Dreams on the Trail

Old bikes on a long, tough journey.

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by Pat Jones
Dwayne gives the thumbs up in Scotland, Ark.

Most vintage motorcycle enthusiasts wouldn’t dream of riding a mid-1960s Honda Dream some 2,933 miles across the United States on the rough and tough TransAmerica Trail. But a group of intrepid riders from Mississippi did just that, and it was an adventure that won’t ever be forgotten.

Before we get to the characters inhabiting this story, let’s learn a little about the TransAmerica Trail, or TAT. According to transamtrail.com, Sam Correro also had a dream. “In 1984, Sam followed his passion for adventure and set out with a goal to chart an epic off-pavement cross-country trail,” the site explains. Sam researched maps and rode the miles, eventually creating what would become the TransAmerica Trail. This is essentially a route that “… uses public roads and back country roads, both non-pavement and pavement. It does not cross any private land or locked gates.”
Miles upon miles of the TAT are challenging, and include river crossings, sand, mud, gravel, rocks and snow. The recommended machine for such riding, Sam says in the FAQ section of his website, is a dual-sport motorcycle.

But that didn’t deter Dwayne McLemore and his friends, brothers Pat and Kenny Jones, from attempting the TAT on their vintage Honda Dreams. These motorcycles, with their pressed steel frames and full fenders, appear to be the least likely candidates for adventure. So, why do it on a Dream in the first place?

Critter bike beginnings

Dwayne, Pat and Kenny all had show-quality Honda CA77 Dreams. They’d display the 305cc Hondas at vintage motorcycle events, but when Pat built a “rat bike” Dream, things began to go in a different direction.

“One year at Mid-Ohio,” Dwayne says, “we had all of our show bikes out and Pat’s rat Dream, which he’d named the White Elephant. Tens of thousands of people attend that event, and most of them were looking at the rat bike instead of our restored Dreams.

“So, on the way home, I said we’d never had so much fun with a bike, and I decided I’d build a rat Dream, too, and name it Rhino because I’d paint it black with Rhino truck bed liner and put an animal horn on the front fender.”

Dwayne’s been around motorcycles since he was 12 years old. In 1962, his dad, David, opened Lake Hill Motors in Corinth, Mississippi. They started selling Bridgestone motorcycles in 1965, followed by Yamaha in 1966 and Honda in 1968. The business is now owned by Dwayne and his brother Dan, and Lake Hill Motors still carry Honda and Yamaha powersport products.

Dwayne has competed in flat track and road racing and has never had another job other than working in the dealership. He’s a very competent mechanic and vintage motorcycles are a hobby for Dwayne. About 25 years ago he began collecting machines with the intention of setting up a museum at the dealership. His tastes are eclectic, and the earliest motorcycle on display is from 1902, with American, British and German motorcycles mingling with Japanese bikes — all of them are runners.

But he’s also got a boneyard of machinery, and that’s where the Dream that became Rhino was found. The bike was originally purchased for $200 simply because it had a chain guard that Dwayne needed for a different project. But that $200 parts bike was ideal for a rat Dream build, because other than the missing chain guard, it was still relatively complete, the engine wasn’t locked up and it had good compression.

“If they kick over and have compression,” Dwayne says, “we can get them running.”

Dwayne did not rebuild the engine, and with very little effort he had his Rhino bike finished and on the road. Shortly after, Dwayne and Pat showed their rat Dreams in Daytona, Florida. They caused a minor ruckus, and that prompted Kenny to get involved, building a bike he dubbed Buffalo. Now, with three rat bikes all named after animals, they began referring to their Dreams as “critter” bikes.

The start of a dream

For those unfamiliar with the Honda CA77 Dream, the model was a progression from the 1957 introduction of the C70 Dream. That first Dream had a 247cc 4-stroke parallel twin engine with a chain-drive overhead cam and horizontally split crankcases with dry-sump lubrication, meaning a separate oil tank. The C71 was improved with an electric starter, and then in 1959 Honda introduced the CA76 with a 305cc engine.

In 1960, Honda released the 305cc CA77 Dream Tourer, and also offered the 250cc CA72.

Whether a 250 or 305, both featured an improved wet-sump lubrication system but retained a 360-degree crank. Although that has both pistons moving in unison, each cylinder fires alternately. The 305cc Dream was capable of making approximately 24 horsepower.

Dreams produced from 1960 to 1962 are called “early” models, while machines built from 1963 to 1967 are known as “late” models. Although some changes were made to the Dream during its production run, the most significant was a visual alteration in 1963 with a redesigned gas tank, knee pads and side covers. A hallmark feature of the model is the square headlight nacelle with speedometer at the top.

Frames were produced from metal stampings that included the headstock and the rear fender. The engine was a stressed member, anchored at the top and at two points to the rear of the crankcase. Also made of pressed steel were leading-link forks and the front fender. Wheels at both ends were 16 inches in diameter, and the bikes were available in black, blue, red and white.

A sidewinder resting in the shade made by a motorcycle on a dirt path.

While the Dreams were, and still are, smooth and pleasant touring machines, they certainly would never have been seen as adventure touring mounts in their heyday.

“Pat had a Gold Wing in California that he wanted to go out and get,” Dwayne says of how their adventure got started. “He basically said to Kenny and me, ‘Here’s the deal. We’re going to ride our Dreams across the TransAmerica Trail, get the Gold Wing and load all of the bikes in a U-Haul and drive back — anybody can do it on a modern adventure bike, we’re going to do it on bikes that don’t look like they’d make it to Walmart.’ I think he thought we’d say he was crazy, but we said yes without any hesitation.”

Good maps

This adventure took place 12 years ago, and at that time, Sam Correro offered only roll charts of the TAT route. He now offers GPS versions, but continues to sell the roll charts, too. The group bought the roll charts and loaded up their Dreams with only a few basic tools, a portable air compressor, some spare inner tubes and one tire. They did not have a chase vehicle, but two friends on more modern dual sport motorcycles joined them. One was aboard a Kawasaki KLR650, while the other rode a Honda XR650.

Photograph of a mountain lake in Moab, Utah. There is desert brush and further mountains in the distance. The furthest mountain is snow-capped.

They packed enough clothing for three or four days each, and as Dwayne says, “We weren’t burdened down with luggage, there’s no need to pack heavy.” The TAT officially starts on the East Coast in Virginia and passes through parts of North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama before crossing Mississippi. In fact, the route goes right past Lake Hill Motors, but on May 10, 2010, Dwayne’s team got onto the trail near Pat’s home in Olive Branch, Mississippi.

 Photograph of a man standing in front of a trail in a pine forest blocked by snow. There is a sign reading

“We rode 200 to 350 miles a day, some eight to 10 hours a day,” Dwayne says. Many motorcyclists riding the TAT will camp overnight, but Dwayne’s group opted to seek out motels. A couple of times, this meant leaving the route and riding some 30 or 40 miles off it to find lodging. They rode west across Arkansas, Oklahoma, Colorado (where they had to skirt some mountain passes due to snow accumulation) and Utah; that’s where the group deviated from the TAT, as they needed to get to San Francisco. As laid out by Sam, the TAT goes north in Utah before heading west again through Idaho and Oregon. Dwayne and friends went west through Nevada to get to the West Coast.

“Sam’s roll charts and maps were very accurate,” Dwayne says, “he told you exactly where to go, and all of the gas stops and places to eat were marked. Every bit of the TAT is on public land, with some fire roads and logging roads included. We rode sand, mud, gravel and dirt and there were several water crossings, but at no point do you cross private land.”

Photo of two motorcycles on a downhill trail turned to mud by melted snow. A man in the foreground holds his helmet and gloves. Snow can be seen on a slope in the background.

Slow and steady

Dwayne says the Dreams have about 2 to 3 inches of travel in the front suspension while the rear is pretty solid. “You need to pick your line and be careful about the holes you hit, but they’re comfortable bikes and on back roads your rarely get over 50 miles per hour. If you have to get onto a major road, a Dream will get up to 70.”

Two people changing a motorcycle tire on the side of a trail on a plain. There are plateaus in the distance.

Kenny’s luggage rack broke and that required a welder for repair. One tire needed to be changed, and a rear sprocket shed its teeth. Apart from that, none of the Dreams suffered a major mechanical failure of any kind. That’s testament to the pre-ride mechanical preparations they made. “We’re all mechanically inclined and we always make sure everything is tight and has oil in it,” Dwayne says, and adds, “we do check them out pretty good.”

A dessert trail with parallel wheel-worn ruts that disappears into the distance. There is some desert brush, and mountains can be seen on the horizon.

Along the way, Dwayne says, “Apart from never seeing a bear, we saw every other kind of animal, from antelopes to snakes, buzzards and turkeys.” It was the scenery, though, that remains a highlight of the journey for Dwayne. “You’re out in the wilderness, and you can’t imagine the views on this route,” he explains. “It was the trip of a lifetime.”

It took the group 10 days to ride the Dreams on the TAT to San Francisco. Once there, they loaded all of the bikes, with Pat’s Gold Wing, into a U-Haul and drove home. Since then, the allure of “critter” bikes has caught on to the point where Dwayne estimates there could be close to 30 of them now roaming the roads as part of an informal club. And for Dwayne, his Rhino bike remains a go-to rider, preferring the fun-factor of the Dream over others in his stable, including a Ducati 1098S and a 2019 Honda CRF250.

Two men standing in front of the San Francisco bridge with their bikes in a park with green grass

“Not only have we ridden the TransAmerica Trail, but they’ve gone all over the Smoky Mountains and on many other journeys,” Dwayne says. “I’ve probably got 40,000 miles on Rhino, with as many as 6,000 added just this year alone without ever having to rebuild the engine,” and he concludes, “It certainly speaks to the overall design of the engine and the quality of the Dream.” MC

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