Harpole Column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 15, 2010


Manifold roasting best suited to rib-eye, not canned chili

We were farmers and cattle people. Any of us could tell the difference between a 40/20 John Deere and Brangus Bull except for cousin Dave. He was color blind, but we don’t hold it against him just because we had to quit farming.

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I spent much of my time early on doing maintenance and repair work on some of the most obsolete farm artifacts this side of Fred Sanford’s Junk Yard. We built a lot of our own stuff, but the term fabrication shop was far too kind a term for our factory. At least until the Volkswagens and old Harleys came along.

I laugh when I watch those Jessie James shows because of the way they order all of these custom parts and chrome accessories. They build those machines to haul to shows and lean on and polish. We built ours from basket cases. Whatever parts weren’t in the basket and attending milk crates had to be crudely replaced from whatever materials could be scrounged. Our theory was: if you put it together yourself you knew what was in it.

Here is a typical recipe:

First you locate your project. This was commonly accomplished by perusing the want ads in Memphis or Little Rock newspapers. There was always some old boy who’d bit off more than he could chew or maybe lost a job or his wife left him because he spent more time with it without her. Sometimes it was a close call on the road that just plain gave him a wake-up call — one step ahead of the Grim Reaper. And sometimes it would be an outright wreck.

The parts and main components would have to be collected and sifted through for compatibility, but they were there. Sometimes you could score a hit by word-of-mouth or by attending a swap meet and exchange leftovers with other riders.

Don’t worry about chrome, it doesn’t increase performance and it shows up under the spotlight of that state trooper by whom you have hoped to avoid detection after an injudicious speed law violation after a long night in a bar.

We built ‘em to ride ‘em and ride ‘em we did. Sometimes they rode us and occasionally they embarrassed us by just plain ol’ breaking down on the highway with the nearest Harley dealer 200 miles away on a Saturday afternoon, and it might not open til Tuesday of the next week.

 There were few certified dealers in those days anyway  so we had to learn to improvise. In an emergency a crankcase gasket could be fabricated from a cereal box or a sheet of aluminum foil from a barbecue grill; ignition parts from a Chevy car; magneto parts from a Farmall tractor; chains from a John Deere combine or pistons from a sixty-horse flathead motor, all of which could be found in a scrap metal salvage business or automobile junkyard.

Thus we rode, sometimes being towed by a partner with a healthier machine, to a more convenient place for repairs. The following account recalls of one of those adventures where a tow rope would not have helped.

Our destination that weekend was the antique car museum on Petit Jean Mountain in the Ozarks. I had food on my mind, specifically a ribeye. We had put 500 miles behind us since daybreak, so I herded the whole miscreant crew onto a Kroger parking lot for a grub run. We were about 15 miles out from our campsite, which was the precise distance required to cook a ribeye on a Harley.

Here is the ingredient list and recipe:

One rib-eye seasoned to taste;

One roll heavy duty aluminum foil;

About three feet of bailing wire (rebar tie wire works just fine).

Wrap the steak in the foil and wrap this around the rear cylinder exhaust pipe near the manifold. (The rear cylinder produces slightly higher cooking temperatures.)

Ride machine at highway speed for ten minutes. Stop and reverse the steak so the other side comes in contact with the pipe and ride another five miles. Your steak will be medium done.

If you prefer well done, reduce your speed to the legal minimum (45 miles an hour). If you prefer rare, you need a radar-free stretch of highway to sustain speeds to 90 to 100 miles per hour. Or you could just recalibrate your mileage.

A similarly wrapped baked potato when placed in between the cylinders will cook in 50 minutes at 60 mph or 60 miles. This is called my “Harley Con Carne” recipe.  

While I was riggin’ my supper on my scooter the club president, upon observing the proceedings, decided on a more cost-friendly meal. He placed a can of Hormel Chili with Beans between the jugs of his panhead and bought a box of crackers.

He also took the opportunity during the delay to shuck those hot leather chaps he’d been sweating in for the last 500 miles in exchange for a pair of Bermuda shorts. I would have to say he looked comfortable. He looked ridiculous, too. A black leather vest and flamed toed cowboy boots and baggy pale green Bermudas are not proper outlaw apparel. For the sake of asphalt the president is supposed to set an example.

Upon our arrival at “site two” on Pettit Jean, the campground was well-populated with citizens. In biker nomenclature a citizen is a normal member of society equipped with wives, husbands, children, pets and usually a mortgage. It was an indisputable fact that, collectively, we were a source of entertainment.

When President McMahan followed the run into the campground I was de-bailing the wire from my rib-eye. Our esteemed Bermuda-shorted president swung a leg and debarked from that “51 Outlaw” chopper just in time for that can of chili to disgorge its overheated contents into the starboard leg of those Bermuda shorts.

If you have never seen an American raindance you missed a good opportunity because the instructions on the sealed can of chili clearly state that it should be penetrated by a sharp instrument to facilitate relief of container pressure. The ensuing gyrations and high-pitched expletives resulted in, first the club and then the citizens, mimicking his movements (some of which remain unmentionable). Everybody thought the whole show was a ritual of some sort and participated with exuberance.

Lie and deny if you can scooter,

Ricky Harpole