More Malcolm stories
While unpacking the hundreds of boxes from my old shop “British Parts old & new” I had a most unusual experience. They say the sense of smell evolves the most vivid memories. While opening a large box of gaskets I was bombarded with the smell of… Malcolm! I was instantly transported back 30 years to the days of $50 Triumphs and give away Rocket 3 BSA’s. Some may have read my post on Malcolm before. We had to negotiate when he would bathe. He said once a year and as his employer I wanted every day. We settled on once a month. I am reminded of the time his hands broke out in a horrible rash and deep cracks in the horribly dirty skin. One day he came in all smiles. “Ay mate, I found the cure fer me ‘ands” he said. Malcolm had translucent rubber gloves on and they were filled with some type of liquid. “It’s uric acid mate” he said when asked. “Where do you buy uric acid” I asked him. “You don’t buy it mate, yer makes it!” Nooooooooooooooo don’t tell me you peed in your gloves! Yep that’s what he did. The gloves were soon torn to shreds and the magic “medicine” spread around the workbench and customer motors. No worries mate, there’s more where that came from.
Another memory burned forever into my mind was the time a customer who was a regular to the shop came by. “Ay Richard, I have a rash” said Malcolm. Richard explained that his specialty was prosthetics and he really didn’t have much training in skin disorders. With Malcolm’s hygiene habits a rash was a remarkably small penalty. Not to be deterred Malcom did the unthinkable and unzipped his wool trousers, unwashed for decades, and pulled his pants down exposing himself and yes indeed that was one hell of a rash! Richard was speechless, mostly from trying not to gag on the sickening smell of rotting flesh and sweat. “Malcolm pull your pants up!” I yelled, thoroughly disgusted. Richard beat a hasty retreat not giving a diagnosis and I wish I could have joined him!
Howard was another good customer who fell under Malcolm’s spell. Malcolm for all his gross habits could sell anything to just about anyone. He had taken Howard to visit Barney Tillman who had been the very first Honda dealer in Los Angeles until he punched the rep. and tossed him out. Barney had gone on to carry every brand you ever heard of and was a regional Dunstall distributor. He had retired and sold the business and had high graded the inventory and was storing mountains of stuff at his home. Malcolm sold Howard a B33 BSA 500 from Barney’s backyard full of bikes. There were over 40 bikes there under rotted tarps exposed to the elements. I recall half a dozen Can-Am TNT 175 singles all brand new but thoroughly rusty and ruined. Malcolm agreed to restore this forlorn BSA for Howard. I had an agreement with Malcolm to use the shop after hours for non-shop work in exchange for him restoring a bike for me every few months. Something that never happened, fortunately.
The BSA was dismantled and the bits sent off for finishing. Malcolm did all his own paint in the back lot. The BSA tank and frame were painted and drying out behind the shop when the paint and bodywork place next door turned on his paint booth fans and began painting a car. Richard the painter had removed the filters so overspray was pouring out the vent and settling on Malcolm’s newly painted bits. M immediately ran screaming next door with his own paint gun in hand. With the aid of a long air hose he used to reach the back lot M yanked open the paint booth door and let fly with his spray gun on the car Richard was painting. Richard charged at the door to close it and was painted a lovely BSA Red for his trouble. This got M painted Corvette yellow and the two were standing apart like a couple demented gun slingers shooting paint at each other. It took a fair amount of talking to keep Richard from calling the cops, perhaps helped by the reputation Richard had for being the local dope dealer.
M had taken the BSA apart and finding the crankshaft big end bad liberated a used crank from my supply. Now the B33 has a shorter rod than BSA flat head M20 so when M put the M20 crank in the B33 it couldn’t possibly work. M ordered a new standard piston and when it arrived installed it. He put the motor together and installed it in the bike and called Howard to come see his new bike. Howard wanted to be there for the start up anyway. With Howard watching M kicked the BSA over, except it would only turn 3/4 of a revolution before the longer rod made the piston hit the cylinder head. Clank– clank as M turned the engine forward and back. He pulled the head and kicked the bike over. The piston had nothing to stop it so it jumped up out of the cylinder and the new rings spread out, free of the confines of the cylinder. Then the weight of the crankshaft dragged the piston back into the cylinder shearing off the new rings and sending them flying. “Yer ordered the wrong piston mate” M said to me. I pointed out that the piston would need negative deck height to work. After fitting a new crankpin to the old crankshaft M called Howard again. This time the bike did start but it sounded awful. Smoke bellowed from the exhaust and around the head gasket. It looked like the shop was on fire! Indeed smoke filled the back room and went out the front door in clouds. In addition oil was spraying out the muffler and spackling the white BSA 650 chopper behind it. Seems M had fitted a standard piston to a +.040 bore. As the engine struggled to run a drop of oil appeared on the newly polished primary cover. Then the drop became a river as the clutch nuts machined their way through the cover. Howard was flabbergasted and took his bike as it was to avoid anymore pain. I don’t believe that bike ever ran.
Another adventure was a B50 M restored after hours for a customer. He had found some old plastic fenders in our junk pile and amazingly had been able to paint them a brilliant BSA Nutley Blue. When the customer came to collect his new bike it was truly stunning. As he was loading it he happened to touch the front plastic painted fender. The fender flexed and the brilliant blue paint cracked into a million shards and shot everywhere. The customer was livid but Malcom’s answer was “ Hey mate, what you doin’ loading the bike by the mudguard anyway! “ and he walked smugly away. When confronted M always used a good offense and then would retreat to the donut shop across Telegraph road leaving me to clean up the mess. A nice chrome fender satisfied Malcolm’s customer at my expense.
Jeb was another employee who made the shop more than a business. Jeb was and is a good friend but he had a remarkable tendency to play practical jokes on the rest of us. On one occasion he found a set of old air horns in the junk pile out back. While I was um– reading in the rest room he positioned the horns just under the door. Using the air nozzle he let 100 psi into the pair of horns. The sound was deafening and more than unnerving considering my vulnerable position. Not to be outdone a few days later while Jeb was “reading” I deposited a nice uniform line of tire talcum powder just outside the door. Using the same air gun I set a huge cloud of powder under the door. Great coughing and expletives emanated from behind the door. When Jeb came out he looked just like Mark Twain with all white hair and moustache. Not to be outdone a few weeks later Jeb heated a large cast iron footrest with the torch and left it on my work bench. Imagine my surprise when I picked that one up! Jeb once walked up behind John and laying the high tension lead from a magneto in the crux of John’s arm gave the thing a spin. John immediately spun around and grabbing Jeb by the neck thrust him against the wall. “Don’t ever do that again” is all John said, and he really meant it.
Jeb build a neat little device he called his zany zapper using a Triumph horn relay and a 6 volt coil. The thing was like a primitive tazer giving an almost continuous bright blue spark to whatever you held it to. Jeb invited John and me to his house and had placed the zapper so that when you opened the screen door and touched the door knob you would get a nice 19,000 volt shock. Funny? As we were walking up the walkway Jebs very petite younger sister pulled up in her car. Being the gentleman we were we stepped aside and let her go first. She rang the bell and Jeb hollered to come in. She opened the screen door and then touched the door knob. A spark 1/4 inch long jumped to her dainty fingers and sent he spiraling to the ground in tears. Jeb burst out of the house but seeing his poor sister withering in pain on the stoop was filled with remorse. We laughed in spite of ourselves and really had a laugh when Jeb forgot his own device and grabbing the screen door and reaching for the door joined his sister!