I edge off the road, the right wheels of my dads white Toyota Hilux pickup dropping off the pavement on to loose scrabble and tufts of grass. My dad calmly reached over and put his left hand on the steering wheel and said ” don’t over re-act, just ease back up on the road”. I tugged the wheel ever so lightly and the truck regained its composure as we were again on pavement. ” When we get to Boswell, I’ll drive the rest of the way to Hugo, but I thought you drove pretty well” my dad said. I was thirteen.
I met my dad in the late summer of 1973 when we moved to Hugo, Oklahoma from Denison, Texas. Oh, I mean I knew who he was and we lived in the same house but that was about it. He was always busy working and just didn’t seem to have too much time to hang out. The dad I knew would pull into the driveway in his 1966 Oldsmobile 98, get out and walk toward the back door of our house, giving his unfiltered Camel one last draw, then deftly flicking the smoldering butt toward a big silver leaf maple tree in our back yard. He was only home for a little while before someone at work called and he had to head out again. He would come in again at dark thirty and usually be gone the next morning before I got out of bed. It’s just the way it was and it was all I knew.
My dad was stubborn. Obstinate at times, full of ideas, an uncompromising work ethic, and if you were looking for a “yes” man, you would need to look elsewhere because he wasn’t it. He had decided that about the only person that he could say yes to was himself, so he left the ranks of the steady paycheck and decided to join the much smaller rank of ‘Move over, I’ll do it myself”.
Enter, one Hugo, Oklahoma. Population, 3000. Choctaw County. Not in Texas. My dad had quit running a small chain of restaurants called Watsonburger, and bought this little place in Hugo called the Busy Bee Cafe. It had been there since the forties and needed my dad as much as he needed it. He put his life savings into getting this place and he really became a different person than the one that I barely knew in Denison. He was making the Busy Bee Cafe a household name and was loving every bit of his work.
I on the other hand was bored out of my mind. I really didn’t like the school there and I had the grades to prove it. From “National Junior Honor Society” member in Texas, to no smarter than a fifth grader in Oklahoma. I’m really bored. But, hey, I’ve got some things working. I’ve got plans, just you wait and see.
Larry Ellison and Butch Gooding were members of the Hugo Fire Department. The fire station sat directly across the street from the Busy Bee Cafe and they would come in several times a day to eat or just get a cup of coffee. I was invited over to check things out at the fire station occasionally and thought this place was pretty kewl. One day while visiting Larry and Butch, I felt enough kindred spirit with these guys that I told them my darkest secret. I even showed them my drawings. My blueprints. They looked at each other and muttered something and maybe Larry snickered a little bit, though I’m not sure. Yep, I was going to build me a go-cart. I had already found an engine in a wrecked Honda CL175. Yeah, my plans called for a motorcycle engine, bolted into a metal frame that…well I was going to build it! Really! I had it all drawn up. It would have shocks, and brakes and a kewl blue seat and, and, and and I had to have a go-cart because if you ever said the word “motorcycle” around my mom, she would start to beat you about the head and shoulders with a wooden spoon and start talking in tongues and you might find her curled up in a fetal position on the bathroom floor. I mean, SHE REALLY HATED MOT…, well, you know.
Butch and Larry save my life.
Butch and Larry came into the Busy Bee one evening shortly after I had let them in on my little design exercise and had supper with my dad. In the course of the conversation, they let my dad know about my desire to build a go-cart. They ‘splained the perils of putting one of these evil devices together, saying stuff like, “even if he does get it running, he probably wouldn’t be able to stop it, and would run up under a flatbed truck and cut his head off, or worse!” Butch said, “Sam, you won’t be able to keep him from building something like this, unless, unless you get him something safe, like a motorcycle”. My dad….”a motorcycle? Uh, well, I don’t know.” Butch sez…”well, Larry here has a Honda 500/4 and he could teach him how to ride, and make sure he wears a helmet, huh Larry?” “Besides that Sam, we have both ridden motorcycles for years and we never have been killed, not even once!”
I heard loud noises. You know, voices. Upset voices. Arguing words, wooden spoon on flesh and bone perhaps? Not really sure but my dad had just informed my mom that he had just told me about how he wanted me to have something to do and agreed to help me get a used Yamaha 125 from a man named Ronnie Ward. It was a 1974 Yamaha DT 125 Enduro in dark red with silver fenders. It was very kewl! Sorry mom!
While I credit Larry Ellison and Butch Gooding for helping me get my first motorcycle, they really helped set me on my way to connecting with my dad, because it wasn’t too long after I started riding that my dad started riding too. My dad and I were able to ride thousands of miles together over a thirty year span and between us, we have owned over 60 motorcycles.
Dad and I stood and looked at the Atlantic ocean together when we rode our BMWs to Rhode Island. We rode into a raging snowstorm coming through Denver. We froze our butts off, trying to cheat winter by going to Florida at the end of February for Speed Week. We even got matching speeding tickets in some little town in Colorado. Thousands of miles ridden together, but those 70 miles east to Hugo was some of the most important in my life and I thank God for it.
See ya on the road, and by the way, WATCH OUT FOR THOSE GO-CARTS!