An Unusual Friendship

by Gerald Nelson

Note: This text originally appeared in the Vespa Club of America's member magazine American Scooterist, Autumn 2001.

An Unusual Friendship.

I bought a Heinkel Tourist motor scooter on June 1, 1989 from a gentleman named John Vernimmen, who now lives in Rochester, Michigan. This find came about through a friend of mine who knew I collected scooters. He told me of an old farmhouse behind his house, which had an old scooter sitting covered up in the barn since 1962. He felt I could pick it up cheap. After hearing this, I jumped into my old truck and high-tailed it to Rochester where my friend lived. When I arrived, my friend said, “Jerry, you are in luck, John’s son is over at the old farmhouse replacing windows so he could put it up for sale.” My friend introduced me to his neighbor and said I was here to look at the scooter , which was about to be put in a weekend garage sale. He took me out to the barn and pulled the cover off, exposing the beautiful Heinkel, which I had never seen or heard of before. With my heart fluttering, I nicely asked him how much he was asking. He asked if $200 was too much. I said no and within the hour I became the proud owner of a 1955 Heinkel Tourist motor scooter, still in mint condition..

Later that evening the original owner, John Vernimmen, showed up. John introduced himself, and noting my interest in the scooter, started acting like a seventy year old kid, by pulling the thing apart, showing me how everything worked. A week later, John showed up at my office at work with the original windshield attached to a leather and fur fairing. He also handed me the original tool kit and a brown folder with the original owner’s manual, part’s book, instruction manual, and technical and trouble-shooting guides. After reading through all this information, I learned that the scooter had been purchased on March 8, 1955, from the firm Jupiter, at 37 Quellinstraat, Antwerp, Belgium.

In April, 1956, with 5000 miles on his scooter, John moved from Belgium to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he resided until the spring of 1962. From there he migrated east to Rochester, Michigan, where he retired his scooter with 12,160 miles on it. John said he became so busy he didn’t have time for the scooter and therefore it sat covered for 27 years.

An Unusual Friendship.

In June, 1989, I was getting ready to move the scooter from my mother’s house to my storage facility. I loaded it into my truck, which had an enclosed top, chained it to the sides, and retired for the evening at my apartment. I got up early, ate, and left the apartment building. As I walked towards where I parked my truck, I noticed that the truck and scooter had been stolen. Being sick and heartbroken, I could barely manage to fill out a police report.

After two years and seven months, I had pretty much give up hope of the police ever recovering my lost goods. On January 25, 1992 at 11:00 AM, my wife handed me the phone saying the Canton police department wanted to talk with me. Police detective Panner proceeded to tell me on the phone that they had located the Heinkel after all this time in Farmington Hills, Michigan. I became so excited I could hardly talk He then had me call officer Fluhoffer of the Farmington Hills police department to make arrangements to pick it up. I told him just to impound it and I would pick it up the next day. The officer then asked me to talk to the gentleman who had current possession. The man then told me he would rather I pick it up from his house for fear the police wrecker would damage it. The next day I drove up to his house, noticing my beautiful Heinkel in the driveway, just saying “take me home”.

The gentleman of the house greeted me at the door and invited me in. We sat down at his dining room table and he began to explain what he had done to the Heinkel in the past two years. I asked him how he came to acquire the scooter. He replied that he bought it at the Harley-Davidson dealer for $400. He had seen it advertised in the local newspaper. He showed me the bill of sale to prove that he had bought it legally. Feeling that the dealership would be honest, he never thought of checking the vehicle number with the Secretary of State until he was ready to ride it. The following morning, he went to the police to find the rightful owner, saying he could not live with himself knowing someone else’s heart was broken, looking and hoping to find this rare machine. He then asked me how I wanted to handle what he had spent on the scooter, which totaled $217 for parts and manuals. I said I would pay for them since I needed them anyway. I then gave him $100 for being honest. He was reluctant to take it, saying the scooter was rightfully mine, but I finally convinced him. We found out at the time that we both worked in the same place, he as a machinist and I as a test coordinator for gas dynamometer testing.

The gentleman’s name is Allan Cook. My hat goes off to Allan for his honesty, and I hope I have made a new friend.

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