by Ralph “Teach” Elrod
FriesenPress, Inc., $21.95, 237 pp.
“All I ever wanted were brothers who would stand with me no matter how tough it gets, and it will get tough.”
That sentiment and those words set the tone for It Will Get Tough: Cops & Bikers, the new book by Ralph “Teach” Elrod. The true stories that power through these 237 pages are raw and rugged, but they also show the rewards and relish that standing strong in the biker lifestyle can bring.
“Teach”—a nickname given to Ralph by an old Galloping Goose—was indeed a teacher, spending five years working between students and a chalkboard back in the ’60s. And teach is what this man still does in this book, carefully detailing the ups and downs and sideways slides of this way of life for outsiders and insiders alike.
Those details are often chilling.
To begin with, Teach is easily one of the most genuine members of this lifestyle there is. Born in 1943, he spent his ripening years in the crazed ’50s and ’60s and joined the legendary Barons MC in 1969. Having been on two wheels forever, he knows, and has experienced, every hard mile that makes up that kind of long journey. Even better, he has a gritty gift for being able to lay those experiences down on paper in a way that brings the reader directly into the bars, clubhouses, jails, country roads and dust-ups that have surrounded his life.
It Will Get Tough works on three levels. First is the incredible stage that Teach sets. The book, and Teach’s life, roams through the tough terrain from Utah to Montana and everything in between. We feel like pioneers, seeing him tame the land and live in a teepee on 40 acres of land he bought near Wolf Creek.
“Tiny told me they had a large teepee they had obtained from the Indians… I had to cut, haul and de-bark 20 or more 24-foot-long lodgepole pines. You have to have teepee poles if you have a teepee.”
Second is the intrinsic look at the motorcycle—and motorcycle club—culture.
As for the bike itself, Teach reminds us in many ways that motorcycles didn’t always have things like fuel injection, shocks and state-of-the-art sound systems.
“Those motorcycles were nothing like the dependable motorcycles of today… I left Helena late… by the time I reached Butte it was getting dark and I slowed down even more. Hitting an animal in Montana is a worry, especially at night. Not much light came from that old custom headlight of mine…”
And when it comes to the culture, the names of the clubs and people Teach has interacted with is a deep and historic who’s who of our two-wheeled world.
But the third level of this book is its true focus: the never-ending battle between law enforcement and bikers. Throw in some politics amid the bullets and corruption, and you have the full picture of “tough” that It Will Get Tough paints as Teach outlines the hurdles this lifestyle must leap if it is to survive.
So much of that frightening picture has touched Teach personally.
“I was born in West Texas,” he says, “and my grandfather only saw me once. I understand he was a mean old asshole and a barroom brawler. The sheriff pistol-whipped my grandfather and dumped him on the lawn. He died and was found the next day.”
Another tone had been set, and it was certainly a harsh one, establishing an early revelation that the official “keeping of the peace” could all too often explode into jagged unjust pieces. And those pieces are chronicled throughout It Will Get Tough.
Teach brings us back to legendary “explosions” like his club and the Sundowners being run out of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, on Memorial Day in ’69, to the infamous 1974 “police riot” at the Slow Pitcher Tavern in Portland, and into recent dirty descents like Waco in 2015 and Denver in 2016.
But the most stark explosion of all occurred in 1980 when Teach’s daughter, Terry, was shot by serial killer Joseph Paul Franklin, the man who also shot and crippled Hustler magazine mogul Larry Flynt. Two of Terry’s friends were killed in Franklin’s attack; Terry survived but her life was forever changed. The details of this brutal blitz and the ensuing trial are easily as compelling and stunning as any of the criminal craziness that emerges daily from our current hallowed halls of law, order and politics.
The Foreword to It Will Get Tough written by Motorcycle Hall of Famer Keith Ball provides the perfect prelude:
“What often starts with the best intentions feeds into the political structure and goes bad. Often, the agency or even the government body needs to be indicted, arrested… I like the sound of that.”
Many of us do.
With the reliving of adventures, the accurate accounting of high-profile bikers-vs.-authorities events and a personal opening of his heart and soul, Ralph Elrod makes a super-solid case for just who the good guys are in all of this.
A lot can be learned from Teach.