A New Jersey original
Three generations keep the spirit strong
Hope, N.J., June 19—How many Harley-Davidson dealerships are still in business after 95 years? How many have stayed in the same family for all that time? And how many in this exclusive group are located in the Northeast U.S.? I’m pretty sure it comes down to only one—Tramontin Harley-Davidson, celebrating its 95th year in business in 2010.
Well, the dealership wasn’t going to let the year go by without marking that extraordinary milestone, so general manager Nancy Duthie and the rest of the Tramontin staff put together a big anniversary bash one fine Saturday in mid-June. The day kicked off with a ride led by local radio personality Rob Moorhead of 103.7 WNNJ. Rob is an avid motorcyclist and has a lot of fans that he entertains with his morning drive show, “Moorhead in the Morning.” The Northwest H.O.G. chapter, hosted by Tramontin H-D, co-led the ride and covered road captain duties. Also up in front was the family patriarch, 91-year-old Bub Tramontin riding his Honda Gold Wing, and Bub’s 66-year-old son Bob riding an Ultra Classic.
The dealership’s parking lot was already packed by the time the ride registration was set to begin at 10 a.m.; in fact, the H.O.G. chapter had to open registration early. When “Kickstands up!” was announced at 11, there were several hundred people lined up waiting for the “Let’s go!” signal. New Jersey State Police from the Hope barracks provided traffic control and blocking for the first section of the ride, which went off without a hitch.
The ride took us through the woodlands and farms of northwest New Jersey’s Warren County in some of the most scenic riding country in the state, motoring slowly through small towns, and navigating the circumference of Swartswood Lake, which passes through Swartswood State Park in Sussex County. We continued along small country roads, traveling the infamous Shades of Death Road, a seven-mile stretch of rural two-lane whose name has fascinating, although unverifiable, origins. Shades of Death is rumored to have been traveled by highwaymen who slit the throats of their victims; there have been reports of murders, some by beheading; supernatural occurrences; and an unusually high rate of motor accidents due to the twisty nature of the road. On that bright, sunny afternoon, the road displayed a benign beauty, but I sure wouldn’t want to ride through the area at night.
Although we thoroughly enjoyed the ride, we were pretty hungry by the time we got back to the dealership. The scent of barbecue wafted through the air as scores of people lined up at the Cole’s BBQ booth. The northern New Jersey barbecue and catering business is run by Cole Almassy with the help of his family, and can be found at Tramontin H-D during the dealership’s Wednesday bike nights all summer long.
Complementing the tasty barbecue and cold refreshments was the classic rock ’n’ roll played by the Viagara Falls Band. The group of not-so-young musicians played hit tunes from the ’60s through the ’80s, covering bands from AC/DC to ZZ Top, and I could see lots of folks nodding their heads, tapping their feet and mouthing the words to their favorite songs.
Several other vendors were set up, including Jiminez Tobacco from Newark, New Jersey, with their hand-rolled cigars. A women who calls herself Gypsy did aura, card and palm readings (the reading she gave me was so accurate, it was uncanny); a masseuse gave chair massages, and the “patch guy” from Patched Up was on hand. Tickets were being sold for a couple of bike raffles—a Fat Boy to benefit Blue Knights NJ IX, and a Road King to benefit the Make-a-Wish Foundation. The dealership had 95th anniversary shirts made up, and they were selling like hotcakes. (Stop by the dealership to wish them a happy anniversary and you might still be able to get a shirt!)
In mid-afternoon, the Tramontin crew cleared out a spot in the middle of the parking lot where the Hypnotic Freestyle Stunt Team put on a stunt show. The riders entertained the crowd with wheelies, stoppies and a variety of creative burnouts until their rear tires were completely shredded.
Once the adrenaline-fueled stunt show ended, a slew of door prizes were given out, as well as half the proceeds from the H.O.G. chapter’s 50/50 raffle. H.O.G. members Gary and Donna Steer were surprised by the presentation of a cake in honor of another anniversary—their 27th year of marriage.
After gorging myself with barbecue and anniversary cake, I spoke with Bub and Bob Tramontin, who shared stories of the dealership’s early days. Bub’s father Ernest “Red” Tramontin opened the Lexington Cycle Shop in Clifton, New Jersey, in 1915. The shop sold all kinds of bicycles and motorcycles, including Harleys and Indians, and the entire family was involved. When Ernest died at the young age of 32, his wife Pierina, only 28, took over the shop’s operation. Their two children, Arthur—known as Bub—and Gloria were only 9 and 3 years old, respectively. When Pierina retired in 1947, Bub took over the shop, which became a Harley-Davidson dealership with a new name—Tramontin Motorcycles.
Bub was already working on the third generation of Tramontin involvement in the world of two wheels. He built a scaled-down motorcycle for his son Bob at the age of 4 1/2. When he was in his early 20s, Bub convinced his then-16-year-old sister Gloria to learn to pilot her own bike, and she’s been riding ever since. (See the April 2010 issue of Thunder Press to learn more about Gloria Tramontin Struck and her adventures.)
The Tramontin business moved to Hope, New Jersey, in 1973, where an existing house was demolished to build the dealership. At that time, Bub handed the reins to Bob, who’s been running Tramontin Harley-Davidson ever since.
But running the dealership wasn’t enough for this family. Bub spent some years working at the Indian Motorcycle factory in Springfield, Massachusetts, in the 1940s, commuting from New Jersey on an Indian in all kinds of weather; rain, snow, ice—whatever Mother Nature threw his way. He also had quite a racing career, competing in drag racing, hill climbs, grand prix ice racing, enduros, TT racing and half-mile and quarter-mile dirt track (and I probably missed a few). At the still-young age of 72, he was still hill climbing with a nitro-burning Sportster at Freemansburg, Pennsylvania, as well as other hill-climb venues in the north, even traveling throughout the Midwest. Not surprisingly, Bob inherited the racing bug, competing in scrambles, TT and road-racing. Both father and son regaled me with track tales; the camaraderie among racers and lessons learned the hard way.
The most touching story was narrated by Bob, who described his dad’s 75th birthday surprise. He told me that Bub had a 101 Scout when he was younger, and he’d chopped it and raced it. The Indian 101 was, according to Bob, “the Corvette of motorcycles back then,” and no one could beat Bub on the track. He eventually sold it for $600, which was an unheard amount of money in those days, and he’d been pining over that old Scout for years. The family found a 1929 101 in perfect condition for sale, so Bob drove down to Maryland and brought it back to New Jersey. Somehow they managed to keep it a secret, and Bob told me, “We put it in the back of the shop with ‘Happy Birthday, Dad’ on it. I never saw a 75-year-old man with the eyes of a child. He takes it out, takes off and is gone for 15 minutes. We were just about to look for him when he comes whipping around the turn, down the end of the drive, locks it into a slide, parks it and hugs it.” Bub still has that ’29, and he says he’d race it if he could… “I have the spirit to…”
Well, the Harley spirit is still alive and well in Hope, New Jersey. And I wouldn’t be surprised if Bub rides in the dealership’s centennial celebration in 2015!