How the Cushman Club of America Got Started
By Bill Somerville
It all started when, like so many other club members, I wanted to find another Cushman Scooter like I had growing up in Memphis, Tennessee (mine was an Eagle). My wife, Karen, says that this was the start of my second or third, childhood. She may be right,but you only pass through this world once and if you can have some fun while regaining just a little of the great memories you once had, why not go for it! Well anyway, I wanted to locate another Eagle and reminisce of better days.
My search started, like a lot of other peoples, by looking in the motorcycle want ads every Sunday, checking out all the cycle shops that I knew about and asking everyone I knew if they had any idea where the Cushman Scooters all went. Sound familiar? Since I also interested in cars my natural was to look in magazines like Hemmings, Cars & Parts, Cycle, etc. to find a scooter or a club to join so they could help me. Surely with all the types of clubs such as Chevy, Ford, Train, Stamp clubs, etc. someone out there has a scooter club. I kept looking for over a year trying in vain to buy a Cushman or find someone who remembered what they were. All of my efforts were in vain and I just gave up on several occasions. For some reason there was always that Eagle in the back of my mind and it kept telling me to try again, there was somewhere I had missed, so I would start all over again.
Somehow, I don’t remember if I saw an ad or a friend told me about a man he had learned of in Little Rock, Arkansas who had an Eagle for sale. All I had was a name and phone number, but that was enough. As luck would have it, he was not home when I called. The phone rang and rang for days with no answer. I became very concerned that I had the wrong phone number or the man had moved, maybe someone else had bought my scooter by now! After all the months of searching for just one lead, could faith be so cruel as to deny me of this one and perhaps only chance to buy a Cushman Eagle. There was no way that I could drop this lead, so one day after work I jumped in my car and headed to Little Rock to track this man down. After finding a phone book and getting an address, I found his home, but no one was there. I looked around back and in his garage there it sat, a white Super Eagle. Now my Eagle had been a 1956 and this machine looked a little strange. I had not remembered any Cushman’s that looked like this, but it did have the Husky engine that I remembered so well, a two speed transmission and said Cushman right up on the front of the scooter. Should I just go in the garage and look at it? What would the man think of he came home? After waiting this long to find a scooter I didn’t care and climbed right on the Eagle. It didn’t sit or feel exactly like I had remembered, but it had been so many years ago it was hard to tell. All the thoughts of yesteryear raced through my mind and somehow I could almost see all my friends sitting around at the drugstore or at the root beer drive-in on the scooters, Hummers, and Simplexes. We were all telling jokes, wishing we had a motorcycle and not realizing that we were having the best times of our lives at that very moment.
I had to have that scooter!
By now it was getting fairly dark outside and I began to wonder what the neighbors would think if they saw a stranger in this man’s garage. i went back to the car and waited and waited, minutes passed into hours, should I go or stay a little longer? I’d stay!! Since I didn’t want to spend the night, I decided to finally leave a note in the front door and ask him to call me. I placed the note in the front door and left. On the way out of town I stopped to get a coke and hamburger. As I got back into the car the radio was playing “You ain ‘t nothing but a hound dog”. Back to the man’s house for just one more look and the hope he would finally be home. As I pulled up a light was on inside the house. GREAT!! I hurried up to the door and rang the bell. My note was still there. A lady came to the door and I asked if I could see her husband. Sorry he was not home yet. I explained my visit and that I was some what interested in the Cushman. You know how you desperately try not to look very interested! She asked me to call back later tomorrow since she didn’t know what time he would be in. Would she let me ride the scooter I asked? No. I don’t know anything about that thing she replied. Wait until my husband gets home. I thanked her and left, but my mind, feelings, and memories were back in that garage with the white Eagle.
It was a long drive back home thinking about the scooter I had left behind.
As soon as I got off work the next day, I drove right home and got on the phone to check on the scooter. My first call was unsuccessful so I called back after supper and finally heard a man’s voice answer the phone. Yes, he did have an Eagle he was going to sell. So far, so good!! What was he asking for the scooter? Well, he had not decided yet and really wasn’t in a big hurry. During my conversation, I found out that he had purchased the scooter from a man in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. ( I later learned that the scooter had belonged to Bob Abbott who is a current member of the Cushman Club) I made arrangements to look at the scooter again the next Saturday afternoon. The next two days were extremely long as I waited for Saturday to finally get there.
Since I wanted Karen to share my joy, I insisted that she go with me to view this “find”. She had never seen a Cushman Scooter that she could remember and really didn’t know what to expect. When we arrived to see the scooter, the man was not home yet. His wife said he was running late and to come back in a couple of hours. Karen was delighted. This meant we would need to look for somewhere to spend a couple of hours and eat supper. I was disappointed, but what wa two more hours? After supper and some shopping we were back at the house and had to wait around for almost another hour before the man came home. The scooter cranked up after about the tenth try, bad gas, needs a tune-up, etc. I ran OK once cranked, but rode differently than I had remembered and was not nearly as fast as I recalled. But, it was a real genuine Cushman Eagle and after all, who knew if I would ever find another one anywhere in the world. I paid his price, which was high, and was now the proud owner of what may be the only Eagle left in the world.
Now that I finally had my Eagle home it was time to take a look at what I had bought other than what my emotions told me to buy. Since this was a different kind of Eagle than I had. I later found out it was called a Super Eagle. I needed to find out the differences in it and my old 1956 Eagle. Luckily, the man I bought the scooter from had a copy of some of the manuals for this scooter, and that helped a lot. They were poor copies, but readable. First, I had to determine if all the parts were correct and if the scooter was complete. The first real help came from Bill Benedick in Blue Ball, PA who, I think, had an ad in Hemmings and after a telephone call I purchased my first Cushman parts in 25 years. Bill, I believe, is the first person who really sold Cushman parts on a commercial restoration basis. I also took this opportunity to ask him about any scooter club that I could join. Bill said that he didn’t know of any clubs that dealt with Cushman Scooters.
Once I had my scooter cleaned up and got it where it ran fairly well, I was ready to show all my friends the scooter and let them share in my enthusiasm. Everyone seemed interested but you could see their attention span was not very long when it related to my prized Eagle. I did ride it around town, Russellville, AR, but only ones who rode that slow were the kids, and most of them had small cycles faster than my Cushman, plus just how interested can kids be in a middle aged guy on a scooter? I absolutely had no one in town who ever gave my Cushman a second look, let alone share in the fun of riding together.
I discussed with Karen an idea I had been thinking about for several weeks. What if I started a Cushman Motor Scooter Club? She really did not think it was such a good idea. Who would join and how would I take time to take care of all the necessary details to start and run a club? I think she really knew who would get stuck with a lot of the paperwork, book keeping and details. What if Cushman Motor Company would object to using their name on a Club.. Would they cause legal problems? well, there was only one way to find out. I got on the phone again, spoke to several departments and somehow wound up with the Sales Service Department who was managed by Mr. Ed Vagts. Ed had been with cushman for a number of years and at least was somewhat knowledgeable about the old scooters. I discussed the idea of a Club with him and asked his advice. He felt that Cushman would not object as long as I was not in competition with them and kept it low key. I really felt good after the phone conversation, after all, I had talked with the factory, had not been told not to do it, and felt fairly safe in using the Cushman name in association with a Club. Just to make certain, I wrote Ivan a letter explaining my intentions and thanked him for his time on the phone. I wanted this letter on file just in case something came up at a later date.
By now, all my parts had come in for the Eagle and the 1960 Super Eagle began to look fairly well. Still there was no one to ride with or talk with about all the fine virtues of the Cushman Scooter. “The time had come.” I would start a Scooter Club. The name was easy for me. I was first going to call the club, “The Cushman Scooter Club of America”, but that seemed a little long. So I decided on “Cushman Club of America”, short, simple, and to the point.
In November of 1981, I wrote a small ad and placed it in Hemmings Motor News: “Cushman Club of America. A National Scooter Club dedicated to the restoration and preservation of Cushman Motor Scooters. Quarterly newsletters. Become a Charter member. Dues $12.00 per year. Bill Sommerville–address-.” My thoughts were that if I could get just 50 people together, we could have a club that would endure. By December, the ad had run and I can remember coming home one day to have Karen tell me I had received a letter addressed to the Cushman Club of America. It looked like a check! Where did it come from? Were they close enough to visit? I wondered if they also had a Cushman? The outside of the envelope had their return address. Mr and Mrs. James Shields of Lovington, NM. New Mexico????? Did they even sell Cushman’s in New Mexico? I opened the envelope and there it was!! A check for $12.00 for one year’s dues to the Cushman Club of America. I was more than thrilled!! We were officially a Club.
Karen and I had taken the number 1 membership number and our daughter, Amy, was designated as 1 1/2. She was 8 years old at the time. Now the Shields were officially club members number 2. The next days mail brought 3 more letters. I opened one from Kansas first and some guy named Tom Smith had sent me a check for one year’s dues. Tom and his wife Debbie were the club’s third members. Club member number 4 was Wilson Austin of Ashbury, VA. The last letter to be opened that second day was from Texas, some little town outside of Dallas named Cleburne. Not only was there a check for the dues but a short note and picture of a 1960 Eagle, all decked out. Randolph and Charlene Garner became our club’s fifth members. The picture that Randolph sent me is the first Cushman that was ever published in our January 1982 Newsletter. I was fortunate enough to purchase “Red” in 1990 and it is in my personal collection.
The first 5 charter members are still active in the Club. Charter membership in the Club ended on January 1, 1982 with 63 people listed as Charter Members. I have included a list of these fine people. Many are still active in the Club today.
Along with the new members came an ample number of questions about the Cushman Scooters, where can you get parts, service manuals, how can I find a scooter, what’s correct and what \’ wrong on each year model, etc.? It became very obvious that I must learn a lot very quickly and help provide some of these answers for our new members.
I had been in clubs that always seemed to struggle when they were first formed and did not want to see the Cushman Club get off to a poor start and struggle for years without really providing some services. One of the requests that I got most often was for some technical information, service or parts books, and engine information. The only way to supply this in a presentable manner was to find some mint factory originals and have them reproduced. After looking at printing costs and the wide range of books that needed to be put together, I decided to take out a personal loan to reproduce the books and have some money to spend on advertising. I also wanted to have a banner produced so we could display our name at meets and gatherings. The banner is still being used ten years later. I saw it at the last National Meet in Knoxville, TN in 1990. The loan was a personal note for about $5000. With this money I felt that I could operate the Club as if had been around for several years rather than wait for a long time to have dues money available. I knew it would take a long time to regain the money but it was worth the risk to start a new club and have it succeed.
There are a lot of details to take care of in starting a new club. First of all, the records had to be kept. Books had to be set up, some type of club emblem needed to be designed, a newsletter needed to be put together. How would the new members ever be able to get together? Where else should I advertise? What about the IRS? All these and a lot more details kept Karen and I pretty busy in our off time and every weekend. Karen kept reminding me of the work I had volunteered her for during the next four years as the club got on its feet and became a true National organization.
The Club’s first emblem was put together after a lot of thought and work. I wanted to incorporate several ideas in the design. Since the Cushman’s were American made, I wanted to have something with Red, White, and Blue in the design. I was fond of Eagles, and since the Eagle was really the reason the Club got started, it needed to be there somewhere. The original Cushman Scooters had the Husky engines in them , so I worked in the Husky Engine Dog. With these thoughts in mind, I came up with a design I really thought was neat. It was different and Karen liked it. I must admit it was a complex design and not cheap to reproduce, but I was happy. The Club no longer uses this design. I am not sure what they use, if anything! I think it is a shame we don’t have a standard emblem for the Club and would like to see the old emblem back in use. I still see some of the older members who wear these emblems on their caps at National Meets and on occasion a collector asks me if I still have some in stock for sale.
The first planned National Meet did not get off the ground. The new club was only eight months old when I tried to put it together. The first meet was scheduled for August 21, 1982, in Branson, Missouri. We had to cancel the meet due to lack of enough members who could come. By the second year of the Club, we had grown enough to have our real 1st National Meet near St. Louis, Missouri, which was a great success and the rest is History.