Template Styles Style switcher

Colors

Background Image

About / Doug's Baja Nortons

In reflection I have asked myself, “ how does a white boy from a well planted, ivy covered brick wall suburb of Boston end up in a small agricultural pueblo in southern Baja Mexico building world class Norton Commandos”? If that is of any interest to you, please stay tuned and I will try to give you the “nutshell” version. Born in the 40’s and growing up in the magic of the 50’s and 60’s is an experience many of us share. I was the youngest son of a highly principled rugged individual workaholic dad who lived by “work hard and play hard”, and I add die young. I was 10 years old when he left at age 42 so there were many voids in his absence that I had to learn how to fill and with no solid answers as a guide, I developed a lot of questions. In retrospect it turned out OK. Questions open up possibilities when answers seem only to close them down. This reality has set my mode for the years that followed.

After college I went to work in a small molding factory to learn about this curious new industry…”Plastics”. That lead to 5 years with the New Britain Machine company, an established machine tool manufacturer where I was trained as a sales engineer for their new plastic molding machine division. Here I learned some exciting stuff about the precision required in all areas of the machines construction as well as assisting in their R&D department with new automated feedback systems just in their infancy. As questions developed, solutions evolved which was a valuable experience for me. What I also learned was that a guy with too many questions does not make a good salesman, confidence inspiring answers ( sometimes called B.S.) make sales. I ended my last sales trip with a ’69 Yamaha DT-1 shoehorned into the trunk of my Chevy Impala company car, this being my first motorcycle. Departure from said company was with exciting anticipation of the next question, “ what is west of the Missisippi”?

 

The year was 1970 and my brother and I had a plan; go west with what we had. His was a ’68 Yamaha 250 street scrambler and I found a ’69 Yamaha 350. After nearly ending my journey in Toronto for some very obvious reasons ( awkward cool meets dynamic go-go girl …they never looked like this in Boston) we finally landed in Denver. Here I discover my brother had a magnetic pull to continue, that being the girl that soon became his wife, so it was solo for me but that Yamaha and I had already bonded. Exactly 60 days from leaving the ivy covered walls in the mirrors and with 12,200 miles on the clock, I landed in Vail Colorado which became my new home for the next 26 years and a renaissance of my life. The new question was “what is the work that will give me authentic joy”. The magic of that town in the early pioneer days was a gift of freedom to discover what I needed. A guest lodge taught me that I was inherently a service person. A finish carpentry business I started showed me that I had a need to create with my hands. Then I had a blip on my intelligence screen when , with no experience in such a business, I decided to open a restaurant which I designed from menu to floor plan and then constructed it. It was only an 18 counter stool diner but the darn thing won many awards, even got a New York Times write up. What I learned from this was huge. It may sound like this is what “I” did but in reality, it was what “WE” did, meaning all the people who embraced my ideas and then showed me their way ( not always my way) to make it happen. I learned that as long as our goal is focused, there is no “right way”, there are many ways to get to that goal. I learned mucho listening and respect for the ways of others which I carry with me today and especially for all those people in that diner, we rocked.

OK, the nutshell is overflowing, what about Nortons. My first Norton was a 1971 Long Range Fastback, a Euro only model, and I discovered the irresistible qualities of this long stroke 360 degree twin. When it was right it was music, and when it wasn’t , it was frustrating noise. I hate things that don’t work as they should which launched my determination to make it right. Manuals, books, catalogs, everything I could find followed that purchase. It did OK, even a flawless 6000 mile back road roundtrip to New England but little problems were lurking and experience tells me they get big when not cured. I reasoned (?), why not another to ride while I was fixing the other which shortly turned into no less than 8 Nortons, all of them needing something to fix. Help is what I needed but many, not all, British bike shops had attitudes tainted by too many “ buy cheap, service cheap” customers. They did only what you asked and you better ask for the right stuff, even when they knew better, and always, the cost for this service was painful. Enough of this, upgrades were out there with some searching, asking and listening. I applied the upgrades I found one at a time while knowing deep down there was only one economical and right way, “ do it once, and do it right”. Also in this quest was the search for more horsepower and performance but my experience with those modifications of the time, from 940cc kits to belt drives, was they many times create more problems than they cured. A business plan was churning and in 1996, with a well conceived list of upgrades and a business mode of integrity, I launched a company that for a set up front price, with warranty, we would completely teardown and rebuild a customer’s Norton Commando with the upgrades that worked. Over the next 7 years that I owned that business, we put 32, often neglected, Nortons back on the road with style and dependability. I sold that business to the incredible talented and driven guy who work with me from the inception and who now has applied new technologies and custom components and clearly making that company the one who sets the bar.

I am also very proud to see that the basic core of upgrades, though certainly improved, are still in place addressing those same deficient areas of the stock machine. This is the way I learned to build them right so when after two years and my need to build again was obvious, how could I do them any other way. My retirement business called Doug’s Nortons was very low key with the first bike, #DN01 seen in the gallery or on the cover of the 2013 NOC calendar. It was an exercise in silver, a spec bike using mostly all the original components but embellishing them with polish, different color combos, stainless fasteners and chrome. This was my approach to preserve yet enhance the stock components and form, apply my own brand of style, always keeping the flavor of it’s classic era, and most importantly, build them to ride. This little business was perfect where I could create and apply all I have learned as well as enjoy several winter months in a place thoroughly under my skin, southern Baja California Mexico.

When my mate and I separated, I was operating Doug’s Nortons out of the shop that soon became her property. The world’s economic condition and my own at that time left me with very few options and since I could not except parting with the Baja and relocating in the states was very difficult, it was clear to me what I would do. I had this small piece of property acquired from a Mexicana friend and I had totally fallen in love with it. Fruit trees of all kinds, flowers, birds, palms, clean air and water, hot springs, and at the foot of the mile high peaks of the Sierra mountains in a tranquil little pueblo of simple yet happy folks just trying to fulfill basics and survive. They know better than I on that subject so I listened for answers to my questions. Aside from not having a clue what they told me, I’m terrible with languages, we used everything from sign language to lines in the dirt. With no electricity, we built my new home (the restored hut/shop where I live and work) with hand tools, hard work and a lot of smiles. The joy and creativity these people have with hardly anything but simple tools and their hands, has been an inspiration to me and it showed me the possibilities of doing the hand detail work that will be described in following text. With bike building on suspension, I have been working for years moving a huge inventory of parts and certainly items for mi casa. Suffice it to say, bike building is back with 2 Commandos constructed in what has become an amazingly efficient shop. I have included photos of my home, shop, and parts of the village (pueblo) as this is an integral part of the life and flavor of the environment where I do my work. I can’t separate them since the daily chores and routines are a requirement of maintaining “vida sencillo”. I have given myself the luxury of simplicity. When a Mexicano amigo said to me,” Duglas, how do you write about “US” when it is only “YOU”? I looked at him and said, “NO, it really is ALL about “US”. That was a very big nutshell. Gracias por escuchar (thank you for listening)

Ipsum

Ipsum

Ipsum

Ipsum

Ipsum

Ipsum

Ipsum

Ipsum

Ipsum

Ipsum

Ipsum

Ipsum

Ipsum

Ipsum