Crossing the Atlantic with Heinkel Scooters
by Klaus Kutsche
I have had a dream for many years – which had changed only slightly over the past decades: I intended to take the legendary Route 66 with a motor bike to get to know the United States. However instead of riding a rented Harley or a BMW, I decided to do the trip with my “beloved” Heinkel, model A2, together with a friend of mine, Levent Akbük, with his Heinkel, model A0. We also changed our mind with regard to the route, instead of Route 66 we took Highway No 1 (US 101), starting in the very North (Canadian border) to the very South (Mexican border). Altogether some 6000 km (3700 miles) in nearly 6 weeks.
Now step by step. The way across the Atlantic was no problem for our scooters – Swissair provided an excellent service on board a cargo plane, fixed to steel-platform – because wooden platforms are not accepted to avoid an invasion of German woodworms – the two Heinkels arrived safely in Seattle two weeks before we managed to get there.
Having arrived in Seattle, the search for the missing scooters started and ended successfully at the customs office. First of all we had to refuel them (tanks had to be emptied before the flights) and look for somewhere to stay. Surprisingly the gas was not much cheaper than at home and for checking the tire pressure coins are helpful to operate the compressor – Germans do not have to pay for this service at home and don’t have any coins right after arriving in the States...
The following day, after spending the night at a motel, we rode further north (direction Vancouver) to the Canadian border – the real start for our trip. A number of photos were taken and for our documentation the mileage of both scooters was written down. Ahead of us the famous dream road “Pacific Coast Highway” along the Western coastline (Washington, Oregon, California).
The weather was fine, sunshine, some wind and about 20 degrees Celsius (some 60 degrees Fahrenheit), but we were quite pleased to have proper coats with us. Our average speed was around 45 – 50 miles an hour. A lot of luggage and a little overweight (ca. 105 kg) meant that the Heinkel engine had to work a little bit harder. Besides, travelling along this coastline is a permanent up and down of the highway.
As we did not see Seattle after our arrival we decided to spend two days in Seattle on our way south to see all places of interest. We were extremely lucky to meet Beall Korry, who has been collecting scooters and motor bikes for a long time, and Beall showed us around Seattle. HCD-member Michael McWilliams, Colorado Springs, had provided the contact with Beall. Mike had already provided a lot of helpful information while we had still been planning the trip and had published details of our trip on his homepage http://www.heinkeltourist.com/. Thank you, Mike. Thus Beall had noticed us and offered his help in the Seattle area. Having arrived we phoned Beall and asked him for help. He proved a perfect tour guide for Seattle!
Travelling with Heinkel scooters in a real city with all its highways, freeways and interstates is a tough job and means in the first place avoiding the interstates. It wouldn’t be against the law but travelling at 65 miles an hour between huge bumpers with almost no distance is not the kind of holiday we were looking for. Therefore we were looking for minor roads with less traffic leading in the same direction.
Beall joined us on one of the modern Italian scooters at the Space Needle, symbol of the 1966 Expo. The view-point of the tower offered a magnificent sight on Seattle and in the far distance the border between Oregon and Washington. Beall guided us downtown and to his wonderfully located house with sea-view, showed us his collection of scooters (Vespa, Lambretta, NSU, Goggo etc.). We were invited to have dinner with him in his house and another Heinkel enthusiast (with his scooter) joined us. We really enjoyed a wonderful, exciting evening with friends. Beall is a designer of instruments at the Boeing plant and is fond of the design of European scooters. By the way, he is looking for another Heinkel scooter, model 102-A1. Anybody willing and able to help?
Not only because of the unusual time I spent on my scooter, but also exhausted after hours of English conversation (I am not that proficient in English) I was absolutely tired over the first few days. So we were very pleased when Beall generously offered to accommodate us that night. The following day after another full-scale sight-seeing-tour he accompanied us on our way to Oregon. Thank you, Beall, for your great hospitality and all your help. It was great.
Our next destination was Portland, Oregon. As I knew the city, I could show my friend Levent around the place as well as around Oregon City, not to forget a nearby College with its automotive department workshop I got to know years ago because of a partnership between my college in Hanover/Germany and Clackamas Community College. An American couple, both former staff-members, have been friends of mine and welcomed us as typical American hosts. We stayed with them and after sightseeing, shopping and breakfast we continued our trip directly along the Western coast to Lincoln City. Huge trees, steep rocks and strong winds from the seaside were typical for the next 300 km. Then, all of a sudden, my scooter seemed to run out of gas or could it be the ignition system, however, there was the smell of leaking gas. I signaled my problem to Levent by flashing the headlights. He did not understand at once and gestured “What’s wrong with you?”
We stopped soon after in a pull off. After opening the cover of the carburetor I immediately noticed the loose float. I was quite pleased to realize the problem that quickly, when my friend Levent advised me also to check the accelerator pump, which is in such cases often the second problem. He was absolutely right to say so, in fact not only the bolts of the float, but also the bolts of the accelerator pump had to be tightened. The cause of it? Either vibrations on board the cargo plane or while riding on excellent American roads...
Whatsoever, spanners size 9 and 19 helped us to get everything in perfect order again and the trip was continued, direction Waldport, using coastal road 101. Fortunately we could continue our trip without any further trouble, the only break we had was for lunch at a sandy beach, only extended for an after-lunch nap, on the Heinkel as shown in the picture.
We stayed in Waldport with friends of mine, Cindy and Jim. I got to know them and made friends with them years ago, when they were still senior lecturers at the college my German college was in touch with. Their hospitality, the accommodation/catering they provided, their care for our well-being, it was just incredible. Thank you so much, Cindy and Jim.
Keen to get to California we left the following day. Along the road we noticed huge posters advertising for sand or dune buggies. As a real beetle enthusiast – I drive one and am restoring a second one, a convertible – I would have liked to go for a ride with one of these vehicles, which were mostly powered by air-cooled beetle engines. As our Heinkels provided a permanent shake I decided not to go for a trial run with these fun cars – I just didn’t want to be unfaithful to my beloved Heinkel. So, in the end we managed to get to Coos Bay as planned. There are various National Parks with the huge Redwood forests and giant trees lined up down to Eureka.
Meanwhile we were getting closer to the Californian border and the weather improved further, temperatures around 25 degrees Celsius – equivalent to some 80 degrees Fahrenheit, which is really Heinkel-like. Lots of photos of this wonderful landscape had to be taken – water, trees, rocks, we and our Heinkels very close to all these beauty spots. The following photos may give you an idea of this area.
After passing Eureka southwards route 101 is a freeway, which forced us to leave it and choose narrow coastal roads instead. On the one hand it meant terrific views and riding, on the other hand gas stations, motels, fast food restaurants could not or hardly be found anywhere, neither next to the road, nor on our (German) motor club map. In spite of these difficulties we were never forced to sleep rough, nor to push our scooters instead of riding them and we did not really starve either. But, to be honest, there was one unpleasant situation when I ran out of gas. Fortunately Levent was able to buy some gas a few miles ahead because he had still some of this power liquid in his tank. He got to the next gas station and provided enough of the valuable stuff for my Heinkel to get to the gas station myself. That was tough – I was not keen to spend the night on a remote Californian road in mother nature … The question was, how could Levent ride further than me? The reason may be that his Pallas-carburetor consumes about 10 per cent less than my Bing-carburetor. My wife, however, has her own theory: she asked whether my ‘few’ kilos of overweight might have caused the higher gas consumption. What a strange idea … Downhill it helped a lot to save gas. No more word about it. Back to business.
More and more sign posts indicated that we were approaching San Francisco. We wanted to arrive during the day to cross the famous Golden Gate Bridge at sunshine. We stayed in Bodega Beach, had breakfast, filled the tanks of our Heinkels and started out special adventure ‘highway maze or labyrinth San Francisco’. Full concentration was required not to miss the right junction or exit until we finally reached the huge city of San Francisco via Golden Gate of course. Two proud ‘Heinklists’ maintaining their course. No fee/toll was charged, so without any stop we enjoyed the moment with water, sunshine, and some light crosswind. It was a unique feeling to cross this world-famous, historical bridge on our 10 inch wheels.
Soon we found a motel and being in a generous mood our reliable Heinkel ‘companions’ were offered a day off, while we – on foot – did all the essentials: sightseeing, shopping, dining at Mell’s (we were in the States)...
But, there was something else. Yes, somewhere in this city an American Heinkel enthusiast was probably waiting for us. Hadn’t Michael given us his telephone number? Let’s get in touch with him...
“Welcome to the United States” sounds the voice of Heinkel enthusiast Harley Welch in San Francisco on the phone. “I’ll pick you up for breakfast tomorrow morning” he added. What a kind offer. We were looking forward to meeting him the following day and went to rest in perfect mood.
The following morning HCD (Heinkel Club Deutschland) member Harley and his friend Debbie with their crème Heinkel A2 came to our motel and guided us ‘downtown’ – right across San Francisco – uphill, 1st gear, braking, downhill, 1st gear, braking, to the famous zigzag road, named Lombard Street. This feeder road to the Golden Gate Bridge is known as the most curvy road on earth. In front of a street café we enjoyed our breakfast and had a chat about private life and – of course – Heinkel adventures.
Then we rode to Harley’s bike garage, he wanted to show us around his workshop and his remarkable collection of English and Italian motorbikes. Then he guided us to the most popular viewpoints in San Francisco. Group photos from the top down on to the city and the prison island Alcatraz were a ‘must’ for us. Finally Harley and Debbie invited us to the most frugal dinner one can imagine – a wonderful change to the usual Heinkel-tour-fast food McD. Thank you, Debbie and Harley, for everything you did for us!
Harley knows quite a lot of bikers and scooter riders in San Francisco, and he invited us to join his biker friends at their meeting in their favorite restaurant. When we arrived on our Heinkels there was a tremendous ‘hallo’ and questions like “These scooters from Germany, really???” Not easy for us to answer all their questions with our limited school English.
The highlight of the evening was an excellently restored Maico scooter, whose owner proudly showed us a special badge on the front of the scooter: ‘Hoske & Co., Hannover’ was written on it. Ernst Hoske, well-known producer of individual tanks and exhaust pipes in Hameln – some 25 miles from Hannover – used to have an outlet in Hannover decades ago. This scooter had been delivered in Hannover – my home town. The scooter world is a small world.
The wonderful day with Harley and Debbie passed quickly, so we promised to meet them again on our trip back from Los Angeles. In addition we asked them to help us organize the air lift of our scooters to Germany. The next morning Harley accompanied/helped us to leave the city on suitable roads and guided us to No 101, direction Los Angeles.
Now we were on our own again, and on our way we proudly noticed Santa Barbara, Malibu, Santa Monica, to get there on our Heinkels, places mentioned in the media, mainly the Yellow Press and unfortunately often in connection with fire disasters and we were there!
We had travelled 2500 kilometers (1600 miles) by now and had to do the regular technical check of the scooters, which meant checking/refilling oil, adjusting the valve clearance, replacing defective bulbs etc.
Optimistically we continued our trip and got the huge white letters ‘Hollywood’ in perfect sunshine. The nearer we got the more traffic on the road and at 14.00 o’clock we noticed that keeping pace with just 10bhp was not that easy.
All of a sudden our Hollywood dreams were a thing of the past when a police siren from a police car right behind us forced us to slow down from 55 miles and made us stop. The officer, his hand at the gun, came up and told us “You are too slow – out – out …” Surprised, I shrugged my shoulders and pointed at the speedometer of the Heinkel with its 120 km/h scale, the officer seemed confused and surprised.
Whether he had read miles instead of kilometers I don’t know. At least he smiled, but ordered strictly: “Next out.” So Levent and I left the highway and recovered from this strange experience and came to the conclusion that we were always too fast in Germany, the country with no speed limit, and too slow in the United States – the country with the speed limits. A strange world for Heinkelists...
It was already getting dark when we continued our trip to San Diego, the Mexican border. Now, dear readers, don’t ask for details which road we took … we couldn’t find any other road! And don’t let police officers/sheriffs/the CIA etc read this report …We want to keep our clean license...
As it was not very far from San Diego to our destination Mexican border, we stayed for a day to see the harbor and the town. Among other points of interest the famous historical carrier Midway and parts of the American Navy can be seen in the harbor.
Finally we started to see the nearby Mexican border to take the photos to prove our arrival. Unfortunately taking photos was strictly forbidden and we had no other choice than taking some secret photos without the Heinkels. However the vegetation and the wonderful weather were worth to take a number of photos.
Our odometers showed that we had travelled more than 3000 kms from the Canadian to the Mexican border, all the time on coastal road 101, Washington-Oregon-California. And the whole distance without any real technical problem. Heinkel quality at its best! But though having taken photos of our destination the trip was not yet over. Three weeks had passed but another 10 days were ahead of us. The trip ‘home’ to San Francisco on a new route away from the coast had still to be accomplished. The flight home (of the scooters of course) came up to our minds … Would we cope with all the problems to come?
We decided to leave the coastal area, the interior of the country was said to be warmer, some 40 degrees Celsius, or more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit would be realistic … Endless highways, dead straight towards Bakersfield, along the Sierra Nevada, destination Fresno. “Avoid Interstate No 5” was the warning of a museum guide at the water reservoir, where we enjoyed a short break, “there will be far too many trucks, and it’s the main route between LA and Frisco!”
So we took minor roads instead to Hollister and stayed at the motel for one night. Whether the Hilton would have been better we don’t know, but certainly more expensive. Along the main road there was a bike shop with US chopper-type bikes. Really eccentric designs...
The next cities were Stockton and Sacramento - the chance to visit a motor museum and a huge railway museum as well. Having seen them we changed our direction again towards the coast. Yes, it was hot, too hot and we had to keep our destination San Francisco in mind.
On mountainous roads, often woods on both sides of the road, we got to Sebastopol. Sebastopol? Doesn’t that sound Russian? We soon found out after crossing Russriver and noticing several orthodox churches. Years ago, when travelling the Ukraine, I visited a town, the name of the place sounded quite similar; it was the harbor of the Crimean town Sewastopol. The same moment I remembered a note in my tour guide, which mentioned a Russian enclave in California. There is still a Russian fort in the area, of course we had a closer look at it. The huge tree in the picture can be seen in this fort.
Then we took coastal road No 1 further south. We did not only meet the Vikings shown with their bikes in the picture, but also a viper on its way south, on the road again...
The next thing worth mentioning was a problem with Levent’s Heinkel A0, when the clutch cable suddenly tore apart. There is a German proverb that came up to my mind, it says shoemakers have got the worst shoes. Levent is not a shoemaker but a master craftsman, specialized on cars, bikes and – scooters! But it was no problem for him to fix it and we spent the following night in the harbor motel next to the lighthouse viewpoint Point Reyes.
We continued our trip to San Francisco, avoiding any wrong way or diversion. We finally got back to the city. This time we did not only cross Golden Gate on 10 inch wheels, but also on foot and enjoyed the fantastic view. The bridge has got extremely strong cables – see picture – if only Levent had used one of them for the clutch cable of his A0. There is another German proverb, I think the English expression is “don’t mock the afflicted”. Sorry Levent, I did.
The obligatory points of interest, e.g. a ride on the cable car etc were a must for us, the tourists, but without our Heinkel Tourists. Then these “Tourists” had to be prepared for the flight home, you certainly remember from the very beginning of my report: gas tanks had to be emptied etc, scooters fastened on aluminum racks and not on wood to avoid the invasion of Europe by American wood worms … The shipping contractor and airline took over the scooters.
We returned to the motel by public transport. The following morning, Harley, the American HCD member, took us, the human tourists, to San Francisco Airport – in his veteran Volvo. Bye-bye USA after five and a half weeks and 6000 kilometers on our scooters, without any serious engine trouble, no accidents, and in good health...
Once more: Thank you so much to our American friends and supporters and if you decide to come over to Europe, let Levent and me know: We will try to return the great hospitality we enjoyed in your country.