F O R T Y – T W O _ Y E A R S

After years of lusting after a motorcycle (but drinking and drugging away any motorcycle money I might have saved) I finally got sober, got my finances together, and toddled down to the Harley shop to pick out my bike. The sales manager must have decided I wasn’t a serious prospect, because when I announced I was there to buy a bike he flapped a hand at the door to the parking lot, said ‘The used bikes are outside,’ turned on his heel and walked away.

April 11th, 1979 to now: 42 years of true love!

I left, naturally – damn if I was going to spend my money with an asshole like that! – but as I was driving away I noticed a Harley parked at a used car lot two doors up the street from the dealership. I called a friend of mine named Wayne Agee – an experienced chopper builder, attorney and motorcyclists’ rights activist – and he very kindly went with me to scope it out.

What we found was a 1974 Harley-Davidson FX (kickstart-only) Superglide shovelhead with 8,000 miles on the clock, box stock except for 6″ overstock fork tubes. The salesman swore it was his personal bike – a story I dismissed as sales-speak at the time, but later learned was the absolutely truth. No matter. It was a Harley-Davidson Big Twin, and the prettiest thing I’d ever seen.

1974 FX 1200 Superglide as described in full-line sales brochure.

I didn’t have my motorcycle license yet, so Wayne test-rode the bike for me. The price was right and he gave it an enthusiastic thumbs-up, and I was sold! I went straight to my credit union to arrange financing, and the next day, April 11th, 1979, I went to take possession of my very first motorcycle. A five-minute tutorial on the machine – clutch up there, brakes here and here, shifter over there, one up and three down – and I was on my way.

1974 FX 1200 Superglide as it appeared on April 11th, 1979, at Northwest Hills Texaco, Austin, Texas.
My 1963 Buick LeSabre is in the background.

I passed a motorcycle safety course when I was in the service – a requirement if I was going to ride a motorcycle on base – and took rides on other people’s machines whenever they were dumb enough to hand me the keys, but I was basically ignorant of riding technique. Of needs, I taught myself to ride by spending every possible moment on that bike, cruising the Farm-to-Market roads that snake across the Texas Hill Country west and south of Austin. I quickly realized I was born to this life; to be in the saddle, in the wind. Nothing before or since has brought me such pleasure and peace of mind, or felt so right.

1974 FX 1200 magazine advert. Note stylish matching helmet and brown leathers.
I never had either of those things.

I began calling my shovel ‘The Bitch’ long before The Grateful Dead released their In The Dark album in 1987, but a couplet from the song ‘Tons of Steel’ describes her to a T:

“It’s one hell of an understatement to say she can get mean
She’s temperamental; more of a bitch than a machine!”

However, the name was given tongue-in-cheek because, even though any machine will act up one way or another, if you own it long enough, The Bitch has been a stout, faithful steed with plenty of heart and class.

September, 1979, Labor Day Weekend Harley Drags at Little River-Academy Raceway east of Temple. I stripped the tank emblems (which I could kick myself for, now) and replaced the stock saddle with a low-ride LaPera king-and-queen. I traded the stock headlight assembly for an original Bates unit I found on my very first trip to Bud’s Motorcycle Shop, replaced the stock buckhorn handlebars with broomstick drag bars, and installed foward controls and highway pegs to accommodate my long legs.

The Bitch has been through a lot of changes over the years. I began by turning her into stripped-down cruiser, above. Then I converted her into a fat bob, below.

December 1979, on Congress Avenue, Austin, Texas, just south of Town Lake. I still had the drag bars, but I replaced the stock one-piece fuel tank with the more traditional-looking two-piece ‘fat bob’ tanks. These were the 3.5 gallon size commonly seen on early Police motorcycles. I loved the look, but unfortunately, the older fat bobs were prone to cracking and leaking. A lapful of gasoline at 60 MPH is never a good thing, and as a result, I never kept a set of the original fat bobs for very long.

Next, I built her into a version of the FL Sport – a dresser sans saddlebags and windshield – using the wide-glide forks Wayne sold me, and pieces sourced through his ‘chopper shop’ (which, as it happened, bore a striking resemblance to his law office). The photo below shows the project about halfway to completion.

1980, at Bud’s Motorcycle Shop, 2612 East First Street, Austin, Texas, just before I completed the makeover to a stripped-down dresser. I had removed as much of the chrome trim as I could, replaced the 3.5 gallon fat bob fuel tanks with a 5 gallon set, swapped the narrow FX front forks for the wide glide I bought from my friend Wayne, and traded the Superglide rear fender for the longer, wider Electra-Glide tin. All that was left at this point was the dresser covers for the rear shocks and the aluminum nacelle and full-sized headlight for the front. Then that damn rigid framed panhead showed up!

Just about the time I finished that project, with a full aluminum headlight nacelle off an old Electra-Glide, a friend let me throw a leg over his rigid panhead, and I was in love. The rigid was so much lighter (and cleaner looking) than the stock swingarm frame, and I just had to have one.

1980, in early winter, at Bud’s Motorcycle Shop, in front of the
tin building that housed Bud’s original East Austin shop/showroom/office.

By then I was working at Bud’s Motorcycle Shop, and Bud helped me find a 1954 wishbone frame. I swapped the engine and transmission into the wishbone and slapped on some get-by fenders and fuel tank, above. Meanwhile, I sourced fresh tins for the bodyman, so I could keep riding while I got everything painted and ready to go. After some dithering around I settled on a bright blue the same color the Austin Police Department used on their cars – a close match to an original 1954 factory color Harley-Davidson named ‘Glacier Blue’.

1980 at the Terrace Apartments off South Congress Avenue in South Austin, Texas. The Bitch when I first put it in the rigid frame, prior to the complete makeover I had planned for it. I rode it like this until I was ready to tear it down and rebuild it. Note how dingy the aluminum on the engine and front forks looks.

I took the shovel apart, rebuilt the engine, polished every bit of smooth aluminum I could get a buffing wheel or elbow grease to, and put it all back together.

1980, The Bitch in Glacier Blue, the day I completed the makeover.
Note the shiny aluminum. That was a lot of work!
The Bitch in Glacier Blue, in the yard at Bud’s Motorcycle Shop, 2612 East First Street, Austin, Texas, where I was a proud Known Associate for 36 years. That rear fender was from a swingarm dresser with the hinge welded shut – a concept by Dave Hobday, a fellow employee at Bud’s, skillfully executed by a bodyman named Paul, who was quadriplegic after a motorcycle wreck. Paul did the paint and body work for a number of custom builds at Bud’s shop, and in return we built him a three-wheeled shovelhead adapted to his disabilities. He later took the trike back to his home state of Massachusetts where he rebuilt it, doing most of the work himself, and did such a fine job that it ended up featured in Easyriders back when that was still a rag worth reading.

I caught a lot of flak for that paint color the whole while the tins were hanging on the wall in my shop area, but once I put it all together I received nothing but compliments. As an added plus, I never had a car pull out in front of me the entire time I ran that color. They might not have been aware of a motorcycle in traffic, but they noticed that cop-car blue!

1980, enroute to a party at Lake Buchanan, shortly after I completed the
Glacier Blue makeover. That is the smile of one very proud bike builder!
1980 at Lake Buchanan, Texas.
1981 at Lake Brownwood, Texas, with Lea, Bill Jones and Debbie.
1982, a ride to the annual Black Hills Classic Motorcycle Rally at Sturgis, South Dakota, and below, a visit with my sister-in-law in Lusk, Wyoming, on my way back to Texas.
1983, a ride out to see the Bluebonnets blossom.
1983, Bluebonnets and Indian Paintbrush at the roadside southeast of Austin.
1984, Memorial Day races at Little River-Academy Raceway.
1984, at a scenic overlook near Kingsland, Texas.

I made other changes as the years passed. I went back to black, changed fenders and tanks, ran a pogo-stick saddle and windshield for a while, added a sidecar so my stepdaughter could ride in safety and comfort, and put on mile after mile after mile…

1985, at the Flea Market on Highway 290 east of Austin.
1986, at J.B. and Dana’s house on Romeria Drive, Austin, Texas.
1986, at J.B. and Dana’s house on Romeria Drive, Austin, Texas, with my stepdaughter’s mother.
1987, at home on Wilmes Drive in Austin, with the sidecar for my stepdaughter. That’s her tricycle in the grass, and our roommate’s chopped Honda in the shed.
1988, at Redwood Lodge, Lake Whitney, Texas.
1989 Southeast Texas enroute to an ABATE Texas function.
1990-11-18 at Benny and Carol’s house in McGregor, Texas.
From left: Carol, Benny, Michelle, Bill and The Bitch, Laura, John and Clifford.
1991, on a solo ride from Austin to Estes Park, Colorado. I pulled into the visitor’s center in Estes Park, to get directions to my brother’s mountain-climbing school, and noticed a familiar motorcycle pulling into the parking lot of the fast food restaurant across the street. In town no more than five minutes, and who should I run into, but t was the man I had ridden to Sturgis with – a man I hadn’t seen in almost a decade – in Colorado for a vacation with his wife! How’s that for a small world!?!
1991, T.R. and Kimberley, with their motorcycles parked behind them.
1991, heading up into Rocky Mountain Nat’l Park.
1991, atop Rocky Mountain Nat’l Park, at 12,000′.
1992, riding through the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Colorado.
1993, July 4th, a solo ride to meet up with a friend in Lake Eufala, Oklahoma.
1993, Labor Day Weekend, a group ride to Lake Eufala, Oklahoma.
From left: Paul, Jeff, Peno, Bill and Melissa B.
1994, July, ride through Four Corners region of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah.
1994, on IH35 in Belton, enroute to the annual Tri-County Toy Run.
1995, on the bridge over Royal Gorge, Colorado.
2000, with Jackie on the back, at Monument Cafe, Georgetown, Texas, for breakfast with our friend Tina.
2001, in Crawford, Texas, with Randy and Tina.
2004, January, a winter ride on a back road near La Grange, Texas, with a high of 47 degrees.

In July, 2004, at the age of 48, I fell 35′ from a billboard structure, when a piece of the board came loose. I rode the ladder I was standing on all the way to the hard rocky Hill Country earth, and ended up with an open compound fracture of my right leg, numerous fractures in my left mid-foot, and a burst fracture of my L-4 vertebra, which caused catastrophic nerve damage to the cauda equina that controls everything south of the waist, and I mean everything!

After fourteen days in hospital, numerous surgeries and a near-fatal hospital-borne infection, I went home to a wheelchair and a rented hospital bed, with lots more to come. Still, at the end of October I limped out to the driveway, kickstarted The Bitch and took it for a ride around the neighborhood.

2004, Halloween, and my first time on the bike since my on-the-job accident that July.

I’ve probably made smarter choices in life, but it seemed important at the time!

2004, Halloween, and my first ride after my accident.

A lot has happened since then, including another makeover of The Bitch and a return to A) another blue paint job, B) another set of fatbob tanks, C) another pogo-stick and D) another windshield, all to accommodate my back and leg injuries.

2008, and yet another makeover: late-model fat bobs (less likely to crack and leak) with a traditional pogo-stick saddle, and a windshield to save my back muscles having to fight
against the wind at highway speeds, but…
…my body no longer wants to cooperate.

The pogo-stick and windshield arrangement was good for a while, but remember the nerve damage I mentioned? Yeah, that nasty nerve damage has come back to haunt me.

One of the nastier tricks it plays on me (and the nasty tricks are legion, believe me!) is that my right knee gives out with no warning. It’s been doing it since I first got out of the hospital, but that particular trick has become more frequent as the years since my accident go by, to the point where I can no longer feel safe riding a two-wheeler, so…

meet my new wish-list! I can either pony up the $25,000 to $30,000 people are asking for late-model Harley three-wheelers, or stick my dearly beloved Bitch in a three-wheeled frame like the one Paughco offers, One way or the other, I have got to get back in the wind!

Watch this space for updates!

Buddy Merle Reveile (1950-2015)

Four years ago today we lost one of the best men I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing.

ABOVE:  Bud Reveile on 7 January 2015, a couple of months before he passed away.

Bud Reveile was a Vietnam veteran; a U.S.M.C. tanker whose story was included in Oscar E. Gilbert’s Marine Corps Tank Battles in Vietnam.  He was a devout Christian and family man, and a lifelong and benevolent member of the East Austin community.

Bud was also a dyed-in-the-wool Harley man, a walking encyclopedia of all things Harley-Davidson, and a natural-born good guy.  He could talk to anyone – Bud maintained friendships with outlaw bikers and cops, Christians and atheists, bankers and b-girls and bums – and he did his level best to treat everyone with respect.  He had very few enemies, and the only ones I ever met were only enemies because Bud wouldn’t give them something for nothing.  He was a businessman – a true old-school horse-trader who worked hard to make a buck – but Bud was honest, and in all my years of knowing him I never saw him take advantage of anyone.

Bud built his business the old-fashioned way, beginning (just like Harley and the Davidsons themselves) in a backyard shed behind his North Austin home with some tools, a small collection of used motorcycle parts, and his experience working at Harley dealerships in California and Austin.

In April of 1979 Bud moved his operations to the grounds of a defunct lumberyard in East Austin.  There a Spartan tin shack – unheated in winter, un-air-conditioned in summer, noisy and dusty all year ‘round – served as mechanic’s bay, showroom and office, while erstwhile lumber bins held his burgeoning parts inventory.

Over the following 36 years, Bud created a sprawling compound that eventually covered more than a quarter of a city block.  In a ramshackle series of structures – some built, others acquired or repurposed and all interconnected – Bud kept aisles and aisles (and piles and piles) of old and odd motorcycle parts jumbled up in glorious disarray.  There were tons of new old stock; OEM and aftermarket pieces painstakingly gathered from shops that were going out of business or dealerships purging their parts departments, stacked right alongside all the bent, broken, rusted, oil-soaked parts salvaged from a thousand different spent and clapped-out motorcycles.  There was everything a rider might need to repair an old machine, customize a new one or, for that matter, build herself one from the ground up.  Visiting Bud’s shop was like stepping back in time to those halcyon days when Harley shops were unique, one from another, instead of the prefabricated corporate clones they have become.  For those of us who care about such things, Bud’s was Disneyland!  🙂

I first met Bud in the summer of 1979, when another biker gave me one of Bud’s cards.  I had just gotten my first Harley, and wanted to learn everything I could about them.  When I saw that Bud was the real deal I quickly asked if I could become a shop hang-around.  I would come in after work and on weekends, exchanging free labor for the occasional discount motorcycle part and a far more valuable education in Harley-Davidsons.  By the fall of that year I was working there full time, and in one way or another I kept working there for the next 36 years.

ABOVE:  My shovelhead outside Bud’s perimeter fence, fall of 1980. Over the fence are the lumber stalls, now enclosed to create mechanics’ bays downstairs and parts storage upstairs.

Jack-of-all-trades what I was, I helped build various add-ons to the shop, including closing in the old lumber stalls to create additional mechanics’ bays, and reinforcing the second story so parts could be stored there.  I ran electrical systems throughout as the business sprawled across first one, then two, and finally three separate lots known to all and sundry as 2612 East First Street.  I worked as a shop grunt, with my elbows deep in the muck of the parts washer, became a parts man and mechanic, and even lived on-site for a while during one of my periods of homelessness, doubling as night watchman while hiding my as-yet-unpaid-for shovel from the repo man. I served as publicist, writing articles about Bud and the shop for national magazines, and provided backup on the rare occasion when a situation so demanded.

ABOVE:  Bud’s logo, created and reproduced here by the artist, MAG.  The same design also graced Bud’s t-shirts, business cards, bumper stickers…

I also traveled with Bud to swap meets all over hell and gone, driving his rattletrap old school bus gutted of seats and packed full of the infamously “new, used and abused” parts that were Bud’s specialty:  everything from trendy chrome gewgaws and one-off chopper parts to hard-to-find transmissions, carburetors, flywheels and cylinder heads.  Sometimes it seemed as if we were carrying half of Bud’s inventory with us when we set out and, because Bud shopped even as he sold, frequently carried even more inventory back to Austin!

Bud's 1980 (12-80) facing ENE w. original tin shop, school bus used for swap meets at left (courtesy Bill James)

ABOVE:  My shovelhead right after I switched to a rigid frame, late 1980 or early ’81, in front of the tin shed that held Bud’s original “showroom” and mechanic’s bay.  The notorious school bus is visible at top left.

All those parts, BTW, were haphazardly stacked in rectangular metal trays, and part of my job as grunt was to hump the damn things in and out of the bus at every stop.  Bud was a “recycler” before recycling was trendy – those metal trays were actually old medicine chests salvaged from a downtown hotel slated for demolition – and when filled with panhead four-speed gears, ironhead cylinders, shovelhead connecting rods and the like they were heavy and sharp-edged enough to take off fingers!  I hated them with a passion, but even those trays couldn’t diminish the joy of traveling in Bud’s circle, meeting bikers and shop owners from around the world, learning the ins and outs of doing business the East Austin Way.

ABOVE:  A profile I wrote about Bud, back in the summer of 1991.

Of course, Bud also became one of my best, most reliable friends. He always seemed glad to see me, to step out and share a meal or just hole up in his cramped little office and visit for a while. There wasn’t much we couldn’t discuss, either, from faith and fear to family and friends, flatheads to Twin Cams, the war, the rallies at Sturgis and Daytona, the swap meet circuit, the biker books we both enjoyed and exchanged, and, naturally, the latest gossip from the motorcycling scene. Toward the end, we talked about what was happening to him, and steps he needed to take to be at peace as he crossed that final bridge. Like everyone who loved him, I did what I could to help, but it wasn’t enough.  If it could have done any good I’d have cheerfully given up blood, sweat and body parts to help him recover, or at least not suffer quite so much.

The day Bud died I exchanged texts with another longtime friend who had known Bud in the days when he worked at the old Harley-Davidson dealership in town. I wrote that our world just became a much smaller place. He agreed, writing “Smaller, sadder, and much more lonely.”

I miss my friend every day, but I remain grateful that he was my friend.  Through Bud I got to be part of a grand tradition in American motorcycling – the small independent shop that is the backbone of the bikers’ world.  Bud’s was a near-mystical place packed full of history disguised as scrap metal – a funky, messy mélange of mechanic and machinist’s shop, motorcycle museum and meeting hall – and it was a BLAST!  Man, I’m glad I got to be there!

ABOVE:  Bud’s Motorcycle Shop circa early 2000s, photographer unknown.

Rejected Princesses

Greetings, y’all.  You might say I’ve been busy lately – flooded home, reconstruction, dealing with ongoing pain and disability from my catastrophic work accident in 2004 – but I haven’t forgotten this site, or the things I still hope I might accomplish here.  Anyhoo…

There’s a fellow who does some really fun stuff with what he calls “Rejected Princesses”: strong, often rebellious and even violent women who violate the gender norms of their day and challenge the male-dominated societies in which they lived; wild women who blaze their own paths and fight their own battles; women that Walt Disney and company would never consider for cutesy movies, clothing lines and toy tie-ins a la Snow White, Cinderella, Ariel, Pocahontas and Mulan.  His name is Jason Porath, he hangs out over at Rejected Princesses, and as a son, brother, husband and erstwhile stepfather to some pretty amazing women, I really, really enjoy his work.

Jason has honored women like baseball pitcher Jackie Mitchell, the seventeen year old woman who, in 1931, struck out New York Yankees hitters Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, back to back, before being pulled from the game, quite possibly for embarrassing the two stars.  Then there’s Lyudmila Pavlichenko, the young Russian woman who, in World War Two, energized by the Germans’ destruction of her University, became the deadliest female sniper in history (in a cadre of deadly women snipers that Russia fielded to fend off the Nazis, Lyudmila took out 309 of the bastards) and later became friends with American First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.  Or howzabout Rosalind Franklin, who made the discovery of DNA possible with her pioneering work in X-Ray diffraction (whatever the devil that is!) and was promptly ignored and even posthumously insulted by the pompous asses who claimed the resulting Nobel Prize for themselves.

Jason even delves into ancient history, with women like Hypatia, the first female mathematician in recorded history, and mythology, with women like Iara, the Brazilian warrior woman who was murdered by her own father – tossed in a river to drown – and subsequently turned into a mermaid by sympathetic fish, so she could sing a siren song that drove men mad with desire.  The entire site is chock-a-block with stories like these, and pretty cool Disney-styled portraits of the women in question.  Jason’s also published a book,  Rejected Princesses: Tales of History’s Boldest Heroines, Hellions and Heretics, and is working on a second volume.

So, what does all this have to do with motorcycling?

Not a damned thing, except that, just today, I took a moment to suggest two new heroines for Jason’s files; two women well-known to those of us who read the history of motorcycling.  My entry is reproduced below, and if Jason should opt to honor one or more of the women I mention, I’ll be back here ASAP to announce it.  Meanwhile, take a stroll over to Rejected Princesses and poke around a bit.  As internet time-sucks go, it’s one of the more entertaining and enlightening sites out there.

There are two women who loom large in the world of motorcycling – the world I’ve lived in since I was seven years old (55 years ago) and got my first ride on the back of a neighbor boy’s bike.

The first is Dorothy (Dot) Robinson:

http://www.motorcyclemuseum.org/halloffame/detail.aspx?RacerID=78

http://www.historybyzim.com/2013/10/dot-robinson-first-lady-of-motorcycling/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motor_Maids

Dot was NOT the first lady of motorcycling, despite the title – by the end of the 20th Century’s first decade women were already making their mark in the world of motorcycling by taking cross-country trips (well before the advent of the Lincoln Highway, Route 66, the Interstate System, or even “luxuries” like motels and motorcycle repair shops every 10th of a mile along the way) and acting as ambassadors for the sport and lifestyle of motorcycling – but Dot DID do a lot to further women’s participation.

The second is Bessie Stringfield:

http://www.motorcyclemuseum.org/halloffame/detail.aspx?RacerID=277

https://timeline.com/bessie-stringfield-motorcycle-america-7a002f5057c5

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bessie_Stringfield

Bessie was an African-American woman who took numerous solo motorcycle trips across America during the Jim Crow era, when “uppity” blacks were getting lynched and jailed at an appalling rate.  She apparently never lost her joyful approach to life and motorcycling.

There are other women, like Effie and Avis Hotchkiss, Adeline and Augusta Van Buren and Della Crewe – some of those early pioneers cited above – who are also worthy of mention, but Bessie and Dot are two of better-known women ‘cyclists.

Anyhoo, I love the work you do.  I was one of the folks who pre-ordered the first RP book, and am looking forward to the second.  I hope you’ll consider honoring one, both or ALL of these fantastic women.  If I may be of assistance in any way, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Shalom,

Bill J. from Austin

UPDATE:  I’m a little slow getting this posted here (what else is new?) but I promised an update when I heard back from Jason Porath, and here ’tis.  I actually heard back from Jason almost immediately, and he told me:

Bessie is on the list but the rest are new to me!

Since then he has completed his entry for Bessie Stringfield (you can read it here:  http://www.staging6.rejectedprincesses.com/princesses/bessie-stringfield) and published his second book, Tough Mothers: Amazing Stories of History’s Mightiest Matriarchs (Rejected Princesses), which is available online at  https://smile.amazon.com/gp/product/0062796097/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o02_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

I’m still here!

More history posts coming soon as I get time.  Meanwhile, here’s a blast from my own past.  Shortly after I rebuilt my 1974 shovel in the early ’80s – refurbished 1954 rigid wishbone frame, fresh motor, fresh paint, the works – I went on a group ride to Lake Buchanan in the Highland Lakes Region of Central Texas.  A few weeks later a fellow who’d been on the ride with us – a fellow I didn’t even know – came in the shop where I worked and dropped some pics on me.  They were all great shots, but the one below captures the pure joy and pride I was feelin’ that day!

1980 c. Bill on Blue Bitch grinnin' like a fool! 8.5 x 13'' a

A little while later I rode up to Little River, a little town outside Temple, Texas, and raced heads-up in the run-what-ya-brung FL class.  Did pretty good, for a virtually bone-stock motor!

1980s Bill on Blue Bitch burnin' up the asphalt at Little River-Academy Drag Strip outside Temple, Texas! 8.5 x 11'' a

A couple years later I rode to Sturgis, South Dakota, for the big rally that city hosts every summer.  I rode my shovel and my partner rode his rigid jockey-shift 1973 shovel chop.  We lit out of Austin Friday night after work, took a leisurely ride up IH35 into Kansas, and then meandered west and northwest into Sturgis.  We camped twice, and even stopped to visit my brother’s in-laws in Kearney, Nebraska, and still made it in time to pitch our tents before sunset on Sunday night!

Bill 1982 Sturgis Road Out of Town b1982-08 T.R. Evans leaving Sturgis, S. Dakota after Black Hills Classic Motorcycle Rally (1)

Sturgis was fun – it was a blast having motorcycles outnumber cars, for once – but the only reason I’d go back during the rally would be to create a “35 years later” documentary film or photo essay.  Wouldn’t mind getting up there to ride those roads when they weren’t packed with drunk bikers, though!

And speaking of packed: Here’s downtown Sturgis on the Monday night of the rally week.  Remember, this was 1982, and 30,000 was a record-breaking crowd for the rally – the biggest in attendance (thus far, anyway) since the rally began back in the late ’30s.

Bill 1982 Sturgis Main Street 04 Black Hills Power and Light

Bill 1982 Sturgis Main Street 03

Had to do the tourist bits, of course:

Bill 1982 Sturgis Mt. Rushmore Full Frame (2)Bill 1982 Sturgis Mt. Rushmore Headshot a

All in all I had a blast – put on some miles, saw some fun stuff while motoring through the always fascinating (to me) American landscape, and met some really cool folks.  As stated above, I wouldn’t want to do it every summer, but I think every biker owes it to him or herself to make the scene at least once!

life-1982-august-13-sturgis-edition-bill-at-mt-rushmore-11-x-14-5-b

Bobby Zimmerman 1941-1961

As a longtime biker, any mention of motorcycles, riders, clubs, etcetera, intrigues me, so when Bob Dylan mentioned late Hells Angel Berdoo President Bobby Zimmerman (Chronicle: Volume One, 2004, pg. 79), while explaining his own renaming, I went looking for more info.  First, I located a photo of the deceased, posted on the Berdoo chapter’s Memorial page:

Image

Dylan apparently had the date of death wrong: He said Zimmerman died in 1964, but Zimmerman’s *Angel brothers have him dying three years earlier.

Then I dug a little further, and found this article, a human-interest item by John Weeks of the San Bernardino Sun, published last fall, in which Dylan claims a spiritual bond with the soul of the dead Angel:                                                                                   

A surprise addition to the local family

Ladies and gentlemen, let’s put our hands together and give a warm hometown welcome to a local boy who has made good, who has distinguished himself as one of the most influential singers and songwriters of all time, a living legend, a Presidential Medal of Freedom honoree, a recipient of multiple Grammy, Oscar and People’s Choice awards, the one and only, the Inland Empire’s own … Bob Dylan!

Image

Whoa, hold on here. Let’s check our notes.

Says here that Bob Dylan was born Robert Zimmerman in 1941 in Duluth, Minn., that he grew up in Hibbing, Minn., that he went to college in Minneapolis, that he moved to New York and became famous, that he later lived in both New York and Minnesota, and that for the last couple of decades he has made his home in Malibu. There’s no mention here at all of the Inland Empire.

Oh, wait, there’s more. Wow, this is new. Says here that Bob Dylan had a bonding experience with the soul of a dead San Bernardino biker, also named Robert Zimmerman, in the 1960s, and that he was transformed into a different person at that time.

An Inland Empire person, evidently.

Is this a joke?

If it is, it’s Bob Dylan himself who is telling it. In public.

Here are his own words, in an interview with Mikal Gilmore that appears in a recent cover story in Rolling Stone magazine:

“When you ask some of your questions, you’re asking them to a person who’s long dead. You’re asking them to a person that doesn’t exist. But people make that mistake about me all the time. … Transfiguration is what allows you to crawl out from under the chaos and fly above it. That’s how I can still do what I do and write the songs I sing and just keep on moving.”

That Bob Dylan! What a card! What a kidder!

No, wait. Later in the interview, he starts talking about transfiguration again, and he presses the point. He brandishes a dog-eared copy of the book Hell’s Angel: The Life and Times of Sonny Barger and the Hell’s Angels Motorcycle Club. He cites a chapter in the book that recounts how Robert Zimmerman, the 21-year-old president of the San Bernardino chapter of the Hells Angels, who lived on Walnut Street in San Bernardino, was killed in a 1961 motorcycle accident in Madera County. That accident was a precursor, Dylan believes, to his own motorcycle accident in 1966 near Woodstock, N.Y. The two events were directly related and they completed Dylan’s transformation into a new person, he says.

He can’t be serious about this, right?

Wait, he really is. He goes off on it for a third time during the course of the interview. “I’m showing you a book that’s been written and published. I mean, look at all the connecting things: motorcycles, Bobby Zimmerman. … And there’s more to it than even that. … I’d always been different than other people, but this book told me why. … I didn’t know who I was before I read the Barger book.”

Well, if he really means it, we should start now to prepare for that hometown concert in the Inland Empire that now seems inevitable. We’ll put up banners. “Welcome home, Bob!”

He can perform in the giant San Manuel Amphitheater in Devore, or perhaps he would prefer a smaller arena show, at the Epicenter, say, in Rancho Cucamonga, or the San Manuel Stadium in downtown San Bernardino, or Coussoulis Arena at Cal State San Bernardino. Or, he could do a series of small, intimate shows in theater settings, such as the Glass House in Pomona, or the Fox Riverside, or the historic California Theatre in San Bernardino.

Many towering figures in the music industry do have strong roots in the Inland Empire. The list includes Tennessee Ernie Ford of San Bernardino, Kris Kristofferson of Claremont, Frank Zappa of Rancho Cucamonga, Jimmy Webb and Jim Messina of Colton, Sammy Hagar and Travis Barker of Fontana, and Liberace, Dick Clark and Herb Alpert, all of whom had homes in Lake Arrowhead.

Jazz legend Pearl Bailey, in her retirement, ran a popular guest ranch in Apple Valley.

Singers Bonnie Raitt and Joan Baez both have University of Redlands connections, thanks to their fathers. Raitt’s father, the Broadway star John Raitt, was a University of Redlands graduate. Baez, whose father taught there, writes about living in Redlands in her autobiography, “Daybreak.”

Now, it appears, we must add a new name to the list of musical hometown heroes.

Bob Dylan.

Of course, unlike the others, Dylan neither was born nor raised here, nor did he ever work or go to school here. No, he’s here only in spirit, as the result of transfiguration.

That means he is in a category of his own.

But we knew that already, didn’t we?

http://www.sbsun.com/johnweeks/ci_21766920/surprise-addition-local-family

The story is addressed in greater detail by author Grant Maxwell, in a post he describes as “a (slightly modified) excerpt from my forthcoming book, How Does It Feel?: Elvis Presley, the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and the Meaning of Rock and Roll,” which may be seen here:

http://rockandrollphilosopher.wordpress.com/2013/06/26/bob-dylans-transfiguration/

In that post Maxwell delves deep into the chronology of events, and how Zimmerman’s death ties in not only with Dylan’s own motorcycle crash, but with the entirety of Dylan’s professional career!  So, I guess that would make Zimmerman Dylan’s “guardian angel,” right?

Food for thought, if you’re inclined to think along those lines.

* NOTE: In the book Dylan mentions in his interview – Hell’s Angel: The Life and Times of Sonny Barger and the Hell’s Angels Motorcycle Club – Hells Angel Sonny Barger relates the story of Zimmerman’s death on the ride home from the Bass Lake Run, an annual Angel event immortalized in Hunter S. Thompson’s book on the Angels.  However, while on page 70 he gives the same 1964 date that Dylan used, on page 130, again recounting Zimmerman’s death, he writes that Zimmerman died in1962.  I can’t explain the discrepancies between Barger’s recollections and the chapter’s official website.

Bob Dylan and motorcycles

I’ve been doing a little research on songwriter Bob Dylan.  Like most riders, I already knew about his mysterious wreck near Woodstock, New York, in 1966, where he dumped his Triumph, injured himself to an unknown degree, and went into seclusion for a while.

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However, in reading through books about Dylan, interviews with people who knew him prior to his arrival in Greenwich Village, and his own Chronicles: Volume One (2004) I turned up a few references to Harleys, time spent running with the biker boys in his hometown, even being a bit of a “rough, tough” character.  I don’t know how true any of that is, but he apparently did spend some time around riders, as seen in the photos below.

1956:

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1966, on the Triumph he later wrecked:

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I always cringe at this one, because for some reason he’s dangling his feet – not a smart thing to do and goofy-lookin’ to boot!

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The passenger below is identified as “Sebastian,” but I don’t who Sebastian is:

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I’m not sure of the year – probably mid-’60s – but he appears to be riding a Japanese bike; maybe a Honda:

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and in 2004, back on a Harley-Davidson!

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One more, of the man on an entirely different kind of bike…

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…but wearing a motorcycle club jacket.  Go figure!

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