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My (WILD!) ride with Gene Walker

Posted By Mike Stevens (#44336), Monday, February 20, 2017

Back in 1999, I saw an article in the BMW Vintage Club Newsletter for the Texas Hill Country Vintage Ride. Seemed to be a neat event for a newly retired guy with a 1962 R 27. Well I made the mistake of mentioning the ride to my friend Gene Walker and he wanted to join me. You have to understand that with Gene, every trip took on the proportions of a MAJOR EVENT.

I first met Gene in 1983 shortly after Richmond BMW Motorcycles closed their doors. Needing service on my first Beemer, I found an ad for Gene’s Cycle Service, Specializing in BMWs in the Yellow Pages. A trip to south Richmond and my first thought on walking through the door was "This can’t be a cycle shop," because it looked more like a backhoe boneyard. There he was, this feisty older guy, built like a fire plug. He took 45 minutes to tell me he didn’t like to talk to customers because it held him up from his work.

As we discussed the trip to the Vintage Ride in Texas, Gene said he had enough parts to put together a Slash 5 to take to the ride. That was typical Gene. He didn’t have a Slash 5, he had PARTS - and two months until the ride.

Photo by David Swisher.

Several weeks later, I’m at Gene’s, he has pulled a frame, engine, transmission, front end, Lester wheels and miscellaneous pieces out of the parts pile. With about a month to go, Gene calls me and says, "Shelby Jarrell is at the shop and he wants to go with us." I don’t know Shelby, but Gene says he’s a good guy, semi-retired OB-GYN with a Slash 2 he rode during his med school years. I’ve only got a small pickup truck and a one-cycle trailer, there’s no room for three guys and bikes. No problem, Shelby has a F250 Ford crew cab - but there is a slight problem. Shelby’s Slash 2 has not run in decades and Gene’s Slash 5 is still a pile of parts.

Since Gene has a backlog of work and isn’t able to even make an attempt to get the two bikes running, I’ve reconciled myself to the fact that the trip isn’t happening. Maybe I’ll just go by myself. Life is busy and I don’t get to the shop. Gene calls me over the weekend before leaving day and he has a plan. We’re leaving on Wednesday and arriving in Kerrville, Texas, on Friday evening. The ride leaves from a lodge in Hunt, Texas, on Saturday morning. I’m instructed to ride the R 27 to the shop on Tuesday evening to load up the F250 and Shelby will drive me home in Gene’s car and pick me up early Wednesday morning. We’ll leave from the shop at dawn. Confusing? You should have lived it!

I arrive at the shop Tuesday evening and find the Slash 5 ALMOST running and the Slash 2 not working. The plans change. I’ll leave the R 27 at the shop; Shelby will take me home and return to help Gene get the repairs made. Shelby will pick me up in the morning as planned.

Photo by David Swisher.

Wednesday morning and Doc picks me up as planned, albeit late, and informs me that while Gene’s Slash 5 is ready to go, they couldn’t find the problem with Doc’s Slash 2. After we arrive at the shop, Gene declares, "I know what’s wrong with the Slash 2 and I’ll fix it in Texas." The guru has spoken, so we load up the bikes on the 16-year-old crew cab pickup with 287,000 miles on the clock and Shelby informs us, "I haven’t used this truck in a couple of years and it may have a bad alternator, so I’m taking a spare". We’re embarking on a trip of over 5,000 miles, leaving with two working bikes, one non-working bike and a questionable hauler. I told you Gene’s trips turn into EVENTS! Gene and the Doc are happy as larks and I’m sure we are entering the last days of our existence. We’ll be discovered on the side of some lonely Texas road with our bodies picked over by vultures.

Early Thursday morning we’re entering Louisiana when Gene announces, "I know this guy who meets with a group of bikers for breakfast at a truck stop near here." Sure enough, there’s Lyle Grimes and a group of his buddies. They weren’t at all surprised to see Gene.

That night found us at a Motel 6 in Lafayette. Whenever Gene went to that part of the country, he stayed at that Motel 6 and had dinner at Mulottes in Beau Bridge. Two years before this trip, going to the Fredericksburg National Rally, my wife and I made arrangements to meet Gene at that Motel 6. When we arrived early, the desk clerk noted our R 27 on the truck.

I told her, "You think this is something - you just wait awhile and this short stocky guy will be here with a sidecar. Now he’s something." She said, "OH! You mean Gene Walker."

Gene Walker shortly before his passing, pictured here with Jeff Munn's R 50/2. Gene and Jeff had recently completed restoring the motorcycle. Photo by Jeff Munn.

We finally got to Kerrville after a stop at Rudy’s BBQ outside of Houston (Gene had his favorite eateries all across the US) only to find there was no Econo Lodge holding our reservations. After roaming about Kerrville looking, I called the Lodge number and they answered the phone, "Super 8." Seems that after reservations were made, Econo Lodge sold out to Super 8. The adventure continued.

We unloaded the bikes and immediately Gene begins fiddling with the Slash 2. It still won’t kick-start. Walker has his toadies push the bike all over the motel parking lot while he tries to bump start it. Finally it starts and the pushers collapse. Gene pulls in the clutch and keeps it running. The problem is solved!

When Gene lets out the clutch to ride it back up to the room, the motor runs fine, but the bike won’t go anywhere. I’m a basket case and can’t understand how these two can be so laid back. Thinking it may be a clutch problem, they leave on an exploratory parts search. Me, I chill at the motel. Downtime away from these two is necessary, we’ve been too close for too long.

They return with a bag of full of little springs and such. You would not believe the roadside repairs Gene has affected with "little springs and such." I once saw him fix a failing coil with a piece of roadside debris and a glass of iced tea. He didn’t drink the tea; it was an active ingredient in the fix! Then there was the electrical problem fixed with a rubber band and piece of string, but that’s another story.

Evidently they also found a cappuccino bar and instead of adding cappuccinos to the parts list, they consumed multiple drinks. Both were wired, talking and moving at double time. They attacked Doc’s Slash 2 with the springs and such. It still didn’t go, but enabled a diagnosis of the true problem. The nut holding the drive coupling on the output shaft was loose. Unfortunately, this nut requires a special BMW tool. While Gene always carried enough tools to affect a roadside rebuild, this tool was not in his kit. We decided to drive over to the ride-gathering place in Hunt to see if any of the other participants might have the tool. Of course, this involved another stop at the cappuccino bar to take off the chill.

Gene and Shelby trying to fix the Slash 2 with the bag full of little springs and such in a Kerrville, Texas, motel parking lot.

By now Doc and Gene were practically vibrating from their caffeine intake and I was half wired. Two and a half wild men thus descended on Hunt. At Hunt, when the request was made for the tool (no one had it), a heated debate ensued over what the tool is, what it was used for and who might have one. Probably due to our wired condition and the consumption of alcohol by some other folks, it appeared the debate was going to degenerate into fisticuffs. Then someone passed gas and we all moved out of the area. It was the first time I was saved from physical injury by a fart!

We went from being welcome guests to unwanted interlopers. At this time, I was glad we were staying in Kerrville and not Hunt. Kerrville has an abundance of interesting eateries, but Sunday morning we decided to go to this place Gene knows of because it has real cooked oatmeal. It makes no difference that it’s 50 miles the other way. Over breakfast, Doc decides he’ll take the truck and explore the area while Gene and I go on the vintage ride. We arrive in Hunt, on our bikes, to find 30 or so participants gathered on their Slash 2s, Slash 5s, Slash 6s and one R 90 S. I’m the only one on a single. We are greeted cordially but somewhat coolly. The morning ride is going to Utopia, Texas, where we’ll have a lunch break. No route sheets are provided, just follow the leader.

I’m next to last in line and Gene is bringing up the rear. No problem keeping up, this isn’t a sport bike ride. The ride is going along at 50 mph. No problem for the R 27. Then we head into the Hill Country with steep twisty roads. The 13-horsepower R 27 just can’t keep up. My uphill top speed is 30 mph in second gear with the valves floating.

Going over the crest of each of the hills, we’ve dropped back so far that no one is in sight. I don’t know the route! This area has ranches measured in square miles, not acres. There’s nothing to do but try to catch up. Down every hill, I’m dragging my knees in the turns, pushing my bike as hard as possible. Never, I say NEVER, have I ridden that far over my head on the edge of traction.

We did make it to the lunch stop. I really don’t blame the vintage group; we really made ourselves out to be idiots and were treated like red-headed stepchildren. Gene and I sat together, alone at a table removed from the group, by the restrooms where you could hear disgusting sounds. We were outcasts. We decided to terminate our participation in the Hill Country Vintage Ride. I’m sure the other participants breathed a sigh of relief.

Gene and the author preparing to leave on the Hill Country Vintage Ride.

When we got back to Kerrville, we found an excited Shelby, who asked us to join him on a ride to Comfort, Texas, where he had a surprise to show us. In Comfort we went to a junk shop. We’d never seen so much stuffed into a small space. Evert thing from toilet bowls to excavators, including TWO Slash 2’s. One was converted into a chopper, but the other was nice with panniers and it even started on the first kick. Seems doctors always carry sufficient funds, and he purchased it on the spot and rode it back to Kerrville. We stopped at the cappuccino bar on the way back.

On Sunday, we wisely decided to forgo the second day of the ride and headed for Slidell, Louisiana, where I was to catch a train for home in Virginia on Tuesday. The other two were staying for the Crawfish Boil in McCombie, Mississippi, the following weekend. Five days with nothing to do didn’t suit me.

Because the truck already had three bikes on it, Doc had to ride his "new" Slash 2 while Gene and I followed. Gene instructed Doc to run the gas out of the bike, then switch to reserve so that it could be gauged how far he could run on reserve, which turned out to be seven whole miles. He ran dry on a section of I-10 that has limited shoulders. We gassed the bike and it wouldn’t start.

There we are with cars and trucks speeding by within inches at 80+ mph. Gene goes to work with his butt hanging out in traffic. Speeding cars and trucks swerved, brakes squealed and fists shook in our direction. I was terrified, Gene loved it, and Shelby wisely hid. Gene diagnosed the problem as weak ignition coils. When hot they didn’t generate enough juice to fire with kick starting. We again had to push, now on the edge of an interstate!

We arrived at Slidell early Monday afternoon. We continued on McCombie (300 miles round trip) to look at the EMPTY field where the Boil was taking place NEXT WEEKEND!

By this time, I’ve got it figured out. These two just love to go anywhere or even nowhere, no reason necessary, preferably on two wheels, but hey, four are fine. My train ride was acceptable to Atlanta. Then the train filled. Not a spare seat available and my seatmate smelled as if she hadn’t bathed in several weeks. Twenty-two hours of agony!

Gene and the Doc did fool around in Mississippi for four days and went to the Boil. On the trip home Doc’s "new" Slash 2 swallowed a valve in far southwestern Virginia, where they switched out bikes and completed the "normal" Gene Walker trip. As the doctor was a late addition, it was decided he would sleep on the floor in his sleeping bag. I remember one room so small he had to sleep under the wash basin. That man could sleep anywhere. He attributed this ability to his medical residency. I haven’t heard from Shelby since sometime in 2000, when he was head of obstetrics at the University of Tasmania.

Now you know the story of how I traveled over 3,500 miles to ride a total of 153 miles, became a candidate for psychotherapy, got 30 people mad at me - 32 counting my compatriots - and aged a decade in a week.

On September 26, 2006, Eugene Alonso Walker passed from this life at age 84. As sure as I’m sitting here typing this up, I know Gene is now telling God how he should run the world. If God listens, all of humankind will shortly be riding either K bikes or vintage airheads. Ours became a lasting friendship. His passing saddened me and I miss him. I truly hope and pray there are BMWs and sidecars in Heaven and that Gene is continuing his complex journey.

Photo by David Swisher.

Thanks to David Swisher (#2431) for providing additional photos of Gene Walker for this article.

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