The Waterbury Republican
DODGING HEADMASTERS AND CAMELS
By Bud Wilkinson
John Harris owns two motorcycles. Both are red and both are uncommon, but that's where the similarity ends. One is a 2000 Moto Guzzi Jackal, which he bought last Christmas from a guy in Michigan.
The Jackal is his regular ride. The other is a 1920 Indian Scout, which was once part of a museum collection in Florida.
He keeps the pristine Scout in a glass display behind the bar of The White Horse Country Pub and Restaurant on Route 202 in Marbledale.
A rider for most of his life, Harris has owned many bikes over that period, beginning with a 1956 A.J.S. that he essentially got for free as a teenager. He was 15 and traded his bicycle for it. The bicycle went to a man who also owned a Vincent with a sidecar.
"In his potting shed was this old A.J.S." Harris recalled last Sunday, chatting in the bar of the pub that he opened late last June. "He showed me how to start it, kicked it."
Harris lived 20 miles away, so he did what was necessary to get the single cylinder, 600cc A.J.S. home. He rode it. "Terribly illegal, of course," he said.
He was attending a private school at the time, which banned its students from operating motor vehicles. Being a cheeky teenager, this prohibition predictably displeased him.
So, of course, he rode the A.J.S. against the rules. "I got kicked out of school. Rode it across the cricket pitch," reported Harris.
As you might suspect by now, Harris grew up in England, in London, and endured the year round misery of riding in English weather. "You buy the Sunday Newspaper, put it under your jacket. That was your winter coat." The A.J.S. lasted until he was 21 or 22. "It just basically seized up and sat in the garage," said Harris, who nonetheless has fond memories of his fist bike as well as some other lasting mementoes. "I've still got scars on my leg from the kick-back," he said.
The next bike that Harris acquired was a 125cc Italian made Garelli race bike, which overlapped the A.J.S. His strongest memory of it was being able to "take it to a hundred."
During the late 1970s, Harris lived in Bermuda for three years and owned a Honda, which he thinks was a CB175. He then spent two years in Bahrain, owned a BMW R90 and rode in the desert. No deer to worry about there, just camels.
"You go flying around a corner and there's a camel standing in the middle of the street," he said. A housemate ended up in hospital after borrowing his Hillman car and broad siding one. The 1980s saw Harris transplanted to California where he owned another Honda he thinks this one was a CB550 which he rode to Seattle and back. In the 1990s, he acquired a Harley-Davidson Sportster XL1000, a model made during the years when AMF owned the company.
That's a period that Harley aficionados try to forget. "Terrible bike," he said. "It wasn't good for cornering. I'm a British guy. I like weaving and bobbing."
The Harley was followed by a period of abstinence. "My wife did'nt ride, so after the Harley, I did'nt ride for many years," he said. That is, until this year after his wife, Lisa, did some research into Moto Guzzis.
A resident of Washington for 10 years having previously lived in Westport, Harris was a full-time builder of luxury spec homes until hearing from a local realtor that the then Marbledale Pub might be for sale. He snatched it up, remodeled it and opened The White Horse last June 26th, complete with the Indian behind the bar.
"This has always been a road house, always been popular with bikers, and I wanted to give a nod to that," he said, noting that the Scout was "seven feet long and perfectly balanced." In showing off the "motocycle," as motorcycles were called at the time, Harris pointed out the suicide shifter, the polished nickel exhaust system and the white tires, and deemed it "a masterpiece of engineering." It was a 1920 Scout that New Zealand motorcycle racer Burt Munro modified and set world speed records on at the Bonneville Salt Flats, a story recounted in the movie "The World's Fastest Indian," which starred Anthony Hopkins as Munro.
On one wall inside the bar at the
White Horse are framed photos of old Indians as well, including one with an admiring Pancho Villa. Harris also has parts catalogs for early Indians which reveal that accessories at the time include many items that are standard today. One proclaims "Don't Let 'Em Bump You. Use an Indian Stop Light." The item is a tail light which was an add-on.
The White Horse Country Pub and Restaurant has received numerous write-ups for its food yes, shepherd's pie is on the menu but it also has Old Speckled Hen on tap. There's also non-motorcyle memorabilia from England including a table in the bar dating back to 1580 that came from Leeds Castle, which was built in 1119. "Imagine the conversations around the table," said Harris.
For riders, though, it's the Indian centerpiece behind the bar that will grab all the attention. If you want to learn more about it, just ask for Harris. He'll be glad to tell you.