YUMA, ARIZ., APRIL 18-20—Usually the vernal equinox sends people into a spring-cleaning frenzy. Not so with me. My standard operating procedure at this time involves four actions: sending in my IRS extension, checking the weather report for southern Arizona (almost always showing 90 degrees), scrounging in the garage for my box prominently marked YUMA, and informing the Boss I will not be at work on Friday because I’m on the road to the Yuma Prison Run!
I’ve decided this is at least my 30th Prison Run. My route hasn’t changed, and the landmarks hold steady: the Rusty Mammoth in the Jurupa Discovery Center, in Moreno Valley the enormous Skechers U.S.A. factory that stretches a half-mile long, the Cabazon dinosaurs and Hadley Farms. Almost every wind turbine is operating in the Cabazon Pass, and out of the corner of my eye I notice Palm Springs H-D is still operational. I turn down Highway 86 and push straight on through. South of the 195 I become anxious for my next favorite landmark: the Ladder Tree, still lush and green, though some branches are brown and dying. Last year’s boots on the fence are gone, but they are replaced with a pair of shoes considerately propped together. Once I hit Highway 8 heading east it’s a straight shot to Yuma.
I pulled into the fairgrounds at 1:30 p.m. just as a fierce southeastern wind blew in. I easily claimed my favorite goat pen and began the arduous task of pitching my tent. Campsite completed with hours to kill, I drove up to Bobby’s Territorial H-D to check out their shirts and see what the owner, Bobby Erxleben, has been up to. This year his dealership won one of only six 2013 Platinum Circle of Distinction awards from The Motor Company from a field of 650 dealers. (Too bad I live too far away to have him nurse my Shovel.) I interrupted his working on a bike—I like an owner with greasy hands—to pose with his son Mike with the impressive plaque.
In the south field the band Tommy & The Drifters were playing and I stopped myself from requesting “Blowin’ in the Wind.” I spotted a very fine ’65 Pan with sidecar having braids applied by the Braiding Lady, a perennial vendor. Owned by Paul Shedal, it’s a new toy to keep his ’63 FLH company. Since I enjoy consistency, it’s always good to see vendors return each year including Old School Eyewear, Law Tigers, Adobe Flats Ice Cream, Army of the Lord, Guide Dogs of America (who were raffling off a 2014 FLHTK) and many more.
After completing my perusal of vendors I continued on to the beer garden to catch up with friends. That’s when I heard the devastating news of Commander Harry Fisher’s untimely passing in Daytona in March. “We thought you knew!” I was repeatedly told. I’ve known Harry since I bought my bike in 1978 and spent many a weekend at SCMA poker runs where the VMMC performed. After watching me compete in the bike games, Harry had approached me to join the Corps—my Shovel would’ve fit right in—but I couldn’t devote the time needed to be a member. Not being able to attend his funeral will be a lifelong regret.
Waiting as the Sam Morrison Band did their sound check, I commiserated with Bill Kennedy about Harry. It will be a bittersweet moment when the VMMC perform on Saturday. But tonight we will dance and rock out to Sam’s band, dropping the Bob Seeger tribute for straight-up classic/Southern rock ’n’ roll including his original song “I’ve Gotta Ride,” 100 percent influenced by this run and featured in the “Rock Band” video game. Parked near the stage were bikes lit with hues of neon for an impromptu light show, which continued onstage with the band’s drummer, Bart Robley, climaxing his solo with drumsticks that created rainbow tracers. Kewl, man!
Everyone got to sleep in Saturday morning: “Butthead Jim” was home in Texas recuperating and his replacement never turned the volume up on the speaker system enough to rattle anyone’s hangovers. It remained cloudy for the morning as folks crawled out of their tents and migrated towards the free coffee where I learned breakfast was being offered by the Desert Oasis Ministries in direct competition with the Yuma Youth Inline Hockey League at the snack stand. Either way, you came away well fed.
While kiddies were bundled off for crafts and face painting with the CMA, we adults headed for bingo. I heard booing from the bingo crowd so something was happening. Seems one lady had won three out of five games, so I grabbed a card and settled in. A dance pole has not been installed—although measurements were taken last year—but that did not diminish each winner’s enthusiastic dancing before accepting a trophy.
Heading to the bike games I spotted a dresser with a Saskatchewan license plate. Joe and Darleen Stacowich were on a two-week adventure around the country. She had trouble sleeping with the chirping birds, barking dogs and a fellow camper calling out “Shut up, bird!” or “Shut up, dog!” and finally another yelling “Shut up, drunk!” This is why I recommend eyeshades, earplugs and a sleep aid for a decent night’s sleep.
Easter weekend just happened to coincide with Yuma this year so the attendance was noticeably lower. But that made the field for bike games smaller and quicker. There had been audible disappointment expressed by men when the wind had threatened to cancel the Wienie Bite. (Can you imagine that thing swingin’ in the breeze?) The expanded games still brought out crowds to cheer participants on during the Bike Wash, Ball Drop, Slow Race and Shoot Your Balls Off, which prompts a lesson that gun control means hitting your target. Many of the participants earned several trophies and will have to figure how many more bungee cords to buy.
After the games the tarmac was cleared and the VMMC arranged their motors into a “V” behind Harry Fisher’s 1951 H-D with the U.S. flag proudly in the breeze, preparing for a tribute. The Corps strode forward to a single line for roll call, each man in turn shouting, “Present!” The last name called was Harry’s, to which all responded, “Present!” followed with a solemn salute. Two men then rolled the Panhead around the perimeter as the crowd remained silent. The bike was retired to the sidelines and the show began as it always has, the first show of their season here at the Prison Run. Once again I was standing beside someone who had never seen their performance and, as always, expressed his astonishment at their stunts. And the pyramid finale—as always—received a huge round of applause. Meanwhile, I’m wiping tears from my eyes. Afterwards, the VMMC escorted the caravan of bikes to the Yuma Territorial Prison.
The popular vote-by-cash bike show had a limited, but eclectic, group of motorcycles including Jan Wahl’s H-D Firefighter Special Edition that took first place. Ed Inslee’s ’72 Sporty nabbed second, third went to Boozefighter Big Jim’s 1937 Flathead, and fourth to Pedro Burton’s custom chopper. Ed and Jim’s bikes demonstrated the concept of the “artist’s hand,” the visual mark of the builder. While Ed’s is external with hundreds of details and gizmos encrusting the bike, Big Jim’s creation is mostly internal. Called the “318,” it took that many bikes—not parts—to rebuild the 80″ ’37 including rewelding each fin. Each bike must be appreciated in its own right and sometimes first impressions can be misleading. Ed didn’t think his bike would garner much attention, sitting beside a beautifully restored Pan, but a small crowd gathered as he began to point out certain details: here an eyeball, there a painting of skunks, knobs everywhere and a gyro on the handlebars!
Dinner was served up even earlier this year with virtually no waiting in line. Overhead, an urgent announcement was made regarding a missing Nikon camera from the snack stand area, its owner very distraught for its contents, which contained photos of her husband’s funeral. Myself and others were amazed that something that valuable had not been turned in. So if anyone knows who has the camera, please at least return the memory card. We oldtimers presumed this would not have happened years ago. And I am also distressed to learn that people are gate crashing and writing bad checks to the one club event that least deserves such callousness. This is not a corporate run: every penny is donated and tripled by the Norwalk Centaurs. And bad checks are worst of all because the club is charged a fee for each returned check, money that otherwise would go to charities. If you plan to attend next year, pay up! For only $25 (pre-registration) you’re getting the best damn deal with two days free camping, fine entertainment, great vendors and an excellent meal included. This is one event that doesn’t “deep pocket” bikers. Ya wanna cheat, go to Laughlin or stay home! That’s my soapbox.
To ease into the final evening festivities I made one last pass through the beer garden. Beer can walls were growing taller and voices became more boisterous. But sleeping through it all was Gloria, a service dog owned by Patches, a retired Marine who served for 20 years in Iraq and Desert Storm. Provided by “4 Paws 4 Patriots,” dogs, training and food are provided free to disabled American veterans. While most service dog programs have long waiting lists for up to five years, 4P4P can supply a dog within days. To donate and read more about this great organization, go to www.4paws4patriots.org.
Saturday night the music began at 7:00 with Sam Morrison returning. They were briefly interrupted for announcements and awards at 7:30, earlier than usual. Checks for $5,000 each were presented to Amberly’s Place, ARC and Yuma Burn Center, after which a paramedic’s helmet was presented to the bike show winner Jan Wahl who, by coincidence, rides the Firefighter Special and wore a Prescott Firefighter Charity T-shirt. The Long-Distance Rider at 2,259 miles was Ralph Cox, Oldest Male Rider was Lid Smith at 85 years young, Oldest Female Rider was Doris Miller at age 72, and Oldest Motorcycle Ridden went to Boozefighter Big Jim for his ’37. Largest Club at 53 sign-ins was Big Belly Hawgs, Boozefighters were second with 49 and third was Warriors of Honor with 38. Additional clubs attending were Saddletramps, American Legion Riders, Golden State H.O.G. Glendale, Green Machine, Sexy Bitches, River Riders, ABATE, Sweetwater H.O.G. San Diego, Nuggets, Monks, Christs MC, CMA, Partners, Hessians, Violators and Valkyries. The young winner of the 50/50 donated $60 back. And last, but not least, was the dance contest, which took two tunes for the judges to make their final decision.
With the last trophy awarded, the members of Norwalk Centaurs were congratulated for another excellent job continuing the legendary Yuma Prison Run that is the first run of the year for so many. I proudly propped my two little bingo trophies on either side of my rear window á la Brando/Johnnie for all to see as I drove home knowing that next year I can have the same quality experience as I always have since that first year, some 30 years ago.