June 30, 2013
Anamosa in Iowa is the home of former racer John Parham, who in 1975 with his wife Jill opened a small shop which went on to become J&P Cycles, the USA’s biggest motorcycle parts and accessories mail order business.
In 2010, to accommodate his growing collection of motorbikes, he’d bought a disused Walmart down the road in 2010 and turned it into the National Motorcycle Museum of America.
And that, at the end of this trip, would be the last resting place of Clancy’s boots, pith helmet, original diaries and photographs, and Irish and French driving licences.
Inside the faded red lining of the pith helmet in clear black letters were the words Real Sola Pith, specially made for Selecta, Port-Said. Made in India.
Inside the museum is an astonishing private collection of 400 motorcycles, not to mention a fulsome tribute to the lunacy of Evel Knievel. I defy anyone to watch the videos of him jumping 200ft over a row of buses then trying to land on a Harley with only a few inches of suspension travel and not wince.
In the British section are some fine examples of the Rudges my dear old dad raced in the Fifties, the Norton International and Manx Norton he would have raced if he’d had the money, and Brough Superiors and Vincent Black Shadows we’d all own if we had the money.
One Brough, the SS100 Pendine, was named after the long, flat beach in South Wales where every model was tested to 110mph before being handed over to customers, and on which George Brough set a world record of 130.6mph in 1928.
More within my means was an NSU Quickly which was the first motorbike I ever rode, racing up and down the avenues of Termon in my teens.
In the US section, there was Peter Fonda’s Captain America chopper and helmet from Easy Rider, and past all the Harleys and Indians, exquisite machines from companies such as Reading-Standard, Racycle, Emblem, Thor, Pierce, Royal Pioneer and Flying Merkel which failed to make it past the Twenties and Thirties.
And then, at last, the holy grail: the only original 1912 Henderson in the world.
Of the 15 or so Hendersons made that year, John Parham knew of only three in existence today, and the other two had been restored with later parts, making this the only unrestored one, down to the original paint and tyres..
And while Paddy Guerin’s Henderson we saw in Dublin at the start of our trip had been a 1922 three-speed model, this was the real deal, with 7hp, one gear, a hand-crank starter and no front brakes.
I stood there looking at the motorcycle which would soon be joined by the effects of the man who had ridden one of them around the world a century ago, and as much as I had marvelled at Clancy’s courage in making the journey we had followed, I now marvelled even more to see what he had done it on. To contemplate it was the act of a madman, and to complete it the act of a hero.