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Jim Morrison
Humming Along Route 66

Cincinnati to Seattle in 1961

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                  Jim writes:

"In the spring of 1961 during my third year of college my brother-in-law and I drove east from Seattle in an old Chevy with the back seat full of household goods to the ceiling. One of us slept while the other drove until we reached Chicago where we visited his dying grandfather. We went on to Cincinnati where I got a job in a Sohio (full service) gas station. When it came time to head home my brother-in-law suggested I purchase a motorcycle for the trip. To this day I have no Idea why. I found a Harley Davidson advertised in the paper and went out to see it. I had expected a full size Harley and was surprised to see the little 165. Since I had never ridden a motorcycle before I may have thought it might be a good one to learn on. It had leather saddle bags, a black luggage rack and low mileage. It looked like it was new. I paid $300. I don’t know how we got it back to the apartment, but I certainly didn’t ride it. Someone at recently told me it looks like a 1958. In spite of the fact most people referred to it as a 'Hummer' I believe it's officially a Model 165."

"I learned how to ride in the apartment parking lot. There were some thrilling moments before I learned which way to turn the hand grip throttle control to slow down. I clearly remember once rushing toward a brick wall and turning the throttle the wrong way briefly before shutting it down. Once I learned to ride I had many pleasurable moments riding back and forth from work. I was hooked on riding, and for the next 26 years always had a motorcycle of one type or another. I had never seen fireflies before and was amazed to see them flying by like stars past a spaceship as I wound through the countryside for a night shift at work. Life was good. I read the little owner’s manual cover to cover several times. I had a good basic understanding of mechanics because I had worked on cars with my dad. I knew the principles of a two-stroke motor. I examined the tool kit that came with the bike carefully. (I still have the chain breaker that came with it somewhere). I could ride from Cincinnati to Seattle. What could possibly go wrong? My job at the gas station was not permanent and at some point in time I needed to think about getting back to Seattle and finish college. So on or about July 11th I packed up my very meager belongings and headed to Las Vegas where a college buddy was working that summer. After I had paid my rent I had $35 and change in my pocket. I first drove to the gas station where I had been working and said good-bye. They filled up my tank for me for free. (1.75 gallons at 0.28 = only 49 cents if it was completely empty!). I worked my way up to highway 50 and pointed the front tire in the direction of St. Louis. It would all be virgin territory to me until I got to Hwy. 99 on the west coast. At St. Louis I picked up Route 66 west. I had a short range, maybe 100 miles before going on “reserve”, so was happy to find frequent gas stations along the way."

"I liked Phillips 66 stations because they would fill my tiny gas-cap-measuring cup from a bulk tank of oil and charge me accordingly. Otherwise I would have to purchase a can of oil and try to carry the partly empty can upright with a rag in the opening in my saddle bag. It was long before the invention of nifty plastic oil containers with lids. I used plain old SAE 30 weight motor oil and standard grade gasoline. Apparently the weather was warm because I don’t remember being cold ever and all I had were two pairs of light cotton pants, two cotton shirts and a lightweight jacket. I had read in the owner’s manual, or someone had told me, to keep a pocket knife handy and if the engine refused to start you could scrape the spark plug and remove debris that might be shorting the electrodes. Once or twice the engine did lose all power and coasted to a stop. I performed the recommended procedure with the spark plug, let the engine cool a few minutes, and it started on the first kick, as was usual. I knew about two stroke engines seizing when hot, but I meticulously measured the oil mixture and never had that problem. Just outside Oklahoma City I met a fellow on a Harley Sportster XLCH. I thought it was the most beautiful bike I had ever seen. We went to a grocery store and split for a loaf of bread, some mayo and a few slices of lunch meat. It was to be one of the few decent meals on the trip to Vegas. I followed him to the Harley dealer and while there I told the dealer the 165 didn’t have as much power as when I started the trip. He took it for a test ride and said it was fine, but explained that the altitude of Oklohoma City was higher and that he would rejet the carburetor if I lived there. The dealer, seeing my raw wind burned face, talked me into purchasing a used windshield for $12.50. Because I couldn’t keep up, Sportster man and I said good-bye and agreed to meet up in Las Vegas. Due to some miscommunications there, we never did. He was a hard working young farmer’s son and had dreamed of this trip across the US his whole young life. Although I had lots of memorable moments, many of them good, I have to admit that for me it was more of a journey to get some place."

"I had no problem sleeping anywhere. I slept along side the road in a farmers hay field, behind a fence next to a gas station, and once inside the garage of a gas station on the concrete floor. I had a lightweight down sleeping bag from my Boy Scout days. I had no shelter or tent of any kind and no rain gear. I ran into a torrential rainsquall in Texas and actually parked the bike alongside the highway and tried to hitch hike. No one picked me up and I returned to the bike and rode slowly to the next town. I rented a cheap motel room and tried to dry my clothes and sleep. Neither seemed to be working and after two hours I got back on the bike and headed west in warm dry weather."

"I left Route 66 at Kingman and headed up Hwy. 93 (then 466?) toward Las Vegas. It was so hot that I had to put my hands behind the windshield. I had no gloves. No helmet. Not even boots. Luckily the return-spring on the throttle was so weak that I could hold it open with just a little pressure from my pinky and keep the rest of my hand protected. My only anxiety ever about the engine was that I worried the air cooled engine wouldn’t be able to dissipate enough heat in the triple digit temperatures. No problems materialized and while I know from the physics of the situation I must have had less power when the ambient temps were so hot, I never noticed that either. In Las Vegas I met my college buddy Mike (a philosophy major at the U) who was living in a trailer park and working the summer as a short order cook."

"He had won a considerable amount of money gambling, but had also spent it all on booze, gambling and fast women. I “taught” him how to ride the bike and when I saw him again in Seattle he had a motorcycle himself. I got a job fighting forest fires outside the city. In a week or so we turned the job over to professional wild lands fire fighters, I got paid, and I returned to Vegas, calculated my expenses going home, purchased a pair of Levi 505 jeans, ate a decent breakfast and headed towards Seattle the next day. I remember going through Carson City and Reno and only stopping for gas. I stayed on 395 to Lakeview then 14 to Klamath Falls, 97 to Bend and 20 to Junction City Oregon. From there I took 99 home to Seattle. I still have the map of the US that I had planned and navigated the trip with. With the exception of Route 66 (now 40 and not always true to the old path) most of the highway numbers have not changed. One problem occurred on the way home. When I ran at night with the headlight “on” the battery power would get low enough to cause the engine ignition to eventually fail. So I simply ran without the headlight at night unless close to other vehicles. Somewhere along the way I found a Harley mechanic that said I had an armature that had shorted or open. I didn’t have the $35 to repair it so I limped home that way. It was nice to be able to run without the headlight on to save battery. Later I had bikes without that option. I remember crossing over the Columbia River bridge into Washington State and calculating in my head that I had just 5% of my 3500 mile trip left to do. It felt good to be in my home state again. This was before freeways and I took highway 99 most of the way home. When I arrived home my dog, who hated motorcycles, alternated between barking at the bike and waging his tail and being happy to see me."

"I commuted to the U of W on the bike summer and winter and later replaced the Model 165 with a 500 single Royal Enfield (bad idea, the Enfield required too much maintenance). I was drafted for two years into the army after school. A friend in the army was killed on a similar English bike. After the army I had a 90 Hodaka I rode only on trails. Then a 360 Honda Twin that I took to Alaska on the ferry and rode back on the Alcan highway, (1000 miles of dirt (sideways), and 1000 miles of pavement at the time). I traded that for perhaps my favorite bike of all times, a 1979 Honda 750 CB K. After that I had an 1100 cc Honda Goldwing Interstate. My wife and I toured all of California on the 750 and my daughter and I did California to Vancouver B.C. on the Goldwing. I sold my Goldwing when I purchased a 27 foot sailboat in 1987 and figured I had too many toys. (It is possible you know.) Although I didn’t think of it at the time, a trip like this requires a great deal of self-reliance. It was before I-pads, GPS or even cell phones. I had no insurance and very little money. The 165 was, for the most part, very reliable. It probably ran full throttle for well over 70 hours during that trip with only a hiccup or two. You might say I crossed most of the US on a motorcycle not much more powerful than my lawn mower. I suppose it proves something. Nowadays some people think bigger is better, but I think that is nonsense. While 5.5 horsepower may not be adequate for comfort or making time, any bike that can keep up with the speed limit is adequate for touring with a little planning, patience and courage."
         Jim Morrison 2011

Last updated: Dec. 2011