Closing down First Street
Snohomish, Wash., May 20—The 22nd annual Sky Valley Motorcycle Show rolled in to wake up this picturesque town, on the banks of the Snohomish River, about 40 miles north of Seattle. Sky Valley Chapter, ABATE of Washington, closed down several blocks of historic downtown Snohomish to allow only motorcycles to park and party. Downtown became a sea of chrome and leather for the day, filled with a crowd of about 8,000 motorcycle enthusiasts.
Streets were closed to motorcycle traffic only starting early Sunday morning. Vendors arrived well before the bikes and turned First Street in a biker shopping treat. Regional Indian and Harley-Davidson dealers brought out their latest models and promoted test rides. Clubs offered event posters, T-shirts, patches, and other gear. Mary’s Leather was there to sew torn jackets, busted zippers, and just-purchased patches. Bent Bike no longer has stores, but they had plenty of gloves and leathers for sale. Patch Lady Diane stayed busy all day sewing on her custom patches and taking orders for more. Sky Valley ABATE sold tie-dye and black official event shirts and run pins. Street food vendors offered everything from bangers to hamburgers, barbecue, and kettle corn. With three blocks of venders, you were sure to find something you needed.
A sea of motorcycles parked down both sides, and in the middle of the street flanked the vendor and show bike areas. Even the side streets were filled with motorcycles. It all fits well with ABATE’s mission of promoting May as Motorcycle Awareness Month. An average driver might not see a solitary bike on the road, but it’s hard to miss the thousands that rode into Snohomish today.
Two blocks of First Street were reserved for the 22 categories of show bikes, with bikes parked on both sides of the street. There was lots of eye candy in the show area, and quite a variety of motorcycles were present. Manufacturers from around the globe were represented: Ariel, BSA, Norton, Moto Guzzi, Victoria, Harley-Davidson, Honda, Royal Enfield, Suzuki, Yamaha, custom built and home built. Show bikes ranged in age from a 1923 up to 2018 models. Some bikes sported perfect paint jobs with amazing graphics, while others had a patina that only the passage of years bring.
Shortly after I entered my own bike in the Classic category, I saw a rare antique making its way through the crowded streets to the Antique & Vintage category parking area. While I had never seen this particular bike before, I knew what it was immediately. In 2016, I had seen a similar bike riding over Chinook Pass with the Motorcycle Cannonball on the way to Tacoma. This was the second time that I had seen a running Ner-A-Car.
I was not the only one rushing over for a closer look and a chat with the owner of this rare black bike. Before he even dismounted and pulled off his helmet, a crowd had gathered. Rick McEldery from Seattle surprised onlookers and the judges with his running 1923 Ner-A-Car. Rick explained that his bike featured a single-cylinder 221cc engine, a three-speed friction drive, and center hub steering. While he did not divulge the entire history of this bike, he did say that it had been found in a garage in Tacoma in 1946. After he acquired the bike a few years ago, he rebuilt the carburetor and replaced the drive shaft. Rick spent about a year restoring the bike, but left the original paint finish and patina.
Rick has a long history of restoring bikes. He has been a member of Vintage Motorcycle Enthusiasts and helped start the Evergreen Chapter of the Antique Motorcycle Club of America. He has other antique bikes, and today was the day to share this unusual bike. With a top speed of about 35 mph downhill, it does not go very fast, but it always attracts attention.
Carl Neracher received a patent for the Ner-A-Car in 1919. Ner-A-Cars were produced from 1921 through 1928, with about 10,000 sold in the U.S. and another 6,500 built and sold in England. Period advertising for the Ner-A-Car claims that “Ner-A-Car is an automobile on two wheels—clean, comfortable, SAFE.” The step-through design and broad fenders gave the bike clean, smooth lines and kept the rider cleaner than other motorcycles of the time. Factory advertising boasted of 85 to 100 miles per gallon, with a trip of 300 miles costing only $1 in the 1920s. In 1922, Erwin “Cannonball” Baker rode a Ner-A-Car from New York City to Los Angeles in slightly over 174 hours. Rick does not have plans to enter his Ner-A-Car in the 2018 Motorcycle Cannonball, but he does enjoy showing it off. “Today started off rainy, so I thought this would be a good bike to bring out to the show.” Yes, indeed, today was a good day to bring the Ner-A-Car out to win first place in the Antique & Vintage category.
A motorcycle show in Snohomish is not complete without a performance by the world-famous Seattle Cossacks Motorcycle Stunt and Drill Team. The vintage bikes are geared to ride slow, with suicide shifters and foot clutches for easier hands-free riding. The team performs precision stunts, such as the Flower, the Waterfall, and the Plank Ride. For the Flower stunt, two men jump on the sides of the bike with the main rider, then lay back to open up like a flower. I’m always amazed that their heads never touch the ground on that one. These guys think nothing of hanging upside or climbing on each other’s shoulders while someone in the pile keeps the bike pointed in the right direction. The Seattle Cossacks have performed in Milwaukee at the Harley-Davidson 100th Anniversary and in Sturgis. They are a fixture in Snohomish each May and at the Oyster Run in Anacortes in the fall.
“Red Dog” Rod Hobelman, coordinator for Sky Valley ABATE, has been involved with the show since the beginning. He credits the success of the event to the many volunteers who make it happen and to the reputation of the event. “It’s the first major event of the year in the Puget Sound Region. We get a lot of riders from Seattle and even as far away as Idaho and Oregon.”
Sky Valley ABATE has plenty of practice putting on a grand show with a mix of custom bikes, antiques, classics, live music, and vendors. It all began in 1996 as an idea to bring more people to town and to celebrate Motorcycle Awareness month. The owner of the Oxford Saloon, with the support of a few downtown businesses, approached members of Sky Valley ABATE about a small motorcycle show. The Historic Downtown Snohomish Business Association agreed to handle the city permits and getting local shops as sponsors. ABATE agreed to promote the event in the motorcycle press and run the event. They were hoping to bring 100 or so bikes in for the first event. More than 600 bikes showed up. It was such a success that ABATE kept doing it year after year. By the fifth year, more than 10,000 people were attending, depending on the weather. Yes, it rains in the Pacific Northwest, but this event is so popular that attendance rarely drops to less than 5,000 people on a rainy day.
The team has seen ups and down over the years, sometimes fighting bad weather or City Hall, but always pulling off a great event. (Except for that one year when city demands for police fees exceeded a reasonable budget, and the show was canceled). Ever since the city disbanded their police department and began contracting through the Snohomish County Sheriff’s office, the police presence and costs have dropped dramatically. That leaves more funds for ABATE to share with their designated beneficiaries: the local Food Bank and the Snohomish Senior Center.
Mark your calendars for next year. Sky Valley ABATE will be back in Snohomish the third Sunday in May with another bike show, rain or shine.
Partial Winners List
American Full Dresser
1st Gerry “Rocko” LaFlame, 2015 Indian Roadmaster
2nd Dave M. Burgers, 2017 Indian Roadmaster
3rd Chad Miller, 2004 H-D Ultra Classic
American Half Dresser
1st Ryan Scheuerman, 2018 H-D Road Glide Special
2nd Jason Leahford, 1995 H-D Road King
3rd Jim Basden, 2014 Indian Vintage
1st Rick McEldery, 1923 Ner-A-Car
2nd Michael Pompez, 1951 H-D FLH
3rd Paul Anderson, 1950 H-D FL Panhead
1st Beryl Kelley, 1984 H-D FXRS
2nd Christopher Hobbs, 1988 H-D FXRS
3rd Ted Turner, 998 H-D XL1200C
1st Bob Mighell, 2014 H-D Road King Tilting Motor Works
2nd Kevin Woodall, 1986 Suzuki Cavalcade
3rd Fred Searles, 2001 VW
1st Jim Toomey, 2013 H-D
2nd Linda Hjort, 1994 Goldwing Interstate
3rd Tom Hjort, 1999 H-D
1st Jason, 2012 Road Glide
1st Jerry Penor, 2013 H-D FLSTC Heritage
2nd Rob Schultz, 2009 H-D Trackster
3rd Richard Crist, 2001 H-D 1200S
Old School Chopper
1st Brian Bredy, 2008 custom hardtail
2nd Kelly Visintin, 1985 Harley Sportster
3rd Guy Porton, 1955 Harley FLH (frisco)
1st Bag It Drag It Customs, 2010 Road Glide
2nd Daniel Smith, 2016 Erubus
3rd Brian Marsh, 2018 Indian Chieftan
1st Robert Gary Butler, 1987 H-D Evo
2nd Carey Wright, 1983 H-D FLT
3rd Tucker, Striper home build
1st Darin Chase, 2014 H-D Heritage
2nd Lisa Baker, 2016 H-D Softail
3rd Paul Skelton, 2015 H-D FLHTP Police
1st Cassie Belanich, 2001 H-D FLSTF
2nd Jo Penor
3rd Erin Whalen
Cassie Belanich, 2001 H-D FLSTF