Well here we go.....club night for the Grampian Classic MCC last night.....a trip arranged by Slick to a local engineering firm, ACE Winches, situated only a few miles from me, in an area called King Edward. I had heard whispers that Alfie Cheyne, head man there, might let us have a look at his collection of steam engines, but I thought the main gist of the trip was to look around the workshops and see how they build winches. Started off at Cubbie Towers, awaiting the arrival of Captain Bill, to whom I was lending Cubbie, so that I could ride Shorty's Suzuki. Several reasons behind this but the main one being that Bill's Armstrong is still off the road, so by way of a thank-him for all the help he's given me, I though it'd be a nice gesture. I decided to check the tappets before he arrived, as I hadn't looked at them since running the new valves and things in, and discovered that one was tighter than t'other. Not keen to start undoing them half an hour before a ride, I got Bill to glance his experienced eye over it when he arrived. It'll be fine, he said. Ok. So out with the silicon sealer, as suggested by members of cubsite.com to stop oil spewing from the rocker covers, as it had been doing since I fitted the new gaskets after valve work. Then I suddenly remembered that I'd covered many more miles on Sunday than planned and there might not be much petrol left....ah....both cans were empty too....oh well, it'd be fine.... Then I realised the Suzi had about 140km left in it's tank, so if the worst came to the worst we could do a petrol-share. Just as we were about to set off, the rain came on, fancubbytastic. Poor Bill was chucked in at the deep end, I instructed him in the art of Cubbie-starting, which he got the hang of pretty quickly, and we were away. I stopped a mile down the road, at the end of the bumpy bits, to see if he was, er, enjoying the experience. He gave me a wild eyed fixed grin. I took it as a 'yes'. We poddled on over to King Edward, in the rain, with the Suzi sitting comfortably between 40-50mph and the lights of Captain Bill a little further back.
A good turnout of about 15 members greeted us - yes, we were last to arrive, but hey, life isn't for rushing. We parked the bikes in front of two great big steam engines for a photo call, and then went inside for stovies and refreshments, which we weren't expecting, so that was a nice surprise. Alfie then gave us a short talk about the business side of things, before talking in more depth about his passion - the steam engines. He freely admits if it wasn't for the successful oil and gas industry in this part of Scotland, then he wouldn't have been able to afford to get into the hobby in the first place. What started as a collection of one, purchased from his Dad, has now grown into a couple of sheds full of engines, road rollers and projects. I can't give you too much technical info, bike talk is hard enough, but Alfie said he would send some information through to me. The next thing we know, is a ladder is being propped up against the side of the Foden 'lorry' outside, and half the group are already climbing into the back. Including me. No way I'm being left behind. I bag a good spot, right behind the cab, and therefore out of the way of stray sparks and soot. From my perch I can watch Alfie and his assistant work all the wheels and levers, fuel the fire and steer the beast. Looking to the back of the truck, those unlucky enough to sit down there are being blasted by hot smoke and their hair is being singed, it's really quite funny and I can't stop laughing at their expressions. I'm not the only one, we're all laughing but they've got their eyes shut and no one can hear a word because of the roar. We head up the road a mile or two, to Alfie's other pad, more storage for his toys, and look at a rusty project he's got, and a huge yet graceful road roller, alongside a beautiful beast that I've no idea what it is, except that I can nearly stand underneath the thing, it's so BIG. We pile back into the truck and head to base, where the other half of the group get a turn in the soot and smog. We try to encourage them to sit at the back - that's the best place to be!
As he leaves on Run 2, Alfie casually says to one of his assistants that we can all have a look / play / ride on the Wizard engine that's sitting patiently steaming away. Chuf-chuf-chuffff-pssssssss. I don't believe my ears when the guy asks if I want to drive it. I assume he means for me to stand in the cab while he drives it. But he simply loads coal into the fire, releases the brake and says 'head for the gap between the bikes'. Crikey, there's about a dozen skittles there to knock over...but I miss them all....and then we nip up the road a short way (ok, we didn't actually 'nip' but you know what I mean), do a U turn and head back. As if that wasn't enough, I then have to perform a reverse parking manoeuvre back in between the bikes. It's one of those round-and-round-and-round wheels with a handle on, and turning it furiously I manage to steer quite well, although I did almost take the man's foot off as he was checking for a clear road. It's a very odd feeling, maybe because I'm on the short side, but not being able to see the front wheels made it a little challenging, but boy oh boy it was FABULOUS FUN. Jan and John had a go at driving it too, Jan saying that she too couldn't see the wheels.
Just applying the brake so that it doesn't roll back and squash the club members.
After presenting Alfie with the traditional Scottish thankyou gift, a bottle of whiskey (is that spelling ok Slick?) we all scuttled off home in the dark. I couldn't stop grinning, to think I've now flown an aeroplane, piloted the NIMROD simulator, ridden all kinds of bikes around Scotland for magazines, and to cap it all, I've driven a 1923 Wizard steam engine.
On the way home, I had a bright idea. Seeing the little Cubbie headlight bobbing around in the mirrors of the Suzi, I thought I'd race on ahead to where we had to turn off the main road, whip the camera out and catch the Captain on video. I hadn't even got my rucksack off when he appeared. He pulled up and stopped Cubbie, wondering what was wrong, then offered to go back and take the corner again. But Cubbie wasn't having any of it and refused point blank to run. It was almost as if it was out of fuel..... The options were 1. ring Mrs BC and ask her to come down with the van, 2. nip home on the Suzuki and get the van, or 3. borrow some from the Suzuki. I voted for option 3, knowing how long it would take to get home, empty the van, find the ramp etc etc, and my phone was out of money, and Bill's phone was out of battery, what a pair. So I fished in the recycling bin nearby for a plastic milk bottle and was about to relieve the Suzuki of a drop of petrol, when I thought I'd just give Cubbie one more try. And whoomph. We have action. Bill hot footed it up the lane and made it back to Cubbie Towers. Guess I'll have to check the float bowl for bits of dirt and stuff before I ride it again. But Bill seemed to enjoy the experience, once he'd got used to it.
A BIG thank you to not only Alfie at ACE Winches, but to his helpers who stayed behind voluntarily; James, Stevie, Spotty Bob, Jimmers and Derek. Also to Michelle in the office who did the necessary emailing and communications, and to Slick in the club for coming up with the idea.