Monday, May 03, 2021

Another Memory From Fifty Years Ago

Here is another brief walk down memory lane. I am recording these things so that once my memory has slipped, I can read and remember.

Fifty years ago, May 3 1971, I rode my new Yamaha 350 from my meager apartment in Gatchell to the Inco General Office in Copper Cliff. I proudly walked into the office carrying my helmet like a badge that told the world that I was a little bit different, a man to be reckoned with. I was a biker.

The men in the Pay Office (women were not allowed to work there until 1974) made the appropriate noises but the boss, Bob McInnis, looked at me like I had two heads. It was a pretty conservative place back then.

Mondays and Tuesdays, the Copper Cliff Police Force (company owned) drove us out to TD banks, mines and surface plants to hand out pay cheques. We had over 18,000 hourly rated employees back then and I personally handed cheques to about 4,000 of them a week. I spent Monday morning at the main TD bank branch on Durham Street paying men who worked at the mills, smelter and refineries (Tuesday was mines day). Back in the office, I was scheduled to spend the afternoon at the Iron Ore Recovery Plant, sitting in the Time Office with Timekeeper Hank Harrison and handing out cheques to the workers as they came off shift. Normally, I would be driven over there by Copper Cliff  Police Corporal Lloyd Walford, a jovial, portly man who I could not imagine doing actual police work. This day, I asked Lloyd to take the cheque box and meet me at the plant gate.

I fired up the R5 and, in a cloud of blue two-stroke smoke, pulled out of the parking lot. Now that I had been riding two whole days, I figured I knew what I was doing. I took Power Street and followed it onto company property past the Copper Refinery gate. I crested a mild hill and saw a large patch of gravel at the end of the road to the new Nickel Refinery, which was under construction. Alarmed, I applied the brakes. Or rather, I applied the front brake because I knew that is where most of the braking power came from. Most of the time. Unfortunately, this was long before ABS and the front wheel locked in the gravel, losing the gyroscopic effect that kept the bike upright. Down we went, the bike and I, at about 40 MPH. I slid, it slid, eventually stopping in a crowd of dust.

I will give the old Yammies credit, they were tough. Thankful for my old, used leather motorcycle jacket and gloves, I got up, dusted myself off and picked up the bike. The handlebars were crooked but everything else looked good so I fired it up and rode the last quarter mile to the IORP gate. Lloyd, using his keen police powers of observation, noted that something had happened. I told him I was fine and he suggested I look again. Blood was running out from under my right sleeve and dripping on the ground. Something had punctured my leather jacket and then my skin as the sleeve slid up. I had a gash in my forearm ending just below the elbow.

Hank took the cheque box to the Time Office while I was sent to the adjacent First Aid Room. The attendant cleaned the wound as well as he could (gravel kept coming out of it for a couple of weeks afterwards), applied antiseptic and bandaged it. Then I went back out to do my job. Soon after, I began to feel cold, clammy and faint. Before I fell off the stool, Hank got me back to First Aid where they decided I was in shock and needed to lie down on a cot. Hank handed out cheques until I felt better.

When it was time to leave, I took the meager tools and loosened the bolts on the front end. Then I grabbed the bars, pulled them into the right place and tightened the bolts again before riding home. And that was that.

Until the next day when I walked into the Pay Office and Bob, the Paymaster, said "Here comes Skid". In addition to being Inco's first Workman's Compensation motorcycle accident, I had earned a new nickname. It probably would not have stuck if the incident on May 17th had not happened. More on that later, but fifty years have gone by and Skid still how many people know me.

Fifty years. Wow. Where has the time gone?

Saturday, May 01, 2021

Fifty Years

 Today is a very important anniversary in my life.

Fifty years ago, May 1st 1971, I was 18 years old and had been working in the Inco Pay Office in Copper Cliff, Ontario (a suburb of Sudbury Ontario, then Nickel Capital of the World) since the previous December. Before I moved away from Sault Ste. Marie, I bought a 1970 Yamaha R5 350 cc two stroke motorcycle. As I recall, I paid $912 of borrowed money for it. Because I got it in October, I did not get a chance to ride it before I left town.

The weather forecast for Saturday (May 1st) looked good so I took a Greyhound bus the 180 miles to the Soo on Friday evening. The next morning, after putting the fully charged battery into the bike, I kicked it over. It started right away with that distinctive ringey-dingey-dingey sound that Yamaha two stroke engines of the era were famous for. The R5 350 was a redesigned machine, having been downsized and up-powered from the 1969 350 version To top it off, it was painted a stylish fuchsia and white. Complementing that, I had a metal flake fuchsia helmet, fuchsia shirt and fuchsia socks. Yes, I looked like a neon rider.

1970 Yamaha R5 (not mine but looked just the same)

You have to understand that I had only ridden a motorcycle once before. The previous year, I was the one sitting on an 80cc Suzuki project bike when it finally started so I rode it around my girlfriend's yard until I tangled with a weeping willow tree and ripped off a cable. Despite that shaky start, I was not deterred from the great adventure before me. Once the bike warmed up, I gamely fastened my helmet, clicked the bike into gear and rode to the nearest gas station. After topping up the tank, I turned east on Highway 17 and rode the 180 miles back to Sudbury. And that, friends, was my first motorcycle ride on the road.

Since then, I have had a few incidents (as my nickname might suggest). Two were in the first two weeks of riding and just two more occurred over the next more than 500,000 miles. Riding has been a constant in my life for the last fifty years. It has been about more than just the motorcycles, though. It has been travels far and wide shared with my wife and partner, Sandy, plus all the great people we have met along the way. As I reflect on our history today, I eagerly look forward to what the next fifty years will bring.

Ride safe,
Jim 'Skid' Robinson
Waterloo, Ontario
May 1. 2021