Bill Brokaw | My Mother the Editor | Emeritus

By Bill Brokaw, Photography by Brian Catterson

I have taken too long to get around to heeding your request in the October 2011 issue—sorry. The December 1949 issue pictured with Ed Kretz on the cover was edited by my mother, Neda Brokaw, although the masthead only shows her as Associate Editor. This was her first issue after taking over from Harry Steele and continuing until Bill Bagnall came aboard. Arthur Welch was the publisher who thought it best not to admit that Motorcyclist was being edited by a woman, so he claimed the title and later credited Chuck Baskerville with it. This is the story…

My father, Paul Brokaw, was contributing to Motorcyclist, writing the Shop Foreman column. When Bill Smith wanted to end his run as Editor, he thought my dad would be a good prospect for the job, and Arthur agreed.

At the time, Paul had a Triumph, Ariel and BSA dealership in Cedar Falls, Iowa. This was a development starting in 1927 with an Indian dealership that turned into a Harley dealership in ’32. He was ruined as a Harley man when he sold the first two Triumph Tigers in Iowa back in ’39! So in ’46 the Harley shop was sold to a returning GI and he built a small shop behind our house to sell the British bikes.

It was a fun year, but while we were at Daytona in February of ’47, Bill found someone to chase down my dad and the offer was made. Los Angeles and a new challenge, which included my mother (who was a typing and English whiz) working with my dad, sent us scurrying to find a buyer for our home and shop. I had just turned 14 and was nearly as pumped as they were with the prospect! A buyer was quickly found. Our Studebaker Champion was equipped with a one-wheel trailer, packed and pointed west.

Remarkably, Paul and Neda were on the job about a month after leaving Daytona. Chuck was putting out a contractor’s magazine, also owned by Arthur, from the same Bendix Building office in L.A. Arthur was better help to Chuck, so Motorcyclist was pretty well dropped in my folks’ lap for fast-track learning.

Paul was never able to crack Harley-Davidson’s refusal to advertise because the Britbikes were too well-covered. Then he dropped in a spy photo of a Harley sporting the yet-to-be-introduced telescopic fork, and that sealed the deal! It was reported that Harley sales slowed markedly while riders waited for the upgrade...

Disappointments started building when Paul’s desires to change the magazine were squelched by Arthur. Road tests were big on his list of needed additions, and he even enlisted “Pee Wee” Cullum, a popular speedway racer, to do the testing. Arthur would not pay Pee Wee, saying he should be happy just to have his name in print! Plus, Paul knew that larger photos would spruce up the mag, but those “cuts” were expensive. Also, being an artist, certain other changes were on his wish-list.

Accustomed to being his own boss, Paul found this ham-stringing more than he could accept, sending him back to retail. He opened a shop in East L.A. selling Triumph, AJS and Matchless, which was moved to Montebello a year later. Neda stayed on at Motorcyclist as Associate Editor though the December ’53 issue, working closely with Bill. Paul’s run as Editor started with the April ’47 issue and wrapped up with the March ’49 issue.

The Brokaws and Bagnalls ultimately became close friends. Paul continued as “Uncle Frank,” editing the Q&A book offered by Motorcyclist, and also as a writer for Dealer News, which Bagnall also published.

As a result of all this, I have inherited a full set of bound volumes from 1935 through 1971 which I dearly love to browse. Where they go when I cash in my chips is yet to be determined. Too bad the magazine archives are lacking a complete collection. MC

By Bill Brokaw
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