MY TURN By Anne Simko

| 30 Sep 2011 | 09:50

An appreciation of Rodney Paul Johnson Nov. 9, 1942 to June 16, 2011 Rodney Paul Johnson was born Nov. 9, 1942, to Howard and Margaret Johnson in Jamestown. He graduated from Jamestown High School in 1960, majored in electronics at Alfred State College and upon graduation, worked for IBM as a field engineer until 1968. Rod changed career paths then, to pursue his passion for motorcycle technology. He worked in a Harley Davidson shop and then a Honda/Yamaha shop, where he had his first contact with Yoshimura Racing parts. This led to an offer to go into business with Jim Larkin, whose bike he had modified. Larkin owned Cycle Works in West Milford, N.J., which was renowned for being equipped with a dynometer — a rarity in the metropolitan area. The shop began building drag race bikes, which soon brought them the F-gas National record set at Atco Dragway. Next the pair tried their hands in the motorcycle road racing. Jim’s bike already looked like a road racer and along with Rod’s fully modified Honda 500 they had their “mini” team. Departing West Milford at midnight for a race the following day in Bridgehampton, with minimal sleep, they caused quite a stir when Jim finished first with Rod right behind him for a solid second place. Needless to say, they were hooked! After a year of racing, the shop became Yoshimura East, a distributor of “Pop” Yoshimura racing parts. Jim’s engine was installed into a Dresda frame, which prompted the search for a professional rider. That drew John Bettancourt and they soon won at the 1978 AMA Superbike National in Loudon, N.H., on a Suzuki GS750: Everything had been modified right down to the nuts and bolts. The team continued to campaign at the national level. But, while racing was fun, it wasn’t as profitable as he’d hoped and Rod moved on. He went to work for Selling Precision in West Milford. There, he helped develop the controls for their patented Hydraulic Coil Winder. In 1980 Rod became an automated designer and programmer at High Point Tool, using the then-new Programmable Logic Controllers. When in 2003, the business closed its doors, Rod, at age 60, was unemployed. But, he wasn’t out of ideas. He joined Tri Power Designs as an automation design engineer and was design project manager there until his untimely passing in June of 2011. Rod was an avid sea kayaker, back country skier, mountain biker and rock climber. In 1989 he expanded his love for mountain biking through the forests of northern New Jersey and southern New York state by mapping over 1,500 miles of trails, selling maps to local retail shops. Thus, the start of his Web site: His maps are used by the NJ Search and Rescue Team. Although Rod was a confirmed bachelor when we met in 1984, much to the surprise of his friends, we were married on May 25, 1987, and Rod had an instant new family which included my son Martin Middelmann. Upon Martin’s marriage to Patricia and the birth of daughters Catherine and Elizabeth, Rod was transformed into a teddy bear of a grandfather. His face and eyes always lit up when there was mention of Catherine and Lizzie, now 9 and 5. He never hesitated to bring out the latest pictures to show anyone that asked and Grandpa Rod was never too tired to read a story to his two little girls. When some physical ailments limited his activities, antiquing became a new pastime, which also sparked an interest in local history. At a visit to Sterling Hill Mining Museum in Ogdensburg, Rod learned about the Edison Mines. His curiosity was piqued and then stymied by the lack of additional info about the site. He visited the Thomas Edison National Historic Site in West Orange to search the archives for answers to his questions. Of course, Rod kept notes and showed some to Sterling Museum owners Dick and Bob Hauck, who encouraged Rod to format them into a book and ultimately published the book themselves in 2004: “Thomas Edison’s 'Ogden Baby,’ The New York Pennsylvania Concentrating Works.” It is sold through his Web site, local book retailers and the Thomas Edison National Historic Site. Next, Rod was asked to write a book on the Sterling Iron Works, which was in progress at the time of his death. Rod was also a trustee for the Orange County Historical Society, which had given him access to private collections along with over 20,000 documents which he perused for his research on that book. Rodney encountered a challenge of a different nature when he was diagnosed with kidney cancer in July 2009. After a bout with chemo and surgery, he was declared cancer free and once again started hiking the woods he so loved (mushroom picking was a favorite hobby) and exploring mines to continue his research for his latest book. There are some challenges we cannot win however, and after a sudden and brief bout with brain cancer, Rodney passed on to other ventures. Rodney has touched the hearts and lives of many. He was a mentor to some, a loyal employee/partner to others, but most importantly, a loving husband, father and grandfather, as well a brother to Craig Johnson and wife Susan, Ken Johnson and wife Jode, and an uncle to Mathew Johnson and Christopher Johnson. Martin Middelmann will be riding the Pan Mass Challenge for the third time this Aug. 6 and 7 in honor of Rod. This an annual bike ride raises money for the Jimmy Fund — the official charity of the Dana Farber Cancer Institute. One hundred percent of funds raised from the ride benefit the Jimmy Fund. To make a donation, visit: Ann Simko is Rodney Johnson’s widow.