R.I.P. Frank Farrington, aka “Radco”
I learned last night that Frank Farrington has died. Likely you will know him by his pen name Radco, and his book The Vintage Motorcyclists’ Workshop.
Frank Farrington was a long time judge at the Stafford show, as well as an accomplished mechanic and restorer of two and four wheeled machines. I cannot say much more about the man, as we never met. Our only communication was one way, from his book to me. (and also through his writing in the VMCC journal) But he was a great shopsmith and a communicator, and taught me a lot about motorcycle restoration in the last 15-20 years that I’ve been reading and re-reading his book.
The OcchioLungo bookshelves are stuffed with books about the history of technology, with a variety of subjects. Some books were written 100+ years ago and describe how the machines were built as new, others were written 50 years ago and describe how to tune motors for more speed. Some more modern books even describe how to find old machines and enjoy them. But while Phil Irving’s Tuning for Speed and Bernie Nicholson’s Modern Motorcycle Mechanics are better known, they describe how to tune and maintain a bike from new. Radco wrote his book from a different perspective: how to restore an old, worn-out motorbike. Working on a decrepit machine presents many challenges compared to tuning a new one. Parts may be missing and unobtainable through the vendors, or maybe they are rusty and broken but salvageable though hard work. Radco wrote thoroughly about all the systems and sub-systems of a motorbike, including those items specific to the early machines from the 19teens and 1920s. Topics included how to make a new seat cover, how to do copper and nickel plating at home, putting new teeth on an old sprocket, check a connecting rod to see if it is straight, rebuilding a hand-plunger oil pump, lace up spokes in a wheel, make a pushrod using a few common tools, turn a piston on a lathe, etc. This approach to his book was a very welcome change to the common how-to books that only described how to remove and replace items with new parts.
His book was first published in 1986 at 247 pages, and has gone through several reprints over the years. It has been sadly out of print for some time, and the prices for used copies have climbed to over $200 each. UPDATE: THE BOOK HAS NOW BEEN REPRINTED AND IS AVAILABLE AT ABE BOOKS, AMAZON, ETC.
Reading The Vintage Motorcyclists’ Workshop and working on motorbikes has given me a lot of pleasure over the years. In fact, that book was one of the things that motivated me to start documenting my time with the machines in this website. Thank you Frank, may you rest in peace.
Following are some images from the book.