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Born to be mine?

Derek Rayner

Some readers may recall my short article entitled An Engine Comes Home in the June '97 issue of Buzzing.  This dealt with a visit to an auction at Penrith in April when two of NACC member Jack Birkbeck's Sheppee Cykelaid motorised attachments, made in York in the early-mid 1920s, came under the hammer.  In the event, because the registration numbers were transferable, both machines were sold for far in excess of what I was in a position to pay.  My immediate disappointment was somewhat tempered by the purchase of a Cykelaid front wheel which had an engine unit fitted to it, on the crankcase of which were the words "The Sheppee Motor Company, York".  This was a quite reasonable £40 and I felt it was a small price to pay for an item which could be 'stuffed and mounted' and then be a very suitable memento of the firm and its past associations with that other of my interests, steam engines - for Sheppee also made liquid fired steam lorries in the earlier years of this century, none of which are, unfortunately, known to survive.

That was that, or so I thought, until one day a few months later, David Casper rang me and said that he had heard that the most expensive and desirable of the two Penrith Cykelaids was available for sale again.  It transpired that the dealer who had bought it, Steve Callaghan, had moved the number on and then did not wish to retain the motor cycle since this type of machine was not one of his interests.  Dave suggested that I get in touch with Steve, if I was still interested in acquiring a Cykelaid, as he felt sure that the price would be more in line with my pocket than it was previously.  I subsequently rang Steve on his mobile and he turned out to be on holiday in the south of France at the time.  We talked about the subject for a while, following which I waited for him to return home and then my son Dean and I went to see him.  A demonstration run was offered around the houses from which Steve came back puffing and panting - and without the Cykelaid's engine running - following which Dean pedalled the bike off and he did come back with it in operation, much to Steve's amazement and my amusement.  I liked what I saw, as did Dean, so a deal was done and the whole bike returned to the city in which it started its life back in the early 1920s.  We still had some paperwork to sort out and also to conclude the number transfer arrangements and that took a little time.  Steve told us that having advertised the number nationally, it was quite surprising and a bit of a coincidence that he had actually sold it to someone who was not much more than three or four miles away from where he lived.

On the way home in the car, with the bike bouncing about a little on Dave's trailer behind, Dean and I reflected on what the new number might be and came to the conclusion that since the original one was issued in Dumfries, (SM 4606), the new one would not be too far removed from that as it would undoubtedly be an age related and non-transferable SV number.  I advised Mrs Birkbeck of the situation and she told me that both she and Jack were sorry that the bikes had had to be sold but they were absolutely delighted at the news that at least one of them had come back to York and would be well cared for there.

With regard to the new number, Steve had the first intimation of the new allocation and faxed me the details.  It turned out to be SV 6784.  We thought it would have been nice to have been able to arrange for SV 4606 but in these days of non-transferable numbers, this would have proved an impossibility.

The new V5 eventually arrived with my name on it and although I had actually seen the current V5 for the bike whilst at the auction in Penrith and I also had a copy of it from Steve when I collected the machine, for some reason, I didn't look at the details with any great degree of interest.  Nevertheless, being someone who is curious about things and their historical backgrounds, I decided to find out who the original owner was and to confirm the other details.  I consequently wrote to the relevant archives office who sent me a copy of the original registration details from their files.

The first owner of this lady's bike, not unsurprisingly, turned out to be a lady: Miss J H Armstrong of Langholm and it was registered on 23 July, 1924.  I don't know why I had not seen this date before on the V5s I had perused previously, since in the scheme of things, it has some major and considerable significance.  It turned out to be another of these gloriously wonderful coincidences - you see, my date of birth is 23 July, 1942 - the same figures as those on the archives document - what could be closer?  I felt that somehow this particular Sheppee Cykelaid was just destined to be mine and I suppose I now ought to go and buy a lottery ticket with these numbers on it, for you never know, a third bite at the long arm of coincidence might just enable it to come up with a jackpot for me as well!

First published - December 1997

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