I first heard about these bikes from Drew (Hent of the OldMiniBikes) about a year ago. He got an e-mail from a guy claiming he "owned the first and last Bonanza mini bikes ever built". He also had some spare parts ...a Hodaka E-Code ACE 90 engine, an NOS Fuji engine (the predeccesor to the Hodaka), exhaust pipes, footpegs, seats etc.
Again...he wasn't saying he had an early Bonanza and a late Bonanza...he was saying he had the "very first Bonanza ever built...and the last !" The story sounded implausible…first of all how would anybody be able to prove it was the first Bonanza ever made ? The subject of badges and serial numbers has long been debated by Bonanza experts and collectors. Were the serial numbers sequential or random? Some bikes could be dated to an approximate year or era by the style of the badge…some had raised letters, some were flat. There are also different font styles and even some examples which showed a low early number. But to my knowledge nobody had ever located a bike with a single digit, double, or even triple digit serial number.
I shrugged it off...everybody who finds an old Bonanza thinks they have "the first one".
A few days later Hent forwarded me some of the pictures the guy had sent. It was not what I expected. Not your everyday Craigslist or Ebay photos. These bikes were unusual. They had many of the classic Bonanza characteristics, but there were some subtle..and not so subtle differences. Not Freak-Bike or backyard mods...factory looking stuff. A close up showed the badge on the smaller bike was indeed stamped “1”.
Now I know what you're thinking...that could easily be forged by someone who was determined to create false value through deception. True. What was interesting is that it was a Bonanza Go Kart badge (Bonanza started out making Go Karts long before they made mini bikes). It made sense that they would have used whatever badge they already had laying around for the first mini bikes. They didn't have mini bike badges at that point.
The #1 bike itself was fundamentally what would later become the front peg BC model frame but it had some really unique and odd features, like the front suspension with the exposed lower springs, the way the fork plate was welded in on each side...the wedge motor plate…the under-mounted jackshaft. It was powered by a period correct Power Products AH82 engine. Bonanza was in the race kart business and the AH82 was a very popular and very formidable karting engine back in the day especially in modified form. It is rare to see one anywhere. I certainly had never seen one on an early Bonanza. It was even painted the same "Bonanza Blue" as the frame . The front end had significantly more rake with added bracing at the fork neck. A well worn seat was mounted to a steel wedge plate which angled it forward . It had a set of very early magnesium Go Power wheels in original gold paint. All period correct stuff. It did not look like it was recently built or “faked” together from old parts and pieces. It had what I call an "even" patina it...it had the right patina. It looked like it hadn't been touched in decades.
I was starting to change my mind. I pressed Hent to see if he could get some more info.
A few more weeks passed and I kept thinking about the bikes. Then Hent sent me some contact info for this person..an e-mail address. I exchanged e-mails with him and acquired some additional pictures of the bikes and parts. Now I don't consider myself a Bonanza expert by any means...but I think I have a pretty good eye for authenticity. As I scrutinized the photos in detail, I was beginning to think the bikes might really be something special.
But the real revelation came when I saw the name signed to the bottom of the e-mail…"Dan Farrand".
"Good Morning Gerry:
The reason I contacted Drew was get an idea of the interest in the bike. The bike was the first of a run of 50 and has the Wedge Motor Mount that supports the motor and jackshaft. All parts on the bike are original, as I was the guy, while going to college, who worked on the assemble line at Kart Industries in San Jose between 1960 thru 1964. The first set of Bonanza Badges (50) were stuck on by a double adhesive. Later when the production runs were increased they were pop-riveted with three rivets. The tires and rims are the original Carlisle Nylon 2ply with the Magnesium (gold) Go Power rims. The engine is a modified AH 82. The Bike has been in my possession from the time it came off the assemble line to this day. I guess that is 50 years!
I wanted to send you this info as I will be out this morning. The number I gave you is our landline and not a cell. Will be back after 12:00 noon our time. What is a good time to call you?"
The name Farrand was familiar to me. A couple years ago I had started a thread about the history of mini bike factories; where they were located, the people who started them, when they went out of business, etc. There, in the Bonanza section, was an excerpt from an article written for Cycle Magazine that showed a picture of the Bonanza factory with a man standing in the warehouse surrounded by Bonanza mini bikes. His name... Mike Farrand, president and founder of Bonanza Industries.
The guy I was talking to, Dan Farrand, as it turns out…is Mike Farrand’s younger brother.
Their father, Orrin Farrand, was a sheet metal fabricator and heavy equipment mechanic. He did work for the Patchett Bus factory in Newman California before moving into the mining business where he helped design and develop a more efficient system for extracting Tungsten ore, a rare and valuable commodity during WWII. So valuable in fact, that the location of the mine and its operation were classified information.
The noun Bonanza is defined as follows:
1. a rich mass of ore, as found in mining.
2. a source of great and sudden wealth or luck; a spectacular windfall: The play proved to be a bonanza for its lucky backers.
Starting to get the connection...?
Orrin Farrand had handed down to both his sons, these same design and fabrication skills and innate mechanical aptitude. As teenagers in the 1950's , both Mike and Dan worked at the mine in the High Sierras helping to maintain the trucks and mining equipment. If something broke, it wasn't purchased..it was repaired or a new one was made from what was on hand. Later, Orrin would have a hand in the manufacturing side of the mini bike production at Bonanza, helping to design the welding, metal etching, and painting assembly lines that traveled between two floors via a conveyor system...but I digress.
Mike eventually entered Modesto Jr College where he majored in business. Recreational vehicles such as go-karts, and dune buggys were becoming very popular at the time and Mike saw this as an opportunity to combine his fabrication skills and business degree to start his own manufacturing business… Custom Kart Industries. In 1958, he started working out of his father's now vacated garage which was conveniently equipped with a drill press, power hacksaw, welder, etc. Joining Mike was his best friend from high school, Paul Heins, who helped supply mechanical drawings as well as lending a hand with the construction. This is where the first series of "fun" karts were built, all painted in metallic gold enamel. When they outgrew that shop, they re-located to the first of the San Jose locations at 24 Barnard Ave where they shifted their focus to competition karts.
Amazingly, within just 5 short years, Mike Farrand would advance from making backyard fun karts to building state of the art, National Championship winning race karts. In 1963 at the Go Kart Nationals in Las Vegas with Kenny Robinson aboard, Bonanza took Class A, First Place and Overall Winner honors.
Bonanza was now building serious racing karts and Mike wanted a mini bike division that would be an extension of that.
"Bonanza" would soon become a brand name that was not only part of California lore, but of American pop culture as these bikes would provide 2 wheeled thrills for kids and adults from coast to coast !
By the early 60's his younger brother Dan was enrolled in nearby San Jose Jr. State College. Looking to make some extra money , Dan worked at his brother Mike's now fledgling kart business re-named California Kart Manufacturersand later, Bonanza Industries.
As fate would have it, it was during this same time period that Mike was busy developing the first mini bike to add to the product line...a bike that was designed to outperform and outrun anything else in it's class.
Rather than continue the story in my own words, I present to you several pages of documentation compiled by Dan Farrand with due consultation, consent and the approval of Mike Farrand.
Unabridged and un-edited...signed and notarized September 22, 2014..here is a brief but fascinating glimpse into the early days of Bonanza Industries and the history of the first Bonanza Mini Bike, from the man who built it, rode it, and saved it for nearly 50 years :
We exchanged numerous e-mails and spoke by phone often. Most of my conversations with Dan centered around the early days of Bonanza...what it was like to work there, what an average work day consisted of....what it was like to work for his brother Mike. At one point I remarked "boy it was great that Mike gave you the first bike to keep for yourself". He said "Gave??!" ..."Gave nothing ! That bike cost me a weeks pay back then."
The #1 bike was used as a test mule. Each night after hours they would bring it down the road and sneak into the Hillsdale Rock Quarry where a make shift track had been set up. According to Dan, hundreds of hours were put on that bike there...thousands of laps... testing its handling and performance characteristics. To this day the bike shows it's proven battle scars with frame rash, worn out foot pegs, the scuffed magnesium wheels and a well used seat. The 2 stroke oil residue and the crevices of the bike still hold traces of that same sand and gravel which stand as a testament to it's legacy.
By now I had developed a friendly relationship with Dan and at some point he hinted that after 50 years it may be time for someone else to act as caretaker for the bikes. With an old fashioned gentleman's agreement and a personal check, a deal was made. I vowed never to restore or even wash the #1 bike .
I have a friend who criss-crosses the country racing go karts with an enclosed transporter. He happened to stop by my house as he was headed out West. He asked if there was anything I need delivered or picked up. It was like it was meant to be and within 2 weeks he was back in my driveway. No dis-assembly, no boxes or crates...no Fed-Ex or UPS or Greyhound to worry about. Complete original bikes covered in moving blankets hand delivered right to my door.
Then in November, near the holidays, I got another call from Dan Farrand. Dan is always very animated when he calls...he likes to throw in a few jabs at me too before we get started. I always ask "is this 007 ?" ...because he looks like Sean Connery. After the usual greetings and banter, he said "hold on, there's somebody would like to talk to you ". It was his brother Mike Farrand, owner and founder of Bonanza Industries. I wanted more than anything to have a tape recorder running at that moment...but I'm well aware he is a person who guards his privacy.
The whole conversation is almost a blur in my memory. I had so may questions I wanted to ask him but I decided I'd better let him do most of the talking....and talk he did ! We were on the line for almost 2 hours but it seemed like 2 minutes. He speaks very calmly and quietly. He measures each word before he speaks it. A fascinating guy to listen to, his memory is sharp and his recall of facts and figures phenomenal.
There were many highlights to our conversation, but none more than these..two separate times during our discussion of Bike #1 and it's history, he made it a point to pause and say to me "I don't know if you realize how lucky you are to have that bike". Man the hair would stand up on the back of my neck. I assured him I was well aware of just how lucky I was and it was an honor to own the bikes as well as speak to him.
Mike and Dan have graciously adopted me into the Bonanza family since I am the "keeper" for now. I look forward to staying in touch with them and showing the bike at special events. I may bring it to Windber for it's fist public appearance since the 1960s. If Evil Ed shows up, we may even have to start it up and let him take it for a spin.
What an awesome story Gerry! You have covered some of the most interesting bikes I've ever seen. When is your museum opening? I'd make the pilgrimage to that for sure! Thanks for putting so much of your time into sharing the stories with us!