The name didn't always refer to robed, diminutive natives of planet Tatooine...
My Father's Jawa
Before the advent of “Star Wars” the word “Jawa” referred to the products of JAWA (in all caps because it’s an acronym) Moto, a Czech motorcycle manufacturer. For many years JAWA Moto was one of the world’s main manufacturers and exporters of two-wheeled transportation. People all over the world rode the Jawa 350 cc model in particular. For a time they were even popular in the United States. Before Japanese manufacturers conquered the market, the Jawa 350 was the best motorcycle deal around—in terms of price, at least.
During the early 1960s my father acquired one of these inexpensive bikes. Dad was about 20 at the time. He and Mom had been married less than a year. Mom was still attending college in Conway, Arkansas. Dad was working full-time, pastoring a church, and attending seminary. They didn’t get a lot of time out from their busy schedules for luxuries like motorcycle rides in the country. But now and then they managed.
One Saturday they rode the thirty-odd miles from Conway to Mount Petit Jean on Dad’s Jawa. When they reached the top of the mountain things started going wrong. The motorcycle’s after-market mufflers worked loose. More seriously, the engine persisted in flooding out.
Help was at hand. They had just met a couple of campers at the state park campground atop Petit Jean. The couple hailed from Mom’s hometown of Carlsbad, New Mexico. The husband was actually a former business associate of her father. As such he was a good mechanic and had brought along his tools. He and Dad quickly got into the ailing engine and found the problem. The carburetor float had sprung a leak and sunk. They drained it, fixed the leak, and soon had the bike running again. Mom and Dad repaid their helpers by leading them on a tour of Petit Jean’s sights.
On another occasion Dad and a cousin of his took the Jawa to the nearby small community of Toad Suck (A real place—Google it if you don’t believe me). The Arkansas River at Toad Suck had a very long sand bar with dunes that made a good jumping course for a light motorcycle. While racing along the dunes, Dad rolled off of the throttle to slow down and found that the engine didn’t. It was stuck going something close to full blast!
This was before motorcycles had easy-to-reach emergency “kill switches” on the handlebars. Dad reached for the ignition key, which was unhelpfully located on top of the headlight. Each time he reached for it, the racing bike hit another dune. Each time this happened, Dad had to grab hold of the handlebar again as the bike ramped over the dune and caught air. He had to run two or three hundred harrowing yards like this before he finally managed to kill the engine. Examination of the carburetor revealed that the engine had inhaled some sand through its primitive air filter. The sand had caused the slide valve through which fuel entered the carburetor to stick open, effectively jamming the bike at full throttle.
Dad didn’t own the Jawa all that long before trading it in to his father for a ten-year-old Studebaker pickup to use for a work vehicle. Papaw turned the bike over to Dad’s younger brother. Soon afterward, at a family gathering where all the siblings were present, their older brother decided to take the Jawa for a spin. He quickly disappeared over a hill and around a bend. The others could hear him winding the engine high. Younger Brother complained that Older Brother was liable to blow up the engine on his new bike.
Moments later Older Brother appeared, racing along at high speed while rapidly turning the Jawa’s headlight on and off. The bike had once again seemingly developed a mind of its own. This time Older Brother had managed to jam the throttle cable by opening the gas all the way. Why was he frantically turning the light on and off? It seems that nobody had thought to tell him that the Jawa’s ignition was worked by pushing the key in and out. Turning it on and off in the usual way merely operated the headlight. Older Brother was trapped on a bike with a wide-open throttle and no knowledge of how to shut off the engine!
As he raced back by the house, he began trying to choke the engine down, hoping to at least slow it enough for a safe bail-out as he passed an upcoming roadside bed of pine needles. In doing so he managed to shake the throttle cable loose and regained control of the bike. Younger Brother got his motorcycle back unharmed after all—and probably didn’t have too many more requests to borrow it.
A friend of the family owned another Jawa 350 for several years. He was a missionary in Central America who used the bike to ride between the different settlements where he worked. Another family friend, a visiting minister from the United States, remembered this Jawa all too well. During his visit he contracted the local version of Montezuma’s Revenge. The missionary sat him down on the Jawa’s pillion seat and carried him to a nearby store to get a dose of Pepto-Bismol. For a man in that condition, a ride through Central American traffic, over Central American roads, on the back of a motorcycle, must have been a bit of an ordeal.
The Pink Stuff doesn’t always work on the first try, of course, and the patient had to endure two or three additional rides for further doses. After the last one he announced that he felt all better. Later, safely back home, he admitted than in fact he hadn’t been. He had simply wanted to avoid additional rides to get medicine. That might just possibly have been the missionary’s objective in making him come along on the medicine-fetching trips in the first place.
This little Central American drama happened in the 1970s. By that time the bikers in our family had discovered Japanese motorcycles and left the products of JAWA Moto (which, now that one thinks about it, sounds a bit Japanese itself…) behind. But that’s another story.
Love never fails. Where there are prophecies, they will cease. Where there is speech, it will end. Where there is knowledge, it will pass.
These three remain--faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.