Riding into retirement
John Taylor was 18 years old when he bought his first motorcycle.
The young graduate of Salem High School couldn't wait to show it off.
"I took it over to show my girlfriend," he recalled.
His girlfriend, Josele, lived on Norway Street in north Salem. She came out of her home, took a look at the motorcycle, and was unimpressed.
"She said 'I think you should take it back.'"
So John rode it back to his Liberty Road home and put it in the barn, safely hidden away.
A couple of years later, he married that girl.
"I hid the motorcycle in the barn until after we were married," John said. "I was 20; she was 18. She was of legal age, and I had to have my parents sign for me because I wasn't 21."
The couple has been together some 67 years, and they've been in the motorcycle business for 56 of those years.
A fixture in the Woodburn area for more than a half a century, Taylor Honda and Kawasaki will close its doors this year. It's next-door neighbor, Pacific Building Systems (aka Truss T Structures), will move into the space with plans for expansion, according to PBS Co-President Sandy Trahan.
PBS built several of Woodburn Honda's structures as the motorcycle business expanded considerably over the years.
Growing a motorcycle business
In 1964 Salem Honda owner Dan Adams approached John with the idea of going to Woodburn and starting a dealership. It turned out to be a good idea.
John remembers starting with 12 motorcycles, setting up in the Highway 99E building that currently houses Little Caesar's. The Taylors enterprise quickly grew out of those digs, moving to their current location 18 months later.
Before the move, retired implement dealer Norm Pfaffinger opened up a fishing tackle shop that also had lawnmower supplies and some sporting goods. His nephew, Gerry Popp, was working for John at Woodburn Honda, and let him know that Norm wanted to retire in earnest and he was looking to unload his business.
"I told his nephew to tell him I would buy his inventory if he'd rent his building to me," John said. "(Norm) said he would rent it to me for less than I am paying. When he found out I was only paying $150 a month, he nearly choked."
John said the $5k inventory was tough to pay back, but the move to the 99E location north of Mount Hood Avenue proved advantageous.
"We were the only business out here when we moved in," Josele recalled. "There was a cornfield across the street."
The building provided 2,400 square feet of space. Perhaps more importantly, the new site afforded room to grow, which they did over the years, erecting several new wings and a new structure, eventually expanding to 19,800 square feet.
Changes over the decades
In the mid-70s, after their youngest daughter, Peggy, graduated from high school, the Taylors moved from their North Salem home to the Hubbard area to live closer to their burgeoning business.
They not only oversaw growth, but many changes in the motorcycle business.
The Honda 50 was the most popular bike back in the early 60s, and Hondas, in general, were very popular.
"You meet the nicest people riding on a Honda," John quipped.
In 1964, the highest priced Honda was $800. Today, some of the big motorcycles fetch $25,000.
The addition of all-terrain vehicles added some stability to the business, and the cycle repair shop kept busy all year long.
"The agriculture people have been wonderful to work with — they've been great," John stressed.
When ATVs came along, many farmers discovered they were a handy implement, at several tasks, such as spot spraying and moving irrigation pipes, were handled much more easily with the smaller rigs.
"The used pickups for a lot of that work, but when the (ATV) four-wheelers came along, they were much cheaper to buy," John said.
"There was a period during the 80s when there was a gas crunch, and a lot of people were buying motorcycles then. But they have cars that get better gas mileage than some motorcycles," John said.
"I think a lot of people used the gas crunch as an excuse to get a motorcycle," Josele added.
Time to hang it up
In his younger years, John rode often and even raced motorcycles. There were a few bumps here and there. In fact, Woodburn Honda's longest-standing employee of 35 years, David Morton, met John in a hospital where both were recovering from riding mishaps.
But when it was time, he put the kickstand down for good.
The same goes for the business. John said they have until June to permanently vacate the facilities and turn it over to PBS, which will move into the very structures it built for Woodburn Honda.
"They've been excellent neighbors," John said.
By this summer PBS will be the anchor on the block.
"We are having some down and dirty sales right away," John said. "Especially all the little stuff, the accessories."
As the only motorcycle dealership in the area, and one of the most successful ones in the Willamette Valley, the Taylors would have liked to see it remain. But that's not in the cards.
"We looked for someone to buy it, but nobody qualifies," Josele said. "It's been a great run," she added. "We'll miss it. But it's time."
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