Another post in a series of the experiences from Baja written by my friend John Thawley. Read about some of John’s exploits on Dean’s Garage. John died on July 14, 2009. Published by permission from John Thawley, Jr.

Bad Gas? Not so fast.

Long before I’d made my first trip into Baja, it was common knowledge that gas in Mexico was “bad.” What was bad about it? Dunno—it’s just plain bad. My heart was not that dark. The first time I bought gas outside of Ensenada, the problem became clear. The gas I wanted to buy was in a 55-gallon drum sitting on the ground next to a hut in El Rosario. The gentleman handling the transaction unscrewed the bung in the top of the drum. Said bung was hand tight, so he placed adjacent hole. From inside the hut he produced a hand-crank pump, with an intake pipe that would reach to the bottom of the drum. He inserted the intake pipe into the drum and began pumping. There was no filter sock visible on the intake pipe. When he finished pumping, I paid the bill; we shook hands and I drove off.

How long had the gas been in that drum? How was the pump stored in the hut? Was it left standing in the corner with the intake pipe resting on the dirt floor? How long was the pump left in the drum after I left? How soon was the bung replaced?  How long had the drum been used in that location? Years? That drum was sitting less than a mile from the Pacific Ocean. For how long? That gas I bought may or may not have been “bad,” but the chance of contamination with dirt or rust increased with each crank of the pump handle.

Now you know why Don Francisco stressed that the drums of gas delivered to the check points in the Inaugural 1000 be filled at the refinery in new drums. In researching this book, I never found a single mention of “bad gas.” Thanks, Don.


Early Fun—Desert Rats Are On The Loose

The late fiftes and early sixties were  good times to be in Southern California for a certain cultural segment. Jobs were plentiful, housing affordable and motorcycles were everywhere. Triumph, BSA, Ariel, Harleys—and later Japanese bikes. Among a cadre of cyclists, the question at work on Wednesday was not what to do the following weekend—but where to do it. The desert. The California, Arizona and Nevada desert was there. It was open, and it was close. Motorcycle clubs sprouted like weeds—many with the primary purpose of organizing and promoting off-road events. If you grew tired of, or simply didn’t care for organized events, the desert was still there. A trail was there to follow; a canyon to explore. With a bike buddy, a lot of miles could go under a knobby in a weekend.

And then for a few, the challenges grew semi-stale. Coffee cups and maps on a kitchen table led to some initial probes into Baja. Make no mistake about it; bikers led the off-road movement into Baja. These early explorers probed the peninsula and built a “word of mouth encyclopedia” available to anyone curious enough to inquire.


In the Early sixties, there was a motorcyclist out of Southern California who decided to take a close look at Baja. Aubrey La Bard was a loner. Most often riding alone, La Bard would spend countless weekends making it down Highway One to a spur (also labeled Highway One). The spur led directly to Bahia de los Angeles on the Gulf side. Bahia de los Angeles is roughly a third of the way down the peninsula. Even then, the little town was unique—permanent population was about 250. There was normally gas, a hotel room, a small airport, a decent meal, and a cold beer. The scenery was spectacular. The sandy and rocky road snaked through a cirio-covered desert, over a mountain range with a view of the island dotted bay. The most arresting view was that of the 45 mile long Angel de la Guardia Island with a haphazard silhouette with some 3000 foot mountain peaks. Back on the peninsula, there was excellent camping on the beach. Heaven on earth—especially for a lone biker.


Home-made GPS. No batteries required.


Please don’t republish without permission.

  1. Peter Brock

    I knew John well….besides being a biker he was a fine writer about motorsports. He did a book (under a different name) Called how to Hot rod you Datsun. Countless Datsun 510s were built using his guidance, much of it learned and photographed at our shop in El Segundo, Ca….Brock Racing Enterprises. We had some good times. I miss John. Peter Brock

  2. Bill Fuentes Christensen

    Stories from Baja California; off-road racing down their is of keen interest to me after being involved in with it for over four decades. If John were alive I would express my appreciation in person—sharing these images and more importantly, the stories behind—or associated with them—is love for the sport and thoughtfulness that is rare to encounter these days.

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