Repairing and improvising two and four-wheelers, Trevelyan Woolridges' mechanical life is uniquely exciting and innovative
There's a call for you, where are you… your food is getting cold… don't take this thing outside… I tell you, never bring it inside – these are some of the commands commonly heard at the Woolridges' house at Mahaboobpalayam day and night.
Eunice Woolridge could have easily written Ten Thousand Commandments (more don'ts than do's) in her lifetime for Buddu (Trevelyan), aged 45 and younger of her two sons. And all the time Buddu would either be busy fixing an improvised spare part to a rundown motorcycle in his favourite shaded space right in front of the house or improvising a spare part to his needs in the backyard, earshot distance away in body but still million miles away from Ms. Eunice and the rest of the world in mind.
Yes, once immersed in work, not even a tremor can move Buddu away from the motorcycle he is working on. From a young age, this Anglo-Indian had a fascination for wheels and the mechanics. From bicycles to motorcycles, tractors to jeeps, over the past 25 years he has overhauled and given a new lease of life to many vehicles that even seasoned mechanics steered clear of.
More than restoration of an old vehicle, it is the one-of-its-kind painting and zany fittings that make heads turn when he zooms past on Madurai roads in the dressed-up bikes.
Unlike the alterations of the crude and catalogue-kind by self-styled specialists of Madurai, Buddu's motorcycles stand out with a no-nonsense finish, be it the camouflage and other painting work or minimalist fairings and fittings.
Asked about his childhood days with the wheels, his eyes light up: “When I was a kid, I rode a UK-make tricycle, used and passed on to me by my relative Rebecca Cleur. After giving me so many years of fun, the cycle is back with the Cleurs, to be used by Rebecca's brother Marckie's (Marcus) kids, now of marrying age themselves.” In his school days, started monkey-pedaling his father Godwin's 24-inch Rallis cycle along with Marckie. “It was heavy and tall, when other cycles are only 18 inches high. As is the wont those days, I used to get the ‘precious cycle' for riding after much persuasion from my dad,” he reminisces. He also had a Huffy Sports bicycle with 3-speed gearbox for some time. His father, Inspector of the customs and central excise department, doted on him till he died in '77, says Ms. Eunice.
Buddu took a fancy for altering bicycles in his high school days. He and Wenzlyn Lopez, his classmate and friend with likeminded tastes, each fashioned a cycle on their own with Sturmey Archer three-speed gearbox et al and rode to school. “When our Physical Education master Shanmugasundaram (of snuff fame) at Railway Mixed Higher Secondary School saw the bright yellow cycle without mudguard and Red Cross symbol on it, he found it weird and called it ambulance because those days such vehicles were painted yellow,” he says.
Later, he altered an old cycle, joining two forks to make it longer for taking sharp turns. It was the envy of the boys of his age when he rode it into Railway Colony, Arasaradi and S.S. Colony.
“I altered the cycle with double-fork extension to look like the American Chopper motorcycle. When one of my friends, Diamond Jacob, badly wanted one, I re-modelled another cycle for him,” says Buddu.
In no time he graduated to scooters and motorcycles – making ramshackle ones fit for the road, giving a new coat of paint and a snazzy look with his signature mark of bare minimum fittings. He has overhauled an AJS motorcycle (1955-make), Matchless (1956), Bajaj Chetak with Globe sidecar (Roland, an Austrian, took this with him to his country), Bantam (1954) – the ones along with Triumph Cub and James (hand gear) used in circus to ride inside the steel globe, and Java (1970) among many other vehicles. “I customised the Java with self-starter for Bernard Vanspal in Bangalore since the aging man found it hard to kick-start the monster,” Buddu says and adds that he was first to do so with a Java.
“Unlike these days of buying fibre fairings off the shelf, they must be stencil-cut in cardboard and fashioned with metal then. It demanded a lot of tinkering work. I gave a new look to two Fury (Zundap) motorcycles with double doom and fairings for mu friends Chikku (Purushothaman) and Shanmugam. These vehicles used to race from 0 to 60 kmph in five seconds, like the Pulsars of now.”
“When another friend Benzy, who is no more, asked for a peppy scooter, I altered a Lamby painted it black and gave it a eerie look.”
Buddu has also dabbled his hands in tractors besides Jeeps, restoring a Ford (1944) with low bonnet and cut chassis.
Now, he has a Royal Enfield (1985). Only god knows what he is going to do with it.