The next few years were pretty lean, financially, and I couldnít afford to get another bike. That didnít keep me from riding, though. In the spring of í97, I saw an ad in the newspaper that enticed,
I checked it out, and ended up working for Long and Associates, a south Texas tire, auto, and motorcycle testing company.
At the time, they had a contract with Harley Davidson to test bikes and components, and I found myself spending 10 to 12 hour shifts out on the roads of south Texas aboard various and sundry Harleys. We rode everything from old test mules with odds and ends of new components being tested, to brand-new production models undergoing shakedowns, to pre-production prototypes we werenít even supposed to let anyone get a good look at. We rode day and night, in all weather conditions, 350 - 500 or more miles a day, six and even seven days a week. It caused me to reconsider my prejudice against Harleys, and to even consider the possibility of owning one somedayÖ if I could ever get that much money. Yes, we had a lot of fun, and it was hard to consider it as really working, but it didnít pay much either. I hadnít intended to do it for a very long time, but on June 5, 1997, something happened that altered the course of my life and kept me there far longer than I had planned.
I was astride a blue Super Glide,
leading a group of test bikes into the little town of Freer, Texas at about 8:00 pm, right on the heels of a thunderstorm. As we approached the city limits, I was coasting down from a speed of 70 to comply with the 30 mph limit in town. I had coasted to about 35 when I saw the rain splattering on the road up ahead and decided we could just pull over and turn around there - we didnít have to go the remaining ľ mile into town before turning around.
The road was very wet, and had that white froth all over it that you see on roadways after cars run through the puddles. I was thinking to myself, "Donít do anything abrupt - this has to be slickerín owl snot." The road along there is perfectly straight and level and almost perfectly flat - there is some slight "troughing" where the cars' and trucks' wheels run. I didn't use the brakes at all, but had started a gradual turn toward the right shoulder when the front wheel suddenly slid out from under me and went hard left. All I can remember is a sense of total surprise and amazement as the road came up hard on my right and my elbow slammed into the asphalt. I recall seeing shards of my right mirror's glass spreading out on the road in front of me, its tinkling clearly audible. Then I rolled and tumbled for an awfully long time before I came to rest on the right-hand side of the road in a puddle on some wet, dirty sand.
Many hours and two ambulance rides later, I was in a Corpus Christie hospital for the night. The next day the resident ortho docs came in and told me they didnít want to believe what the x-rays were showing them, and sent me home with instructions to "let the swelling go down" and then see a doctor in San Antonio who might be better equipped to handle it.
I had severe road rash on both forearms (riding in only a t-shirt again) and had a severe sprain/muscle tear of my right upper thigh. My right leg turned black from the hip down to my ankle. On my right elbow, the part of me that took the brunt of the fall when the bike first went down, there was a half-dollar sized hole in my flesh that let you have a good view of the bone sheath. The elbow was very swollen and hurt like hell.
But the real injury of concern was the shoulder. A small piece had been chipped out of the head of the humerus, and another piece had been chipped off the glenoid socket of the scapula. This had allowed the humerus to dislocate, and it was now behind the scapula and locked in place. This is what the ortho docs hadnít liked. Seems rearward dislocations are very rare and hard to deal with. So they passed me on.
To make a long story short, after 6 days sitting around in this condition I finally got proper medical attention and ended up having surgery. At first they thought theyíd have to do a complete shoulder replacement, but finally took a chance on it healing without going that far. They had to rearrange some of the muscle attach points on the humerus, and move some bone around to keep the thing from continuously dislocating itself. Itís now held in place by two titanium screws.
This is the incision a couple of weeks after the operation, but before they pulled the stitches out of it.
The worst part of this was the loss of motion in the arm and shoulder. I was told Iíd be doing well to get back 70% of my former range of motion, with only 50% being a distinct possibility.
I spent almost 6 months in physical therapy, enduring a lot of very painful "manipulation" and doing a lot of exercises both in the facility and on my own. Fortunately, the motion finally began to return, and eight months after the accident I had reached that 70% level. Iím lucky, though - it continued to improve. I now have about 90% of the range of motion I had before, although with considerable pain at the extremes of that. And the shoulder hurts daily, in one way or another. Some days arenít bad; others get my attention. But, Iím just happy to have made as much a recovery as I have.
Long and Associates were kind enough to let me resume working on a "light duty" basis within two months of the accident. I spent the next four months acting as a supervisor of the Harley testing crews out on the courses. I was responsible for verifying they rode the courses as mapped, at the speeds prescribed, and in the manner prescribed. I spent 10 - 12 hours a day in a pickup truck following and intercepting the courses, running radar to verify speeds, and on occasion, picking up broken down - or wrecked - bikes. I also became the primary accident investigator, and, unfortunately, we had quite a few.
Later in the fall, I moved from that position into the Human Resources Department where had I more reasonable hours and did more normal, although mundane, work. But, in the early spring of í98, I was sufficiently healed and strengthened enough to resume riding.
I was soon put on the crew doing the initial on-road testing of the Polaris Victory - all pre-production machinery. When Harley objected to having a competitor testing in such close proximity to their facility, the Polaris testing was moved to L & A's San Angelo facility, and I was sent up there to hire and train riders to get it going. The Polaris testing proved to be a little less accident-plagued than the Harley testing had been, but we did have one incident.
After getting that program under way, I was assigned to motorcycle tire-testing back in Lytle. Tire testing isnít nearly as much fun, but itís still riding! Much of the testing was aboard Gold Wings pulling Time Out trailers.
By late summer I had amassed almost 50,000 miles of riding for the year, most of it on Gold Wings, but 5,000 + aboard the new Polaris and several thousand on some cruisers from Kawasaki. The most fun was had aboard the Honda VTR 1000 which ran exclusively out in the best of the Hill Country twisties. What a great bike!
Those tires only lasted about 4,000 miles, thoughÖ
It was with great sadness that I got off one of those VTRs on a Saturday back in August of í98. I knew at the time it was my last test ride; changes were being made at L & A, and my testing days were over. I continued in the HR department for a few more months, but around Christmas a lot had changed both at work and in my personal life, and it was time to leave south Texas and head northward to the Land of Ahhhhs. Bikeless, alas.
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Who says you can't go