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The 1996 Northeast USA Jampot Rally

Ben English

The Northeast USA Jampot Rally is a unique event. The rally has its origins as a gathering of AJS and Matchless owners, but has grown to encompass a broad range of riders and mounts. It seems that AJS and Matchless enthusiasts often own and ride other brands, and those other bikes are sometimes more road ready than the Ajays and Matchboxes. Throw in some antique motorcycle enthusiasts and riders of European and other brands who hope that some of the glory and charisma will rub off on them if they hang around with AJS and Matchless riders, and you have the Jampot.

The American equivalent to the British "jampot" is "jam jar", the short squat shape of which is likened to the rear suspension units that Matchless and AJS used in the early 50's (replacing the earlier "candlestick" shock). The name is a favorite for Matchless rallies around the world; thus we distinguish this one as the "Northeast USA". This year's rally took place as usual on the fourth weekend of June at Bucksteep Manor, high in the Berkshire Mountains of western Massachusetts. The rally is organized by a “Kahuna” with a two year term. This year was my first go at the job.

We had an excellent turnout of Matchlesses and AJS's this year, so many that memory fails any effort to record all the models and owners. There must have been a dozen or more heavyweight singles from about 1950 up. Quite a few twins also, including an example of the very rare G15/45, the 750 that was the swan song of the genuine Matchless twin before Associated Motorcycle Company began mixing and matching Norton and Matchless parts, standardizing on the Norton Atlas motor for all subsequent G15's.

John Harris (world famous former editor of Motociclista, newsletter of the Italian Motorcycle Owner's Club) rode in on a hybrid AMC never thought of: a featherbed Matchless single, created by installing a late G80CS motor, primary drive and gearbox in a Norton Atlas chassis. Cosmetically, the bike was more rat than concours, but showed the kind of functional engineering work that makes a good ride. John pronounced the marriage of featherbed frame with G80 power a success. Maybe AMC should have done it themselves.

John's Matchton (Norless?) was the newest bike in one of the highlights of the Rally: Five riders rolling in as group, all with road dust and sleeping bags. Charlie Taylor led with his 1934 Norton Big Four (600cc flathead single, oldest bike attending), followed by Jim Friedlander on his 1952 Indian Chief, Ross Kittrell on an ex-War Department BSA M20 in nice civilian trim, and David Dodge on his ancient Moto Guzzi GTV (we love that "bacon slicer" exposed flywheel and exposed valve springs).

More modern Guzzi's were brought by Richard Desir (850-T) and Pete Talabach, who falls back on his LeMans III when his older bikes are out of service. Pete's Harley Davidson knucklehead was off the road this year, as was his Vincent. Both are getting some serious work after the many thousands of miles Pete has run up on them.

Some other H-D riders found the Jampot more to their tastes than the Harley Rendezvous (over the border in New York State the same weekend). John Andrews brought his shovelhead, and Randy Noble rode his XLCR Cafe Racer.

Other riders on the scene were Bill Cawley (BSA Victor; he left the Sportsters home), David Tatlock with his Cagiva Alazzurra, Greg Sudak with the "Excitable Boy", a very trim 1976 Kawaskai KZ900, Marty Messek on his newly acquired Moto Morini 501 Camel, definitely the modern dual sport bike of the meet, although Reed English also waved that flag with a Suzuki DR350S. The only Triumph that I recall was John Rancitelli's sharp T100C. Paul Campbell brought a nice Norton N15 up on Friday night. We forgive Laszlo Lusanyi for riding a Honda 750 Sabre because he is good company, and he does really do some riding. Jerry Schreiber had his Norton 850 Commando, and my own 750 Combat Commando just keeps on truckin'. There was another Commando; was that Isaac Mizrachi's?

Jerry Schreiber's companion (alas, I didn't get her name recorded) had the oldest Japanese bike, a mid 60s Yamaha YA-6 125.

Kevin Hunt showed what a real Royal Star looks like: a BSA A50. Sorry Yamaha, BSA was there first!

We always see a bunch of BMW riders who claim to have various antiques home in the garage that don't yet run sufficiently well to bring. No exotica this year, not even a /2, but Peter Curtis and John Borella brought R100G/S's, Denise Talabach rode her R90S, and Peter Rocke his R100CS, disguised with a humble paint job. Humblest of all was an R60/5 (or /6?), the rider of which I cannot credit. And one flying brick, a K100RT.

Ruth Flanders and Bruce Pollard promised to bring a pair of the new India Enfields, but were unable to make it. Someone did drop in Sunday morning with a wild new four stroke single: a 620 KTM Duke.

The only sidecar outfit this year was Bill Mauro's Matchless G80S + double adult enclosed chair. A sidecar always attracts the small fry, and Bill kept busy giving rides around the campground.

In past years, under the banner of the "Jampot-Fishtail Thump-in", Velocettes sometimes outnumbered the Matchlesses, but this year was a disappointment: none at all. John Gurr had an acceptable excuse for not riding his Thruxton down from Montreal, as he was fairly fresh from heart bypass surgery. John did tell good tales of the Velo Owners Club rolling rally in the northern Rocky Mountains last summer.

If the Jampot gave awards, a good bet for people's choice would have been Jay Hawley's Indian. It started life as a 1943 Military Model 741, aka a 30.50 Scout. This one had been built last year by Charlie Taylor as a real neat bob job: Chief tanks, but otherwise minimal bodywork, and bored to accept 101 Scout pistons to achieve 600cc displacement. Jay is the Moto Guzzi National Owners Club Massachusetts state representative, but he says the little Indian is his most pleasurable ride, as long as a cruising speed of 55 mph is adequate to the journey.

There were quite a few other nice bikes and worthy riders, but I wasn't taking notes, and the limitations of memory prevent their enumeration. My apologies to those omitted.

Friday evening was time to hang out, tend the keg of Sam Adams Boston Lager, enjoy the parade of arriving riders, and get re-acquainted with old friends and make new ones. The charcoal was lit for a do-it-yourself cookout, embellished by extra delectables brought up from home by Jean Cawley, and fresh corn for roasting provided by Joe and Ann Grippe.

Saturday morning we rode out to the Country Boy Diner in Huntington. They coped with 50 hungry motorcyclists and support personnel very well for a restaurant with about 25 seats! Good thing the ride there was as disorganized as it was, so we didn't all get there all at once. The return to Bucksteep was pretty disorganized too, with various parties wandering around the backwoods of Hampshire and Berkshire counties. I know for sure my group was gloriously lost, since I was leading it. We found some nice gnarly dirt roads, nobody fell down or disappeared in a rut, and lo and behold, there we were in Becket on Route 8. And it didn't even rain on us.

With everyone back at the rally site at last, it began to look like it would rain. Most folks tended to their camps, lubed chains and bench raced, but something like 10 riders upheld traditional Jampot standards of foolhardiness by setting off for the Ashfield Lake House, famous for its license-plates-of-the-world decor and beer from the Berkshire Brewery in Deerfield on tap. Most of the group turned back as the rain got heavier, but the three or four who toughed it out reported watching the worst rain from the comfort of the Lake House, and a dry ride back to Bucksteep.

At 4:30, under what a confirmed optimist might call a clearing sky, all hands headed to Pittsfield for the Saturday night banquet at a new venue, the Depot Street Brewery. We had a reasonable idea of where it was, but some of Pittsfield's one-way streets and "no left turn" signs began to make it look like a "you can't get there from here" situation. Just as it seemed that all hope was lost, Pete Talabach showed up and found a way. The Brewery fed us well, although we didn't hang around drinking their estimable brews long enough to impair our ride back to Bucksteep. The optimists were right, the sky was clearing, and it was still daylight, a worthy boon considering all the 6 volt electrical systems in use.

Later Saturday night, those who had their fill of beer and bull at the campground could stroll down to the manor house for a little songfest in the bar. Drew Smith and Patricia Bogert brought a guitar and autoharp, and some good songs were sung.

Sunday dawned bright and clear, a promising day. Bucksteep served a fine breakfast at the manor house, and all repaired to the porch for the closing ceremony, distributing our unique collection of door prizes. John Andrews' many hats with sharp looking embroidered flying M's were the hits; some other donated prizes were, as is typical, really beyond description in their subtle and twisted irony.

With farewells said and the road beckoning under a perfect crisp sky, all were homeward bound after sharing a great weekend of motorcycling.

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