In Memory of Jerry Collins
1936-2002

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Here are some memories of Jerry from some of the people who knew him:



Jerry loved bikes and even more he knew them.  I took my 1955 Harley-Davidson KH model to hom last year for an electrical short problem.  He not only repaired the short but also decided that the bike needed a little "fine Tuning".  So I wound up with a larger repair bill than I anticipated but I also had an old bike that would start on the first kick!!!!!!!!!! FIRST TIME IN YEARS!!!!!!!!!!
I will miss him and his expertise and knowledge of the old bikes and how to fix them and make them run as they were intended to be.
Jerry,you still owe me that "T" shirt that we traded for...................
Chuck Beberness



Last April, I took my Ariel Square Four to Jerry for some routine
maintenance and repairs. I first met Jerry at the San Jose Clubman's show
three years ago. He was there with his Ariel Square Four prototype replica
(swing arm) for sale. The price was in the neighborhood of $18,000.

Ariel Square Fours are different than most Brit bikes, so it is hard to find
people that can work on them. Since I am not a very good mechanic, I made an
appointment with Jerry to bring my Ariel in for repairs.

Jerry talked a streak. When I called him for directions to his shop, I got
an earful. When I arrived at his shop in Eugene, he was in an other place
and another time. It is apparent when you enter his shop that Jerry was
sentimental about the old days. He had gone to great pains, and took much
pride in his place looking like a cycle shop of the fifties and sixties. And
it did. The place took you back and gave you a good feeling.

Jerry talked and I listened for over an hour before we even got around to my
Ariel. I gave him a list of repairs, left my bike and drove back home. Five
week later he called me to say that the bike was ready. When I went to pick
it up, I got an other earful, mostly about the art of Square Four
maintenance and how to tune SU carburetors. It was kind of a bonus because I
got an hour of private tutoring on things I didn't know about Ariels.

Jerry will be missed. He filled a niche that is sorely needed in Oregon. He
is one of the last of a vanishing breed. May he rest in peace.

Mike Roberts

 
I remember my first visit to Jerry's shop about 8 years ago. I was
with my wife, on my GS1000 Suzuki and we were riding down Lorane Highway on a sunny Sunday
afternoon. There were some old Triumphs and BSAs parked out front with "for sale" signs on them.
We pulled over to look at the bikes and Jerry came out and started talking. It was an hour and
a half before he was done talking, and in that time we were shown every inch of his shop and
every project he was working on including a description of each project, part and procedure he was
taking. He showed us his radial aircraft engine on a stand, and even fired it up for us (talk about loud!). He showed us pictures of the bikes and hot rods he had built down in California as well as mementos from his days as an airman in the service. It was the beginning of a memorable relationship that would take me through my evolution into a classic bike addict. Over the years, I would stop by Jerry's shop for advice, parts or just to hear him rant about the old days and bitch about the new days. I learned a lot from that guy, especially
when I bought my Sportster and again when I took on the daunting task of restoring my '63 Panhead. I
sent numerous fellow bikers to his shop and he never turned anybody away.  You could get a $30 part for $5 but it would cost you at least an hour of your time to listen to him rant about whatever was on his mind. Over the years I spent quite a bit of time at his shop and learned a lot from an "old school" guy and in turn, he actually
decided that he liked me, especially because I was into the old bikes. I bought and traded a lot of old Panhead parts with Jerry and the last contact I had with him was when I broke the kickstand on my Pan in downtown Eugene and had to find a new one right away. I rode out to his shop and propped my bike up against the wall. When he saw me do that, he knew exactly what I needed and came out with a new kickstand. His passing was unexpected and has left a real hole in the local motorcycling community as well as a big hole in my
heart. I will truly miss Jerry, his cantankerous demeanor and his love of old bikes.
Rest in peace Jerry.

Dave Morgan


A Song of the Open Road

In Praise of BSA Motors and a Man

By Norm Maxwell

(reprinted with permission)


I was cleaning out the shop the other day in preparation of replacing the transmission in Mom's old Jetta. I rolled the motorcycles outside so I could sweep the ce-ment floor. As I grabbed the handlebars of my old Birmingham Small Arms 650 cc Thunderbolt, I felt like Mole in Wind in the Willows doing spring cleaning.

The January sun was bright and almost warm and I wondered (like Toad) if this particular type of motorcycle (motorcar) was easy to start. I slid open one of the fuel petcocks and pressed the carbuerator "tickler" button that allowed gas to fill the float bowl. The heavy aircooled aircraft engine oil in the English vertical twin resisted the kickstarter. One, two, three kicks and then turn the key on. Another kick followed by a loud Blub Blub. I depress the tickler again and another firm kick backed up by 100 kilos and the BSA exploded into vibrant song. Ben the Bengal cat raced from his hideout under a tree to escape the noise.

I held the throttle a quarter open for a few minutes until I could let go and fetch my leather jacket and beanie helmet out of the shop. The BSA hadn't been ridden since November and it was "walking" across the concrete slab in front of the shop at idle. I sprayed a little aerosol lube on the chain and walked around the bike to check for anything loose. Nothing was.

I sit on the small bike and must look like the proverbial gorilla with a football and snick the transmission into first gear. I leave the shop garage door open and flee the scene like Mole. The sausage shaped mufflers (if that is the word) are simple hollow shells with out any pretense of baffles. I wear earplugs to protect my ears that have been abused by heavy automatic weapons and years of chainsawing but I can still hear the glorious sobbing howl from the twin exhausts as I accelerate through the gears and the thunderous chuckle as I back off on the throttle.

Birmingham Small Arms started business in 1861 when a group of master craftsmen bought some land near Birmingham, England to mass produce rifled muskets. Now there's an oxymoron. They made many, many of these big bore smoke poles and freely sold their product to both sides of the Mason Dixon line for hard cash during the American Civil War.

After the giddy days of the war, the firm struggled along selling firearms until bicycles began to make an appearance and BSA turned their mass production talents to this new form of transportation that required no food or space and was never sick. Almost exactly 100 years ago somebody at BSA hung a small single cylinder motor in the frame of a heavy bicycle and ran a leather belt to a small spare wheel rim attached outboard of the rear wheel.

BSA puttered along with single cylinder bikes for the most part through the second world war. The firm did produce some awesome V-twin machines like a Harley Davidson in the 30s but more than 90% of their bikes were singles of about 350 cubic centimeter displacement.

On the eve of the war, Sir Edwin Turner designed the vertical twin motorcycle engine but it was never produced until the cesation of hostilities. England honored her war debts to the US and most of the new twins were sold in America to generate money. The English pobbled along on old singles. The English Army rode the BSA M 20 that was unchanged from the early thirties until the 1980s--a full fifty years on this design.

England had curvy back roads with few straight stretches so the new BSA and Triumph twins were designed to cruise at 60 miles an hours. In the US, with the vast open spaces and roads that were straight as an arrow for miles, this proved unsatisfactory for BSA's American customers. Still, Harley Davidsons were little faster in the early 50s and much more expensive.

Birmingham Small Arms increased the compression in their bikes but the engine design was made to lope along in mid range. The BSA twin changed hardly at all from 1946 until the last one rolled off the line in 1974.

The US Army Air Corp had helped Japanese motorcycle production by bombing everything flat and burning it down during the war. A man named Honda bought a dozen army surplus motorcycles and started building new production lines with room for expansion while BSA stayed in the same crowded facilities they had occupied since the 30s. English and Americans alike sniffed and scoffed at the first light weight Japanese motorcycles that started showing up at established bike showrooms in the late 50s. The writing was on the wall.

Honda, Suzuki and others designed new machines that reved far higher than anything else on two wheels. They soon dominated the little bike market and in 1969, Honda introduced the 4 cylinder 750 cc that was cheaper than the BSA twin and outperformed it as well with vastly superior reliability.

My BSA is a 1970 model, built in June of 1969. It is serial #1,610 of that year. It is possibly the best example ever built of the BSA twin as the firm had consolidated all the improvements made to the design over the years and the next year tried a whole bunch of new ideas in order to compete with the Japanese. Some of the ideas worked but many did not.

I reach the beginning of Fire Road and make a right and roar through the gears to Lorane in the bright, cold day. I stop at the Family Store and buy a couple dollars of high test gas. A RUB (Rich Urban Biker) pulls up on his new HD and tells me about how he, his brother, his dog, his mother (pick one) used to ride a BSA. While you see many Harleys on the road, when is the last time you saw an operational BSA?

I blast down the Siuslaw Access Road achieving speeds of 90 miles an hour. I put special high gear sprockets on the bike so it can cruise comfortably on modern roads. I slow down for the Lorane Ghetto, better known as Fitch's Camp. I understand that it has been recently been purchased--undoubtedly by a developer and we will have another Lorane developer war on our hands soon.

The road undulates as it follows the Siuslaw River and it gets cold in the shade of the timber. I pass the spot where I saw three cougars early one morning and go a little further and turn around. The bike idles flawlessly now and the heavy oil is thinned by normal operating temperature.

Jerry Collins died last summer. Jerry had a British bike/HD shop on Lorane Highway about two miles from the crest of Chambers street in Eugene. I am sad as I almost stopped to buy some oil and filters from him the day before I got dispatched on a fire to Colorado. I was gone for two weeks, came home and was immediately dispatched somewhere else. When I came home that time somebody told me that there was a big clearance sale at Jerry's shop. I found out that he had died of mad cow disease. It was very handy having Jerry there with his huge collection of bike parts for old English MCs. The world is a poorer place without him.

Jerry would always bitch about how people never let him get any work done in his shop when I stopped and then proceed to give me a 45 minute tour of all his latest projects. His Vincent Black Shadow sat in pieces on a bench for five years while he worked on other people's machines. The last time I saw him, I told him that he absolutely, positively had to take a day off and ride one of his Ariel Square fours up to McMinville and check out the Spruce Goose and all the other airplanes at the Evergreen Aviation Museum. He said he would but I don't think he ever did.


It is getting cold out and I ride for home. The three porch panthers all sharpen their claws on the cedar verticals of the rail when I ride up. I push the bikes in the shop and close the doors. 


This story was originally posted on the West by Northwest e-zine and was posted here with permission from the author, Norm Maxwell


Last updated 01/30/2003