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MC 50-Einsatz in England

A story about Saint Herbert

14.10.14 South West Wiltshire, England

A little over a year ago my then 14 yr old son Archie found a broken Puch motorcycle tucked in the corner of his great uncles shed. It had come to the North of England via the children of an Austrian princess. She had had the bike on her parents shooting estate and brought it to England when she married her English husband 40 years ago.

It had been well used but was largely intact. We brought it down to the south of England last autumn, repaired the flat tire and replaced a broken fuel line. It fired it up briefly and then, quite definitely, died. Our local garage tried to find the fault but after several weeks of prodding suggested it was fundamentally broken and was a ‘non starter’.

Determined to see it work I typed in ‘Puch MC 50’ and found a web site in Austria I deem ‘Puch Heaven’. At its gate was a saint called Herbert. He was excited by the bike, the first edition of its type, and confidently wrote that if we were to ship the engine over he could repair it. Thrilled at the opportunity we managed to take the engine off the frame, cleaned from it the grease and grime we could and duly shipped it over.

Shortly after we received a series of photographs of the engine being dismantled with the broken second gear and the crank identified. Herbert’s fingers and the clean workbench were all we physically knew of the man himself. Over emails he kindly explained the problems, suggested the new parts required and where he could make good the broken bits. We sent over money enough for the parts and shipping and kept asking what he would want for his time and expertise to rebuild the engine.

The next series of photos we received showed the engine going back together in pristine condition, new gaskets, polished castings and freshly greased bearings. Ever present in the picture frames were micrometers, the spotless bench and Herbert’s fingers.

The engine came back to us a month ago, beautifully packed in a bespoke wooden crate. It glistened with potential once we revealed it tucked up safe. Now embarrassed at our efforts to clean the bike we polished the frame and chrome with purpose, bolted the engine back on and tried to fire it up. Alas, there was no spark. Nothing. Herbert kindly instructed us via hurried emails to use this wire not that and progressively adjust the gap between the points but still there was ‘no fire’.

Exasperated, Herbert then emailed that he and his wife were coming over to Salisbury England in a fortnight for a ‘weekend break’. He would bring a complete magneto kit and WOULD get the bike started. Did I have the nut spinner (ratchet), sockets, feeler gauge and wrenches? Hurriedly I bought the required tools supplementing my meagre toolbox of ancient screwdrivers and adjustable spanners.

Last Friday he and Gabriella did fly over. We met in Salisbury for dinner and he kindly gave Archie a picture book of Puch bikes and decals for the frame. To me he solemnly handed the requisite repair manual (so that the next time I might be more able). The following morning he and Gabi drove out to our village for the agreed 9AM start.

Never have I witnessed a more amiable and mechanically minded person. He worked steadily from the ignition outwards, through the carburettor and onto the wiring harness. Throughout there were cries of ‘defect’ parts, ‘foosh’ (German for a dodgy repair) and little smiles of satisfaction when he showed me his custom made tools for replacing the shock absorber bushings or smelt the petrol now flowing through the proper needle valve.

Steadily for 5 hours straight Herbert worked. Archie had to get to his school rugby match so missed half of the rebuild while I was anxious he and Gabi’s only day to see Stonehenge and the Stone circle at Avebury would be gone if he didn’t stop but he wouldn’t. Methodically he went through the bike, replacing, tuning, replacing and tightening until he was satisfied it was done.

Glorious was the moment we came out of the shed, he hopped on the bike, kicked it over and took it for a run down our street. Old oil finally being burnt out from years of deposits in the silencer and the shrill scream of the 2 cycle was music to our ears.

We did mange a beautiful walk around Stonehenge with a big brooding sky over and just managed to see the sun set over the Avebury rings but by then both Herbert and Gabi, his devoted, patient wife and translator, were exhausted. We parted ways back in Salisbury that evening and despite my insistence Herbert would take neither Euros nor Pounds for his time, skill and transcontinental effort.

The next day my son Archie finally had a chance to get on for himself. It fired up on the first kick and after a few attempts at finding the gears he was confidently putting his Puch MC 50 through its paces. It was the happiest moment for us both. We have rechristened it ‘Saint Herbert’.

Many, many thanks from a stranger overwhelmed by another’s generosity,

John of England