Monday, May 11, 2009

Trading a motorcycle for antique compasses

When I was in the Army in Germany back in the late sixties and early seventies, a friend and I each bought a BSA motorcycle. I bought the 650cc Lightning, and my friend bought the Firebird Scrambler. Both were twin-carb models, and the only other difference was that the Firebird had upswept tailpipes and a slightly different gear ratio, more suitable for off-road riding. Here's a 1970 shot in Germany:

The Army had a program whereby you could get out of the Army in Germany and you then had a year and the Army would still fly you back to the US for free. So, we both got out and drove our motorcycles all the way to the edge of the Sahara Desert in Morocco. As we were returning to Tangier, the clutch on my bike went out, so we put the bikes on a Czech freighter bound for NYC. After returning by train to Germany, we flew home, had a new clutch installed in mine in NYC, and then drove them to Oklahoma City. Just outside OKC, the oil pump on my bike went out so my parents came with a trailer and got us. And so, my bike sat in my parents' garage from the Spring of 1971. I always figured I'd get it fixed so I could putt-putt around town, but finally realized that I'd never get it fixed. Here's a shot in my parents' garage:

One of the writers for the magazine, Jeff Lock of Akron OH, has had an award-winning 35-year career in antique automobile restoration. About 10 years ago he decided to get into 18th century survey instrument restoration and he's had a few articles in the magazine about that (you can search for Jeff Lock on our website to see his outrageous photography. He even made a presentation at Oxford). When Jeff heard that I had the bike, he said he'd never done a motorcycle restoration and offered to trade the bike for an antique compass. So, on one of my road trips, I stopped by my parent's house and picked up the bike and drove it to Akron. Jeff decided that the bike was worth two compasses, and here's what I traded for (instrument shots by Jeff):

Young & Sons Explorer’s Compass: This miniature compass, made to the very high standards of Young & Sons work, is a smaller and more easier transported version often used where its diminutive size was advantageous to the surveyor. Very few of these, because of its size, are recorded.

Plane Table Compass (a.k.a. trough compass): This professionally-manufactured, Colonial plane table compass is unique in the fact that it has a complex needle lifter mechanism internal to the case. The style of needle and rope knurling of the needle lifter screw suggests a high level of competency in manufacture. The thick ivory scale, extending from 30-0-30 on each side is expertly divided and the case is constructed from Cuban mahogany and retains a warm, reddish-brown hue.

Here's some shots of me and Jeff in his workshop in Akron:

And here's Jeff's efforts thus far on the restoration:

All in all, I'm pleased with my trade. Instead of a motorcycle I hadn't seen or ridden in nearly forty years, I now have two compasses that I can enjoy every day.