Spare Parts: At our best

By Ernie Cooper

“It’s about the friends,” I thought as I looked around the National Packard Museum’s 19th annual motorcycle exhibit. I’d been to all but one of them. People come and go from the committee. People like Daryl Timko, Bruce Williams and Kevin Hillyard have all been there since the start and still come to the party. Others cycle in and out like Bill Murar and his wife Joyce, the founders of the Lake Erie Loop, and radio personality Larry Ward, who took the lead with this year’s exhibit.

That’s the case with me here at Thunder Press. It’s time to cycle out. I started at Thunder Press by contributing a simple story about a hometown rally, which led to doing a column that in turn led to a variety of masthead titles over the years. I have had some truly outstanding opportunities over the last two decades.

My “moto-journalist” career started out quite by accident. A group of us had successfully completed a Shrine Motor Corps 1000 in 1 ride and I wrote a little summary to entertain and inform their administrator about our antics. He was so entertained that he suggested I send it to a statewide publication to help garner some publicity for the fundraising programs. I did. They printed it and I was off to the races.

Since then I’ve been published in several magazines—even one in Europe—but no publication ever felt as much like home as Thunder Press. When motorcycling was at its biggest and best, so was Thunder Press. Shadow, Terry and Robert all looked after me when I needed it and they helped me to be at my best as a writer too.

You’ve read of some of my earliest exploits on motorcycles and the people who influenced me, and then you watched on these pages as my kids grew up riding and racing. You were there for the triumphs like the year we won the Lake Erie Loop. And you were there for the failures, which make better stories!

Writing for this rag has taken me places that I never dreamed of riding, California for one. Late one night in a Cincinnati hotel room following the V-Twin Expo, Terry Roorda told me I should go to California some day. He said it would change my life. I finished my drink and told him if he came to Canfield, Ohio, it’d change his. We laughed. Eventually, Terry found a way to get me to California and while it didn’t change my actual life, it did change my perception of life.

I’ve been to the Bonneville Salt Flats, the Northern Cascade Mountains and British Columbia. Much of the BC ride was with the late Harry M. Fischer, the drill leader of the Victor McLaglen Motor Corps. We’d met years before when I did a story on the drill team and we were both surprised and thrilled to have the chance to ride together. Harry could ride it like he stole it, even if he only borrowed it, and he had my back.

Evel Knievel called my house for an interview once. I’m still a little “fanboy” about that one. Other jumpers, like Louis “Rocket” Re, thrill riders and anyone who ever touched a motordrome hold a special place in my heart, especially the late “Sam” Morgan.

My friend Richard has been an endless source of anecdotes. We’ve ridden almost everywhere together since before we had licenses. One story that bears repeating is the night we strapped sleeping bags on our bikes “just in case” we went to a rally. Just in case turned into “damn good thing we did,” and when we rolled ‘em out to crawl in for the night, Richard realized he‘d brought his kid’s pint-sized sleeping bag by mistake!

The most important work I ever did on these pages was to help publicize the events that led to the adoption of Daniel’s Law in Pennsylvania. Dan was run over and killed by a distracted driver who was texting. When Dan was killed he was on his bike, turning into his daughter’s driveway. The offender got little more than a fine due to the existing laws. The crash happened near my western Pennsylvania home and Dan’s best friend was a good friend of mine. So, I did what I could to keep the cause in the public’s eye. It’s important to do meaningful work too.

Thanks to Shadow and Cristy who turned my ramblings into complete sentences. Thanks to Dave Clayton, Stuart Sutherland and Dave Voll for their roles at Thunder Press and thanks to Reg Kittrelle for starting it all. Thanks to my wife Mary Beth for previewing much of my work and my children and late father and mother for the encouragement. Thank you for your letters, both good and bad. It helped me do better work.

And so this is goodbye. I’m stepping away from the keyboard, but not the handlebars. I will miss the chance to “talk” with you each month, but it’s time for a change. I couldn’t have worked at a better place or asked for better people to read my ramblings about the motorcycles we love and the adventures they provide us.

It’s not easy to lay bare your soul on a deadline month after month and year after year. It’s not easy to say “goodbye” to people you‘ve never met either. You can always drop me a line at ejcopper@msn.com. Maybe I’ll see you out there. Until then, be safe.

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