Thursday, July 2, 2009

A long story with many tangents....

I have one here that I wrote some years ago. It has many tangents to get you off center.

Bob James.

I started writing some more last night about Kenny Howe and wouldn’t you know it! I lost it! So, wish me luck!
Kenny Howe came from Rocky Ford, CO as a very young immature married man of the age of 18-19. His dad, Frank Howe was one of the Operators at the New Southern Colorado power plant at Rocky Ford, which came on the line in 1952.
Kenny was hired in as a Second Engineer Helper at the Pueblo Power Plant in the spring of 1955. I took a liking to him right from the start because in some ways he reminded me of myself, just a few years back.
When the unit was built in Rocky Ford, I could have transferred as an Assistant Operator or move up to a Boiler Operator for No 6 Unit. I chose to stay here.
Then in May of 1957, we finally were granted shift rotations. That’s when Kenny & I started to make plans of having some riding time on our motorcycles during our long weekends that came up once a month.
I need to back up in time or I’ll miss lead you.
Some of the men at the plant would slip out the back door of the plant and take a spin on my 1951 Triumph Thunderbird without my knowledge. But after one of them floated an exhaust valve, I got mad. The second helper that was to blame told me he was sorry and that he was showing off in front of some Junior College girls out by City Park and missed second gear. I had put a set of wide gears in the transmission and it wouldn’t speed-shift very readily. He later on in life became a Commercial Pilot. His dad also worked for SO.CO.PO.CO., in a very high class job down at the main building.
So, when Kenny asked me to help him get a motor, I finally did. After all, I had co-signed for another young co-worker for a motor after his brother that worked at the same job as me had refused to do so. He joined the Marines and left me with a 45 H.D. to find someone to take over the payments. My grade school and high school buddy, Gorden Sewell took over the payments. I had helped Gorden get hired here in the plant just a few years back. We rode our Army 45 H.D. to Centennial High School and he wanted something like a motor to save on gasoline. He lived up past Wetmore on the 160 acres of the Sewell’s. Gorden and his wife, Shirley had twin girls at about the same time as my wife, Wanda & I.
On January 1, 1956, I entered in the Pikes Peak Motorcycle Race along with some of the other local riders from the Pueblo motorcycle Club. I think Kenny went up to the starting gate with Kurt Atkinson, who worked as a motorcycle mechanic for Timme Motors. I’m not real sure who all went that year. This was my first time to try racing up Pikes Peak on New Year’s Day. I got to the top alright in the coldest ride that I had ever raced in. I think, I signed in about tenth out of about twenty that made it.
Shortly after this is when Kenny purchased his first motorcycle from Walt Timme. It was a Triumph Cub and he rode the guts out of it. One thing nice about the cub, you could manhandle it like I did my little 1949 Vertical Twin Indian. But Kenny wasn’t satisfied with the top end speed of the cub, so he traded Walt for a 650 triumph. This time, I didn’t even have to co-sign for him. Kenny broke his shoulder right away out in the prairie. He was probably chasing a jack rabbit and hit a small size gully that tossed him in the air like it did me one time. Fortune for me it just sprung the forks. Walt had a hydraulic press that worked real well for getting the bends out of forks.
Kenny was working with me most of the time, so some of jobs that he couldn’t do with a cast on his shoulder was done by us other fellows. He could clean out the refused trap on the two pulverizers when we were burning coal, but he couldn’t pull the chains for blowing the sootblowers.
**The story of climbing the frozen coal pile would fit better here and the dike riding. **
The next thing that Kenny did was trade this 650 triumph to Walt for a 1955 Woodsman Indian. See page 129 of Jerry Hatfield book on INDIAN motorcycle, second Edition of what a Woodsman looks like. Kenny had found his dream machine this time. He would clean and polish this baby and not abuse it.
So, when we got rotation of shifts, we made plans to get in a reliability run up at the Gremlin Park located one mile East of 9500 North Washington, which is North of Denver, CO. The Gravel Gremlins Motorcycle Club had a nice club house and a Tourist Trophy or T.T. Track on their grounds.
Just so you will know, here is the description of a T. T. Track: “A Tourist Trophy or T. T. Race is run on a safe course not less than 5 ft. wide and preferably 10 ft. wide at any point. The course should be very irregular so that both right and left hand turns have to be negotiated and should include a hill that will necessitate gear changing. There shall be no water splash or mud bog.”
Copied from the May 18, 1952 souvenir program for the motorcycle races at the Gremlin Park.
Kenny for some reason took his headlight off and left it in my garage, even though I had told him that he should leave it on. “It’s not that kind of a race, Kenny! Beside, a policeman or state patrol might stop you if you aren’t legal.” I told him. But he wanted to be “SPORTY,” he said.
Kurt Atkinson and Kenny borrowed a rental two wheel trailer from Danny’s Trailer rental for their two road machines and I borrowed “Flying Eddie” Grasmick’s three rail trailer for my “Blue-Tiger”. Bob James Special, all terrain motorcycle.
Wanda had purchase us two-tone blue sweaters with a picture of a tiger on the front and a tiger on the back. Wanda line-up her sisters to take care of our twin girls, L. Kay & L. Karen and the four boys, Robert C. “Bobby,” Kenneth W., Marvin L. and Vernon R..
We hadn’t had too many week ends passes from being parents for a long time. We pulled off of old US 85- 87 and slept in our 1952 Plymouth station wagon on the just being built section of the Interstate 25 before dropping down to Denver, CO.
The next morning, we found the Gremlin Park and there was Kurt & Kenny already racing around the track. Now I realized why Kenny had taken off his headlight! The four of us went somewhere for breakfast and rode around some in Kenny’s Ford. Leaving the trailers and our car there at the club ground. Did you know that the width of a FORD wheels is the same width of the railroad tracks? Kenny had already demonstrated this to me by the power plant. So he had to show Wanda. He went all over looking for some railroad tracks and it was getting closer to the time to check in at the club house. Soon, it was time to sign up and ride on this Reliability Run.
Kurt & Kenny let Wanda & I do all the figuring and they just rode. I can’t tell you just where we went, but we saw lots of beautiful mountains that we had never seen before. One place we pulled over to pass some time, a lady was painting a landscape scene. We visited and then continue on the run. Soon it was time to check in at the finish, which brought us full circle back to the Gremlin Park.
You won’t believe this, but Kenny won and got a nice trophy. His first trophy. Kurt was second, but no trophy. I believe they gave Kurt a plaque for second place. Wanda & I were fourth. But we had an enjoyable ride that nobody could ever take away from us!
All winter, I had made different time sheets and wrestled with numbers to make an Elapse time/mileage sheets placed on a revolving drum made from a liquid soap can, a two figure time/ distance dial, two stop-watches, one rubber-mounted in an old bronze gauge housing on the handlebars near the drum and a clipboard mounted on the gas tank carrying rack.
It was a real thrill to see how happy Kenny & Kurt were from winning the GOLD.
They played around some more on the track until time to head back to Pueblo and our responsibilities. Kenny had to show-off just one more time. He rode the plank up into the trailer, but nearly lost his balance.
I can hear him now laughing and carrying on through-out that day.
Little did we know that before another month would roll around that Kenny would be killed by a car, pulling a left hand turn in front of him. Dam it, why didn’t he come over and put the headlight back on?
It was dusk and Kurt & Kenny were working on one or two of Walt’s motors in Kenny & Edna’s yard. Kenny’s wife & Kurt’s wife had asked them to go with them to the Drive-in Theater just within an hour before. No, they wanted to make some extra credits with Walt. Soon, it was time to have a beer and cool off. Kenny jumped on his headless Woodsman and went for a six pack. On the way back, a man in a car made a left hand turn off of Fourth Street onto 20th Street in front of a headless woodsman and rider.
Kurt heard the whaling sound of the Fire department first-aid truck heading east and just had that gut feeling that Kenny was in trouble. He stopped what he was doing and rode to the scene hoping for the best.
Kenny was rushed to the Emergency room of Parkview Hospital. There was no way to save Kenny. He died before very much could be done to stop the bleeding from his head and other parts of his body.
Walt, Kurt and I were pallbearers along with Bob Sturtevant and I think “Flying Eddie” Grasmick and another plant man.
Bob Sturtevant lived next door to Kenny & Edna on East 5th Street in the 16th or 17th hundredth block. Bob was working that night at the Drive-in Theater and was the one that told Edna & Kurt’s wife what had happen to Kenny.
Bob and I had known each other somewhat back in high school and around town. He was a truck delivery man for Nabisco at this time. He asks me if there was a chance that he could get a job at the plant. I told him that when we get back to Pueblo, we could go and ask Supt. Fred Morgan. Bob was hired and started to work the very next week. I had bob as my first Helper for many of years. But, “That’s another Story!”
Many times when Kenny wanted to talk, he would come up from the pump room and shoot the breeze with me at the No 6 Boiler Control Desks. Sooner or later the subject of death comes up when men are just shooting the breeze and you have a chance to witness for Jesus.
Kenny believed some of the bible, but like so many of us, we don’t get down deep enough to really get a good hold of what Jesus did for us here on earth.
Kenny, believed that when your number is up, there is no way you can prevent death. My answer to him was always the same. “If you flirt with death, you can speed it up!”
I learned on my Harleys, Indians and Triumph and Yamaha, that it pays to ride with your headlight on all the time. Always drive defensive. Jim Sasso told me this the first time that he gave me a ride home on my first Harley to show it to my folks.
That just about covers my thoughts and stories on Kenny Howe.


  1. Bob, That was a pretty wild story. Sorry to hear that your friend lost his life. Say beinging from CO. do you remember flattracker TOM METCALF who was killed at Norton KS. back in the med 1950s ? He looked like a young up and coming rider before that accident happened. Take Care.

  2. Hello George,
    Looks like you & I are the only ones and Ken that is posting on this website that Ken made for us.
    I have tried posting three times a letter I wrote to Norton, Kansas about a rider that was killed on their horse track back in my racing days there, but for some reason I keep doing some thing wrong and it doesn't post.
    I have no knowedge of Tom Metcalf getting killed at Norton, KS in the mid 1950s.
    Thanks for your comment, Bob James.


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