THE DEGREE TREE.
is the tale of a tree. Not a tall stately Karri, reaching skywards,
majestic in the forest of the sou-west, or even a green leafy beauty
resplendent with early spring blossom. No, but a twisted khaki coloured
hunchback of a tree, battling for survival, its knotted trunk bent
double from the constant ocean winds, its rheumatic branches coated
with the grey dust of the limestone. If you happen to be a green elf or
a gardener, you, no doubt, have heard the story that plants respond to
sweet words and soft music. Unfortunately I cannot vouch for the truth
of this, most of my digging has been done with an under-inflated 400 x
18 and the words often levelled at its motive power have seldom been
But then I remember the day when I should have doffed my lid and thanked that bent caricature of a tree, but I must confess at the time that courtesy was completely over-looked.
Before suburbia encroached on the old Harley Scramble Course at Buckland hill another even was held annually in that vicinity, the Ariel Freak Hill Climb. The hill is still there today, towering up to the local reservoir 400 yards of sand and limestone. A hands and knees climb with the last half almost vertical. It was my custom to always compete there. The winner was decided by furtherest up or if one was lucky enough to surmount the hill, fastest time.
The year of the tree episode, I decided to have a big go. A motor was built with all the good bits and on a compression ratio which now I shudder to recall. This machine was completed a couple of weeks prior to the event, tested and modified. Funnily enough it worked best on an ignition lead of 47 ˝ degrees, which sounded too much but this is what it liked, so that is what it got. For good measure it was christened ‘Summit Seeker’ and this inscription was painstakingly painted on both sides of the tank, which was a total waste of effort, as the special fuel sloshed out and completely washed it off first time out.
We arrived early on the big day for practice, donned a hat, pointed the potent beast at the hill and was rewarded with a series of violent explosions and very little forward motion. Plugs were changed, all the usual remedies and suggestions failed to cure the complaint and in disgust I flung the bike into the twisted branches of that tree, as a faulty magneto was diagnosed.
It looked like I was an instant onlooker, no time to go home for spares… or was there? Worth a try. I might manage it at the lunch break. Helping hands started to extricate the bike from the bush and remove the mag while I tore home. Before I got back to the course I could hear bikes being warmed up, and as I was number 3, it was to be touch and go!
They weren’t quite started when I slipped the new mag on – but then I heard the first rider on the line. I spared a quick glance over my shoulder, he was away, a crescendo of sound, a high rooster tail and he was up and over. Sprockets on, the number 2 rider is called up. In my haste I had left my timing disc at home, break a gnarled finger from one of the hands of that twisted tree, down the plug hole, points just opening, about right, nip up the nuts and number 2 rider is away…straight up and over the top.
Now the pressure is really on!! They were calling for me, fuel on, hat on, off compression, a push from willing helpers and she burst into life with the exhaust note crisp and clean again. On the rollup to the line I could feel the vibration. I liked the vibration, not for me those silky smooth turbine-like engines, those meek motors usually had performance to match. Then the hill and I faced each other, a bit of good unused ground on the right, third gear engaged, wheel-grip all important, the flag dropped and the hill rushed up like a huge white wall.
In previous years I had been over the hill but this time it was different, the old Norton just didn’t slow down. One moment I was looking at the speeding sand and stone, the next, blue sky. I forgot to shut off. The rear wheel must have hit the ledge at the top, the bike and I did a complete forward somersault and landed most untidily in the fence around the reservoir. I picked myself up and promptly fell down again; my knees didn’t work, then came the announcement over the loud speaker…fastest time and a new record for the hill.
It was quite late when we got back home that night, but as soon as I had unloaded ‘Old Summit Seeker’, I put my forgotten timing disc on it. Ignition timing exactly 47˝ degrees.
Must go and thank that old tree sometime.
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