Friday, June 25, 2010

Bill Cotton, 1907-1993

BILL COTTON, 1907-1993

"Wild Bill" Cotton came into this world a lot longer ago than any of us can remember. A year after his birth, the first Ford "Model T" automobiles were produced. The year before, BSA started building motorized bicycles. Two years later, James Landsdowne Norton entered his first "TT" on the machine bearing his name. A few years after that, "Wild Bill" became involved with motorcycles. Let him tell you in his own words:

"First, I am an old man, I was born in 1907. My brother traded a 22-caliber rifle to our shirt-tail cousins for a Reading Standard motorcycle which had very low mileage. The timing cover was off and they had it out of time. My brother cleaned the timing gears up as well as the carburetors. The second punch it fired, from there on out we got it running; after adjusting the carbs it ran very good with fresh new oil and gas in it."

"My age was 12 years, and with my cap bill in the back so the wind would not blow it off, I took my first ride; all I can say is that oil and gas gets into your blood stream and it never leaves!"

"Deciding I wanted to be a motorcycle racer, my brother and I flagged me off the line at least a thousand times in the sand hills of Kansas. That is where you whip them, by just getting the jump on them."

"Those years it was Indian, Harley and Excelsior. My racing Indian was set up with ball bearings, and boy would it run. This was early, before the present day units were imported, but the speeds around the track were very close in spite of the preparation of the tracks and tires."

By the early 1920's, the Reading-Standard firm was out of business, but "Wild Bill" was making a name for himself in the world of professional boxing. Right through to the depression, "Wild Bill" made a living with his fists, and also worked days in a dime store. He trained and did roadwork in the evenings. The fight game went sour in the '30's, and he went back to racing motorcycles, while still maintaining his dime store job. Eventually, he advanced to assistant manager. In 1936, he came out to San Pedro to join his brothers in operating a sign painting company, and stayed for good. Century Motorcycles came into being in 1962, and "Wild Bill," with his contagious enthusiasm, made it into something more than just a business or a place to work. He made it into the center of a community - our community, a family business for the family of motorcyclists.

Many of us encountered "Wild Bill" for the first time at one of the Century Motorcycles open house parties, on Fathers Day or during the holiday season in early December. He would be seated at his desk there in the showroom, just like at business, except that he'd be inundated with well-wishers and dear friends; everybody seemed to be smiling and wanted to get into the "reception line" to talk to "Wild Bill," who would be smiling and receiving his guests like a beloved prince enjoying the praise of his subjects. And "Wild Bill" truly was that rare "Prince of a person," who will be so dearly missed by us all; but whenever we get together-- and we will again, at Century, next December the 5th-- "Wild Bill" will be among us, for we all hold a bit of his presence in our hearts and memories.

-Joe Powers

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