32nd Annual AJS/Matchless Jampot Rallye
June 26th-28th, 2009
Bucksteep Manor, Washington, MA
By Frank L. "Cranky Frankie" Palmeri, Kahuna
Two years ago, on a Saturday night in June, I was lying in my trailer at the 30th annual AJS/Matchless Jampot Rallye at Bucksteep Manor in Washington, MA. I'd not been feeling particularly well, so I decided to hit the sack early. Then my wife says this group of maniacs, carrying a lit torch, started to head for my trailer. Truly being my better half and always looking out for my back, she valiantly intercepted them to try and prevent the onslaught, but soon after the door to my trailer opened and a bearded face peeked in:
"Uh, Frank, you want to be the next Kahuna?"
"What? Kahuna?" I mumbled, in a sleepy, beer and ibuprofen induced haze. "Uh, OK."
So began my two year reign as Kahuna, or grand leader, of what is quite possibly the oldest continuous meeting of British motorcycle enthusiasts in the US. What a PITA, I mean, what an honor :)
My family and I have been attending the Jampot for about twenty years, and have come to love the rallye and it's quirky assortment of deliberately different aficionados and inebriates. Not wanting to screw up the magical chemistry, the only change I made last year was to introduce "Jampot Jeopardy." This is my take on the classic TV game show, with answers and questions fit for British bike fans. It went over big, but because last year was my first time being Kahuna, last year's rallye went by in a blur. The thing is Kahunas only serve a two year term, so just when you get good at it you hand the job off to someone else. Prevents burn-out and keeps the rallye fresh.So this year, the 32nd Jampot Rallye, was to be my crowning glory. I was ready!
On Friday at 0730 I left my house in Albany, NY in my faithful mini-van, chock full of bottled beer, soda, water, and snacks. In tow was my large red enclosed trailer filled with camping gear, folding canopy, an XR100 dirt bike for the kids, and my wife's 1993 BMW K75. She was driving up later with the rest of my family, and I want her to be able to ride if she wanted to. As for me I didn't take one of my bikes, because I needed to devote the next 50+ hours to "Kahunaing," so there would be no riding for me. That's OK because, like Bob Dylan sings, sometimes "you gotta serve somebody."
First stop was George's Liquor Store in Pittsfield, MA. The construction in downtown Pittsfield is formidable, but "Bitchin' Betty", the lovely lady that lives in my Garmin Quest GPS, got me to George's safely, where I picked up a full keg of Berkshire Brewing Company's Steel Rail Ale, the traditional Jampot elixir of choice. Malty and mellow, with just enough hops to delight the palate, SRA is the right lubricant to allow unfettered judgment of the many fine bikes that always flock to the Jampot.
When I arrived at Bucksteep ex-Kahuna Jim Chivers was already there, setting up tables, chairs, putting in garbage liners, etc. He'd already assembled "Plumstead Palace," a phalanx of canopies strung together where only the most revered Jampot bikes, AJS and Matchless, can proudly be put on display. Jim is the kind of guy who does all those thankless, behind the scenes tasks that you never thing about but that always need to get done. Every time I meet a hard working, honest guy like Jim I say to myself why can't this guy be my mayor, or my senator, etc., but that's another topic and the Jampot Rallye is just lucky to have him.
Got the van unloaded, parked the trailer, and then proceeded to set up the sign-in tent. My goal was to be at the table to welcome rallyers at 0900 sharp, and while I missed my target slightly I was just happy to have made it there with all the gear, supplies, and paperwork. There is a lot to keep track of when you're organizing anything, and seeing all the checked off items on my well worn list was good, believe me.
Friday was an iffy weather day. It would be gray, cool and dry, then a sprinkle, then a downpour, then gray, cool, and dry again, etc., all day long. The pattern never varied, but you can't control that. As bikes and riders arrived I did my best to make them feel welcome. This year's give-away was ball caps, and somehow seeing everyone wearing Jampot Rallye hats just added to the feeling of comradery and togetherness. It was cool to be sure.
I've always said Friday night at the Jampot Rallye is the greatest night of the year. John and Leona Rancitelli and their crew of volunteers put on another barbecue to be proud of, with dishes that would make a fine Italian restaurant proud. John is another ex-Kahuna who works tirelessly as well. Add in a roaring campfire, dozens of cherry British bikes, the legendary "Party Porch" filled with old and new friends telling tales of wonder and amazement, that big keg of Steel Rail Ale and a stogie or two. Makes you glad to be alive.
Saturday's breakfast spot was Ozzie's in Hinsdale, the same spot it's been for the past few years. Groups of riders left in waves, while I satisfied myself with a day old bagel and a banana while sitting at the sign-in tent. In my mind I was riding my B44 or Commando or GL or TDM down the mountain, feeling and hearing the thundering roar of all the long-stroke singles, the hum of the parallel twins, and the cammy whine of the big triples. There is nothing like a British bike group ride, filled with pudding basin helmets, aviator goggles, and long"mufflers" (scarves) flailing in the wind. It's a part of life and motorcycling that is special in many ways.
The big thrill of the morning came when I realized I didn't know where my fanny pack was. Don't laugh, when I do things like this I wear a fanny pack so I can keep my money and the event's money separate. On Friday night I'd gone down to Pittsfield to pick up a second keg of Steel Rail Ale, so I knew I had it there because I paid for the keg, but that was the last I'd seen of the fanny pack. When I woke up in my trailer in the morning it was gone. I started to get the word out to the Jampotters at Bucksteep, and Char, my lovely wife, let the Jampotters at Ozzie's know it was missing, but for a good three hours I felt like crap. It wasn't the money, believe me; I would have been good for that. It's just the principle of the thing: when you're given responsibility it behooves you to do your best, and I'd failed at one of the most important of the Kahuna's duties. I was feeling lower than a midget at a urinal right about then.
Fortunately, after about the sixth time I'd completely gone through my trailer, I found the black fanny pack lying in the black bag that our tent goes in. I'd flung one of my wife's bags in there, and when I yanked that out to search it again I saw the fanny pack. You could hear that sigh of relief over an open pipe Victor for sure. By the way, throughout the whole missing fanny pack fiasco, I was sure that if any Jampotter had found it they would have returned it. I have no doubt about that at all. When you've been together as a group for 32 years that's the kind of feeling you get.
Saturday was filled with the usual group rides: a modern ride for newer machines, a "Blast from the Past" ride for pre-69s, and a vintage dirt ride. This year the formal vintage dirt ride got canceled, as ride leader John Andrews showed up instead with his new Matco tool truck. John is a new Matco dealer, and if you like tools being in that truck is like being in a candy store. The legendary October Mountain trail roads did not go undiscovered however, as Ed Allyn of Allyn Air Seat fame showed up with his Bultaco and ripped around the mountain for three hours of trail riding fun. When I get my B44 Victor Special back on the road I'm looking forward to doing it as well. I'm sure it's awesome.
Then my Skinny Tire Motorcycle Club buddies Chuck Barbaro and his lovely wife Kathy Giglio rode up. Chuck can trade bike stories with the best of them, and I could see him having a good time with some Jampotters. Kathy, his better half, can carve corners like one of the (better) guys, and even brings along home made brownies on our rides, too. Sure enough she baked a tray for the rallye. They had to leave early for a wedding, but I sure hope they can make it back next year. Steve Rzany, another STMCer, showed up with his custom, award winning BMW, the "Junkyard Dog." Steve had some parts to sell as well. I know he got out on the modern ride, and I hope he comes back as well so I can join him next year.
Unfortunately, we had a problem on the "Blast from the Past" ride, when the group got split up after leaving a tour of Jimmy Hoellerich's Museum of Vintage Trail Bikes in Cheshire, MA. I take the blame for this as I failed to have route sheets printed up for all the scheduled rides. I've been on group rides in unfamiliar areas before, and it's no fun when you lose the pack for whatever reason. In my group riding career I've tried everything - route sheets, tail gunners, waiting at the next intersection, etc. and still there are often problems. Personally, I always try to watch for the rider in my rear view mirror, but even that doesn't always work. Again, had I handed out route sheets at least the group would have known where they were supposed to be. I do apologize profusely.
Back at Bucksteep it was fun watching my wife teach my daughters how to ride the dirt bike. On the one hand we know motorcycling is the most fun thing you can do with you clothes on. On the other hand it has inherent risks, and these are my daughters we are talking about here. I just hope that however far they decide to go in motorcycling that they find nothing but safe, happy fun, like I have.
Saturday night's dinner was a chicken buffet catered by Chef Maureen Brennan of Bucksteep Manor. I'd been working with Maureen on this dinner for many months. It's very difficult when you can't provide an exact head count, but that's how it is with motorcycling events. If the weather is good you get a big turnout, if it's not everyone stays home. The only fly in the ointment was that I hadn't bothered to order any drinks, because we had all of our refreshments on the Party Porch. Then the dinner got moved down to the big tent by the manner house. Had to do it in case of rain, but I never thought about leaving the drinks behind. It's little details like this that cause event organizers to get that lovely gray hair shade.
After dinner we did Jampot Jeopardy II. It's always hard to get people to play, but I finally roped in my BSA buddy Costa Zarifi, from Ontario, Dave Cronin, also from Canada, and beautiful Denise Talabach, the Ducati riding wife of and sidecar "monkey" for local vintage racer and expert wrench Pete Talabach (and an ex-Kahuna as well). As the game progressed I really appreciated having a lady playing, because it made me realize my categories are too technical. You shouldn't have to be a wrench to enjoy British bikes or play Jampot Jeopardy, and if I ever do it again (and that's a BIG if) I'll make sure to alter the categories appropriately.
Dave wound up nipping Costa at the end to win the game. Dave won a digital vernier caliper, Costa won a motorcycle wheel chock, and Denise won a ratchet set (as if Pete needs more tools). The funny thing was the game had been close, and when I uncovered the final jeopardy category, "Motorcycle Movies," someone decided to yell out"On Any Sunday," which of course was the answer. I must admit I lost it, and again I apologize. It's just that when you work on something very hard you want it to be damn near perfect.
Funniest exchange of the weekend: Costa's son Alex kept asking me about Jampot Jeopardy, and as we talked I could sense that he had no idea what I was talking about. Finally in desperation I said "Haven't you ever seen the TV show Jeopardy?" He snaps back, "Hey, I'm nine years old. I watch kids shows!" Game, set, match to Alex. Thanks also to daughter Heather and her friend Allison for assisting with Jampot Jeopardy II, I couldn't have done it without them.
Saturday night finished with singing around the campfire with music provided by BSA/BMW rider Dave Haight. Dave is a professional musician and sings the blues like nobody else. Joining Dave was Jampot regular Bill Cawley's finance Roxie, and she laid down the rhythm on guitar with aplomb. When you can be with biker friends around the camp fire, under the clear New England night sky, with the stars shining down as the music and good times flow, you know you've done something right with your life.
Sunday morning breakfast was again in the big tent. Right after we had the raffle, with the usual mixture of British bike parts and other weird and wonderful things. Funniest moment was when big Howard Ziff read the tale of how fellow Jampotters tried, unsuccessfully, to get a non-running airhead going (those damn BMW final drives again). Howard had us rolling in the aisles laughing. Rest assured Pete Talabach will do the right thing with that bike.
New this year was the Perry Gerheart Founders Award, presented to the rallye attendee who best exemplifies the Jampot spirit. The award includes free admission to next year's rallye. Here's what it says:
"For best exemplifying the Spirit of the Jampot Rallye as chosen by the Creaky Old Jampot Organizational Networking, and Entertainment Sub-committees (COJONES). May good friends, good roads, and sunny days be with you always. Tally ho!"
Peter Rocke received the award, though by the time I'd made it home he'd already text me saying he knows plenty of others who deserve it more. The thing is jolly, good natured Peter, with his Santa Claus build, beard, and disposition, is such a Jampot fixture that I couldn't imagine giving it to anyone else. He's just great.
Then it was time to name the new Kahuna. My goal was to choose someone who I know would carry on the tradition and give it their all. There have been sixteen Jampot Rallye Kahunas, and while each has run the rallye in their own unique way, they all took it upon themselves to do the Jampot right. That's why I'm so happy with my choice, John Harris from CT. John has been attending the Jampot even longer than me, and is a key part of Italian Day, the Italian Motorcycle Owner's Club September event in Sturbridge, MA. I know John will do an excellent job. Maybe I can talk him into getting us an MV Augusta F4 for some demo rides.
Then some more Skinny Tire Motorcycle Club members rode up, Jake Herzog and Brad Moak. After kicking the tires a little I gave them a couple of rallye hats and they then set to work helping out with the tear-down. Something about motorcycling (or is it baseball caps?) just brings out the best in people.
When I got home on Sunday afternoon I had to unload the trailer, unpack the van, etc. When I was done I was physically drained. I'd like to thank my wife Char for all the help. She knew enough to just let me lay low, and she helped me out with so many details. Without her help and devotion it would have been much harder.
The 32nd annual AJS/Matchless Jampot Rallye is now officially history. While I didn't do everything right I did try my hardest. Please wish John Harris best of luck in his Kahunaship, and remember always to keep it British. Vrooom, vrooom!
By Ben English
I did it again and it was good. I joined a motley crew of riders and camp followers at Bucksteep Manor in Washington , Massachusetts for the 2009 (32nd Annual) Jampot Rally. We rode around the Berkshire Mountains , on old bikes, new bikes, shiny show winning bikes, barn fresh beaters, and whatever else suited us. Quite amazingly, we hardly got rained on at all. Except for when we did.
Close study of weather forecasts occupied everyone throughout the preceding week and during the rally itself. The only consistency in all reports was that an “unstable” system was hovering over the region. I think that means random and unpredictable, and in that the prediction, heh-heh, was correct. Friday I attempted to time my ride up from Albany to sneak between the showers, and had surprising success- of a sort. Although only a few drops actually fell on me from the sky, preceding rain left the roads wet enough that my leathers and boots became, if not quite soaked, thoroughly damp. And of course my Norton lost any pretense of shine, being covered with road spray and grime. But I have learned that having a shiny bike adds little to my enjoyment of the Jampot.
Arriving at Bucksteep about 3 PM, I found that riding around the premises was very tricky, with big puddles and some serious mud on the driveways. The afternoon ride to Mount Greylock had been cancelled. Nevertheless, people and bikes abounded, all in fine spirits. After all, what makes us happier than good cause for complaint? The weather provided that. Greeting old friends and admiring the many fine AJS and Matchless motorcycles, as well other British and vintage bikes, is reliable pleasure in any weather.
Bucksteep itself maintains the funky charm that keeps us coming back. The pool has been out of commission for years, but is undergoing refurbishment. We were wet enough without it, but maybe next year the sun will shine and the pool will be ready for action.
As Frank Palmeri relates in his report, he wound up his two year term as Kahuna. This year's rally memento was a nicely embroidered hat featuring a Matchless G50, your choice of three color schemes. Frank's dedication to amusing the crowds was evidenced Saturday after dinner when he MC'd Jampot Jeopardy for the second year in a row. Preparing the board, answers, and questions, must be a big project, and it is done well and presented in an entertaining way, with the attractive assistance of Frank's daughter Heather and friend Alison uncovering the categories.
Determined attention to the Berkshire Brewing Co Steel Rail Pale Ale on tap killed the first keg Friday night, whereupon Frank rolled out a second one. We also had the assistance of a wide sampling of whiskeys and other diversions best limited to after the riding day is done.
Several rides were scheduled for Saturday. The dirt ride was cancelled, for several reasons, one being that with the recent weeks of steady rain it would be less a trail ride and more like mud wrestling. But three road rides coalesced, each with twelve to fifteen riders. First, John Rancitelli turned out his pretty Triumph T100C to lead a ride for bikes of 1969 or earlier vintage (no exceptions! Ask the guy who signed up with his 73 Triumph). Then Greg Sudak led the “modern bike” ride, and Jim Chivers took out anybody who couldn't find their helmet in time for the other rides. All these guys know the territory and can be relied on for a good ride, but unless you have a good map and can use it, don't fall off the pace- the Berkshires are full of obscure winding lanes where it is easy to lose any sense of location except to be dazzled by the bucolic landscape of mountains, valleys, streams large and small, and classic New England architecture of the farms and villages.
But it is not hard to keep up the pace- these are mellow rides. I followed Greg Sudak, riding a new to him SR500 Yamaha, a sweet sporting single of the late 1970s. The pack included the likes of Steve Rzany's “Junkyard Dog” (a 1971 BMW R75/5 which, bit by bit, has evolved into a hotrod R90S), a Kawasaki Concours, a full dresser Harley, several Commandos, and Brian Carroll's 1960s BMW R27. I never saw more than 60 miles per hour the whole time, but we can't blame Brian's 18 horsepower for that- he might have flogged the little 250 to the max to keep 50 mph up the hills, but he didn't get in anybody's way downhill or in the curves either. Not that anyone cared. I know that I'll always get my best fuel mileage numbers on the Jampot rides, and I did see 60 miles per gallon , easily accomplished when rambling down the back roads at 40 mph in fourth gear, about 2000 rpm on my Commando. Mellow, that's what I said- on a Jampot ride you really get a chance to explore your bike's low speed flexibility.
Our destination was what was left of a hydro-electric dam and plant that powered the Conway Electric Street Railway. In the late 19 th Century the now sparsely populated and wild mountains held numerous busy mills and surrounding communities, and from the 1880s until the advent of motor vehicles and improved roads in the 1920s, the trolley cars of the CESR were a critical link for this one corner of Franklin County . We hiked down a trail to the dam on the South River , and further on a very steep trail, more like climbing than walking. Several big chunks of the generator were still there, along with portions of the brick and stone powerhouse. We traced the penstock that funneled water to the long-gone turbine, studied the marshland that has filled in the power pool behind the dam, and marveled at the ingenuity and effort, now laid in ruin.
The trolley cars followed the South River down to where it joins the Deerfield River , and so did we, several of us coasting with motors silent, fitting the ambiance of the woods. The former railway roadbed ended at the one time junction of the Conway Electric with a New Haven Railroad branch. Here the New Haven crossed the South River, and the Conway Electric crossed the Deerfield . Left behind are the stone works of the vanished bridges. Otherwise, all but wilderness, save some recent improvements to enable hikers to get a close look down in the river gorge. We looked and lingered awhile, but we'd had our hike, and fired up our motors to pull us back to civilization.
And a fine example of civilization was the next stop, our old favorite, the Ashfield Lake House. A bite or two and a beer or two were enjoyed overlooking the lake, before heading back to Bucksteep. As we left Ashfield, the clouds sprinkled us liberally but then thought better of it and allowed us a dry ride the rest of the way- except for Brain Carroll who thought he'd take a short cut and ran into a “wall of water”. He turned around and by fortuitous choice of an alternate shortcut, rejoined the rest of us.
Back at Bucksteep, the beer flowed and cigars glowed as adventures were recounted. We killed the second keg early on but the supplies of beer (etc) in bottles was sufficient. Best to pace oneself anyway, some of this gang is getting old.
Sunday morning the raffle prize distribution and closing “ceremonies” (to burden the word) following breakfast gave Frank another chance to play MC. First he ceded the floor to Howard Ziff, who exercised his impressive powers of rhetoric to retell the story of misguided attempts to diagnose and fix a seized bearing in the final drive of Greg Sinner's BMW R100. It wasn't “ Alice 's Restaurant”, but Howard's telling was surely more fun than the doing.
The Jampot has never been about competition, there is no bike show or trophies, but with the death two years ago of the Jampot founder Perry Gerhart, we decided to bestow a founder's Award for exemplifying the spirit of the event. Whether this is actually desirable is left for the reader to decide, but a plaque was cooked up and presented to Peter Rocke. Next victim to be announced was John Harris, to be rally Kahuna for the next two years. Despite being a Jampot regular for decades, somehow John had slipped under the radar and evaded the job till now. Maybe his activity with the Italian Motorcycle Owner's Club threw up a smokescreen that distracted attention, but he has handed the IMOC off to others and he can take the guff at the Jampot.
A signal feature of the Jampot is the sense of place. Just after the summer solstice, the lush green of the Berkshires enfolds us, we ride roads that were trod by colonists of the 18 th century, the mountains mark the geology of eons, the roaring streams rush ageless waters down to ancient rivers, and the billowing skies seem eternal. I cannot imagine a better place to enjoy old motorcycles and old friends.