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AMCA Pioneer - Peter Gagan, Member #19

Keith Kizer | Published on 2/21/2021

     Pioneers by definition are people who are first or among the earliest in any field of inquiry, enterprise, or development. In 2013, our late Publisher, Greg Harrison started the AMCA Pioneers series to honor some of those members in celebration of the clubs 60th anniversary. A full list of those stories can be found on page XX.
     In this continued tribute to honor some of our members who have been with the club for 50 years or longer, this column is dedicated to the man who is the only living member who has been there from the very first year, Pete Gagan.
Pete’s legacy began in 1952 at the age of 12 when his father taught him how to back up and down the driveway in the family Pontiac. Three on the tree, and a foot clutch. All the basics were learned and understood fairly early. 
     Then within the year, a neighbor and American entrepreneur named Ray Richardson gave Pete his next taste of power. Ray was president of a large company in Ontario, Canada who manufactured gasoline powered equipment for home use. Being a neighbor of the Gagan’s, Ray would frequently have 13-year-old Pete use his equipment to earn some extra money and use him as sales tool to show customers how easy the equipment was to use. With this advantage of superior power, Pete could mow three yards in the time other kids could only mow one.

One day someone traded in a lawnmower to Ray which was headed for the scrap heap but he gave the Briggs and Stratton engine, with centrifugal clutch, to Pete. Pete mounted the engine to his balloon-tired bicycle at a 45-degree angle parallel to the front down tube. He took the rim from his outgrown tricycle and fastened it to the spokes with wire, drilling holes where necessary. Mechanically correct but engineered incorrect, upon starting the engine the starvation of oil due to the angle resulted in the rod coming out the side of the cases. Lesson learned and seed planted for taking things apart and putting them back together. 
     Not yet 14 years old, Pete got a job of delivering for the local drug store utilizing his bicycle. One day a woman phoned and ordered four cases of pop, (24 to a wooden case) and obviously a bit too much of a load for his bicycle. Carl the druggist asked, “Can you drive?” Pete replied in the affirmative obviously, having had so much experience backing up and down the driveway. Soon he was off in Carl’s brand new ’54 Ford V8, also three on the tree, to deliver the pop. 
     Proving himself to Carl, for the next year the Ford became Pete’s regular delivery vehicle until his dad spotted him in it. After a heated discussion with Carl, it was back to the bicycle for Pete until he was 16.

Pete and his 1960 Manx Norton, his
last race bike, which he competed with
at Westwood in 1990 and

     Pete’s first real motorcycle experience materialized from his Uncle’s orders to get rid of another nephew’s motorcycle. He called Pete one day and suggested he visit on the way home from school, he had something he would enjoy seeing. 

     The bike was English, and on the tank, it said simply “The Vincent.” Unknown to them at the time, but it was a rare 1950 V-twin White Shadow Rapide, painted Chinese Red for the North American market. His uncle said, “If you can figure out how to start it, you can go for a ride. 
     With his newfound knowledge of motor vehicles, Pete figured out which levers and pedals operated the clutch, front and rear brakes. The Vincent folks had the foresight to put a little lever which pointed to 1, N, 2, 3 & 4. After about a week of visiting his uncle along with his high school friends, they finally got the Rapide to burst into life. What excitement! 
     Although Pete could not touch the ground, his friends would hold the bike up until he slowly let the clutch out and sped off, rocketing down the street. As he soon as he reached the long block, he braved using a couple of more gears. Fortunately, he realized it probably wasn’t a good idea to open the throttle unless he was pointed in a straight line. The acceleration and sound of the Vincent was the most thrilling experience he had to date, and a taste of things to come during his life. 

This is the actual Vincent Pete rode as a kid. This was it at a
Bonhams Auction in the UK many years later. Pete said he
wanted to buy it but he could not afford it.

     Pete visited the Vincent every day after school and rode it daily with the help of his pals, who launched him and also caught him. He gradually got better and began to brave the main street in town. He could stop at lights by standing on his tiptoes. All came to an end when he pulled up to a light and was about to drag race the Pontiac next to him. He looked over and it was his dad. That was it for the Vincent.
     The next project came at the demands of the local municipality demanding a man clean up his overgrown property. Buried in the weeds and leaning up against a fence was a 1912 Indian single covered in morning glory vines. The Indian had been in this same location since 1916 when it was replaced by a new Saxon Roadster. The owner once whitewashed the fence, as well as the Indian and vines. When Pete took possession of the Indian it was rust on one side and whitewash on the other. 

This is an artist rendering of the same
1912 model Indian Pete rescued from the weeds.

     In 1954, there was a knock at the door. Pete’s mother answered the door where Myles Lusk introduced himself. He said, “Is this where the boy lives who collects motorcycles? I would like to meet him.” Pete’s mother called him to the door, and there was Myles, and in the driveway was a 1910 coffin nosed Stanley Steamer. Pete was blown away. Myles was a member of the Ontario chapter of the Antique Automobile Club of America. He told Pete there was a club he should join, called the Antique Motorcycle Club in America. Myles offered to pay for Pete’s first year’s membership if he joined.  
     At the age of 14 and on the same year the AMCA was formed Pete became, most likely, the youngest member of the club and 67-years later holds the distinction of belonging to the club longer than any active member. 

Pete on his 16th Birthday on his 1950 Francis Barnett.

     Pete went on to serve as the club Treasurer from 1997-2001 then he became the Vice-President for one year and served as the club President from 2003 through 2007. In 2008 he served as the President of the Antique Motorcycle Foundation. He is still active in the club and serves on the AMCA International Liaison Committee helping to monitor activities of other antique motorcycle organizations around the world.
     To date, Pete has owned 40 collector cars and 142 collector motorcycles. Thanks for people like Pete’s mentors in his youth, countless other have been equally as inspired through his livelong dedication to the club. – Keith S. Kizer

When Pete served as the AMCA President, this photo
accompanied his quarterly column in the magazine.

All the text above this paragraph is the original story from the March/April issue of The Antique Motorcycle. Below are all the other interesting stories and tidbits that had to be left out because I reached our 1,000 word limit. The great thing about the internet is I’m not limited to space. So enjoy these story additions and photos. 

AMCA Notes:
o  Pete served in the following positions for the AMCA
       o  AMCA Treasurer from 1997-2001
       o  AMCA Vice-President 2002
       o  AMCA President from 2003-2007
       o  AMF President 2008

o   In Pete’s first column as President of the AMCA in 2003, his opening line was that he had quite an act to follow coming in behind the Abraham Lincoln of the AMCA. He was referring to Bob McClean who had served as that position for 18 years. 

Family Background:
o   "We were not a wealthy family. I had an excellent source of money for my own use though, Our neighbor, Ray Richardson"

o   The Vincent, "My uncle said it belonged to his brother’s son, who had been given family instructions to “get rid of that thing” and it was at my uncle’s awaiting a buyer."

o   Ray Richardson, "when he was setting up dealerships, he would fly prospects in, and show them the equipment being used by a skinny 13-14 year-old, demonstrating the ease of it all. I could do three lawns while other kids could only do 1, and I offered no discounts. The big rotary lawn mower would also mulch leaves, and I had a rotary tiller that I could grind up back yards for people wanting to plant gardens. I also had the use of a self-propelled snow blower in the winter which was a good earner."

o   Myles Lusk, was a member of the AACA's Ontario Chapter in 1953. Through the AACA Myles learned of the AACA and recruited Pete to join. The day they met, Pete said, "Myles took me out in the Stanley, and let me drive around the neighborhood. I couldn’t reach the footbrake and reverse pedals, so he did, letting me steer and work the throttle. That made me a steam vehicle fanatic forever!"

Car Notes:
o   The 1912 Indian was abandoned in the field when the owner acquired a new Saxon Roadster car to replace it. Pete tried to later buy the car, but no luck. 

o   Pete's drugstore days of driving the Ford V8, he recalls getting on the freeway the first time he drove it and forgot to shifting to a higher gear and had the V8 wound pretty well enough to almost float the valves. 

o    There was a London, and a Brighton, in Ontario, so the AACA Chapter conducted a London to Brighton run along an interesting route avoiding the big city of Toronto, a total of about 400miles. The requirement was vehicles built in 1910 or earlier. 

o   "The Francis Barnett photo was taken on my 16th birthday after I had passed my driving test, which was actually done in my Model T Ford. All I had to do was drive the test guy to the liquor store so he could get a bottle of rye. He was too drunk to drive himself. I told him I had a motorcycle as well, so he added the endorsement."

1927 Ford Coupe - Model T Ford in 1954. Cost $35.00. Very rusty roadster body added and restored in two years.

1927 Ford T – At AACA meet at age 16.

Pete in his Stutz

Motorcycle Notes:
o   In Pete's desperate attempt to crank the Vincent, he said, "My puny weight wouldn’t even move it. I tried the mystery lever on the left handlebar, and it spun over freely. I held this lever in and kicked and kicked. Every now and then I was rewarded with a loud explosion from the exhaust, but run it wouldn’t." One of his friends had an older brother with a Whizzer. "He said that lever must be like the decompressor on his brother’s Whizzer which you needed to release before it would start. I tried this, and after a few more kicks, it suddenly burst into life. What excitement!"

o   Pete said of his pre-license days, he would ride his Francis Barnett around town until he got pulled over. "The cop told me to drive home and he would follow. I didn’t speed, with him behind me. He talked to my dad, and said I rode the bike well, but I could not ride it again until I was 16 and had a license. If he caught me again, he would seize the machine. It went into the basement It was a bit rough, and i was instructed to dismantle it completely, and the sheet metal would go to a family friend who had a body shop, and my dad would finance the repairs and paint. Interestingly, it didn’t get finished until a week before I turned 16. I had it painted Chinese Red, like the Vincent."

o   "Many years later, the Vincent showed up at an auction. I couldn’t afford it. It was actually a “White Shadow”, with polished cases, and heads, and as it was imported to N. America originally, it was finished in Chinese Red to appeal to the N. American market. That’s why it has the alloy fenders rather than the usual touring fenders as on a red Rapide."

o   1912 Indian Single: Pete said, "In 1956, I rode my less than perfectly restored 1912 Indian in the AMCA’s Canadian London to Brighton Run. I told them it was a 1910, so it was approved. The weather for the entire 400 miles was either very hot, or raining heavily the whole time. The magneto, sparked OK when I tested it, but when it got hot, the condenser would break down, and it would misfire, and cut out. When the rain came, the magneto was cooled off, and performed well, but the exposed brake bands would slip, so I had no brakes. Fortunately, I had been riding a bicycle a lot, as I had two pedal most of the way. I removed the front fender so I could jam my foot on the front tire to slow down in the rain.
Fortunately, I had a good friend who towed my trailer behind his ’33 Ford sedan, getting me to the start, and picking me up at the finish. He couldn’t enter, as his car was too new."

o   Ray Richardson

o   Myles Lusk, was a member of the AACA's Ontario Chapter in 1953. Through the AACA Myles learned of the AACA and recruited Pete to join. The day they met, Pete said, "Myles took me out in the Stanley, and let me drive around the neighborhood. I couldn’t reach the footbrake and reverse pedals, so he did, letting me steer and work the throttle. That made me a steam vehicle fanatic forever!"

Racing Notes:
o   Note From Pete to Keith: Lots more stories and photos coming. I have my CD player working now, and have quite a few CDs to review. I have several copies of one called “Pete’s Garage” which lasts about 15 minutes, and has a lot of material, showing me racing a Scott at Brands Hatch, riding various Broughs, including the ex Lawrence of Arabia one he was killed on, etc., etc. I will send you a copy you can keep. It also gives a tour of my collection of motorcycles when it was at its height. I have photos of all the 40 collector cars and 142 collector motorcycles I owned as well, so I’ll send you the significant ones."

o   Pete explains the photo of him with the 1960 Manx Norton above. This was an ex Jim Redman bike. This photo was taken in 2019.  "The Norton, I did race it. My best effort was at the “Last Hurrah” at Westwood in 1990. I came 3rd, behind Murray Niebel, and my son Geoff, who was riding a NS400R Honda owned for a short period. I lapped a couple of riders I hadn’t been able to keep up with on my previous efforts o n lesser machinery. When I got it, it had a very low compression, due to wrong piston, etc. and couldn’t keep up with anything. I used it as a “pit bike” when I raced my Scott previously."

o   As you can see, the Morgan was modified for racing back in the day, and was radically lowered. The centre of gravity is below all three axles. Standard Morgans will lift the inside front wheel very easily when cornered, and if not corrected immediately will tip over. They are then likely to crash off the edge of a racetrack. My 33, lowered was the fastest cornering device I have ever ridden, or driven, with 2,3, or 4 wheels. Watkins Glen was a bit of a free for all, with myself and various motorcycles doing 4 laps. I managed to lap all the bikes but two, and another lap and I would have had them as well. The engine contained the internals of an 8/80 racing JAP, of 80 Brake HP. The water cooled heads and barrels were modified to take the larger valves, narrowed valve angles, and wide flat combustion chamber of the 8/80. I was able to sell the air cooled 8/80 parts to cover the costs of the machining. I was lighter then, and chose lighter passengers, such as MJ, who was 105 at the time. The downside was, that the car still had about 3 inches of suspension, so potholes and rough pavement had to be avoided, as one’s behinds were only 3 inches from the pavement. Watkins Glen was very smooth, though….

Honda NS400R that his son Geoff raced against him at Westwood in 1990.

Pete in his 1933 Morgan

Pete’s Morgan sitting on the starting line at Watkins Glen in 2010.

P.O. Box 663, HUNTSVILLE, AL 35804