NORMAN — Johnie Wimer’s nickname is “Iron Butt.” The retired restaurant manager and current president of Norman’s Rock Creek Polo Club III homeowner’s association earned it from being able to ride motorcycles long distances.
He has a huge Honda VTX 1800 in the garage. In the past, he’s owned a 1957 Harley Davidson Sportster, 1972 Electraglide, 1948 Indian Chief and even a tiny 1959 Sears Allstate Highlander scooter.
What’s particularly remarkable about Wimer’s motorcycle history is that he still owns his first big wheel bike, a 1962 Matchless Pathfinder, that his folks bought him new at 16 for the then astronomic price of $600.
“We lived in Carlsbad, N.M., and I used to walk to Alta Vista Junior High School,” Wimer said. “On the way there was a little motorcycle shop that I went past every day.”
In that showroom the lad spied the red and white London, England-produced Matchless that captured his heart. It was the only new bike in the shop. Wimer told his folks about the bike. He actually had dreams about the Matchless. His folks were amused by the mechanical infatuation and gently teased him about it.
“One day, around three months later, my mom asked if I still wanted that motorcycle and I told her, ‘Of course,” he said. “She told me we should just go down and buy it.”
Wimer thought her teasing had reached the level of cruelty, but the family went to the shop and purchased it. The teenager knew how to operate the clutch from three or four spins on a friend’s bike and rode his new Pathfinder home.
“We didn’t have a garage and the first night I parked it in the front yard and slept next to it in my sleeping bag,” Wimer said. “I didn’t want to be away from my new motorcycle.”
Wimer had to dazzle his Adair and Pryor cousins with the Matchless. That’s a 750-mile one-way trip from Carlsbad in the Chihuahuan desert to the tiny burgs in Mayes County. Wimer’s mom, Lenora, suggested she ride with him on the motorcycle for the visit to her Okie brothers and sisters.
“My mom and dad are old school; when driving up to Oklahoma every year for vacation, we’d never stay in a motel,” Wimer said. “It was 14 hours in the car all the way through. If Dad would get sleepy, he’d pull over and snooze for a while and then go.”
The family tradition carried on. With Lenora on the saddle behind him, Wimer rode straight through on the single-cylinder motorcycle to Oklahoma.
“I was wore out when we got there,” he said. “We couldn’t really go over 55 mph.”
On the return trip back to New Mexico after a time, Wimer could barely keep his eyes open and the weather took a cold snap. He’d injured his heels playing football with the cousins, which also took a toll. About 80 miles out, his dad came to the rescue with their truck and took over riding the Matchless on the last leg home.
Wimer’s love affair with motorcycles wasn’t diminished after the Carlsbad to Adair marathon. At one time he had seven different bikes but never parted with that first Matchless.
“One of the things I like about my Matchless is that the gearing is just right, so you don’t have to feather the clutch to take off,” Wimer said. “It has a good, low gear.”
On the 1962 Pathfinder, the clutch lever is on the right-side handle bar and the brake lever is on the left.
Since those days, the levers on all bikes have been standardized to the opposite. There’s a steel needle on the gear pedal indicating which of the four speeds you’re in, but you have to peep down by the crankcase to see it.
“I don’t ever use it unless I’m stopped,” Wimer said.
There’s no ignition key — only an on-off switch. The Pathfinder is kick start only, with a magneto to charge the 6 volt battery. Not a single part, except the spark plug and tires, has ever been changed.
“I like the Matchless’ British styling like the Triumphs and Nortons,” Wimer said. “And I think of the fun I had on it as a kid.”
Wimer still has an iron posterior. He has ridden his big Honda VTX 1800 from Norman to Washington state, Florida and many other distant destinations.
“My wife flew and met me in Washington,” he said. “There’s nothing like long bike trips. We’re going to Pennsylvania this summer.”
Have you seen a cool vehicle around town? Writer Doug Hill’s always on the lookout for future Dig My Ride columns. Email him at Hillreviews@hotmail.com.