There were two cavalcades sold in the little town of Ridgecrest , California . I bought one of them. This is the story about what happened to the other one.
When people would ask Gary Goetz how he lost his arm, he would often lower his voice and say “ Nam .” But in fact the loss of the arm was what kept him from going to Nam . You would have to know Gary to understand. He was always cutting up and clowning. My office mate was 15 years his senior, yet he would visit her regularly, making untoward comments and improper advances. She would laugh and egg him on.
This was about a thrice-weekly occurrence.
Gary was a supervisor of an engineering technology group in Ridgecrest , California . We were civilian employees for the navy. I was fresh out of college and Gary was my friend and mentor. I did not report directly to him, but he helped me greatly in the days when I knew not my fanny from a hole in the ground. You see, in engineering school, one learns a lot of interesting material, none of it actually real world engineering. That is learned on the job. Gary taught me how engineering was done in the real world.
He was about in his mid to late thirties when I knew him, but he looked older and acted younger. He had been a motorcycle rider in his teenage years, but his favorite hobby came to a sudden end with a chemistry lab accident up at the local community college. Someone asked him, “ Gary , whyyyy were you making nitroglycerine?” “Hey,” he replied, “I only said I was the greatest. I never said I was the smartest.”
The explosion had blown off his right arm above the elbow, taken out his right eye, most of the hearing in his right ear, and caused some severe internal injuries, cosmetic damage to the right side of his face and neck. The medics managed to save his life, but had to remove his right kidney, part of both large and small intestine, the lower lobe of his right lung, part of his liver. He still had shrapnel in his body from the accident, (bone fragments and splinters from his right arm were imbedded deep in his abdomen) as well as internal stitching from multiple reconstructive operations, that had to stay in there afterwards. The wife of a coworker, a nurse for thirty years, commented that Gary had suffered the most severe injuries they had ever seen anyone survive. It was five years before he fully regained some semblance of health. His spirit was not broken.
Gary ’s favorite gag was when some unsuspecting person asked how he got the eye patch. He would say “I was looking up and got bird shit in my eye.” Invariably they would say, “I don’t understand. How did that cause you to lose the eye?” He would hold up his prosthetic arm and say “I had only had the hook for a couple days when it happened.”
After the lab explosion, Gary ’s Triumph Bonneville went under a blanket in the garage, where it stayed for the entire Nixon administration, Ford, Carter and the early Reagan years. Then I came along. I had a TX750 Yamaha, the vertical twin, actually a Japanese Bonny knockoff. Being fresh out of college, I had not two nickels to make jingly noises in my pocket. Consequently that Yamaha was my only motorized transport for a while. I rode it rain or shine. Fortunately being in the desert it was mostly shine.
Despite the missing arm and the cosmetic damage, Gary was quite the lady’s man. At Halloween, He would dress up as a pirate (naturally), but one year he dressed as an Old Testament leprous beggar. He wore the outfit to the office, tattered sackcloth robe hanging off one shoulder. It was quite difficult to have a serious work related conversation with him in that getup. At lunch he said, “You know, modern beggars would get plenty of donations if they would come up with a new creative shtick. This ‘will work for food’ jazz is worn out.” We walked down the street to the grocery store. When people came out who didn’t know him, he would come on with this olde English “Alms! Alms for the poor! Bless thee, milady, heaven bless thee! Alms!” People were giving him stuff like crazy. When we got back to the office, someone started the rumor he was wearing nothing under his robe (quite possibly true, knowing him.) All afternoon women were hanging around his office.
Gary and I talked bikes a lot. One day he asked me to come over and help him get his Bonny running again. I assumed he wanted to sell it. The Triumph was in good shape and it really didn’t require a lot to get it going. We soaked the orange crud out of the carburetors and jets, cleaned out the gas tank, changed the oil, freed up the clutch plates, fresh battery, pumped up the tires and she kicked to life. I rode her around the block a few times and went home.
The next day Gary ’s bike was parked in front of the office. I was surprised to learn that he had ridden it himself. He had gotten the bug to ride again after seeing me on my bike. He grasped the throttle with his hook and made do with what he had. (This requires some explanation. His hook was actually two hooks that could open and close. Imagine two stacked question marks (?) joined at a hinge at the point at the bottom. One goes down into the page and the other comes out of the page.) He grasped the throttle between the two hooks. The vibration of the bike caused the throttle to work its way down, so a couple times a minute he would need to raise his elbow, grasp the throttle and pull down again. This motion made Gary recognizable from a long ways off. He soon traded the Bonny for a much newer but very thrashed Honda Magna. The V4 Honda vibrated much less than the Triumph and Gary was able to ride for longer distances between having to try to re-grip the throttle.
We were to have an office party at a local restaurant. Several of our coworkers got there first and quickly ate their food before Gary arrived. The reason is that when Gary got joking and cutting up, he could make one laugh so hard, one could not eat. I am not exaggerating at all. He really was the funniest person you ever met. We couldn’t figure out why he was out there in the desert working a 9 to 5 , when he could easily make a good living as a standup comic. He could do impersonations, recite jokes for an hour without telling the same one twice, ad lib on the spot, make fun of himself, you name it.
This particular office party happened on Wednesday, 13 March 1985 . We had an old retired Navy captain with us that time. Gary was making some jokes about how silly he must look, riding that Magna down the street and his prosthetic arm flipping and flapping up into the air trying to get some throttle. The captain said “ Gary , what you need is the old Indian Chief I used to ride back in the 40s. It had the throttle on the left grip.” He instantly had Gary ’s full and undivided. “Excuse me Captain, but where was the clutch?” The captain replied, “It was at the left foot, like a car. We called it a suicide clutch.” “So where was the gear shift?” “It was a stick, operated by the right hand, beside the tank.
Gary was speechless, a very rare condition for him. As we left the restaurant, Gary asked me if I would come over to his house that evening and help him with his bike. When I got there, he said he wanted to switch the throttle to the left side. We swapped the grip assemblies. The Magna had two throttle cables, one that opens and one that closes. We swapped the cables and rigged a spring to make it work like a mirror image of the right hand throttle.
Next we set the idle to about 1200, so he could actually let out the clutch from a stop without stalling. Using the clutch and the throttle with the same hand was still clumsy, but a big improvement over using the hook. In fact, this modification allowed him for the first time in 15 years to actually go touring on a motorcycle.
Gary was having his second childhood. Actually he never really left his first one, but he was having the time of his life. He was a bachelor with no responsibilities, so pretty much every weekend he went on some trip on his Magna. In town was still a compromise, but on the open road, the left hand throttle worked just fine. The real problem with this arrangement is that Gary had no good way to use his front brake. He knew how dangerous it was to ride around with only a rear brake, but it wasn’t clear how to fix this problem.
If one were to look up Ridgecrest on a map, the rest of this story might make more sense. There is nothing to do in that town, and it is a looooong ways to anything. Motorcycle touring was a popular sport there. I had seen a Cavalcade in Monterey and I ordered one from the local bike shop. A few months afterwards, my Cavalcade came in, it was a maroon GT. The shop brought in a second Cade, although they had no preorders for it. I rode that Cavalcade all over the desert, with a big stupid grin on my face the whole time.
One day I rode the Cade to work. Gary looked it over very carefully, and noticed that it had three hydraulic cylinders, one for each brake and one for the clutch. (This was a fairly recent innovation for those days. The Gold Wings had that arrangement, but Gary ’s Magna had a mechanically operated drum brake aft.) As he stood inspecting the hydraulics, he suddenly got a look on his face like the people in the movie “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World” when they ran under the W palm trees and suddenly realized where the money was buried. A few days later he asked if I would come over that evening and help him with his bike. When I got there, a brand new charcoal gray Cavalcade sat in his garage.
Step one was to swap the throttle over to the left side. This was more complicated than the Honda, because the Cade has only one throttle cable. Gary had worked out an idea with a device he called a bell crank. It was a wheel with a groove along the rim where cables attached. The throttle cable from the grip ran on one side of the wheel and the cable to the carbs ran on the other. If you rotated the left side grip toward yourself, the throttle cable actually played out. This allowed the bell crank to turn which reeled in the throttle cable. It was an ugly solution which I did not like. One problem was that if the cable broke on the grip side or something came loose, the bell crank would snatch the throttle wide open. On a Cavalcade this is not good, Maverick, this is not good. I told Gary we should get a throttle assembly off a wrecked Gold Wing and use the closer cable, but he liked the bell crank idea. What Gary wants, Gary Goetz.
The next thing he wanted to do was rearrange the hydraulics so that the left hand clutch cylinder operated the front brake, the right foot rear brake pedal operated the clutch (A homemade suicide clutch! I didn’t like that name one bit.) And the right hand front brake cylinder operated the rear brake. We figured a way to make a strap on the right hand lever so that he could use his hook to lock the rear brake in an emergency.
I was getting a bit queasy about all these modifications we were making to an expensive brand new bike, especially when I hadn’t thought through all the safety aspects. ( Gary never wore a helmet. He never wore glasses either, even though a bug in his one remaining eye would be trouble indeed.) But he knew exactly what he wanted, and what Gary wants, Gary Goetz. I did figure out one item that would add a safety factor: a clutch lock mechanism, so that one could disengage and lock the clutch pedal when coming up to a stoplight, thus freeing up both feet to balance that big old bike.
We measured the lengths of hydraulic hose we would need to make the modifications. The front brake was easy: we used the same piece of hose and swapped it from right to left. We measured the length of hose we would need to go from the left grip master cylinder to the rear brake caliper and from the rear master cylinder to the clutch. We took those two hoses off and took them to another biker buddy of ours who knew how to make custom hydraulic lines.
It was a rare rainy day in the Mojave Desert . I had acquired an old pickup truck by this time, and I was driving that. My office mate got a call right after lunch which gave me quite a jolt.
Gary had crashed his motorcycle. But he was OK. He had not been wearing a helmet but had not hit his head. He was in pain but had not lost consciousness. He had been wearing a sturdy leather jacket and Levi’s, so there was not much road rash. His only broken bone was his left leg just above the ankle, but the bone had not pierced the skin and the damage didn’t look too serious.
The medics had shot him full of opiates at the scene but they let him talk on the phone at the hospital. My office mate concluded he would be OK, because he was making his usual suggestive comments and cutting up with her. He supposed he would not be in the office that afternoon. She was laughing at his comments. She could tell he was doped up on the pain medications but he was making sense, and wasn’t that different from his normal condition. He told her he thought his bike was totaled. She replied, “Well, the important thing is that YOU were not totaled.” Then the phone clattered to the floor. She heard a commotion of some sort then a dial tone.
I was quite disturbed about this whole thing. Perhaps the throttle bell crank had come loose or something caused the throttle to slam open and maybe that is why he crashed. Perhaps he got in an emergency situation and his intuition failed completely to deal with a bike with all the controls in the wrong places! I called our buddy with the hydraulics lab, assuming that he had helped Gary put the hoses on his bike, but he hadn’t. Gary ’s hydraulic lines were still in his shop.
I and another friend hopped in my truck and drove out toward the hospital. The wrecker was out there scooping up what was left of the bike. It all became clearer as I recognized it as the Magna. Couldn’t operate the front brake with the hook. Locked the back wheel, slid down. We got to the hospital; we learned Gary was in emergency surgery. They asked us to go find out how to contact his family members. We didn’t know who that would be, didn’t even know if he had any relatives. He was my good friend and mentor for over two years and the topic of relatives never did come up. Damn! We rushed back to the office to search his desk to see if he had any phone numbers written down there, but when I arrived my office mate was weeping. She just learned that Gary had died.
Even this many years later it is hard for me to write about this. Someone had turned left in front of Gary coming the other way and he had slid to the pavement, taken a hard tumble and had ripped open a lot of internal scars and sutures from previous operations. He was bleeding internally while they checked for bumps on his head and set his broken leg. When he passed out on the operating table and dropped the phone, the medics saw he was in serious trouble. They realized he was the guy from the chemistry lab explosion 16 years before. They started an emergency exploratory surgery to find the source of the bleeding, but it was too late. Gary ’s last words were to my office mate about totaling one of his motorcycles.
I realize this is a downer story that is only very indirectly related to Cavalcades. I worried myself sick about Gary crashing the heavily modified Cade, but it never did occur to me that he could actually die.
Such things rarely occur to a 24-year old child I suppose. If there is a hereafter, I am confident Gary is there, riding a touring bike. No one would deny him such a pleasure, for after all, whatever Gary wants…
Well, you know.