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Drop of yet another hat: maybe the last one for a while ....

But this one is different  - I have company on the trip, my pal Steve has agreed (reluctantly) ((yeah, right)) to come along and help me load and crate bikes into a container in Michigan, if you remember I already have Three bikes bought in July and in storage, more bikes are turning up as a result of adverts placed on the net and in local papers and also adverts that appear currently in the various “motorcycle shopper” type papers in the U.S.   PLUS whatever other bikes we can find on our travels. As always it is a spur of the moment trip, planned in between shows, newsletters and normal work!

So, a reasonably bright Saturday morning (2nd Nov 2002) and we are booked to catch a KLM flight (yes the same KLM that managed to lose bags IN and OUT of the U.S. Last time) from Birmingham, as they were the cheapest flights at the time  . . . beggars can’t be choosers! Anyway 6.30am and we set off in  “H2 pRIK” en route for the airport. 30 miles down the M42 we pass a West Midlands Police Range Rover, he’s doing a steady 60 mph and suddenly speeds up to compete with our steady 70 mph - obviously little else is happening at 7am on the M42 and we are in for a pull, but is it the tinted windows or the number plate he wants to talk about?  As the owner of the vehicle I am invited into the RR to discus the legitimates of the number plate – personally I am standing on a soap box from the point of view that the DVLA sell these numbers to make revenue and they know full well what people are going to do with them! If the likes of me didn’t bend the rules then how many would they sell ? And I do agree that some are illegible - -mine isn’t!  It cannot possibly be anything other than H2 RLK (there is no letter “I” allowed on reg plates).

So, I digress, we are sitting in the RR and the cop seems bemused that I fully agree that I am breaking the law, he tries to point out the size and the spacing of the letters should confirm, I agree – he seems puzzled, we now act out a courtroom scenario, the “prosecuting council” alleges that I have misspaced my registration number on the plate, I totally agree, my mitigating circumstances are now taken into account, I propose that a vehicles true “identity” is purely down to it’s VIN number on the tag or stamped into the frame/chassis, and that the registration plate is purely there for visible recognition. I then asked if I was involved in any form of road traffic incident would a member of the public remember the original cars I.D. of L411 KVH or would they remember  H2 RIK?  No contest really is there? The cop seems to take it in . .  but reminds me that in a court of law a magistrate could look at the plate from 30 feet and say “that plate reads H2 RIK” -  I fully agree  . .hands up guv’nr what are we going to do about it? The very nice PC from the West Midlands Police – stops writing the ticket and sternly advises me that if he sees it again the plate may be revoked . . . . oh and that my windows are also illegal . . . I tell him my headlights are as well but we they aren’t harming anyone! Back to the car and I am allowed to continue my trip with Steve and “chauffeur “ Roy Boy with no more hassle.  

So, Brum to Amsterdam was uneventful, Amsterdam to Detroit was similar (WORST food ever - - if you have a choice fly -  go 1st Virgin or 2nd  Continental)  - - - one thing I failed to mention - - the added bonus of this trips . ..  Steve is relatively Tea Total . . . . and he sleeps a lot . . . he seemed surprised when he up woke to find he had consumed three bottles of wine -  what amused me was that when the stewardess came round to offer final drinks she asked Steve if he would like another bottle of Red wine.

As we landed we acquired a car and U-Haul and headed South for Ohio, first stop was in Toledo Ohio where we stayed the night and decided to check out an original 1974 Z400 for £300. We found the bike early Sunday morning, it had stood in a damp garage for 15 years but was very original with just over a thousand miles on the clock – a little bit of haggling later and we were loading the bike into the trailer.

Next stop was to see Joe Veal in Cleveland, I had been in touch with Joe prior to the trip and he told me that he had a H2b that was original but a little bit rough for under £750.  We met up with Joe and he apologised for the H2b being far worse than when he had last seen it, the bike was covered in rust and missing a few vital organs (it hadn’t run for years either) realistically the bike was only worth £400 max to us as the shipping and duties would be another £450. There was no deal to be had and we were just glad that the 380 mile detour had only cost time and £25 in petrol.

Monday is spent searching for bikes, arranging storage and moving the existing bikes to the new storage facility.

It’s Tuesday and we are heading down South through the sleet and rain to look at a Z400 – it’s cheap and as we pull up to a rather run down house with more garbage outside on the floor than in a fully laden garbage truck! We instantly know that this deal is not going to happen, a short rotund girl in her early 20’s appears and tells us about the bike that has the exhaust held on with tape and jubilee clips – you know the scenario . . .  Interestingly though this young troll has taken a shine to Steve, in fact she is fascinated when either of us speaks. Mum appears and introduces herself, I had spoken to her on the phone as her husband couldn’t understand a word of what I was saying - She asks the troll if she knows where we are from? “Oh sure, they’re GERMAN ain’t they?” If we had stayed a second longer Steve would have been imprisoned and married later that afternoon . . . So it is onward down to  Holland to buy a Z650, from there we find out about a H1f another 30 miles away, we venture over in the cold sleet and buy that bike as well. 400 miles later and we are back up in the North at the storage unit.

A more in depth request from the shippers in Wisconsin revealed that there is FAR more paperwork required than originally thought, it now transpires that the customs facility requires the paperwork for the vehicles a full 72 hours before they even look at it! Thursday required a trip down to Detroit to talk to customs – (just a 500 mile round trip) Whilst in Detroit I couldn’t resist a trip over the border into Canada to see “Jim” the guy with the collection of various old cars & bikes that has a lifelong history with bikes.  The customs point at Canada was almost as gruelling as my visit earlier in the year – they wanted to know what every spare part in the trunk was off and why would I want to visit an old bike dealer in Canada – surely there are enough of those in England? – Jim was as interesting and as friendly as ever and meeting guys like him make me realise how just fortunate I am to get to make these trips!

So Friday and it’s back up to North Michigan and then up into the “U.P.” (Upper Peninsular) to get there we have a long drive that involves crossing Michigans Equivalent of the Humber Bridge – Steve hates bridges, but thru gritted teeth he makes it over and we find some cheap hunters accommodation for the night (Deer hunting season was about to begin!)

As we left the “lodge” Steve spent a while chatting to some hunters, the guys owned Harleys and were shocked (as many are on our journey) to hear that we collected Kawasaki’s – we spent a while talking about the merits of both bikes, we said our good byes and went on our merry way . . . .   As we left, one of the guys quipped “ nice to meet you, and I want to thank you for taking our garbage away with you!”

First bike on the days shopping was a trio of big fours, there was a nice Z1000, a Z1100 and a Z1100LTD, the owner was asking too much for the Z1000 to realistically bring it back, the Z1100 wasn’t good enough quality but the Z1100LTD had the prospect of being a nice bike, a deal was struck and we loaded the bike on the trailer – the BIG problem now was that we had so many nice bikes that we didn’t want to sell any of them!

We now headed off for a small town called Ishpeming where a guy had called to say he was selling a Z1000  - This town was the back of the beyond, the newest car would be at home in a Hitchcock movie! We found the Z1000 but it was only worthwhile for parts – the owner wanted rid and so it was run onto the trailer. As we left, for some reason I was drawn down a back street – I have no idea why “Hill Street” was drawing me, it was a short street and there was little to see, the snow had all but gone but as I came to the end of the street to turn around I saw the unmistakable rear light of a Kawasaki triple!  Further investigation revealed a KH250 B5 in reasonable condition but the motor had been removed and small board and a car battery installed! I managed to find the owner and he told me that he used it for “Sledding” – He tied his dogs on a leash to the front and went out in the woods – the car battery was there to illuminate the pathways!

A mile later I saw an old Yamaha across a parking lot, it was a twin 1960’s model in rough condition, I have no idea of what it is but I reckon someone back home would like it – I pulled open the door to the apartments behind it and ventured up some pretty grubby stairway to be met with 3 flats -  eenie, meenie, miinee,  . .. I knock on Apt 3 and a guy comes to the door looking like we have just got him out of  bed (it’s 3pm), I ask him if the Yamaha is for sale – He looks at me with that I think I almost caught a word of English in there look, a couple more sentences and he has it confirmed that I am speaking some strange dialect of English, He asks where I am from ? “England” I reply, A smile comes to his face “Man you are lost! – No One comes to the U.P. on purpose – Shannon, come here!!! you gotto hear this!!” To which an equally puzzled girlfriend appears . . . . “Listen to this guy talk, go on, say something” . .  . a bemused and somewhat embarrassed Mr Brett stumps up enough dollars to keep the guy, his girlfriend and no doubt several of his pals in beer for the weekend – The Yamaha is mine! As Steve’s trailer is now full it was common sense that he headed back the 200 miles to the Storage unit instead of carrying on the 300 mils South to Big Bend and the next bike collecting point. I checked into a days inn and bade him farewell. Early next morning I had a message that Steve had broken down with an overheating problem some 100 miles away in the middle of nowhere. Luckily a passing motorist had taken pity on him and towed him to the nearest motel some 5 miles away (VERY lucky – motels are few and far between in the U.P. – especially in winter when they are mostly closed) as Steve is safely holed up I take a slight detour on my rescue mission and call on a guy who I heard had a few Triples . .  40 mins later and I am soaked to the skin in the freezing rain loading Two H1’s into my own trailer. Steve is found in a bleak quiet town that has friendly natives but bugger all else – in Steves words “ It’s a One horse town and that has pissed off Deer hunting!” We limp back the 250 miles back to Traverse City with a Ford Taurus that is getting very tired on One cylinder and struggling to pull a heavy trailer without overheating.

Next day we go for broke as we have a 1100 mile trip to cover in Two days – will the tired car make the trip ? All the options are considered and as a U Haul truck would be cost prohibitive we decided to nurse the tired “Taurus” for the journey. We would save 200 miles on the car if we left it at my Pal, club member and ex pat Henrys house in Chicago (well nearby). We arrive at Henrys house in “Chicago” to find he is at Birmingham airport waiting for a flight home to the U.S.! Coincidently he is also on the phone home as we arrive! He suggests that I may want to run his reed modified H2 round the block and give him my opinion on the jetting as he is not happy with the lower rev range, never One to pass up a ride on a H2 of any kind I don a lid and set off down the road, the power hits 5,000 and I have the Dencos wailing -  down to the lights, turn right, open her up and the front wheel lifts – the motor is really crisp and either the back tyre or the clutch slips a little as I hold it through the gears . . . then I remembered it was low down revs we were testing, O.K. it’s a little bit woolly around 4,000 but I can’t resist the acceleration and turn the throttle  . . . . maybe a little too much as the front wheel comes up and then suddenly drops -  as do the revs! Oh merde! I am now a couple of miles away from Henrys house with a broken throttle cable, before the revs die I cram a finger into each carb (thank god there were no filters on those 34mm Mik’s) – I lift the slides manually and manage to limp along, as I approach the next lights non handed and doing around 50mph I pray that they are on green, I pray even harder when I see there is a cop car sat at the lights! Luckily you can turn right on a red light in the U.S. and I get a hand back on the bars and wobble around the corner in third gear past the cop whilst riding One handed! I reckon I did Henry a favour – he could have been in the middle of nowhere when the cable broke – MORE beer you owe me Henry!

So, out of Chicago in the evening bumper to bumper rush hour and we head North to Big Bend Wisconsin where I had bought Two H1’s advertised on EBAY. While talking to the vendor who happened to be a largish motorcycle dealer he was saying that they use to ship bikes out for an English guy at the rate of 600 a Month!!

The bikes I was buying were a KH500 and the other a very rusty 1970 H1 – after paying £600 for the pair, £100 fuel and transport, £500 shipping and duties, and hotel bills etc it looks like these bikes will be non profit making . . . . . And talking of hotels . . After collecting the bikes it was around 9.30pm (then there was an hour time difference as we had crossed a time zone), myself and Steve went to a local restaurant for a light meal and I had my slurp of wine and then back to the hotel where we were sharing a room. After the 450 mile drive and the wine I need a bed and we call it a night around 10pm – I am soon asleep but I wake around 2am to find Steve missing from the room, 2.15 and I wander off to look for him, 2.45 and I am checking the parking lot and by 3am I am walking around the surrounding area in the freezing cold looking up and down the train tracks! The hotel receptionist assures me that he has not been seen all night, 4am and I am now so worried that I call the local police, they check the parking lot and all the local bars (wasn’t difficult the bars shut at 2am as do the gas station and all other amenities). 5am and I am again walking around the parking lot wondering what on earth can be going on? How will I explain to his family ? How drunk was I last night? In fact I am doubly worried cause he has all the car keys! 6am and I call the law again, 6.30 the police turn up and break into the car to find that his jacket is still there, so, where the hell does anyone go in that cold without a jacket? I am now getting even more worried as the cop might think we had had a lovers tiff and I have killed him (how do they know our relationship is purely business – we are sleeping in the same room!)  ((Look, I am tired, I have been up imagining things all night O.K. ?)) The police issue a nationwide missing persons status due to the unusual nature of his disappearance and I just sit around and try to come to a logical conclusion, logic tells me that as he didn’t take the room key, he didn’t take his jacket so he must be in the hotel or doing a snowman act in a nearby field. I check all the laundry rooms, they open the pool (we didn’t find a body!) and at 7am the previous evenings receptionist starts her shift. I ask if she has seen my pal ? “Oh he is up in room 205, he said you were snoring and he couldn’t sleep” I run up the stairs and punch the fat b*st*rd (in truth I was SOOOooo happy to see his ugly face!)

So, another day is upon us with the prospect of a 500 mile drive in a car with a very dodgy engine and a VERY tired driver! First stop is back down to Chicago to collect the spare car from Henrys and then to a “Allied Vanlines” distribution depot to hopefully to collect the New H1c and a “Historic”  H1 that I have bought from Las Vegas.

All went well and we are heading back South through Illinois, down through Idaho and then back up to the North of Michigan. It’s a long road at 50mph but the tired old Taurus limps along and gets faster and faster until we are doing 75mph – at the next gas stop I check the oil and see nothing on the dipstick, I put a litre of oil in and the power has all disappeared again, I try to get up to back up to 70 again but there is a bang and smoke everywhere -  we are in pitch black 300 miles from base and I am driving along with the windows open to let the smoke out! The weak cylinder has finally let go -  but I am lucky that the bang was just the breather blowing out and the fumes were crankcase smoke – as I lift the bonnet there is FAR more oil outside the engine than there is in it!  But, the breather is re-fitted and we limp the last 300 miles back at 50mph and 100 miles to the pint of oil!!

This was the last bike collection of the trip, the container has been delivered to the storage unit, the week is disappearing fast and we are now sure that we won’t make the flight out – I call the airline to tell them that our car has let us down (true) and that we won’t make the 7pm flight – they ask me for a code off the ticket and she then asks me to repeat it? – from the silence I guess all is not well -  apparently the code on the ticket means that if we miss the flight we lose the chance of a replacement (THANKS TRAVELOCITY for telling us -  oops – there it is in the small print) The lady on the other end seems genuinely sorry about our situation as she explains that we will have to buy a new One way ticket – the reason for her pity becomes obvious when I ask the price - -  Basically £700 - £1200 ONE WAY! Bearing in mind that we paid £270 each for a return ticket we deicide not to book it but look at other solutions.   So Wednesday morning and our 40ft container is parked in the local U Haul depot – we have now amassed our 29 bikes and need to work out how we are going to ship them, all we can agree on is the word SECURELY.  As this was the first attempt, we really didn’t know how many bikes would fit into the container -  I had heard of “double decking” containers but didn’t have any idea of the intricacies of such a task. We managed to work out quite crudely from the dimensions and the bikes in our storage shed at the U haul that we could fit 20 bikes touching each other side to side in the container – any more bikes would involve double decking. A trip around the local wood merchants, my confidence that anything is possible and Steves handyman capabilities saw us spending a couple of hundred quid on Ply boarding and a couple of hundred feet of 4 by 2’s!  Working from the back of the container we secured 4 bikes and then built an upper deck (O.K. So Steve did!) , Two or three bikes fitted side by side on the 8 X 4 upper deck – obviously the lighter of the bikes were on the top deck (including a 400 mile KM100) four more bikes downstairs and another section of the upper deck is installed.  All went well over the next 48 hours and we managed to secure all 29 bikes tighter than a H2 cylinder on it’s studs! - - - watch this space to see if this opinion changes by the time the container gets back to Blighty! The collection deadline is met  . . .and exceeded – largely due to the very kind, freezing, but dry weather.

Back to the paperwork side of the task – customs now decide that for anything that does not have a title they want a bill of sale that is notorised and sanctioned by a “public notary” -  (basically someone in the local council that will verify the bill as genuine) – customs also want a photocopy of the bill of sale, and all titles in triplicate – only 200 copies! And the shippers also want a copy -So, a trip to the local council offices sees the form I have produced “verified” and Notorised by a local official for the princely sum of Two quid! (took 30 mins though – Cheap labour!J) – but as the 280 photocopies were being printed and collated the name Gary K was cropping up on several of the titles bought from various locations – mental notes were made to try and get some bike history from “Gary K”.

So, an update – we have missed our flight, Steve has a new job to start on Monday and has no chance of making it - but at least the container is secure and on it’s way! We have a day or so spare and decide that my favourite pensioner in Michigan is more than worth a visit. A look at the map reveals that we pass by “Gary K’s” house on the way to see “Harry” – I call Gary and he has heard we are in town and agrees to meet us, it’s surprising what you find in the least likely surroundings! Gary’s house is in the middle of nowhere but his barn hosts 30 Z1 & Z900s! We spend an enjoyable hour discussing our favourite subjects.

As I headed for Harry’s with Steve, we passed a cop going in the opposite direction - he stared as we passed and immediately did a “U ey” to come after us - We frantically put our seat belts on as the red lights and wailer came on - "Good morning sir, do you know what speed you were doing?" (I know we were in a 55 zone - I also knew was speeding) - "Good morning officer - I think around 60?" "77 sir!" Immediately it crosses my mind that he didn't say 70,75 or 80 - he said 77! Rather than argue the point I hold my hands up and tell him I'll take his word for that (I was going to say I was too busy drinking to notice - but thought It may not go down well) - He takes my licence to check it out, and as he returns I ask him how he knew so exactly, he told me that the cars are fitted with a radar that faces on coming cars and subtracts the cops speed from the oncoming speed - something new to me as all the cars at home are fitted with One way radar - I explain this and apologise and tell him that I rarely speed as it is so dangerous icon_rolleyes.gificon_rolleyes.gif     He tells me to take more notice of the speeds and bids me a safe journey icon_lol.gif

We carry on down to Harry’s and spend a pleasant day talking bikes, checking out his inventory (yet again) and walking through the beautiful woodland on his property.

Sunday and I call customs to find that the paperwork is on the “pile waiting to be done” I explain that I am flying out in under 24hours and would appreciate them looking at the papers as soon as possible.  Meanwhile we have an afternoon spare and I also have the name that Gary has given us, of a guy who is 20 miles away and has a H2b for sale. We wander over and see this One owner totally original bike . .  But our container has already left . .  Oh well, I buy it anyway and will work out what to do with it later!

So, we are on the final leg to get ourselves and the bikes home – right down to the last day we are working on minutes rather than hours! – A call to customs early Monday a.m. says that they are in no great rush to process – I try to go for their pity and tell how I have gambled almost 2 thousand dollars on Two tickets for a plane that leaves at 5pm today! (O.K. it’s actually 7pm but I need some leeway) I had previously been told that the paperwork would be ready today -  they tell me the 72 hours is only just up but they will ask a supervisor for help with the papers. 250miles later and we are in the decidedly rougher area of Detroit looking for the customs post. Once there I am pleased to find that the paperwork has been expedited and is ready for collection -  the customs officer warns me that if ever we do this again we have to allow more time! As I leave with all my duly stamped papers I call the shipping agent to tell them it is full steam ahead - - - they reply that it isn’t! Apparently due to the customs paperwork not being ready, the container has been held for 3 days until the paperwork clears . . . at $50 a day – the container will only be released on payment of the $150 -  not too bad news as the office is only the other side of  Detroit (just 15 miles across town). O.K. the situation now is that we HAVE to pay these fees before the container leaves the railroad depot on it’s journey to Montreal, but we also HAVE to secure our expensive flight schedule within 90 minutes. Oh, and I forgot to mention that the shippers also want a photo copy of every title and bill WITH the customs stamp, faxed to them before they will telephone the container depot to release the container – and if it goes into another day it will be another $50.

We arrive at the typically grubby office at the container depot and I do my best humble pie grovelling act to the young girl at the admin (I have already taken the liberty of jumping the queue of truckers) she is pleasant up until she realises that she has to process 29 bike titles before the bikes can be released, just another 90 photocopies . . . Finally I come to pay her with a credit card – no way, Cash? -  certainly not! The only way I can pay is by a business cheque (5 days to clear) or a money order – I explain I have to get to the airport and confirm a flight in the next 40 mins – all to no avail L  She does tell me however that there is a shop down the road that will write me out a money order for the required $150! Sooooo, back into the rush hour mayhem and we arrive at the local wine store -  I ask for the $150 money order through the bullet proof glass fully aware that  I stick out amongst the natives in this shop like a  fart in a Volkswagen - - - A mad dash back to the container depot and we are fully paid up – just the dilemma now of finding our way to the airport, checking in and also getting the photocopies registered priority mailed off to The shippers - - ALL in the next 25 mins!

Obviously we fail to meet the deadline – but luck is on our side as the flight is not terribly busy (so why was it a grand a piece then?) we check in and are informed there is no postal service at the airport – Rather than both lose the flight I leave Steve to get his flight and gamble on finding a FeDex shipper somewhere nearby . .  luckily I do with 3 mins to spare until they closed!

The flight home was uneventful other than we had the same crap food but the ticket was £500 more! (AND they managed to lose my bags again!!!)

Once back home to more problems – I was shocked that after leaving the container in Detroit on the Monday the darn thing showed up at Liverpool the following Wednesday! A quick panic but I needn’t have bothered as customs have singled out our container to X-Ray -  What really pissed me off was that they were going to charge for the privilege and we would incur storage charges, not only that but we went to quite painstaking lengths during the loading to make sure that there was a passage way to inspect the bikes and that all the bikes were facing the same way so that the VIN was visible, maybe just opening the doors to see the contents was too easy? MOST of the bikes survived intact – It would appear that The H2a AND the Z1100LTD broke loose somewhere on the M1, The damage would have been far worse if it had been any further away, unfortunately the Z1100 hits the lovely Z1000ST and trashed the tank, the H2a survived with an abrasion to the tank and all in all I reckon Steve and myself did a great job for a first attempt at loading! Now all we have to do is get them running - -anyone want to buy a H1?

  Rick Brett