While I was still a ward of the state I built a minibike from pieces that included an engine from one of my yard care client's lawnmowers! I don't recall what the repercussions were of my appropriating that engine.... My foster father was a production foreman at McCullough (when the company was still based in Southern California) and was able to get some special pieces welded up, tumbled and painted, most notably a one-of-a-kind intake manifold. Way to go, Dad! Memories of this time include going over a moderately scary cliff at a nearby dirt lot on this contrivance, and on another occasion nearly getting knocked out when a piece of the bike's centrifugal clutch flew off and hit me in the head! I was 14 years old, already addicted to motors, and resolutely on the path on which I have traveled long and far today.
I graduated from the minibike about the same time it was legal to operate a real motorcycle. Finally out on my own, I traded some work (painting a house, actually) for enough cash to buy my first real bike, a Honda CA160, used from the local dealer. Soon after I decided that being around motorbikes full-time was a good gig and enrolled in the Motorcycle Mechanics program at Los Angeles Trade-Technical College. In 1970 Trade Tech was, with such as the legendary Pat Owens and Joe Minton as instructors, the national epicenter for quality powersports mechanics' training.
It was a great course, four semesters, what a time that was! Four different instructors, each with his own perspective. The first guy I have actually forgot. But second semester was Malloy with his quiet, down-to-earth way. Third was Owens, the edgy ex-Romero tuner with already a lifetime of experience. And finally, Joe Minton. What a treat Minton was! Soft spoken but with a vast experience! I have mentioned Owens and Minton elsewhere, check it out. Though already a committed motorcyclist, I went from newbie mechanically to a sound mechanic in a pretty short time (so something must have worked...). But like all training institutions, Trade Tech couldn't completely prepare me for the real world, only ease my transition into it. There was still a lot of new in me even as I entered my first shop. It would take literally hundreds of OEM courses and scores of years in the actual trenches before I was finally close to being truly competent. All the same, looking back I don't regret my time at Trade Tech. Not at all. The motorcycle program is gone now and the college has kind of shifted its focus a little, though it is still trades and career oriented. Many people would graduate the bike program and make their mark on the industry: Dave Arnold, a year or two after me who went on to become the manager of Honda's Motocross team. Dave Wolman, president of Motul lubricants. Don Church, recently Director of Training at Kawasaki's corporate U.S. office. And others.
Though never the best student, even when it was my own idea, I nevertheless took away much invaluable training that serves me in good stead to the present. Recently, memory carried me back to my first semester at LATTC. The motorcycle program classroom/shop was in a room next to the auto body shop, and deep enough into the building that the entryway was dark and cavern-like. Entering the shop in those early days is stamped edilibly into my mind: the atmosphere one of cool darkness, stained Levi-clad students, lounging yet purposeful, impossibly older-looking and more rugged than myself, many already more experienced and knowledgeable, as the semesters overlapped. The unique smell combined of gear oil, parts solvent, hot cast iron and aluminum and the vestiges of the auto program next door and I don't know what else permeated that semi-closed greasy-knuckle grotto. It all comes back to me vividly. Very special, privileged, almost cultish, certainly hinting at holy and mysterious mechanical rites of passage, of knowledge, of acceptance, of place.