March 6, 2016
The British Are Invading the County
“What in the world possessed you to move to Aroostook County,” I asked Mark Appleton, owner of British Cycle Supply Company, who opened a new US warehouse at the Loring Commerce Center January 1st.
“First of all, lots of land,” replied Appleton. “In New Jersey we had a smaller warehouse. We could hardly park without banging into somebody.”
“The price was right, taxes reasonable, and it’s close to the Canadian border. However, the biggest draw for this particular place, was the Loring Timing Association (LTA). ”
“It put a certain spin on the place that a warehouse in Houlton or Bangor would have been boring by comparison. There is a lot of romance in this business, it’s not just bringing in parts and shipping boxes.”
” It’s real exciting to be just about on the track (at this location). It is being involved in the whole fun of the business. What I’d like to do is use our contacts and our mailing list to attract more people to the LTA events.”
“I think that having more people with British bikes coming to the LTA events will be great. I am inviting them to come up and camp out on our property. I do not know how that will work out, but we are going to try.”
The interview occured soon after the Daytona 500 which drew Appleton’s comment, ” I’ve got to tell you, to me that looks like a traffic jam, it’s like commuting.”
“I like the racing here at Loring where they get on that strip and go as fast as they can go. It’s kinda exciting. You only get one chance; you gotta do it right.”
” You are racing against the clock and racing against your own record. You are not bumper-to-bumper with 20 other vehicles going round and round in a circle.”
Appleton has hired three County residents to help get the Loring warehouse up and running. Well known parts man Bryan Johnston of Presque Isle has many years behind the counter at several businesses. He brings his experience to help sort, photograph, shelve and inventory the over 160,000 different parts which will be shipped from the Loring location.
Abby Quist of Limestone has 22 years in the ceramics manufacturing and supply business. She works with parts, computer orders, and returns. Ashland’s Josh Eastman, who has several years in the parts business, is the third member of the team at Loring.
The Early Years
Appleton grew up in Teaneck, New Jersey was only a few hours away from where the Eastern Triumph USA warehouse was located. That area was the hotbed of British motorcycles. Nearby Hasbrouck Heights was the home of Berliner Motor Corporation the largest independent motorcycle importer in the world.
Appleton found out later in life that the girl that he sat next to in school was Mike Berliner’s daughter and he did not know it.
“I had some great conversations with Mike Berliner, a real inspiration! I have nothing but admiration for people like him who came to the United States with less than nothing, started over, and not only succeeded, but made a real mark in the world.”
“One piece of advice from him that really stuck in my mind was his quoting to me, ‘A good name is better than precious oil’ from Ecclesiates. I have to agree with him that all we have in this world, and in business is our reputation.”
“Certainly his reputation was impeccable. We still make a living selling parts for the motorcycles he was responsible for having manufactured. I am glad I had the chance to thank him for what he did for this industry”
Only a few townships away in Nutley, New Jersey was the BSA USA headquarters. Northern New Jersey was motorcycle heaven for the enthusiast.
However, Teaneck was too small for the high school graduate, Appleton, so he moved away to Toronto, Ontario in Canada. He thought that was about as far away from Teaneck as he could envision.
The New Jersey kid got his degree in mechanics at Centennial College of Applied Arts and Technology at the Ashtonbee Campus.His instructor, Lubor Vink, made a lasting impression on the young man and encouraged him in his pursuit of a career.
Red Bennett, who attended the same school in the heavy duty mechanics program was a positive influence in Appleton’s career. He described Bennett this way, “He was a fellow motorcycle rider nearly a decade older than me, and became my mentor. He had tons of arcane knowledge and could almost rebuild a Vincent twin in his sleep.”
“We had worked together at Ken’s Custom Cycles, a custom bike shop in Toronto before we each separately went to Centennial College. Years later he also moved to Nova Scotia and worked at our warehouse there.”
“I eventually moved him to New Jersey to work with my father at setting up the New Jersey warehouse in 1995. He ended up working there until his retirement this year which paved the way for our move from New Jersey”
When he was in Toronto he had a job working at a Norton importer called Firth Motorycles. He remembers,” That is really where I learned the trade from one very experienced old partsman named Roy Gregory.”
“The guy was incredible. He could look at a motorcycle and tell you how many more right handed exhaust pipes would get smashed than left hand based on which side the kickstand was located.”
“He would look at a new model, like when Norton brought out the electric start models, he kinda scratched his head and said ,’Stock this many of this and this many of that.'”
“The guy was just brilliant. I guess when one starts in the 1930’s, you get to know what you are doing.”
“There was a guy there named Stan. He learned the trade back in the 30’s. He could change a frame in a Norton Commando in an evening. I saw him do it!”
“The first Commandos had a frame that was fragile. The first thousand were not braced. Norton replaced the frames under warranty. Stan could disassemble an entire motorcycle and put it back together and not even break a sweat.”
Nova Scotia Bound
“I worked at a few area motorcycle shops and a snowmobile shop in Northern Ontario until the summer of 1977, ” reminisced Appleton. “I went to Nova Scotia for the summer with a few buddies on motorcycles. ”
“I kinda fell in love with the place. It was, and still is, a cute little university town, lots of pretty girls, and only an hour out of the big city of Halifax. It was kind of heaven, a nice spot, and still is.”
At the ripe old age of 21, Appleton set up shop working on anything that came through the door.” I set up a shop there in Wolfville in October, 1977. Halloween evening I opened the doors as Wolfville Engine Specialties.”
The name changed to British Cycle Supply in 1983 and to para-phrase Paul Harvey, “You will have to tune in next week for the ‘rest of the story'” Part two is next week in Episode 97 when we hear how he opened up a New Jersey warehouse only after his mother made him move his parts out of their house.
Peters is Ready For Frozen Motor Mayhem Next Weekend
The Third Annual Frozen Motor Mayhem will be at the Northern Maine Fairgrounds next Saturday. Vintage snowmobile racers as well as youngsters from near and far will be converging on Presque Isle to race across moguls and bumps rallycross style in search of trophies and prize money.
I looked at the track two days ago and it appears like there is plenty of snow stockpiled within the infield area. Weather does not seem to be a problem when looking at the long range forecast.
Tom Peters’ Blizzard Restored
One important part of the event will be the vintage sled display. In earlier episodes I told you about the racing exploits of Tom Peters and teased you with a photo of the 1971 Ski-Doo Blizzard which he restored in just a few months.
Peters mentioned that this particular year the Blizzard had its engine mounted quite high, resulting in a higher center of gravity than some of the other manfacturers. It may not have been the most successful sled but held a special place in his memory.
To restore any sled in such a short time requires intense effort which Peters willingly took on; in fact relished. “My line to them was, You know I AM OLD and may not have a lot of time left to get this project done, and they all thought that was funny.”
“Tom said this about the Ski-Doo Blizzard, ” I found the sled on Craigslist, which I had never visited before, in January of last year. I sent at least three messages and finally heard back from the guy in late February.”
“He really hemmed and hawed and we came to an agreement sometime in the later part of March. I picked it up on April 3, 2015 with the intention of having it done for the Northern Maine Fair Show the last of July.”
“I know now that everyone thought I had lost my mind on that ambitious time rebuild.”
“Greg Roderick from Northern Auto Body, a real good friend of mine, did all the paint work and the application of the decals. He later told me that he thought I had lost my mind on my time line. He had done many auto restorations and he knows what it takes.”
“I think the most challenging part was trying to get everyone that did things for me to work within my time frame. Looking back I really appreciate that they were all very understanding of my pushing them to get things done. It was a 6 month build which I can see now was unrealistic for the people that helped as they were not only working for Tom Peters, most have a business they are trying to run. ”
“Leo did the engine for me and he told me at the start that if I was in a hurry that I should find someone else to do it. He had just lost his wife and had an operation scheduled so I didn’t push him. I told him when he was ready to give me a call, which he did, when he was ready.”
” I can’t speak for him, but I think it was good therapy for him and helped me out greatly and I appreciate it very much…. I believe he is now 85 yrs old and he keeps asking if I have started it yet so he can hear it run before something happens to me. ”
Peters described his sled saying, “It is a 1971 Ski-Doo Blizzard Model 7155 which indicates it was built with a rubber track, not cleated. It has a 436.6 cc Rotax Free Air engine and according to the sheet I have, it was rated at 45 hp. It had 2 HD72A carbs on it (one per cylinder) and came factory equipped with the twin tuned exhaust. It is 98” in length and 30.6 in wide and weighed in @ 351 lbs dry weight and had a fuel capacity of 6.5 gallons.”
Look for Peters’ sled and more at the Frozen Motor Mayhem next weekend. There will also be a display of the Northern Maine Karting Association race karts at the event.
Bite the Bullet and Battle Big Rock Snowmobile Hillclimb
Snowmobile enthusiasts may want to take in the hillclimb at Big Rock sponsored by Last Chance Motorsports Racing Supplies on March 19th at 5:30 pm. This is part of the Mars Hill Winterfest Celebration.
Let’s go racing,
Soli Deo Gloria