Britain produced three diesel powered motorcycles back in the 1950’s but sadly two of them, both Norton’s, have disappeared from the radar. The third however, a privately converted Ariel Red Hunter, hasn’t. Type its registration number into the U.K.’s DVLA web site and it still comes up. Unfortunately, trying to get the owners details from such an organisation is next to impossible so, in the interests of conservation, I decided to try and find out where this machine currently resides. We can’t afford to lose the last of these machines and one way or another I was determined to track it down. History is full of bikers tuning and building motorcycles for speed alone but there were precious few building for economy, especially back then. What follows is the story of my search for this 300cc diesel motorcycle.
Gordon Glover sits on his Ariel Red Hunter diesel conversion. Twin exhaust port Hunters are rare machines.
Saturday 17th August 2013 saw me trudging through the rain soaked streets of Crediton and up the hill towards Treen's Motorcycles. It was a good place to start my search for Gordon Glover's Diesel Ariel as it is the only motorcycle shop in town - and not far from my campsite either!
Grateful for the shelter, I ducked in under the porch of the shop (which covered a triangular shaped forecourt packed solid with a wide variety of machines) and straight into the office. There I chanced upon a gentleman I correctly took to be the owner and popped the question, 'straight from the hip' as it were.
"I don't suppose you service or have serviced a diesel motorcycle for one of your customers by any chance?"
"Would that be Gordon's bike?" said the shop owner.
Stammering slightly I replied in the affirmative.
"Sadly no", said the owner, "but it was put together here, y'know?"
"Was it?" I replied, "quite incredulous."
"Oh yes, he used to work here did Gordon. He made his motorcycle in the workshop here they say."
Well, what could I say? I glanced to my left and towards the workspace where a mechanic was busy wheeling a two stroke track bike about. It was like any other motorcycle workshop, concrete, littered with tools of the trade and covered with a good coating of honest grime.
I was then told that Gordon had lived a few miles outside town in a village called Winkleigh, on a bend, near a river.
"You can't miss it" said the owner of Treen’s, "just look out for the 2CV's in the trees." I hesitated slightly on hearing that, not sure that I’d caught it correctly. Actually, I had, as it turned out.
New Imperial and AJS - just two of the old motorcycles in Treen's of Crediton.
I was then told that Gordon had been buried towards the back end of his garden and that some thought this unwise because the site was in danger of being flooded. It was later told me that this was nonsense and couldn’t possibly happen– but the river does flood at the other end of the garden where the house is.
The conversation then turned onto the topic of diesel compression ratios as compared to petrol as I was told the story in brief of another local lad who had skimmed a barrel down on his single cylinder bike in pursuit of more power. Not the head you understand, but the barrel! Unlike Gordon though, this bloke’s calculation had gone awry and the engine had blown up taking all four studs cleanly out the block!
The shop owner then showed me some of the old British machines he had on display. I took in the B.S.A.'s and Royal Enfield's as the shop employees continued about their work. Behind the nearest wall to the showroom the mechanic revved up the two stroke track bike sending clouds of blue grey smoke billowing into the enclosed space. This caused the owner to wave his hands in protest and wince somewhat. The 'rang, tang, tang' sound was deafening and the exhaust smoke, eye watering but this was where it was at. This was where a young Gordon Glover had brought his dream to life. And every day since, other bikes were being built, repaired and reborn in the very same workshop.
Over the next few days I decided that I am going to go for a ride over Winkleigh way and ask about. You never know, someone may know who owns this diesel motorcycle now. I'm sure Gordon would approve.
A little later, outside Treen's Motorcycles, I witnessed a red Triumph Tiger of a similar vintage to my own machine, pulling in. After some conversation during which the biker told me his machine had been dyna-jetted, he took a card & said he knew a few people over Winkleigh way and would ask about on my behalf. I thanked him and we continued to talk Tigers for fifteen minutes or so touching on various aspects such as kick stand wiring, clock back up batteries and petrol additives that were causing the paintwork on the tank to bubble up. This guy was a driver and even mentioned making a delivery at a farm in the area that had an Eco Rider diesel bike!
As I left Treen's Motorcycles, my investigations there now complete, I did what a lot of self-respecting private eyes must have done down the years. With the rain still falling from the sky, I pulled my hat down over my eyes, hunched my shoulders against the wind and stepped out into the less than appealing weather. The sky overhead were dark, but for me at least, the day had just got a little brighter.
My Diesel Tiger parked outside Treen's Motorcycles, a place where Gordon Glover worked in his youth.
It's Sunday but I'm not going to let that get in my way of the quest. After a rain soaked breakfast at the campsite I fired the diesel powered Tiger up and headed out on the Barnstable road in search of Winkleigh, stopping only for a car boot sale on the way. After taking an ill-advised (and incorrect as it turned out) short cut down a seemingly endless, moss covered, single track road, I finally managed to get back onto the main drag and find my bearings. The Tiger is probably the most capable motorway mauler around but it's another story trying to explore some of the smaller roads we have.
It wasn't long before I found the B3220 turn off and was finally able to open the bike up again, it being a pretty decent road. All along the way I found myself passing show signs for a ploughing event featuring Shire Horses and an idea began to form in my head. This would be an ideal place to perhaps meet some local people who would perhaps know the whereabouts of Gordon's motorcycle?
Eight miles or so on I found myself rounding a bend and blimey, off to my left was a 2CV - in a tree! I scanned further along and counted another and then another, all at various stages of elevation! The owner of Treen's was spot on, this was surely Mr Glover’s old residence and by the looks of it, it had fallen into the hands of yet another automotive individualist!
A most unusual sight! My diesel Tiger comes across a flying Citroen 2CV!
As I flashed past the house on Taw Bridge, I'd also noted the driveway (which was right on the inside of the bend) had been roped off with bright orange tape meaning there was no obvious way in. At this point I made an instant decision (correctly as it turned out) to push on to the show and return to the property later.
A few miles on and I pulled up at the shows entrance and was greeted by an elderly couple in green Day-Glo vests. I took one look at the muddy gateway into the field and asked if there was any hard standing thereabouts. No way was I going to attempt taking my bike up a hill in those conditions!
I was directed up the road and sure enough, found a spacious lay by on the hill top. But before I'd set off I’d explained a few details about my bike the gentleman there who took an interest and exclaimed that he’d never seen anything like it. Those were not the kind of words I was hoping to hear thereabouts!
Minutes later I was parked up and striding back down the road to the show. Then, having been relieved of five of my precious pounds, I strolled in, slipped and slid my way up the field and finally began mingling with the crowds. Walking past the occasional huge horse, I edged my way through the throng and moved towards the trade stands to see what was on offer. Nothing grabbed me as being of much interest and so I bought a pizza and coffee in a small, tented booth and took the weight off before eventually having another mooch about. Like everyone else there I spent some time watching the Shire Horses ploughing up the fields and it was an awesome sight. Top marks go to those that breed these animals and I didn’t mind the entry fee in the slightest if at least some of it gets to support this big breed of horse. As I watched them turn the sod over the Jethro Tull song, Heavy Horses began to run through my mind!
For some reason or other (probably my stomach actually) I then decided to head back to the pizza stall and purchase a couple of cheese & onion sour bread snacks to takeaway. And this proved quite fortuitous.
Original Horse Power: A visit to the local Shire Horse show was worthwhile.
I approached the counter and the guy serving saw my Big Knock 2013 T shirt and frowning slightly, read it out aloud.
"...Diesel Motorcycle Rally?" He finished, looking at me slightly quizzically. In between placing my order and fishing for my wallet I explained that I ran the web site and in the area looking for a particular motorcycle converted by Gordon Glover. This immediately got the interest of a chap to my right who was waiting for his order.
"Gordon died a few years back," he said, "but I expect Connie's still about." Amazing! Everyone knows everyone around here!
Breaking out on a slight sweat, I lost no time introducing myself and handed Benny a card at the same time he also received his food. He was obviously from this neck of the woods and promised to pass on any info he might hear as regards the bike in question. After chatting with him and his good wife about motorcycles and the time he just missed out on a chance to ride a fully registered steam powered motorcycle I thanked him for his help and moved on. I'm quite conscious that I could talk for England on the subject of diesel powered motorcycles and so didn't want to bore such a helpful bloke senseless! After another few minutes walking about I decided to call it a day and make my way back to Taw Cottage to see if I could make any progress on that front.
Car atop a goose house. And why not?
When I arrived back I was a little unsure where to enter the house from and so parked up across the way and walked back over. I made my way to the door but before I could knock I met a guy called John coming in from what I took to be the garden entrance. We exchanged pleasantries and he said he’d just popped in to show the owners his new vehicle bought from eBay, an electric powered van with a range of about 40 miles. I told him I could knock spots off that with my motorcycle and smiling, he said he had to concede that point. Our attention then turned to the house and he said that the owners weren't in as he'd just been knocking but then suggested I may as well wait for them as he was sure they wouldn't be long in returning.
This I decided to do but not before fetching my bike in on the longer side driveway which John had just left on. Part of me was eager to have one of the very latest diesel motorcycles roll over ground previously ridden on by one of the very first. And I also knew that my machine would serve as a good 'ice breaker' when the owners eventually returned.
And return they did, having not long departed the very same show I had just attended. In fact they even remembered seeing my T shirt!
I lost no time introducing myself and explaining my quest and they were most helpful over a cup of steaming tea. It seems the house grounds had been littered with steam engine parts but that they had been cleared on the advice of the estate agent after Gordon's passing. If Gordon had developed an interest in Traction engines and alike then I figured that perhaps that might be another avenue I could explore should this one not bear fruit. Given that some of the things cleared were undeniably scrap (in some people's eyes) the local scrap merchants might also be a good place to look?
The present owner John Mold said he was still in contact with Gordon's wife Connie and that he would endeavour to contact her on my behalf in the week. He did not recall ever seeing the motorcycle but did say he'd heard a rumour that it was stolen and recovered at some time in the past. One wonders if those who took it ever managed to start it I thought?!
John Mold tells me it's the best way to keep the damp from rotting the car's chassis.
I thanked John & Ann Mold for their hospitality, showed them around my own motorcycle and finally asked the question that had been to the forefront of my mind ever since I’ve arrived at their house. Why were there were so many 2CV cars in various states of suspension thereabouts? John then ‘spilled the beans’ saying he’s only really wanted to purchase one car but it was all four or nothing. Having been forced to take them all he hit upon the idea of elevating them partly to save on ground space (at his wife's request) and partly to keep the damp from rotting them. But, I'm told, one vehicle does at least have a galvanised chassis! I couldn’t think of a better way to preserve such a classic little car could you?
It seemed right that this property had passed into the hands of another who had not only helped Gordon out as a lad in years gone past but who also liked to be a little unconventional when dealing with things automotive!
I bid farewell and picked my way slowly down their extended driveway, splashing through muddy ruts before swinging the bike back towards the house and gunning it into the bend in the road where it crossed the river. I returned the owners wave as I sped by and gave a little toot on Tiger's horn as a nod to Gordon, his youthful ingenuity and his still missing Ariel diesel motorcycle.
Today I made enquiries at the Crediton Courier as to running an article about Gordon's bike and was told all submissions had to be in that day, Monday, to appear in Friday's edition. I decided to note their email details and wait to see if any of my other lines of enquiry came up trumps before going down this route.
I'm in Exeter sight-seeing and I receive an email from John Mold at Taw Cottage saying he's got a couple of leads as to where the bike might be. As you can imagine I am most hopeful on hearing this news!
Wandering down to Exeter Cathedral, I found myself weaving through the tourists and shoppers before finally having to negotiate the tables and chairs outside a café to reach the oldest and biggest of religious buildings.
I was just wondering why spandex was still so popular in this part of the country when a busker, clearly on his cigarette break, clocked my Rally T shirt and spoke up.
"Diesel motorcycles?" He says, looking intently in my direction. I smiled and launched into the reason why I was in the area and I must say, I was a bit surprised when he came straight out and mentioned Ernie Dorsett's AJS/Matchless conversions. It turns out that I am talking to Ross, who is not only a guitarist and a fan of the Daihatsu Charade diesel's but also a biker to boot! He tells me that he rides an RS250 and we talk at length about heat engines, running vehicles on veggie oil and an old relative of his who delighted in out foxing the authorities in years gone by putting Diesel engines into older classic cars. False tanks were the name of the game and apparently it made getting through official 'road checks' a breeze.
"They'd look down the line, see these older cars in the queue and just wave them through," he said laughing. His old relative had also experimented with hydrogen injection on an old and slow lorry, taking it to the foot of Porlock Hill before switching over to the gas. Ross then told me that that old truck shot up the hill like you wouldn't believe! Now that must have been a sight to see because Porlock Hill is notoriously steep!
He mentioned about how they had to get the hydrogen injected directly into the cylinder to make it work as they wanted.
Every now and again Ross would break from the conversation; take a drag on his roll up cigarette and say: "Diesel bikes...You wait until I mention this! You've started something now!"
He went on to say that he knew a few bikers over in Newton Abbot and would ask about on my behalf. From then on our conversation ranged from musical opportunities in and around the town (or rather the lack of them) to the subject of cannabis cultivation by the locals thereabouts to ward off the effects of the recession.
After we'd talked for an hour or so I became conscious that had in fact been depriving the good people of Exeter of this man's musical talent and so bunged him a few quid for a number. He looked me up and down and said:
"I reckon you'd be a Rolling Stones man? Am I right?"
"Like most, I'm partial to their early stuff," I said and he launched into Honky Tonk Woman before I said my goodbyes and departed up the road.
Honky Tonk indeed!
Ross rips into a version of Honky Tonk Woman for me! Cool!
I Popped into Crediton to visit the bookshop. Earlier in the week I'd paid them a visit and purchased a few old motorcycle books & magazines and the proprietor had said he'd dig out a few more A5 size Ariel club pamphlets for me. You never know what might turn up in these old papers. Unfortunately he'd not found them today but took a card saying a friend was into the old bike scene locally and may, in time, come up with a lead.
While I was out I also stopped by the local scrap yard in the hope that they may have a Daihatsu Charade tucked away up the back of the lot. No such luck and the bloke behind the counter told me a sorry tale, detailing the closure of other local yards. I thanked him and left to pay Treen's another visit as the owner wanted to have a look over my diesel Tiger. As it happens he was out so I took the opportunity to snap the bike outside the very shop that Gordon's motorcycle was constructed in before pushing off for a coffee. This holiday of mine is turning into an interesting little pilgrimage and it’s only right that it should be done on a similarly fueled diesel motorcycle as to the ones I pay homage to and seek along the way!
Sight-seeing on Dartmoor (well, I am supposed to be on holiday!)
Taking a break from the detective work and riding up on Dartmoor.
Friday lunchtime and I'm back in Winkleigh having a coffee in the local boozer before returning to the local garage. I'd dropped in there earlier to see if the owner remembered Gordon's machine but a woman I took to be his wife said come back at two as he's on his lunch break.
Outside the pub, a couple of arty types are filming various buildings in the village for TV? If they're after capturing the quiet serenity of the place then I just ruined the moment, the little square reverberating to the diesel clatter of the turbo Tiger.
Two o'clock comes round and I step out from the pub and into the rain which has arrived early. Great!
I bet the last time Winkleigh saw a diesel motorcycle Gordon Glover was riding it!
It's hot and humid as hell and it gets even worse when I get my waterproofs on over my Belstaff jacket and Draggin' Jeans. I fire the bike up, careful not to topple over on the alarmingly angular road surface and bimble back to the garage.
The owner was very helpful saying Gordon was good mates with his neighbour Keith Tucker and they gave me directions there and then along with a phone number. I thanked them, took a shot of my bike outside the garage that had undoubtedly been used by Mr Glover in the past and rode out in search of Mr Tucker's farm.
I'd put money on the fact that Gordon once filled his diesel motorcycle up at this very gas station.
I took a left opposite Gordon's old place and sure enough, up there on the right was the dwelling I sought. Ever mindful that I may not be able to extricate myself and my bike from some of these track ways I parked up and walked to the house.
I was greeted by a rather small but extremely noisy hound as I entered the farmyard but saw no other signs of life. The place was like many old farms I guess, a whole lot of cavernous old barns full of rusting machinery. As I retreated down the driveway, the sound of the yapping dog growing progressively distant to my ears, I decided the call the house on the off chance that I could leave a message.
Mrs Tucker picked up and I was just explaining myself when Keith shot by me and roared away up to his house. I knew it was him because his wife gave me a description on hearing the vehicle pass. I thanked her and began to walk back to the house, wondering along the way just how many people knew about Gordon's Ariel motorcycle because she certainly did!
I arrived in the yard minutes later, introduced myself to Keith and explained my mission. He was most accommodating and went into deep thought on the topic I had presented to him.
"Come into the office," he said after a few moments hesitation, and led the way into the back of the nearest and darkest barn. Once there he opened a previously invisible door and we stepped down into a room which was obviously the place from which the whole concern was run.
Keith's 'nerve centre' looked positively Dickensian. A sloping ceiling was supported by busy wooden walls and my nose detected more than a hint of dampness in the air. This was a million miles away from how the modern office looked!
Surrounded by stacks of paperwork, we sat down and Keith started telling me a few stories about Gordon, his love of things mechanical and his wife Connie.
I was told about his famous Ariel and how it was indeed stolen in the past. This confirmed what I had heard before and Keith went on to say it was eventually recovered from 'up north' but no exact location was mentioned. The bike had come back in bits and Gordon was most upset at this.
Many thereabouts had thought the motorcycle stolen by a foreign manufacturer, it being one of the first of its kind, but nobody could confirm this. There is a complete story alone in this episode of the motorcycle's history I thought, let alone what I'm trying to find out about it!
At this point Keith kindly phoned his son Andrew on my behalf and he was able to suggest some leads to follow up. These were jotted down and passed to me.
As for where the bike had been kept in recent years Keith thought it may have been stored on some land left to Gordon near Exeter. Either that or it had been left to a relative?
The land where the motorcycle was stored was just up from Upton Pyne at a place called Thorverton. It was willed to Gordon by a widow because it contained her husbands collection of steam engines and diesel rollers.
"I was working up there on the digger one time," said Keith, "and saw all the old engines rusting there. After Gordon's death the place was cleared out by the man behind Dorset Haulage I think?"
But Keith couldn't recall the man's name saying only that the old engines were taken in lieu of a debt and that he knew Gordon well and was a coffin bearer at his funeral.
Keith went on to tell me that after the land had been cleared it had been taken over by a gypsy called Big Jim who now had a mobile home on it. Back in the day Gordon and his wife had failed to get planning permission to build a bungalow there so presumably that's why it can only be used as a base for a scrap yard.
Now Big Jim I’m told, had done something that no gypsy should ever do - he had taken another gypsy man's wife! This now meant that he could never go up North again. His son could, that was alright, but if Jim ever tried it then that would be the end of him because they would do him in. As I was being told this I furiously making mental notes to remind myself to ask after the scrap yard itself and not the owner. If ever he got word that some stranger was looking for him, well, I'm not sure I would have had a very warm welcome!
Another bearer I was told was a cousin of Gordon's, a Mr Anstey who lived near Colbrooke, Colford or Yoeford. "It's just possible he may know something?"
"Gordon was a great man", continued Keith, "but according to his wife Connie, he had two speeds - one was slow and the other was stopped. Nothing ever got done very quickly like. I was there at the end and helped nurse Gordon through the last few days because he'd got stomach cancer and died in 2000. It was sad because his wife Connie had been taken to Italy by her sister for a holiday and didn't realise Gordon was quite so bad." I took this to mean that she had not been there at the end but didn't push the point.
Friend and nieghbour of Gordon Glover is Keith Tucker.
"Gordon was a brilliant engineer though," continued Keith, "he could set up a Gardner engine using a method that involved using lead to do the tappets, that kind of thing. But I remember the time he called me to say he's just bought a mobile shepherds’ hut on wheels and he asked if he could store it in one of my fields because it was a bit wet to get it onto his garden. Well I said yes and, of course, it was still there fifteen years later! And then, one winter, when it was about as wet as it could be, he did try and move it and it fell off its wheels! He was a lovely chap, a great character, but he could get into some fair old muddles."
I was then told to visit the local airfield which I had only seen a reference to in the recent past whilst scouring a local map. Apparently I had to continue through Winkleigh on the Torrington road, go past the field that I had seen the Heavy Horses show in the other day and follow the road as it swung round to the left. Before me I would see hangars off to my left and in these I may find another chap who was a good friend of Gordon's, a certain Colin Shears.
From here on the conversation moved onto the Swabey family who were common to both my home town and Crediton. Then we talked about the invention of new electric battery technology in nearby Tavistock where two gentlemen have come up with a new kind of battery that can apparently power a vehicle for several thousand miles. It is made of aluminium and can be easily recycled when spent I'm told. This is news to me but was reported in the newspapers sometime recently.
With that I thanked Keith for his help and he drove me back down his drive until we reached my bike. I then showed this friend and neighbour of Gordon Glover around my thoroughly modern diesel motorcycle before taking a few pictures, saying my goodbyes and departing for the nearby airfield. Keith had said he liked to keep abreast of all the latest technology and I think he really enjoyed seeing another diesel motorcycle after seeing Gordon's.
I rode back past the garage, the village and the show field before rounding the bend and heading out towards an area that I could plainly see looked very suited to landing aircraft. Off to my right I saw an old disused control tower but on the left I spotted the two huge hangars I was after. But, when I got closer I saw to my dismay that they were closed up and deserted. My meeting with Mr Colin Shears would have to wait until another day I thought.
Undaunted, I decided to push on a ways down the road before returning and it was lucky that I did because on the other side of the road, about two hundred yards further on, I saw another large hangar behind some trees - and it was open! Not only was it open, but I also spotted the front end of a vintage vehicle set a little way back from the opening.
It was a good job I chose to ride on or I'd never have met Jim Shoreland here at WETC.
I swung the Tiger round and parked up under some trees out front just as the heavens opened. With the rain beginning to crash into the leaves overhead I hoisted my helmet from my head and made a B line for the hangar door. Sure enough, I'd stumbled upon a large collection of old buses and vehicles, all in various states of restoration. Before me, high up on an elevated platform, was a chap in a grey boiler suit, hard at work on the back end of a London Bus.
I walked to his left and called out a greeting. He looked over and switched off his power tool before I launched to why I was there.
"I can help you there," he said, hitting a button that caused the whole platform to begin a downward journey to the accompaniment of a deafening warning beeper.
He introduces himself as Jim Shoreland and explains that like Keith Tucker, he knew Gordon well and helped nurse him towards the end. He knew the history of the machine in question and explained about how Gordon’s diesel motorcycle was stolen and then recovered in bits.
"It was a mixture of two motorcycles, or at least that's what I understand," mused Jim. "He offered it to companies like diesel engine manufacturer Petter but they had no interest in producing it".
"Gordon did odd jobs in later life," he said, "even welding up a crack in an AC engine block for me. He had a great send off, the funeral parade being so big as to block the road and to even make the radio traffic reports! Even now, when we drive round the bend near his house we give him a little toot on the horn as a mark of respect. He's buried there y'know, towards the end of the garden and right-hand driveway."
I ask Jim where he last saw the Ariel motorcycle and he tells me it was twenty or more years ago but it was in Gordon's store over near Exeter so I take it this is the place at Thorverton. But Jim did say that it might have gone to a relative? Well there was this Mr Anstey wasn't there, I thought. Could he have it I wondered? Lastly Jim mentions Ron Bond, someone else who was at the funeral and who was a bearer. Jim also tells me Gordon was in the army and got some of his mechanical training there but he also worked for Heathcoat Tiverton and BRS.
Like Keith before him, Jim looked over my Tiger before we said our goodbyes. By this time it was tipping it down so I put my waterproofs on before riding back to my campsite.
The next day saw the end of my time in the West Country but I rode up through Upton Pyne & Bamford Speke before I left, asking after the whereabouts of this old land and storehouse of Gordon's. One chap, busy cutting a hedge at Bamford, said he'd lived in the area all his life and didn't know of such a place but he gave me the address of someone who would. I rode over to Paul Leek's pad and knocked on the door but there was nobody in. I waited a while before calling it a day and putting my search on ice.
I fired up the Tiger, now loaded with all my camping gear, and rode the two hundred miles home, hitting heavy rain just before London. I'd liked to have stayed a little longer but my time off had come to an end and I had other commitments to keep.
At this moment in time I'm pretty confident that Gordon's Diesel Ariel motorcycle is in the hands of someone who knows what they've got. Why else would they continue to tax or SORN it each year? If it was laying in a field somewhere, unloved and unwanted, then it's unlikely the paperwork would get done.
No, I think it was taken out from the yard where it was last seen, possibly in bits, and moved, along with all the other machinery, by the nameless person behind this Dorset Haulage company. I'd had a brief email conversation with a relative of Gordon's and so presume he would have known if the bike had stayed in the family.
It just so happens that next week sees the greatest vintage vehicle show on our calendar, the Great Dorset Steam Show.
Now I've just got to go to this one and ask a few questions haven't I?!
Just got off the blower with Paul Leek who lives in the area where Gordon's yard/field was. Turns out he knows Big Jim and may even see him later today. He said he will ask after the bike to see if it’s still kept thereabouts but he doesn't think it is. He tells me Jim lives in the field next to it and that there's nothing worth having there. The fields are behind a big hedge he says. He also reckons Jim won't have it but is going to ask on my behalf anyway.
I'm pretty sure it's not there too but nothing like getting confirmation.
I haven’t heard back from Paul so assume he’s nothing to report?
The Great Dorset Steam Fair.
Finding a needle in a haystack! Could I find the elusive Dorset Haulage company here?
6am Saturday and I throw a leg over my Honda and head south through Pulborough and over Bury Hill to join the A27. It's colder than I expect but the weather forecast is good so I shake off the shivers and gun the big twin West. Its trunk is fully loaded with my packed lunch, cameras and rucksack etc. everything I'll need to complete my mission today.
A little over two hours later and I'm closing in on the Great Dorset Steam Fair, just North East of Blandford Forum. Despite the early hour the traffic is starting to build. I ride down the outside of the queue and notice that the air is already carrying dust in from the Fair.
As I entered the event field I'm waved directly to the ticket gate where all the motorcycles are parked. I pull up and get into a conversation with a GS owner who, like me, has ridden in from North of Horsham.
He just starts to comment on the NC's 'Frunk' (front trunk) asking if I have a 'Tardis' in there when we're interrupted by a couple of chavvy's.
"Wanna cheap ticket, mate?” blurts out the nearest kid. “My friends couldn't make it today so we have a few spares." One young lad waves the piece of paper about and I immediately wonder if it's a scam of some sort.
"How much?" I ask, still trying to squeeze my helmet & leather into the trunk.
"Tenner," he says, hopeful.
".....Ok," I reply, "but only if you walk in with me, just in case...?". He agrees and finishing up, I close the trunk lid and join him for the walk up the hill to the entrance.
Tickets online were £15.50 but £18.50 on the day. Taking matey up on his offer will save me the majority of my fuel money I figure.
At the gate, the female steward looks like an American police officer with baseball cap and mirrored sunglasses. I note that she’s pretty fit before seeing her do a double take as my young accomplice (in crime?) holds up his arm to show a rather tatty dark green wristband marked 'Camper'.
My heart skips for a second before she switches her gaze to my outstretched hand and the ticket in question. In an instant she takes it, tears it into two and I'm ushered in.
We breeze through the throng to a safe distance before I give the chav his dosh and head for the stalls up ahead. All's well that ends well.
I'm determined to get the name of the individual who cleared out all those old Steam Engines from Gordon Glover's land but looking about me there are thousands of camper vans and tents. Literally thousands…
First stop is the tent for the Old Glory magazine in the hope that it's staffed by knowledgeable, old journo's who will know a thing or two. As it happens it's staffed by dolly birds handing out old copy so I thumb through a few of the previous issues before beating a retreat back out into the bright sunlight and milling crowd.
I move along the line of stalls taking in the various things on sale. Miniature steam models, drawings, amusements etc. until I get to the end and into the Traction engine section.
I reach into my rucksack and draw out some prints of the article on Gordon Glover's missing Ariel motorcycle from the 1959 edition of Motor Cycling. I'd stapled one of my cards to the top left of each sheet and get ready to start handing them out.
More by luck than judgement I find myself in amongst the West Country machines and approach a boiler suited man who is busy cleaning the underside of an engine. I explain that I'm looking for a Dorset based Haulage Company with interests in the vintage scene but that I don't know the name of the man behind it, the man who supposedly cleared Gordon's land.
He's very helpful as far as he can be and takes me over to see another slightly younger chap who may know more.
He too is very helpful in attempting to come up with Dorset Haulage firms that may have a bearing on things but he too cannot place any.
But he does mention a name I've heard before from Jim Shoreland in Winkleigh, that of Ron Bond from Chard, Somerset, as being someone who collects old steam engines.
"He's supposed to have more than we could ever restore," he tells me, "but very few people have seen his collection."
I hand one of my article sheets over and thank him for his help. It's then suggested I try the Heavy Haulage section itself and it dawns on me that Road Rollers, although capable of hauling heavy things weren't exactly made for that purpose.
I consult my program guide and march on up the hill to the relevant encampment. Putting the biggest and heaviest of these vintage machine at the highest place on the site seemed slightly wrong but I wiped the sweat from my brow and carried on climbing.
Cresting the hill I turn on my heel to view the complete Showground laid out before me. From left to right, as far as I can see, camper vans, tents, cars & caravans filled the outskirts of the site whilst in the middle is a heaving mass of people, machinery and funfair rides.
Turning back to the business at hand I walk down a line of even larger steam engines, most complete with various types of cranes and winches.
At about this time I see the coal and water trucks doing the rounds behind the machines and sense an increased amount of activity from all about me. 10.30am is fast approaching and the one hundred plus engines at this forty-fifth event are getting ready to rumble!
Against a backdrop of hissing steam and shrill whistles I walk on a little further to view some of haulage trucks themselves. There I see a particularly nice blue vehicle beautifully sign written with the county names of ‘Somerset and Dorset’ in relation to a Brewery.
The owner of this vehicle put me onto a winning lead!
I see a chap polishing the truck furiously and ask him about Dorset Haulage companies. He tells me the most knowledgeable man to ask on this subject is the section leader and points me towards a camper van parked on the corner.
"You want Colin Knight," he says. "You can't miss him; he's got a large beard."
I thank him and follow his directions across the way before rounding the corner and finding my man. Again I explain my quest but Colin stops me dead in my tracks.
"I knew Gordon," he says, smiling, "and I can tell you now his land was definitely cleared by Ron Bond, I know that for sure."
On hearing these few words I knew that my work for the day was done. He hasn't seen Ron at the show but gave me his number along with his own saying that like Gordon, Ron was quite a character in his own right and if he didn't feel like talking to you then he wouldn't.
This doesn't get any easier, I thought, but what the hell. I'd just learned that the Dorset Haulage lead was a Red Herring and if Gordon's 1950's diesel Ariel is anywhere other than the land it was stored on then it is surely in the keeping of Mr Ron Bond.
I spend the rest of the day enjoying the sights and sounds of the huge steam rally heading back, before the rush, on the A303 this time. The Honda NC700 is covered in dust and I’m expecting the wind to blow it off on the ride. But annoyingly, it doesn’t! Cleaning the bike on my return is a small price to pay for such a rewarding day though.
Checkout the picture and name on this engine, captured from a youtube video of this years event. This is one of Ron Bond's engines but I'm told he didn't attend in person.
I wait until early evening, prepare my spiel and dial the number for Mr Bond. If he's likely to hang up on me then I don't want to be mistaken for a PPI salesman and fall at the first hurdle!
The phone rings twice and is picked up. A man answers, "hello?" Eager as hell I launch into my introduction which is followed by a short silence before that recipient again speaks.
"I'm sorry but I don't know what you're talking about?" He says. He then goes on to give his name and location which are over the other side of the country and I, resigned now to falling at another hurdle, thank him for his trouble and hang up.
Next job I use the net and find the only R. Bond down there and try the landline. No pick up.
I'll probably try again but I do have an address from the phone book now so it looks as if the best course of action will be to write a letter
A letter was dully dispatched but to date I have heard nothing back.
And so, dear reader, we are left hanging. But rest assured, I will continue to try and locate this motorcycle but am pretty certain it is in the keeping of Mr Bond. I hope that when it was moved, all the parts went with it. If it was indeed dismantled by those that stole it previously then there is always that worry that it was never put back together as Gordon Glover intended. Lets hope that certain important and unique parts have not been lost and that this rare diesel motorcycle is complete!
Watch this space…………
I can announce that Gordon's motorcycle has been found!! Although Mr Bond cleared some of Gordon's machines it turns out that he did not get the motorcycle at this time. For reasons of privacy the current owner whishes to remain anonymous so I cannot divulge names here but rest assured, the motorcycle, although still in a dismantled state, is complete. I'm told that hopefully, it will be put back together sometime over the next few years. It was, at one stage, covered in water when Gordon's old house flooded and the water lines are still in evidence on the machine. Hopefully we'll be able to share some pictures with you soon, probably of engine parts such as the built up piston.
I'd just like to thank the current owner for contacting me and providing an ending to this story. All I can say now is that It would be great to see this diesel Ariel Red Hunter roll into one of our motorcycle rallies at sometime in the future!
Post Script: The present owner also told me some great stories regarding Gordon and how he was so knowledgable on all manner of engines. To walk through a vintage steam rally with him would take forever as he could and would explain every detail of every engine they came across! But, dear reader, the following story may have some significance for us in that it relates to another diesel motorcycle and one I've also tried to find, the Freeman Sanders motorcycle.
Gordon Glover had often related a story concerning some apprentices who worked over at Holman Bros., Camborne, and how they also had a diesel motorcycle. It was hard to start and they would all give a hand to bump start the machine sending one of the lads home for lunch on it. After he had eaten it was much easier to start as he lived on a hill and would simply get some speed up before knocking it into gear. This machine was by all accounts a Norton. Now, after reading the report on Arthur Freeman Sanders and his business in Cornwall (written by J.Hodge), I knew that Freeman Sanders had made his first business connections after relocating to the West Country, with Percy Holman and E.C. Mills of Holman Bros. The reason for the connection was the Lister diesel engine used in the compressors by the mining company.
Further reading of the J.Hodge article reveals that two of the employees at the Freeman Sanders company (D.H. Harris & Clarence Blewett) later worked for Holman Bros. at Camborne so it is very conceivable indeed that one of these chaps did indeed take the diesel Norton developed at Trembath Mills over to Camborne where it ended up in the hands of the apprentices. All speculation of course but perhaps a good reason why I could find no trace of the Norton in the Penzance area. Click here to read up on the Freeman Sanders Norton.