the familiar click that reminds me that I am an airhead.

There are things that need to be done. Oil change. Clutch cable. Break adjustment. Lube the spline.

I love my bike. I miss the road.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Wish Him Well

I know that many of you arrive here via Steve Williams' Scooter in the Sticks. But for those of you who don't, stop by Steve's site. Our friend John is starting on an interesting little ride—his first one after losing a leg to complications from a motorcycle accident in the fall of 2007. Steve has a nice post about John's decision and photos of the new ride.

Good luck John. If I get my act together and replace that clutch cable, you'll have to show me how that new ride with the sidecar handles the curves.

Monday, March 16, 2009

CSI In My Backyard

No matter how good the riding weather, never turn a blind eye to yard work. Otherwise… things happen.

Reported missing three years ago, could this be the estranged wife of Ken and beloved friend of Skipper? After her disappearance from her Malibu Penthouse in 2005, investigators were left with few clues and a toy industry that quickly closed ranks.

"The entire thing didn't feel right from the beginning," said a source close to the investigation. "But for her to turn up in a backyard in Central Pennsylvania doesn't surprise me."

"I'm a little unnerved by the entire thing," said Mr. J. Ziegler, who found the body in his backyard while raking leaves. "God knows how long she's been back here. I haven't touched that flowerbed in at least two years. I'm just glad my children were inside when I found her."

The investigation has been reopened and persons of interest are being contacted. "This is a little out of our jurisdiction," says Svorrd Svorrdsen of Legoland Homicide. "We're only built to a 1/92 scale, and those Mattel people… well there really isn't a realistic comparison here. I'm really not sure what they're modeled on. Regardless, we'll do our best. If we have to, we'll bring in the Special Victim's Unit from PlayMobil. They're a little closer in size, and frankly, they're all we have left in the toy box."

When asked whether they have any leads Svorrdsen replied, "We'll want to question Skipper and Ken."

Calls to Skipper’s publicist continue to go unanswered, but a source close to the family reveled that she has recently checked into the Betty Ford clinic. And according to Ken's agent, he will be vacationing in Thailand indefinitely.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Regular

There is something about a smoky bar.

Found in old row buildings crammed tightly together, they share common walls with laundry mats and drug stores. In the old days, they rented rooms to the rail workers and day laborers by the month, day, or hour. Men’s hotels.

In the sticks, they live out on the crossroads in the middle of gravel parking lots miles from nowhere. Servicing loggers and drag line operators. Waiting for something to happen.

They are the places where a pool table is sacred, the darts have steel tips (you keep score by marking a slate bard with chalk) and there’s a shuffleboard that runs the length of the back wall. It is where you would find old men nursing whiskey at 10 in the morning on a Sunday—left over from the ‘lock in’ the night before. They were the regulars

In the small towns where I grew up, these establishments are still part of the fabric. They house local history and refuse to be gentrified.

In Columbia my two favorites are Dietz’s and the Fairview. I frequent them when I go home. My sisters have regular status. We pay for every other.

The Hotel Locust was another. Favored by my late uncle Paul and the boys, late evenings during the holidays led to Christmas carols at my grandmother’s house at 2 a.m. But it has changed hands recently and appears to have lost some of its gritty charm.

Outside of Moshannon there was the roadhouse at the crossroads. I never knew it to have a name. They only served bottles and cans—poured into plastic cups after 8 p.m. Great cheeseburgers for lunch. It’s strip joint now.

The Star Garden is a memory.

At the edge of Karthus there’s a cinder block shack that sits 50 feet from the train tracks. As I kid, my dad and uncle would stop there to pick up a six-pack for the canoe ride from Miller’s Landing to the iron bridge. I’ve always wanted to give it a try.

Bellefonte has the Dodie and the Omar, but the Big Trout is gone.

My step-father and his brother have a family bar in my home town. It’s an old two-story row house hotel with a small sign outside—Smith’s. When I was a kid the rail was populated by old men with names like Beanbelly, Buzz, and Double-dip. The long bar has since been cut in half to make room for seating to accommodate the steak shop the blossomed out of the back kitchen 20 years ago. They still rent rooms upstairs.

My regular bar is Zeno’s—located directly above the center of the earth—and even after my 9 years in Seattle (where I never did find the right bar), it was as though I had never left. Dave still tends five nights a week. And on Friday nights I lose two out of three on the pool table to this guy from Staten Island. Every once in a while, I'm there when the lights come on.