90-year-old local tearfully reunited with his old motorcycle from Holland

A surprise for Opa ... Vince Zandbelt presents the 1956 DKW motorcycle back to its original owner, his 90-year-old father, Bill. The bike's key (held by Vince in left photo) is lauded for its "simple and good" design by the recipient.

Nelson Zandbergen
Nation Valley News

WINCHESTER — Ninety-year-old Bill Zandbelt shared the seat of his DKW motorcycle with his new bride, Wilhelmina, in The Netherlands, as they posed for a photo on May 8, 1960 — just days before the newlyweds immigrated to Canada and left the trusty two-wheeled transportation behind.

Sixty years and one day later, the recently-widowed North Dundas resident laid tearful eyes on the vintage machine in Winchester, beautifully restored, in a surprise and emotional presentation made by his family on the day before Mother’s Day — and, sadly, a little over three weeks after Wilhelmina passed away April 15 at the age of 86, just shy of the couple’s diamond anniversary.

Son Vince Zandbelt rolled out the German-made motorcycle May 9 in front of his surprised father who sat in a chair in the living room of the home Vince shares with wife Charlene and their children. Bill’s grandson, videographer Reid Zandbelt of Embrun (Vince’s nephew), captured and assembled the touching footage, which has been going viral on social media.

“It gives me a great honour to reunite you with your long-lost buddy. This is your old bike, Dad,” exclaims Vince, walking the bike out from behind a staircase as his father momentarily sobs with joy.

“My, my, my!” says an astonished Bill, upon seeing the 175cc two-stroke road bike he bought brand new in 1956 at a Deventer, Overijssel dealership and rode for four years all over Holland.

“… we brought it home for you,” says Vince, his voice breaking as he holds his father’s hand to bring him in close to the bike. “It’s going to stay in the Zandbelt family.”

“Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” exclaims the older man — who worked for years as a farm-equipment mechanic at Metcalfe Service Centre — before being helped onto the seat.

“We finally got it home the day before Mom passed away [April 15],” Vince tells his father, who again breaks down in tears at the coincidental timing. “It was a long journey, but it was worth it, but we thought you’d love this.”

“I certainly do,” replies his father, a three-year resident of the Beachcroft Seniors Apartments in Winchester. “I’m overwhelmed. I can’t find the words to say …”

Vince tells Nation Valley News the surprise handover was meant to occur at a joint celebration of his parent’s 60th wedding anniversary and his father’s 90th, both occurring in late April — until his mother passed.

The event was refashioned for his father alone — a bittersweet occasion because of the loss of Wilhelmina.

In the video, Vince sets the table for the presentation by first showing his father black and white images on a TV screen, including that photograph of himself and his wife on the bike plus another showing Bill with a stogie in his mouth while a cousin and a brother share the seat. Bill is briefly overcome as his son pulls the covers off large-format prints of the photos, set to be displayed at the popular “bike nights” that Vince organizes in downtown Winchester. Moments later, the nonagenarian is blown away by the sight of the actual motorcycle.

Upon leaving Holland, Bill had left the bike to a brother, who in turn sold it to another individual. Vince tracked the motorcycle down a couple of years ago when it was in the hands of the third owner, after an uncle in The Netherlands sent the Canadian Zandbelt family photos of the restoration underway on the then-rusty relic with 70,000 km on the odometer.

Vince also replayed some of those teardown shots for his father, who marvels that his bike “never had a speck of rust on it when I had it!”

A motorcycle enthusiast inspired by some of the neat machines that turned out at last summer’s first bike night series, Vince says he thought it would be “cool to reunite two long-lost friends” after looking again at the old photos of his dad’s DKW, and knowing the bike had been fully restored. With a cousin acting as intermediary, he arranged the purchase and shipping of the family heirloom to Canada.

But the wonderful gesture almost never happened after a bureaucratic catch-22 left the bike stuck at port in Montreal for two-and-a-half months. He says Canada Customs selected the shipping container for random inspection, triggering a mandatory contractor’s cleaning of the contents when another vehicle inside was found to have mud on a wheel well. In turn, that generated a big invoice that had to be paid equally by the owners of three vehicles in the container (two cars and the Zandbelt motorcycle); until everyone coughed up, the contractor outfit refused to release any of the vehicles, meanwhile charging a $150 daily storage fee.

Vince says he finally sprung the motorcycle after advising the shipping company he was prepared to walk away from it unless they accepted his offer (which still doubled the effective price paid for the bike.) MP Eric Duncan’s office also got involved, Vince says.

“But it was all worth it,” he adds.

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