"The Famous James"



"The Famous James"

English-built Motorcycle - 1946

As with all humans, the Whizzer, after a few weeks, became less than what I wanted.  While the Whizzer was being developed and marketed, the Cushman Motor Company, a small firm that had produced motorized “scooters” for the Army looked at what they had been building saw opportunity.   Their military model scooters were rugged, fat-tired, things designed to be dropped out of airplanes with paratroopers.  They were a two-wheeled forerunner of the ATV.  The civilian population would want something with more visual appeal than the Army scooters.

The designers at the Cushman Motor Works went to work and came up with a solution.  They covered the one-cylinder engine and rear wheel with sheet metal cowling and created what looked like an upside down bathtub on small wheels with a seat on its upside-down bottom and a pair of handlebars in the front.  They were soon turning out and selling Cushman Motor Scooters by the hundreds.

The Cushman craze hit Caney when Ralph Cowan’s father, who owned a store on Main Street, became a Cushman dealer.   With a good knowledge of marketing a new product, Mr. Cowan gave the first Cushman to Ralph.   Ralph immediately became an enviable boy.  He was always quick to tell us what a wonderful machine the Cushman was and remind us that his dad could get one for us within a few days.  Within a few weeks a dozen Cushmans were putt-putting over the brick streets of Caney.


Cushman Motor Scooter - 1946

The Whizzer Dad had given me was far outclassed by the Cushmans.  But Dad was not impressed by the Cushmans.  He felt the Whizzer was enough for his boy.  Meanwhile, overseas, the British were building a sexy competitor to the Cushman motor scooter.  It was an adaptation from a small motorcycle they had built for their Army.  They spruced it up with paint and chrome, and, in uncharacteristic immodesty they called it “The Famous James.  It was a true motorcycle, with larger wheels and a three-speed transmission.  It was a beauty and famous or not, it was a motorcycle, whereas the Cushman was just a “scooter.”

After several weeks of shameless whining and behind-Dad’s-back appeals to Mother, coupled with extravagant promises of things never to be delivered, she convinced Dad.   We drove to Coffeyville one Saturday and found the dealer for “The Famous James”.   After considerable looking and whispered conversation between my parents, they signed papers putting them almost four hundred dollars in debt.  This was a prodigious amount of money for my Dad, who was earning about three hundred dollars a month at the time.      With the papers signed and my promises repeated, I mounted a beautiful, maroon, chrome bedecked, “Famous James” and rode the sixteen miles back to Caney with my parents driving slowly behind - shepherds watching their errant sheep.

Although there were several “Famous James” in Coffeyville I had the only one in Caney and I relished the distinction.  Their Cushmans made a self-effacing, little “putt-putt-putt” sound as they rolled down the street.   The Famous James, with the same kind of engine as on today’s chain saws, made a quiet little “pffffttt” sound.  Both were far too quiet to satisfy the bull-roaring needs of an adolescent boy.   We looked to our bigger “brothers” who were riding full sized Harley Davidson motorcycles for inspiration.   The sound of a properly fitted Harley could shake the plate glass storefront windows as they cruised down Main Street.    They achieved that level of noise by removing mufflers and installing “blooey pipes”.   The resulting noise could be heard hundreds of yards away.

They became our model.   Mufflers came off.  “Blooey pipes” went on.  Blooey pipes were custom made exhaust pipes that tapered to a wide mouth at the end. Now when we cruised 4th Street it became a canyon of noise.  Storeowners called on our town Marshall, Tricky Troxel.  (Yes, "Tricky" was the nickname he accepted and was known by) Tricky tried.  He’d stop us occasionally but his heart wasn’t in it.  We’d nod solemnly, say “Yes, Tricky,”  and for a few days ride quietly.  Temptation and boys, however, are a volatile mix.  The noise inevitably returned.  And so did Tricky; until the era of the motor scooters and James’s ended.

A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody


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