A Brief History of Towers’ Motorcycle Sales & Service

By Dickie Towers

For as far back as I can remember, there has been some brand/size of motorcycle in my life.

I grew up straddling 2 wheels….

In 1960, when I was 9 years old, my parents bought me my very first motorcycle. It was a used ’57 Harley-Davidson Hummer “B-model”, painted dark blue. It was a 125 cc single 2-cycle (that I had to premix oil/gas), had a 3 speed transmission, solo saddle, and magneto type ignition.

I remember that my father, Luther Towers, had several old “Pony Model” Mustang scooters in the late 1950’s.

He was always buying, repairing, trading, and selling various old motorcycles out of his garage. His dream was to someday have his own cycle shop. His dream was realized on March 4, 1964, when he and my mother, Ruth Towers, their ages 35 and 34 respectively, opened Towers’ Cycle Shop in a small 25’ x 35’ wooden building, that he personally built right next to our home, at 2026 North Main Street in Paris, Texas. This first building was poorly insulated; heated in the winter by a wood burning stove and cooled in the summer with a “Swamp Cooler”.

On April 8, 1964, they obtained the BSA Motorcycle Franchise, Dealer # 0729. Also, on May 22, 1964, they were awarded a Yamaha Motorcycle Franchise, Dealer # 306620. The very first BSA District Sales Manager was Mr. Fred Lear, and the very first Yamaha District Sales Manager was Mr. Marty Davis.

Like many small family owned/operated businesses, with a very limited capital budget, my parents struggled to get the business off the ground the first couple of years. They subsidized the business income from ’64 thru ’66, by working on Volkswagens and renting camper shells. Initially, the normal new motorcycle inventory was only about 10-15 units. The very first year of business, 1964, they only sold 14 new motorcycles the entire year; 9 Yamaha’s and 5 BSA’s.

The “VERY FIRST” new motorcycle that they sold was a 1964 Yamaha YDS-3.  I remember what was unique about this model is that it had the round “Tuning Fork” emblems on the gas tank, instead of the Yamaha Logo.

In those days, small motorcycle dealerships were very common and many small towns all over the United States had similar shops. The shops in this era were nothing like the large multimillion-dollar conglomerates of today. They were much more than a retail business, they were a place to congregate on Saturdays, relax, and share tales of by gone days.

I remember working behind the parts counter, and searching thru the endless stacks of printed parts manuals back in the days before there were electronic listings. In 1968, Yamaha finally went paperless, and offered “Microfiche” film listings for their replacement parts.

Instead of stacks of parts books, we now had everything condensed onto small film sheets. One sheet took the place of several pages of printed parts books. With this modern innovation, we thought the business had hit the big time….

**The business name was changed from Towers’ Cycle Shop to Towers’ Motorcycle Sales & Service at the beginning of 1970.

In 1969, BSA ceased/limited imports to the USA, so my parents obtained the Triumph Franchise on November 12, 1969, Dealer # 11288. They sold Triumphs until August 10, 1975, when Triumph, like BSA, ceased importing to the USA.

In early March 1971, my parent’s house was sold and moved from the location to make room for the new building at the same address. Work began on the new building in late March 1971.

September 8, 1971 was an important date, as this was the day that the doors were officially opened on the brand new larger building, which my father and Mr. James Hargroves had built. The outside front of the building resembled a barn, which my father thought was a unique idea. Soon after the new building opened, the adjacent original building was torn down to make room for additional customer parking. This building was approximately 15,000 square feet of sales, parts, service, and storage. The expanded sales floor allowed for displaying 60-75 new units.

“Motorcycle Safety Was Always My Parents # 1 Priority”….

My parents wanted to make sure that all new riders knew the basics of safe motorcycle operation. So, in early 1972, they purchased 2 vacant acres behind the shop and built a slow speed dirt riding course to help all new riders learn how to feel comfortable with their specific new motorcycle. This course was especially helpful for all younger/beginner riders. Helmets, gloves, and eye protection were always mandatory.

On October 28, 1975, another milestone in the business, as the Harley-Davidson Franchise, Dealer # 5128, was added.  Back in those days, the Harley-Davidson brand was a “Stand Alone Brand”, which meant that the company would not allow any other motorcycle brand to be sold alongside Harley-Davidson.

After some negotiating, H-D Management waived this solo stipulation, and granted the franchise however, there was one unique requirement that the company required. On all business dealings and/or advertising involving Harley-Davidson, the name of the business would be listed and referred only as:  Towers’ Harley-Davidson

So, from that day forward, the business had 2 names: Towers Motorcycle Sales & Service Towers’ Harley-Davidson

The initial inventory of new 1976 Harley Davidson’s was  8 V-Twins and 12 of the smaller single cylinder 2 strokes. At that time, the top of the line Harley was the FLH1200 Electra Glide, with a retail price of $2,995. A FX1200 Super Glide retailed around $2,600, XLH Sportster was $2,495, and a XLCH Sportster was $1,995.

During those years, AMF owned the Harley-Davidson Company, and the quality of the brand coming out of York, PA was not very good.  Also, during the first couple of years that they had the Harley- Davidson Franchise, they were required, as part of the Retail Factory Franchise Agreement, to also sell the small

2 stroke models that were made in Italy: 125, 175, and 250 models. These models were in direct competition with the Yamahas.

One thing unique about Harley-Davidson in those years, is that they had a fleet of 18 wheelers that delivered new bikes directly from the assembly plant in York, PA to the dealerships.

In 1977, my father purchased six 1968 Harley-Davidson 45ci 3 Wheel Service Cars that had been used by the Dallas, Texas Police Department, at a Police Auction. He paid a total of $1700 for the entire lot. He restored 5 of these, using many parts from a company called Gary Bang in Canoga Park, California.

Many of the parts from Gary Bang were still wrapped in the WW11 Cosmoline Grease.

On many occasions, my father, rode one of them in local parades while wearing a gorilla suit.

One of the trikes was converted to a “Yama-Harley”, as we named it. One of our mechanics had the crazy idea if they installed a Yamaha TX500 engine, this would allow the 3-wheeler to travel at normal highway speeds.

The experiment was success and the “Yama-Harley” was born. But more speed, did not translate to better handling.

Over the years, the dealership was recognized on numerous occasions, by winning several company sales and service awards from both Yamaha and Harley-Davidson. In 1977, the dealership was recognized by Harley-Davidson as a “Top 10” Sales Dealer for dealerships in towns with less than 50,000 population.

In both 1979 and 1980, my parents received an all expenses paid week vacation to Hawaii from Yamaha Sales Corporation, for surpassing their yearly sales quotas.

My parent’s shop could truly qualify as a “Mom & Pop Operation”. My parents, myself, and my younger sister, Debbie, all worked at the shop, but thru out the years we did have a few notable employees that left their mark on the business and contributed to its success. One of them that I especially remember was Charles Francis. Charles was an Army Vietnam Vet and worked full-time at the local Campbell Soup Company on the night shift, but he worked several days a week part-time at the motorcycle shop.

Charles died on September 3, 1971 in a motorcycle wreck on SE Loop 286, near Red Barn Steakhouse, in Paris, Texas. It was a clear Saturday afternoon, we had just fine tuned our 650’s, closed the shop, and we wanted to test them out. Charles was riding his 1971 Yamaha XS1-E, and I was riding my 1971 Yamaha XS1-E alongside him.

Charles Francis and his 1971 XS-1B, taken in April 1971, in front of my parent’s house.

 

Our bikes were identical, both stock, and Charles weighed about 50 more pounds than me, but for some reason his 650 was always faster than mine. Charles always had a bad habit of laying down on the bike: stomach on gas tank, legs laying on the seat, feet on the taillight, only one hand on the handlebars.

He claimed this help in wind resistance.

At around 85-90mph, he pulled ahead of me, so I slowed down, and then in the next few seconds, he went into the curve in the road and I lost sight of him, the next thing I saw was a cloud of dust/smoke, his XS-1 about 10-15 feet up in the air.

By the time, I rode up to where he was at, Charles was lying in a ditch, his faced covered with blood.

I could tell he was dead. He was wearing a helmet but it did not help, as it looked like his injuries were multiple. In those days, there were no cell phones, but I flagged down a passing car and they went to call the police/ambulance.

The cause of the accident was never fully known, and I speculated for years to exactly what might have happened:

Maybe he hit some loose gravel?
Maybe the drive chain broke?
Maybe he had a tire blow out?
Maybe the Front End Stabilizer malfunctioned?

The crazy thing about this accident, is that this was a routine and route that Charles and I had done/traveled many times.  Charles was only 25 when he died, and I still visit his grave several times a year.

BUT, I will always remember Charles for another more cheerful reason, he was credited as the person that gave my parents nicknames that stuck with them for the rest of their lives. This was in 1968 and he nicknamed them “Moe and Myrtle”….

From that day forward, many of their customers only knew my parents as “Moe and Myrtle”….

Back in the 1960’s and 1970’s, many aftermarket motorcycle parts/accessory vendors had mobile fleet of trucks that came by the shop about once a month to sell items off their trucks; mainly batteries, tires, helmets, wearing apparel, generic accessories, etc. Buying direct from these vendors saved us a lot of freight over the years. One of these companies that I remember most was a company called Ed Tucker Distributors from Fort Worth, Texas.

On May 5, 1981, my mother passed away at the young age of only 51. She had complained about severe headaches for about a year and was diagnosed with Dermatomyositis, an inflammatory muscle disease that is very rare.  At that time, there was no treatment/cure.  My mother “WAS THE BACKBONE” of the family business, and after she passed away, my father lost interest in keeping the business going.

My mother was such a big part of the Family Business that I guess it was never the same for him, without seeing her standing in her usual spot, behind the service parts counter, greeting the customers….

In the 19 years that my parents owned the shop, they only had 1 theft/break in. Sometime on the night of October 4, 1981(a Sunday), someone cut thru one of the plexiglass skylights in the roof of the shop and stole a 1979 Yamaha XS650 that was in the shop for repairs, also 6 helmets, and 13 T-shirts. The funning thing is that the keys to all the new bikes were in an unlocked wall cabinet, but the theft chose a bike in for repairs.

The next morning the police located the bike about 2 miles from the shop. The bike had been wrecked and abandoned, but the damage was minor, and the shop’s insurance covered the repairs. The burglar that stole the bike and the items was never caught.

My father sold the business on January 20, 1982 to Bill and Mary Cole, locate real estate investors. The price was $285,000, a lot of money 35 years ago. What started out as just a past-time hobby, and a love for the sport, turned into a successful small-town business, that provided a good income for our family. During the 19 years the doors were open, my parents sold 2,618 new motorcycles all over NE Texas and SE Oklahoma.

The breakdown in new sales by brand was:

Yamaha: 2,030 units; BSA:  119 units; Triumph: 133 units; Harley: 336 units

After retirement from the business, my father was never without some type motorcycle, and although Yamahas were his first love, he respected and appreciated all brands for their contribution to the motorcycle sport. A few years after he sold the business, I was shocked that he purchased a Honda GL1500.

The local Honda Dealer had been our biggest competition, so I jokingly accused my dad of being disloyal to Yamaha.  A few years later, in 1995, he needed a lighter bike, so he traded the Goldwing for a Suzuki LS650 Savage. The Savage had a very low center of gravity, which helped my father balance the weight.

My father passed on November 14, 1998, at the young age of 70 from complications with heart surgery recovery. He was a very heavy smoker since a young age, and finally had to have open heart surgery. After the surgery, he refused to go thru required rehab, and started riding his motorcycle within just a few weeks, against his doctor’s orders.

When he passed away, his small collection included:

  • 1968 BSA 650cc A65T Thunderbolt (His favorite BSA Model)
  • 1976 Harley-Davidson FXE Super-Glide Bicentennial Edition
  • 1970 Yamaha DT1-C Enduro

My sister and I donated the BSA to the Lamar County Historical Society that recognized contributions to the business history of Paris, Texas, and we sold the Harley-Davidson and the Yamaha to my dad’s long-time friend and motorcycle collector, William “Bill” Cox.

When my father sold the shop, I kept a new 1981 Yamaha XS650 Special II and also a new 1981 Yamaha XS1100 Special, which I still have both today.  My sister also kept a couple of bikes, a new Yamaha Chappy and a new Yamaha Yamahopper. She loved these little bikes as they fit perfectly on her motor home.

I was only 30 years old when my father sold the business, and one of my life’s regrets is not keeping the business myself, and looking back on it, I cannot give a good reason or explanation why I did not keep the family business going.

I have owned many Yamaha models in my over 55 years of being a motorcyclist. My favorites are the ’67 YL-1E, the ’66 Yamaha YM-1 Cross Country, and the ’72 Yamaha XS2.

We all have memories of our lives and experiences on motorcycles, and as I have gotten older, mine seem more vivid and more precious and important.  It’s has been hard to condense the highlights of nearly 20 years of memories into just a few paragraphs. In closing, I hope this brief recap of my family’s part in the history of a different motorcycle era and especially of their attachment to the “Tuning Fork Brand”, did not bore you and hopefully allowed you to reflect on memories of your own relationship to a sport that my entire family truly loved.

Thanks for reading,

Dickie Towers

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