CANNONBALL: OUT OF THE FLATLANDS

Bradford Wilmarth won the first Cannonball on his 1913 Excelsior, and is one of three riding the same machine this year. He's also in the lead, with the oldest bike with a perfect mileage and timing score.

Yesterday (Thursday Sep 13) mysterious lumps appeared on the formerly golden and flat horizon of Minnesota; we had finally reached the Black Hills of South Dakota, home of Wall Drug, Mt Rushmore, and Sturgis, legendary Midwestern mecca of Bikerdom.  The Motorcycle Cannonball has a ‘day off’ in Sturgis, mostly because there are excellent machining facilities here, and they are needed my many, including myself.

Famous indeed. I do believe Joe is in second place on his J series Harley Davidson

An 8 hour session on lathes, grinders, and presses means my Velocette will be back in action today (Friday), fingers crossed, after major mechanical mayhem early on.  I wasn’t alone working in Lonnie Isam Sr’s shop ‘Competition Distributing’, which specializes in parts for vintage Harleys (and I mean vintage – there are lots of belt drive and early J series bikes being assembled, as well as a lovely Ace four, and two half-scale Cyclone engines!).

Looking every inch the square-jawed fireman he is, Tom is also in the top 10 riders in the points game, also aboard a J series Harley

Not riding for 5 days meant Team Oily Rag/Vintagent had time to take more collodion/wet plate tintypes of the riders, recording their remarkably heroic visages for posterity, and likely a book in the future.  They’re unlike any other photos you’ll see of this media-saturated event.  The extra time also meant an in-depth visit with John Parham of the National Motorcycle Museum in Anamosa, Iowa, whose collection of motorcycle ephemera is exceptional…and in which I’ve found previously unpublished material on the early days of Harley Davidson, Indian, and the Board Track era.  I’ve been pestered by publishers to write a Board Track book, and now I might just have the original imagery to do so…

John Parham of the National Motorcycle Museum in Anamosa, Iowa. John founded J&P Enterprises, the legendary mail-order motorcycle accessories business. It allowed him to build up an amazing collection of bikes and memorabilia, and build a museum for his retirement.

The only drawback of making tintypes is the lack of ‘motion’ shots, and landscapes.  Make no mistake, the heartland of America is a beautiful place, evoking the art of Grant Wood and Thomas Hart Benton, and I would have liked to explore every place we drove through…as I passed my 50th birthday in Spirit Lake, Iowa, I reflected on the -for me- exotic locale, a place I’d never been that was in some ways equally as foreign as the faraway countries I’ve lived in.  I’ll definitely come back.

Trying out a Brough Superior 680 from the NMM

Posted on by Paul d'Orléans in Uncategorized Leave a comment

CANNONBALL ROLLING EVER ONWARD…

Doug Feinsod changes the engine on his Henderson 4-cyl…lucky he had a spare in a crate! The main bearings (3 in this case) were rumbling…

The Motorcycle Cannonball proceeds apace with mechanical carnage and great celebration.  In the first 3 days of the ride, nearly half the machines have had mechanical ‘issues’, and a few have missed whole days, or two, or three!  Yet their intrepid/mad riders do their best, as we’d all rather be riding than wrenching in a grassy field, parking lot, or borrowed workshop.  A few of the teams brought mobile machine shops, and are taking care of business on theirs, and a line of customers who needed a bit of help!

Team Oily Rag /Vintagent's Velocette KTT is an invited interloper to the halls of the Behemoth…

Sunday saw the gang rolling into a huge reception at the Harley Davidson museum, with thousands of bikers lined up on the capacious Milwaukee grass.  As the Team Oily Rag/Vintagent Velocette KTT is waiting for camshaft help, it gave Paul d’Orleans and Susan McLaughlin a chance to take some collodion/wet plate photographs, which are reproduced here  for ‘Oily Rag’ magazine.

Shiny Kimura's 1913 Indian, which gave a spot of the grumbles somewhere in Ohio…

Stay tuned for further development… and more bad puns…

Ah, a wee bit of girly shot/badass, with photographer Susan McLaughlin…

- Paul d’Orleans

Posted on by Paul d'Orléans in Uncategorized 5 Comments

BIARRITZ OR BUST

A submarining Commando, somewhere under the English Channel…

What can you learn from taking your father’s 1972 Norton Commando on a summer Grand Tour?  That is, 800 miles with little preparation, on the bike your father bought new, never restored or even had the crankcases apart? As I discovered last month on a journey-cut-short to the South of France, the answer is ‘quite a lot’.

I never really ‘got’ the Commando when I was young: the Featherbed models hold all the mystique, being the basis for the all-conquering Manx, with the many great riders who chose it as their steed. As I grew up, so did my tastes, and I started to understand the beauty of the Commando…especially the gently modified example residing in the family garage. With the chipped original paint, the original tank (scratched, and missing most of the Norton decals), the S-type seat fitted soon after purchase when the standard Roadster item failed (but which is now looking quite the worse for wear with a split and rogue piping), the shortened Vincent bars which my father fitted along the way, the Barleycorn rearsets that arrived recently (already with scars from a drop), and the John Tickle headlamp brackets with pin holes in the chrome… it was nearly the perfect road machine, in my eyes. Maybe romanticism, but it really spoke to me.

Who would leave sunny skies for certain rain?

I’ve already written about how much I loved my first ride on the machine, and I was determined to further the experience with a Summer Grand Tour, eschewing the easy option of my modern BMW. Before I left, with 150 miles of test-riding and a new tire, I felt confident enough to make the most difficult step of my journey: pushing the Norton out of the garage and riding it down the road. Lao Tzu really knew what he was talking about with “the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”.

So off I went, blazing into the warm night to catch the 1am Eurotunnel, chest on the tank, stopping near Brands Hatch for fuel, keeping an eye on the tacho needle, keeping it hovering at 4K, digging the warm glow from the instruments and reflected light on the front mudguard (and how warm is that filament light, versus the modern halogens of passing cars).  Once on the train, I managed a quick doze under the bike, with no oil loss ruining my helmet hair, the heat from the engine keeping me cosy, and then it was chest on the tank again, through the cold and rain of Northern France. At my breakfast stop, a gentleman confronted me: “Is that your Norton outside?” On admitting that it was, he sat for half an hour discussing the virtues of British machines, owning a Velocette Venom himself. It always astounds me how classic machine ownership gives admission to the friendliest club in the world.

When France turns sunny…

As the sun broke through the clouds and chased me from Rouen to Le Mans, a Mercedes estate pulled up alongside at 100kph, the father pointing and smiling with the children in the back waving and taking photos. It really brings comfort to my soul that the beauty of a motorcycle transcends generations.

But all good things must come to an end, and I soon learned the truth in the adage Proper Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance. At the péage north of Tours my ticket would not go into the machine and blew out on to the ground.  As I bent down to pick it up, I noticed the primary chaincase was covered in oil; the bike was not feeling good. I had felt a loss of compression when I pulled away from the previous aire, but, resolving that I could do nothing about it, tried to press on, planning to do a repair when I arrived in Biarritz.

The very Biarritz which drew Nicolas southward…

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. On reflection, I should have got off the autoroute and called for recovery as soon as the engine started to turn sour. In the end, I limped the Commando to the next junction – possibly the most nerve wracking 8km of my life – with the engine sounding very sad and losing power all the time. I phoned my insurers, slept in a field under the sun for 2 hours and woke to a very agreeable chap in an ancient Renault Nevada with a trailer on the back who towed my bike to his garage. All fairly straightforward; my flight home was booked by my insurers the next day and the Norton should be back home later this week.

So in a roundabout way I’ve got to my point: what did I learn? Firstly, the more you use older machines, the more you learn about them and the more issues you iron out. Your conversation with the machine develops and you begin to understand what’s going on beneath you, when something is going wrong, and fix it before disaster strikes. This winter, I’ll rebuild the engine to a better standard than ever departed Woolwich. Then, with confidence in all major components, and preserving the patina on the machine, I should, finally, really, have my perfect road machine.

Don't worry young Nick; they did this when new, too…

Secondly, the adventure really does start with the first step. Having a pipe dream for THE epic trip with spreadsheets, costings and route plans is all well and good, but actions speak louder than words: actually getting on the road may be the hardest part, but it is also the most liberating. Although my trip was a failure in some ways, I also had a wonderful adventure with some great stories to tell; I felt mentally and physically tested…something not true of sitting at a desk. If more riders realized insurance breakdown cover provides a safety net, maybe more would make the leap from dreaming, to tires on tarmac.

- Nicholas Biebuyck

Posted on by simplymarvellous in Uncategorized 2 Comments

THE GYPSY LIFE

The search for a gypsy caravan had certain aesthetic parameters; originality and lack of restoration were the main ones, yet it still needed to be in a serviceable and usable condition. It was to be used as an exterior spare bedroom to our house, plus as an escape pod for anyone needing time alone.

After much searching and finding over-restored freshly painted vans, sold as perfect examples but in reality, over-restored horrors in garish fresh colours, a proper candidate was found. This 1920 gypsy bow top caravan had rust on the axles, slightly wonky wooden wheels in need of repair, and the faded glory of flaking paint and brittle wood. Inside, all was originality and atmosphere. Although the stove was missing a part, the pull-out bed walls and roof, spoke of a life in times gone by. They worked, the van rolled, now all that’s missing is a pony to pull it.

The vendor asked if I would like it repainted in the traditional colours and decorations….no thank you. Well how about repainting the wheels and pinstriping them? No thank you!  I really do like the look as it is, so please leave them alone.

It has clearly been in a gypsy family for a long time. Sometime in the past the traditional paint has been touched up and parts painted to keep the wood sound. Now it’s flaking and faded and therefore looks fabulous.

The one item that slightly sticks in my throat is that the canvas has HAD to be replaced on the bow top – it was a necessity that even I had to concede…the old canvas was rotten, full of holes and beyond repair. To keep the van in its ‘oily rag’ condition, water had to be stopped from getting into the interior. Therefore, new Bright Green british canvas was used. Not ideal because it’s really BRIGHT GREEN. The green canvas will fade down if I leave the caravan to the elements over the winter. Meanwhile we sit and marvel at the original beauty and craftsmanship of the thing, struggling to come to terms that once, this was home for a (possibly) quite large Gypsy family. With a bit of imagination, you can still hear the chatter and laughter of the children and the clucking of the hens…

- Adrian Cole

Posted on by Paul d'Orléans in Uncategorized 1 Comment

MOTORCYCLE CANNONBALL: PRE-RIDE PREP

Team Oily Rag/Vintagent's entry, 'The Mule', ready for action

The 2nd Motorcycle Cannonball Endurance Run will begin Friday Sep 7 from Newburgh New York.  That’s the headline anyway; as participants, we’ve all been knee-deep in motorcycle prep for weeks…our ‘ride’ began long ago.  Anyone with a lick of sense about old vehicles understands what it means to ride 4000 miles in 17 days, on a machine which left the factory at least 82 years ago.  Not impossible, just demanding…and anything which goes wrong, and you can’t fix, means the end of your journey, so be a good Boy Scout, and be prepared.

One of 17 Henderson 4-cylinder machines, the second most popular Cannonball bike, after the Harley 'J' series

While my ’28/’33 Velocette hybrid KSS/KTT racer seems mechanically sound after a full rebuild (it certainly sounds healthy through that straight pipe…Loud), I hadn’t attended the necessary brake lights for the rally.  Team Vintagent / Oily Rag arrived a day early, in company with most of the rally, to sort out the last bits of prep…although I saw some serious rebuilding going on in one trailer – like how The Mule looked a week ago.  Yikes!

Bomber art graces the tank of this 1929 Harley J

After working a few hours on the Velo, the team was hungry, and Yelp provided the ‘best Peruvian food’ in Newburgh, which sounded Pisco-soury to me.  On mentioning our destination to one of the locals (a diminutive Santa Claus lookalike), he said no way would he venture to downtown Newburgh, ‘there are gangs down there.  It’s serious. Don’t go.’  And of course, downtown Newburgh looked just fine to me, and the Peruvian food was excellent.  Pisco sours for all!

All the way from Australia…team Wicker Basket!

 

Oh dear. One more day of wrench time left…

Shinya Kimura's 1913 Indian twin, which he rode on the first Cannonball, and had mechanical trouble. He's determined to finish this year

Posted on by Paul d'Orléans in Uncategorized 1 Comment

AN ELEGANT PARISIAN OF A CERTAIN AGE…

An open door, a seat of crackled leather, a curvaceous windscreen, an open top, a sunny day…all invitations to motoring pleasure beyond description

I’m a nut for Facel Vegas, at least the big sedans with Chrysler Firepower Hemis installed…they’re the best combo of French style and a reliable, powerful Yank engine.  The very height of chic in the 1950s and 60s, big Facel’s – made in Paris! – were favorites of movie stars and the denizens of le demi monde.  Famous owners included  Pablo PicassoAva GardnerRingo StarrJoan FontaineStirling MossTony CurtisDean MartinFred AstaireMaurice Trintignant….and the list goes on.  Nobody wanted an old Facel 10 years ago, and prices languished (meaning, you could find one cheap!), but now shiny ones are selling for six figures.

The big Facel has an unmistakeable grille, all in pressed stainless steel. No rusty brightwork here…but the body? Well…

These photos recently surfaced of an original-paint Facel Vega FV-2 Convertible, the only one made in this model, of 11 total big Facel ragtops.  The very essence of faded glamour, her lipstick red leather interior beckons…

1950s heritage is hinted in the swelling boot, from a day when curves were appreciated…

The Facel Vega marque was created in 1954 by Jean Daninos; although FACEL had been in business making metal parts since 1939, a lucrative contract with Ford to build 54,000 Simca/Ford Cométes gave Daninos the impetus and capital to build a car of his own.  After the gorgeous, expensive, and powerful FV and HK models, using big American V8s, Facel Vega branched out to a smaller sports car, the Facellia, which used a disastrous Pont-á-Mousson engine, whose utter unreliability caused the downfall of this once spectacular marque by 1964.

Good for a burbling 120mph, the four-seat convertible just might outrun the rain.

- Paul d’Orléans

Posted on by Paul d'Orléans in Cars 2 Comments

OIL ON THE PEBBLES…

1928 Packard 443 Eight cylinder roadster in the Pre-War Preservation class at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance

While the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance -and the universe of shows, auctions, parties, and racing which revolve around it- is best known for fastidious, better-than-new re-creations of exotic automobiles and motorcycles, a new and still small movement is creeping under le tapez rouge.  With small ‘preservation’ classes in most shows (often sponsored by FIVA), the nooks and corners of very expensive golf courses reveal a few gems which have escaped the clutches of the shine-mad magpies dominating the historic vehicle scene.

The term ‘restoration’ applies to no vehicle I saw at Pebble; no automobile was ‘restored’ to resemble ex-factory condition. To qualify for Concours admission, it seems a car or motorcycle must be magically re-imagined as some über version of themselves…perhaps the spiritual essence of perfection which manufacturers would have liked to provide customers, but which market realities prohibit. While admirable, such un-driven wheeled demi-gods are a breed apart, statements of the Possible, but not necessarily the Real…and certainly not the Useful.

1911 Pierce 4, the first American 4-cylinder motorcycle, at the Bonhams Quail Lodge sale

So, like good historians, we turn to what is indisputably ‘real’; examples which retain their maker’s finish, even when time and the elements have exacted their toll. And here’s the charming thing; amidst a blinding sea of reflective polish, the drab bird sings.  Given the appreciative smiles of admirers lingering with a gloriously rusty old Packard, Stutz, or Maserati, the edifice of Restoration At All Costs seems to be cracking at the big shows.  Collectors are getting the message that the Rare Vehicle isn’t the one which has been tarted up, but the one which hasn’t.

In this, the old vehicle world lags decades behind the antique furniture and art worlds, where the market draws a sharp line between the Original and the Questionable, primarily by doubling or trebling the sale price.  Only a fool would re-finish a late 18th Century Louis XV credenza; why has this message not got through to the ‘car people’?

Lovely c.1968 Iso Grifo GL with a layer of dust, and current registration. Bodywork by Giotto Bizzarini, commissioned by Renzo Rivolta, every one of the Corvette engines used was dismantled and 'blueprinted' to give 400+hp…

Motorcycle collectors, in this regard, are well in advance of their four-wheel kin, and values of ‘original paint’ bikes are well above an identical, restored version, for several reasons.  First is the historic truth of an original machine, but a second, more sinister trend is pushing prices of well-documented yet rusty Centenarians through the roof; it’s very easy to install replica parts on a shiny machine, and not much more difficult to make an entirely new one.  While few outright crooks pass these off as the genuine article, passage of such machines through successive hands is like the game of ‘telephone’; the message changes in every iteration, and eventually, like the Velveteen Rabbit, the simulacra becomes Real.  As a result, a shiny old motorcycle is utterly untrustworthy, an object of suspicion and not celebration, guilty until proved innocent of fraud.

This is an area in which the Car and Motorbike worlds diverge; a Bugatti Type 35 built up from only an original gearbox, or nothing at all in the case of a Pur Sang replica, will still fetch 8 figures, whereas no replica ‘teens Henderson 4-cylinder or Indian Board Track Racer is considered anything but office sculpture by collectors, and rarely breaks $45,000 – not a great profit for the replicators, while the Real Things are deep in six-figure territory, and climbing.

1961 Aston Martin DB4 series IV Touring Coupé, with a bit of rust on its wires, but otherwise in fantastic shape, in the Post-War Preservation class at Pebble

There may yet be a day in Pebble’s future where genuine, original condition machines numerically balance the shiny, questionable re-creations on the golf course lawn; at the moment, they’re about 1/8th of the total.  The mere fact of their inclusion is a positive sign.  I predict the future of car collecting to be increasingly split; rising values for excellent original paint vehicles – eventually exceeding their shiny brethren, as it should be – with a still-strong market for shiny, ego boosting dream machines, perfect for deep-pocket magpies.

- Paul d’Orléans

1933 Riley 1.3l Lincock Coupe at the Bonhams Quail Lodge sale

'Red' Fred Johansen's 1960 Maserati 3500 GT which he spotted languishing in a neighbor's carport, and begged for years to buy it…which eventually worked. Now he rallies the car frequently.

1928 Indian Scout factory hillclimber at the MidAmerica Auctions tent, looking ready to kick up dirt all over again

Posted on by Paul d'Orléans in Uncategorized 2 Comments

THE MOON AND THE SLEDGEHAMMER

Peter Page and his oversize, steam-engine spanners

‘The Moon and The Sledgehammer’, an independent film made in 1970, has achieved near cult status amongst an unlikely pairing of steam and movie buffs.

Created by the talented film maker Philip Trevelyan this is a documentary about the Page family of East Sussex, England. The elderly father, two sons and two daughters live in a cottage in the middle of a wood. They have no electricity and no running water. They are as far as can be, self-sufficient – except they don’t recognise the term; for them this is the only life they know.

Mr. Page greets the morning birds…

Peter and Jim are the two sons of the colourful Mr.Page. They are intuitive engineers who take on any project set before them, from re-tubing a steam engine boiler to grinding a crankshaft, to pouring and scraping bearings. They use machine tools of considerable size and antiquity which are scattered throughout the woods, protected by corrugated iron roofs and driven by antediluvian stationary engines. Their levels of skill and craftsmanship are outstanding.

The sisters, Nancy and Kath are talented seamstresses, they keep house, and look after the poultry. They have strong and independent characters. They smoke continuously!

Nancy Page at her pump organ…

Mr.Page senior is nominally ‘in charge’. The movie centres upon the relationships between him and the siblings, and rather proves that ‘in charge’ is probably the wrong description. It is a remarkable film documenting a remarkably eccentric family. There are moments of poignancy, humour and profundity. Theirs is a mode of living few of us will ever be vouchsafed a glimpse of…I urge you to take this opportunity to see the film, for their way of life and habitation is sadly no more. Most of the cast have moved on to their rewards.

A website dedicated to the Page family, this movie, its making and its makers is to be found at http://www.themoonandthesledgehammer.com/

Posted on by Paul d'Orléans in Family Tradition, Tools Leave a comment

FOREVER ALFA

Rakish and a bit dangerous; a well muscled fellow in a tux

When David Howard first acquired this archetypal Oily Rag exotic, an original-paint 1930s Alfa 1750, it cost him £175 ($275, back in 1956). The estimate when it goes to auction at Bonhams’ Goodwood Revival sale on 15th September is £120,000+.  In theory, he stands to make a… er, modest profit on his original investment, but the story isn’t quite that simple.

The car, a 1932 Fifth Series Alfa Romeo 1750 Gran Turismo cabriolet, was exhibited when new by the UK importers at London’s Olympia Motor Show. It was sold off Stand 66 for £995 to Miss Jane Laing, the dashing younger daughter of a Newcastle marine engineer. Jane’s elder sister already owned a similar Alfa, but they traded it for this one, which had been specially prepared for the Show with chrome plated fittings (including the brake drums) and a black and silver snakeskin interior.

Long and elegant, the Alfa 1750 was a film star in its own right

By the time David Howard, at that time a car-crazy teenager with ambitions, as he says, well beyond his station in life, caught up with the car it was on display in a very different environment – on the sales floor of a run-down used car emporium in London’s Great West Road. One short ride was enough to convince the young enthusiast that they were made for each other.

He raised the cash by selling an heirloom carriage clock his octogenarian Godmother had just given him. “Reprehensible,” he says now, “But kinder than selling the old bird herself, which I would have done if I had to.” So the Alfa was his.

The car’s appeal to a certain type of collector today is that it has been properly maintained but never restored, damaged or modified in any significant way. The lusty six-cylinder twin cam engine, four-speed manual transmission, instrumentation, lighting system and all the evocative period fixtures and fittings are pretty much as they were when Miss Laing took delivery 80 years ago. Metallic silver-grey paintwork, worn but intact, gives the car a glamorous gravitas that would make it a stand-out in the Preservation class at Pebble Beach or Villa d’Este.

A picture full of appeal; may I have a drive please?

 

But what of its history since it first came into young Howard’s hands? Well, with no income to speak of, and not even a driving licence to his name, he was in no position to become the long-term keeper of a car of such distinguished pedigree. After his 17th birthday, duly licensed, he enjoyed it to the maximum for a year or so before exchanging it with another London dealer for a 4½-litre Invicta.

Over the next half century, having established himself as one of Britain’s best known dealers in Vintage and classic machinery, David had more top quality cars through his hands than most of us have ever seen. But, somehow, the memory of that first thoroughbred lingered on until one day in 1994, browsing through some old paperwork, he came upon a photograph of it he had taken all those years ago. Whatever had happened, he wondered, to ETN 627? Had she survived?

Spare wheel included, along with a trunk for several cases of Prosecco…

A phone call to the national vehicle registration office in Swansea soon established that the Alfa did still exist. They wouldn’t reveal any details, of course, so David wrote to them asking that his letter be forwarded to the current owner. A week later a reply arrived from the very man who had bought it back in 1957 direct from the dealer Howard had sold it to. He explained that he had driven it for only a few months before a big-end failed, since when it had sat untouched in his garage awaiting an engine rebuild.

Persuading the guy to part with the car was not so straightforward, but eventually a deal was struck and David Howard became the owner, second time around, of his very first car. Since then he has enjoyed re-visiting old friends and old haunts in it during return visits to the UK from his current home in rural France, revelling in its lively performance and refined handling. But the time has now come, he feels, to look for someone younger who will drive it regularly and cherish it in the same untouched condition for another generation.

Landau top to protect milady's hat…

“If I could put a binding legal covenant on the sale to prevent that car ever being restored,” he says, “I would.” So, step forward Oily Rag aficionados. Now is your moment…

 

- Douglas Blain

 

 

Posted on by Paul d'Orléans in Uncategorized Leave a comment

A COPPER TRADITION

The Copper Family which traces its ancestry back to 1593, has been singing its folksongs in and around Rottingdean, Sussex, since at least the end of the 18th . These old songs are maintained unchanged, unpolished and handed lovingly down from generation to generation. If that doesn’t qualify them as  being ‘Oily Rag’ I don’t know what does. For those who like to see a physical manifestation of such things then check out the Family songbooks.

Ancestor James ‘Brasser’ Copper (born 1845, into Rottingdean’s agrarian community) was encouraged to write down the words of some of his songs by his employer’s daughter, a Mrs Corrie. Until this moment, the songs had been passed down purely by the oral tradition. This method was necessitated by the fact that the labouring classes to which James and his predecessors belonged were unlettered; a legal requirement to learn the ‘three Rs’ was not enacted until 1870. If you wanted to know a song you had to learn it by heart. These people were not unintelligent however, merely uneducated. Brasser and his brother Tom were ambitious, and paid a penny a lesson to a charitable upper class lady, to receive instruction in the rudiments of literacy and numeracy.

Consequently, with that advantage they progressed a little more than their contemporaries, Brasser becoming farm bailiff (foreman) and Tom a publican. Thus it was possible, with much effort from Brasser, to write down the words to twenty-four of the Family’s songs. The spellings, although somewhat ‘freeform’ are perfectly intelligible and charming, for example, one song entitled ‘Here’s Adieu Sweet lovely Nancy’, Brasser renders as ‘Hears a Dew Sweet loveley Nancy’. Through a miracle of late 1920s technology copies were made of these writings by Mrs Corrie’s London lawyer and given to the Family. Since the original writings have disappeared, this was a most generous and fortunate act of historic significance.

In the late 1930s, Brassers’s son Jim, wrote down the words of almost the complete Family repertoire for his son and daughter in two further volumes. Written in old farm account books in a bold ‘Copperplate’ hand these are treasured items in the Copper Family archive and still used (sparingly) by them today. They will soon need conservation – but never restoration.

The Family continues to sing the songs handed down over the centuries unchanged, and uniquely for the English folk tradition, in a rough harmony style. With the arrival of grandchildren to the current senior family members, the Coppers have evidence of at least seven consecutive generations of singers. An Oily Rag tradition? Definitely.

Posted on by Paul d'Orléans in Family Tradition Leave a comment