There and back again
We all arrive at our retirement years with a trail of life chapters comprising our personal story. Rocky Washburn of Wichita Falls, Texas, is no different, except that his 66 years unfolded on a map larger than most. Born in the Lone Star State, Rocky, named after the boxer Rocky Marciano, was exposed to riding early. He explained, “My uncles and dad all rode.”
After graduation from high school, Rocky knew the draft was looming, so he opted to join the Navy Reserve before a decision on military branch would be made for him. To his surprise, he failed the physical. A tumble off a motor vehicle earlier in his teens was the culprit.
Rocky began driving truck, at first a concrete truck locally under the authority granted using a chauffeur license, the predecessor to a CDL (commercial driver’s license). Although he was schooled in wastewater treatment and worked in that field for a couple years, driving would be his occupation for most of the ensuing 46 years. He’d come home on average every nine days throughout his career, moving mail, UPS, hauling oversized loads and pulling flatbed trailers all over the nation.
In 1971 Rocky married Kay Privitt, a Shamrock, Texas, beauty and as Rocky put it, he and Kay “had 45 good years” before she died in the autumn of 2015.
Truck driving is an occupation that allows a person to live almost anywhere, so early in their married life Rocky and Kay decided to relocate nearer Kay’s sister in Aurora, Colorado. This would mean leaving Rocky’s parents, sister and brother behind in Wichita Falls. Rocky and Kay would remain in Colorado for over four decades.
One of the interesting positions he and Kay held early on gave Rocky access to a lot of basket-case motorcycles. He explained, “We both worked for Denver’s Klode Auto Salvage; Kay was a dispatcher and I drove two- or four-car haulers.” Insurance companies had their own bays where they’d write claims and auctions were held every Monday. During that time Rocky built seven or eight bikes from baskets. He explained he’d pick bikes “that had crashed, but not too bad” and resurrect them to usefulness. That brought in a little extra money until he could get back on the road. He said, “I’m not an in-the-office kind of guy.”
When daughter Angie was big enough to ride Rocky explained, “I’d put a strap around us, putting her in front and off we’d go.” Recently Angie’s daughter Alicia French, who’ll be 20 in August, came for a visit from Denver. She stayed with her grandpa, swimming in his pool and riding together on his Harley. Alicia is the third generation of Rocky’s family co-pilots. Kay always loved riding with him, then their daughter, and now Alicia who’s going off to college soon. There’s no denying what that circle of life means to Rocky.
After Kay died two and a half years ago, Rocky decided that he’d work a couple more years but upon retirement he’d come back home to Texas. It had always been his and Kay’s plan to return to that more affordable place. So, as he put it, “I just followed through with that good idea.”
Rocky’s parents had passed but his brother and sister were excited to see him return. His sister found a house she thought Rocky would like, “three blocks away” from her own, and it had a pool, likely because it was a model home when it was a new development. There are neighbors, but as Rocky put it, “One neighbor I never see and the other is gone a lot.”
Rocky’s brother lives in “Mom and Dad’s house across town” so a sibling is near if anyone needs a hand. Being in tornado territory, just across the street is a community storm cellar, a shelter used by locals who don’t have personal safe rooms bolted to their garage pads. There hasn’t been a tornado to duck since his return, but he expects his sister has freezer cookies to bring along when the time comes.
In the years he lived 650 miles away from Wichita Falls, Rocky and his brother managed to ride together a couple times a year. And since the move back six months ago, both brothers have found a broadened sense of family at Red River Harley-Davidson in Wichita Falls. Rocky bought a 2016 Ultra when still in Colorado but on seeing the 2018 at Red River, Rocky must’ve gotten weak in the knees. The ’16 only had 6,000 miles on but the 2018 Limited (#1590 of 3,700 made) 115th Anniversary Edition won him over. The same spirit must have overtaken his brother who bought a 2018 Street Glide.
Sibling revelry would follow.
April’s mystery location: Yellville, Arkansas