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R.I.P. Frank Farrington, aka “Radco”

April 17, 2012

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.

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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.

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17 Comments leave one →
  1. April 17, 2012 12:16 pm

    Hi,Pete
    I was not familiar with Mr. Farrington or his work, sad to see the end of an era, judging from
    his illustrations.
    Keep battered copies of Irving & Nicholson in the shop,…and John Muir, though it’s been decades since I owned a VW.
    Would like to add Farrington to this august company ..even if only in pdf.

    Can I get that address off-list? Davidabl

  2. Doug Lyon permalink
    April 17, 2012 2:13 pm

    Hi Pete, I saw Mr F’s Obit in one of the Comics recently. After my copy of Tuning for Speed, I now come back to Radco time and again when I need that nudge to just get on and do stuff. His writing style is infectious, and spurred on by Frank, one can tackle almost anything! A wealth of knowledge thankfully put down in print before it disappeared. Can’t think why it’s not been reprinted again as I recommend his book to anyone and everyone, only to have them return to me aghast at the prices being asked for a copy! R.I.P. Frank, and thanks for the help given over the years. My veteran owes a lot to you!

  3. Tim O'Keeffe permalink
    April 18, 2012 6:25 pm

    Can some one post a link to his bio or obit.
    Thanks, TIm

    • April 18, 2012 7:45 pm

      Hi Tim. I don’t have a link to his bio or orbit. But there was a brief note in the recent The Classic Motorcycle that he had died and they will be writing something about him in next month’s issue.

  4. anonymous permalink
    April 26, 2012 8:55 am

    Hi there
    Thank you for the fantastic tribute to Frank Farrington you wrote. I am Franks step-son, and Dorothy, Franks wife and my mum, thought it was a fitting and kind tribute.

    you will be pleased to know that efforts are underway to republish Radco’s book once again. In the interest of fairness, any unauthorised use of pdf files or copies of his book are frowned upon and a breach of copyright laws as i am sure you would appreciate.

    However, i have sugested that both electronic versions as well as the good old hardback old school version be considered if the publishing goes ahead.

    We will keep you posted.
    many thanks again
    Nick Roberts

    • April 26, 2012 8:59 am

      Hello Nick, I’m sure that Frank was a great guy, and you are lucky to have him for a dad. Please keep in touch regarding the re-publishing of The Vintage Motorcyclist’s Workshop. You’ll find a very large group of people that would love to buy a new copy of the book, and I’d be glad to help spread the word when the book is available.

      Regards,
      Pete

      • Dorothy Farrington permalink
        September 9, 2013 12:51 am

        Hello Pete,

        I am Frank Farrington’s wife and I have just seen your kind comment about Frank . You may have already heard that Frank’s book ‘The Vintage Motorcyclists’ Workshop’ has now been reprinted.

        He was a good writer and even I who did not know anything about motorbikes could see he made it all sound interesting and humerous at times. He did have a whicked sence of humour!

        Regards Dorothy Farrington

    • T Stothert permalink
      November 27, 2012 3:50 am

      Is this the same Frank farrington that was an old pal of my dads -Tom Stothert from Lathom?

      • December 4, 2012 9:19 am

        I’m not sure Tom, but I suppose it was him.

      • Dorothy Farrington permalink
        August 25, 2013 11:20 am

        Hello Tom,
        I am Frank Farrington’s wife and have just found your note about your father maybe knowing Frank when they were young. Frank was brought up in Ormskirk, just down the road from Lathom, and went to Ormskirk Grammer School, so they could well have been pals, especially if your father had anything to do with motorbikes!
        Regards, Dorothy Farrington

      • Anonymous permalink
        September 8, 2013 2:38 am

        I am Tim Stothert, if it’s the same Frank farrington, he used to come round to our House Cranes Hall in Lathom in a 3 wheel morgan ( I can see him now with his goggles and leather jacket on)and talk veteran cars with my Dad who had a few cars, includin a 1904 Daraqq, a 1910 humber,an argyll etc. etc

        .http://www.christies.com/lotfinder/lot/1904-british-duryea-three-cylinder-4532403-details.aspx?intObjectID=4532403
        Tim

      • Dorothy Farrington permalink
        September 9, 2013 12:30 am

        Hello Tom,

        Yes that was Frank. He had a red three wheeler Morgan, plus the goggles, and only sold the Morgan a few years ago. I know he had it since he was in his 20s but he had another before that which was green. He was sorry in a way to see it go, but he had made three cars over the past 20 years and he also had an old BSA motorbike which he enjoyed riding until he passed away, so plenty to occupy him.
        Not quite sure what the Christies website meant at the end of your message.

        Regards Dorothy

      • Anonymous permalink
        September 9, 2013 11:14 pm

        Dorothy, I am really sorry to have heard he died we were just going to look him up as Steve Pilkington said to me he was still around-very sad, he was such an interesting chap. The Christies sale showed one car that Frank would probably have helped my Pa with..bw
        Tim Stothert

    • October 25, 2016 3:18 pm

      Hello Nick. I was recently trying to reach your mother Dorothy, but I’m unsure if my email went through. Can you please email me on pyoung (at) 614engineering.com Thanks!

  5. Dorothy Farrington permalink
    September 9, 2013 12:31 am

    Sorry Tim about the typing error re your name! Dorothy

  6. Mike Thomas permalink
    March 4, 2014 1:10 pm

    Hi. I knew Frank quite well and visited his workshop from time to time, he helped me with my 1933 Austin Seven, we jacked it up with a plank for leverage and many bricks. Frank would scream past my house on his Scott, he was a kind and modest guy and was polite about my scruffy Matchlesses and my Dominator and other always unkempt bikes I had. I’m so sorry he has died. He was one of the people I had on my hit list to find and chew the fat with.

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