November 15, 2023 at 8:50 a.m.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and a Young Man from Hope, Ind.

By A.C. Reeves

My father, Alton Cory Reeves, was born June 06, 1896, and raised in Knightstown, Ind., the younger of four brothers, and a sister, having lost a younger sister when she was 10 years old. I’m not sure when he moved to Edinburgh, Ind., but I did discover, after some research in my later years, that he owned Reeves Motor Company there. It was a Model A-era Ford dealership. In later years, he moved the business to Hope, Ind. By running across various documents and putting pieces of the puzzle together, I based my hunches on knowing that his brother Lawrence (known as LE) had a Ford agency in Columbus, Ind. So, it made sense they established a branch in Hope. 

I recall my mother often saying that Ford took the franchise away from my uncle, so it was likely the reason the Hope dealership was gone before I arrived upon the scene. Ironically, LE (Uncle Lawrance) operated a Ford farm machinery business on State Street in Columbus when I was young.

My mother, Lucille Hudson, was born July 22, 1910, the oldest of four sisters and a brother. She never talked much of her father, maybe a time or two saying he was a mean man. In later years, my cousin Arthur, two months older than me, and son of mom’s only brother, Paul, researched our family and discovered that the grandfather we never knew was indeed not a winner. The grandmother we never knew died in pregnancy as Lucille was finishing high school. Her best friend was Gladys Buell, and her parents gave Lucille a place to live and finish school. The siblings were distributed among various families. 

From journals and dairies, I learned Lucille was acting more like a mother than a big sister. After attending business college in Columbus, she worked at various jobs. One of them was for Mr. Reeves at his Ford agency. As things often transpire, they married. He was 14 years older.         

All this is to set the scene of my arrival on May 7, 1943, a surprise, as dad was just shy of 47 and mom aged 33, nearing the age of not producing offspring. Dad was so proud to have a son!

We made a great family. As I grew older, I often heard my father say, “When you go to college”, thus I did not know there was an option. Later in life, I found that Alton was studying at the University of Cincinnati, to become an architect. Unfortunately, WWI was raging, and the government began recruiting civil and highway engineers for a newly formed military unit, the 23rd Engineers. My father to-be joined the Army. He often said, they made him an engineer and he pushed a wheelbarrow all over France. History did show that our Army was able to gain control over the Germans in France due to having roads maintained to support their advances. 

Alton participated in three major offensives in France and survived to return home. Two of his three brothers also served, as officers. Dad said he was a proud private!

Alton was appointed as postmaster in Hope, Ind., and filled that position until several years later when he chose to transfer to a vacated rural route to not have the stress of the office. I recently discovered letters to Alton indicating the process of his nomination that was going through the US Senate. His actual appointment was confirmed by a document signed by no other than Franklin D. Roosevelt!

In May, my mother attended a sorority convention on a Saturday and Sunday. Dad came home from work on Saturday, and all I recall is he did not feel well that weekend. When mother returned Sunday evening and discovered his issues, she called Doc Dudding. In those days, the local doctor made house calls. I recall him saying, “Alton, if you’re not better tomorrow, we’ll have Norman run you to the hospital.” Norman was the local funeral service, and they did hospital transport as dedicated ambulances were not established. 

About 7 a.m. the next morning as I left for school, Norman was loading dad. I was in Mr. Fisher’s class upstairs in the old school on Washington Street in Hope; about 10 a.m. I was paged to the office. Why? I never did anything to warrant being summoned to the office! As I descended the first flight of stairs, I could see my Uncle Ben and wondered why he was at school. Turning the final flight to the main floor I could see my mother near the old circular cast iron drinking fountain, looking as if she was crying. As I approached, I heard “Your father is gone.” 

We went home with me in misbelief. I recall lying on my bottom bunk bed asking God why he took my father?! This was the day before my 14th birthday. The day after my birthday, May 8, was my dad’s funeral.   

I realized a few years later that I never actually graduated from the 8th grade. I had a very sore large ingrown toenail causing pain and Doc Dudding removed the complete nail. I could not walk and, since mom was working in Columbus, I stayed a few days with Aunt Gladys. She could tend to me while my foot was elevated. The school said since my grades were always good, with the funeral and surgery, I need not return the last few days of the year. 

I proceeded from the 8th grade at Hope elementary school to a freshman at the newly formed Hauser High. We were the first class to attend all four years as Hauser, and in 1961 graduated 57 students.

Dad had often said, not if you go to college, but when. So, in the autumn of 1961 I joined a freshman class of 4000 at Purdue University. From 57 to 4000! A Hauser graduate and friend, Mike Stafford, shared a room in the men’s dormitory, called H2. These dorms housed 700 students and contained two large dining facilities. To earn spending money, I began working in one of those dining halls. 

One evening an older student I had gotten to know while working in the food service, asked me if I’d like to take a motorcycle ride. We were not close friends, and I barely knew what a cycle was. For whatever reason, I consented. So, one evening we went for a ride. I think it might have been a BMW.  I did that one ride. He made a statement I still recite today to those who may be tempted to ride a motorcycle, “When you think you know what you are doing, be careful as you may be about to make a mistake.”

He cited a time he was riding in his town and to impress some girls on the sidewalk, made a stupid move that resulted in a wreck in the middle of an intersection. Mostly damaged was his pride. But when you think……

My second year at Purdue, I pledged Alpha Kappa Lambda Fraternity and lived in the house and not the dorm. A couple of years later, one of my pledge brothers bought a new shiny Honda, a small bike to putt around campus. He let me ride it occasionally and I got the bug! 

I placed an order at a Lafayette cycle shop and a few short days later, realized I could not afford it. The dealer graciously allowed me to cancel that order. 

The summer before I was to finish school, while home for vacation, I ventured into a Marine Motors shop in Columbus, which sold Honda motorcycles. Mr. Honda was not only a great engineer, but a savvy marketer. He came up with the slogan “You meet the nicest people on a Honda." The ad countered the stigma of the Hell’s Angel types on bikes. I saw this nice, red used 150cc Honda sitting there. I actually do not recall how long I shopped, or the price quoted to own that bike. I think I was working in a factory that summer, so I must have had some money. That bike became mine! 

I had not discussed this with my mother, and her husband Oscar -- whom she had married when I was mid-way through college. My school friend Gary was married and lived about two blocks away and had a garage at their rented house. So, I parked my pride and joy there. I’d go there and get my bike to ride to a summer job and return it each evening. When my folks spent their two-week vacation in northern Indiana fishing, I could keep it at home. I miscalculated their return, and they discovered something new. All that was said. But before breakfast each morning, Oscar would retrieve the Indianapolis Star newspaper from the front porch and carefully scan the complete paper at the breakfast table. Any time he could find a news item of a motorcycle wreck, it was then read aloud. My solution was to wait unto he ate and walked to the nearby factory where he was employed, then hurry and eat my breakfast quickly, run to the factory where I was working and clock in. Eventually, he and mom accepted my cycle.