Prairie Dust, Motorcycles and a Typewriter. The story of Bernie Nicholson
Travel by Motor-Bike and Save
The West has its problems, and travel is one
The ox-cart and buckboard have served us and gone.
The railways will take you, and all your spare cash.
and likewise the auto, a fortune in gas.
The gas for the auto, that worried you so.
No longer a problem because you will know,
You’re making an “eighty” a gallon or more,
When cruising around on an “Ariel Four”
-Alfred Nicholson 1936
Alfred had two sons, Bernie and Lawrence. Their story, and the story of Nicholson Bros cycles of Saskatoon and the book “Modern Motorcycle Mechanics” is told by Greg Williams in “Prairie Dust, Motorcycles and a Typewriter.” Everybody has a copy of the bright orange book, or maybe an early edition with the red cover. If you don’t have a copy, click that link above and get one right now. A very fat 763 pages, hardbound and less than $50 brand new from Greg.
MMM tells, in very simple terms, how to service classic motorcycles of the 1930s-1970’s. Not just Ariel Square fours, but Indians, HDs, other Brit bikes and Japanese and Italian bikes of the 60’s and 70’s are covered. There are just a few books that really tell a modern man how to work on old bikes, and this is one of them. He describes how to the job, what tools you’ll need, and how to make do if you don’t have (or can’t afford to buy) a special tool or fixture that HD, Indian or Triumph recommend that you buy from the factory.
Instead of telling y’all about the virtues of MMM, I wanted to draw your attention to the story of the man himself, as told by Greg. The brothers were raised in the rough and tumble Wild West of Canada during WWI. They learned how to fix things around the farm, as everybody did in that time and place, but their learning went further. As teenagers they bought a new DOT from England via mail order. Experience taught them much and then with further schooling in mechanics, they learned how to repair bent footpegs and handlebars after a fall on the unimproved roads, and also how to bore a cylinder and do a valve job when it was needed.
Bernie took his knowledge and passed it on to others by writing MMM, adding new editions multiple times over 30 years. He didn’t have a blog or a website, instead he wrote on his typewriter and then published his own work.
The Prairie book covers Bernie’s work with the military, the family trips to England and Bernie’s correspondence with Bert Hopwood, Ed Turner, Floyd Clymer and others. The stories of the era were my favorite parts of the book, as the issues of the old days were understood and dealt with. By reviewing his letters, the reader gains an insight to the man as well as the times that he lived in.
Bernie taught himself about bike repairs, but he also taught WWII soldiers, and he taught the repairmen that worked at Nicholson Bros. As can be seen in MMM, his knowledge was broad and he was a patient man. He created the Boner Board not to shame people with their mistakes, but to hang them on the wall so that others could learn.
You can also find MMM on Facebook here.
A nice read; at 142 pages softbound I tore through it quickly. A big thank you is extended to the author for researching the Nicholson family and sharing their stories with us.
All photos in this article are copyrighted Greg Williams 2009. Used by permission.