Man's passion for motorcycles shown in restored machines
By RACHAEL SMITH
Oct. 14, 2017
FOREST, Va. (AP) — During the summer of 1971, against his mother's wishes, P.J. Abbott took his Honda 350 motorcycle on a trip from Lancaster, Ohio, to Niagara Falls, New England and parts of Canada. He rode more than 10,000 miles that summer.
Abbott had just graduated from high school and was gone for nearly a year but said it was something he had to do at the time.
Now 64 years old, he flips through 40-year-old Polaroids in an album documenting his trip through America: pictures of the World Trade Center Twin Towers just after they were built, photos of Abbott racing his Honda on an Iowa dirt track, and scenes of New York City circa 1970. He camped or stayed with relatives along the way and only packed a sleeping bag, a utility bag and $500 in traveler's checks.
"I saw the last concert at the Fillmore East in New York City," he said. "I saw Allman Brothers Band, J. Giles Band and Albert King."
Now a retired employee of Areva living on 62 acres of land in Forest, Abbott still has a passion for the style of transportation that has given him so many experiences.
"The bikes have been my life," he said. "They've taken me so many places and given me so much pleasure."
He dedicates most of his time now to restoring antique motorcycles in what he calls his "wigwam."
"It's called the wigwam because that's where the Indian lives," he said.
The Indian he refers to is a restored 1948 Indian Chief motorcycle, which took Abbott five years to finish.
He describes it as a hobby and obsession.
"It's a passion," he said. "It's so rewarding because you're doing something that is bringing history back in a small way."
Abbott bought the bike in Butler, Pennsylvania, for $8,500 and he worked on the motorcycle on the weekends while still at Areva.
He has a soft spot for the antique bikes because of the challenge they present. It takes years to find all of the right parts, which are more than 50 years old.
Abbott restored the bike to a T, reading the manual line by line as a guide, making sure he had the right paint and that the numbers on the motor matched the numbers on the frame.
Larry Bailey, a riding buddy and friend of 30 years, said that is just the kind of person Abbott is.
"It's those little details. To do it right, it takes years," Bailey said. "I think it's great to bring a piece of history back to life. Both of the bikes are 70 years old or older. They are a part of American history. Just to be able to have the skill and the patience to bring it back to life as it rolled off the showroom in 1948 is unbelievable. It takes a lot of patience, time and research."
The other bike Bailey mentions is a 1936 Norton ES2 with a 500cc engine.
Abbott purchased the Norton two years ago from a friend and has been restoring it ever since.
"I only know of two Nortons like this in the country and one of them is this one," Abbott said.
Though the investment is high to fix these bikes up, it's well worth it for Abbott, who considers them keepsakes.
"Just looking at (the Indian) it boggles my mind that I did all of this, to see the before and after," he said.
Abbott offered to loan the Indian to the Virginia Museum of Transportation in Roanoke but said he never heard back.
He said he will never give it away or sell it, but since he never rides it, he wants people to see it.
His love for bikes started when he was a kid riding on the backs of motorcycles with his grandfather and father.
He points to a black-and-white photo of his dad and grandfather seated on a 1952 Ariel motorcycle.
"That's the one I learned to ride on," he said. "Once you ride them, you'll never go back. It's the freedom. It's just a great feeling."
Now in the wigwam, Abbott has his own 1955 Ariel with a 1,000cc engine that he bought in South Wales.
Bailey, who owns a 1997 Suzuki Intruder and a Honda Goldwing, has taken several trips with Abbott to places like New York and South Dakota.
"We found out very quickly that we both liked motorcycles, and it's been a camaraderie ever since," Bailey said. "Sometimes we take off riding somewhere and don't even know where're we're going. One day we headed down the (Blue Ridge) Parkway and ended up in Asheville."
Bailey describes Abbott as a "free spirit" and "kind of his own person."
"He's just a neat person to know," he said. "He's one of those people. ... You don't meet many people in your life that you're really glad you get to be friends with, and he fits in that category. He would give you the shirt off his back."