James Moore will soon revisit 1952, reliving a 61-year-old memory.
When he was 10 years old, the Jefferson County native saw his first “Famous James” motorcycle, a British bike with a 125cc engine, gear shift on the gas tank and top speed of 41 miles per hour.
“I fell in love with that motorcycle,” Moore said.
Unfortunately, the bike sold then for about $150 new, more than his father made in an entire month. They simply could not afford one.
Two years later, during the summer of 1952, Moore would ride his bicycle to watch Gene Milam work on motorcycles. “I wanted one so badly,” he said.
Directly across Sixteenth Street from Milam’s motorcycle shop in Pine Bluff was an establishment called Herbies where bikers would hang out and drink beer. One of the bikers was Preacher West. West owned a number of bikes, including a “Famous James” that Milam had rebuilt for him, and had for sale in the shop.
“Never knew why, but Gene painted the bike chartreuse,” Moore said. “I don’t recall what the price was, but in that time it was probably $50 to $75.”
While Moore was watching Milam working on bikes one day, West walked over from Herbies.
“He said ‘Hey, Mo-boy, you want to ride that little James?'” Moore recalled. “I instantly said ‘Yes!'”
West got the bike out and started it, with it facing Taylor Field.
“He turned it over to me and I got on,” Moore said. “I revved up the engine, put it in low gear and popped the clutch. The little bike popped a wheelie with me and headed toward Taylor Field. Nobody thought that little engine would do that, but at that time I probably only weighed about 75 pounds. I can still hear Preacher holler ‘Look at that kid popping a wheelie on that James.'”
As Moore neared Taylor Field, about two blocks away, he slowed down to turn the bike around and the engine went dead. He couldn’t restart it.
“Preacher, seeing what had happened, hopped on his Harley and rode to where I was,” Moore said. “He started it, and I rode it back to the shop. That was the only time I ever rode one.”
Sixty-one years later, Moore would own a Famous James.
About three months ago, Moore happened to see a 1947 Famous James for sale in a Jennings, Louisiana museum. It had been completely restored and the engine had not been started since restoration. The owner was asking about half what it was worth.
“I talked my wife into letting me buy it, and one of my sons went with me to get it,” Moore said. “I didn’t even try to start it until we had been home for a week. I was playing with it, everyday, trying to be sure that the engine was well oiled before firing it up.”
After a week, Moore decided it was time to start the engine.
“The little engine started on the third kick and looked like a mosquito fogger, due to the oil I had poured in,” Moore said. “After running for about fifteen seconds, it just settled down and ran like it should.”
Soon, Moore will take his Famous James to the corner of Sixteenth and Ohio, and revisit 1952, with the thought that this time, the engine will not go dead while he turns it around.
“I am well aware that it is not going to pop a wheelie with me, with the weight I have today, but it will be a memory relived, after 61 years,” he said.
After that, he said, he may never ride it again.
“It may never be ridden again,” he said, “but after all these years, I have my Famous James.”