“Papa Jim” Brewer and the Old Days of the MC’s
While doing “research” (read drunken web browsing) on the original Boozefighters MC / 13 Rebels MC chapters, I came across this stuff. I don’t actually know what the fuck it is, other than that it was allegedly written by somebody named “Papa Jim” Brewer and was allegedly published in “Moto Monterey”, the newsletter of the (now defunct?) Monterey Bay Classic European Motorcycle Club. Lots of disclaimers and a bit of controversy about the author but it’s a good read regardless of the fact / fiction aspect.
I tried to contact the club in Monterey to get more details but the info on their site is just dead links. Still, most of it syncs with interviews I’ve read from the characters involved so I’d say that either “Papa Jim” was actually there or he did a shitload of research. If anybody reads this and can contribute anything as to its actual origins please hit me up.
Below is the original copy from the forums:
*Edit: Digging around I’ve found some photographs of several characters in this story as well as some shots of the actual race. While these were not included in the original version I feel they add much to the text. Thanks to Jedd at Wing Nuts MC for supplying many of them.
“Grumbler”, who I believe we can thank for making much of this material available, recently left the following comment:
“Papa Jim” Brewer was most likely a friend of the BFMC, not a member. His stores were actually published in a couple of “Moto Monterey” newsletters as that’s where I originally obtained them. Used OCR to scan both stories into text files. I first posted them to the rec.motorcycle.harley newgroup, and they then started circulating all over the internet. I was contacted by the BFMC a whole bunch of years ago, and asked to include a disclaimer as they didn’t have any records of “Papa Jim” Brewer as a member. Those stories were eventually published in Chapter 12 of “The Original Wild Ones” softbound book.
[At a Club meeting at McCarthey’s Pub in Aptos in 1987, … “Papa Jim” Brewer arose and eloquently described an upcoming anniversary of interest to him, the Club, and to motorcycling in general – the 40th anniversary of the “invasion” of Hollister on the Fourth of July, 1947. The event lead to the making of the movie “The Wild One” with Marlon Brando, and though the movie was more fiction than fact, as was the Life article on which it was based, that weekend in Hollister has remained a piece of motorcycling history. A group of the Club returned on the 40th anniversary to Johnny’s Bar in Hollister, where bikers rode through on that famous weekend. As we parked our machines in front of Johnny’s, we wondered if anyone else would remember. The deserted street was soon filled with 200 Harleys. They remembered. During the late 1940’s, motorcycle clubs appeared in answer to the restlessness of post-war America. Jim Brewer had good reason to call us back to that reunion with history in visiting Hollister, for Papa Jim was a member of one of those illustrious groups, one which will be remembered, at least by those who continue to hear the stories. – ed.]
It was Summer, 1945. My family had just moved from Montebello to Los Angeles. We rented a small house at 101st Street and Central Avenue in the section of South Central Los Angeles known as Watts. My father, recovering from the amputation of his right leg, could no longer drive a motor car, so we had to live closer to the meter repair shop he operated for the Southern California Water Company.
Seeing that it was summer holiday, I had taken a job with Friction Materials Corp. on South Main Street, near Slauson Avenue. Each day on my way to work, I would ride up Central, continuing on Hooper Avenue to Slauson. As I crossed Firestone Blvd. I would notice this old run-down “Flying A” service station on the southwest corner. There was one two-pump island, a wood-frame (8- by 10-foot) office, and out back a two-car lube bay/repair stall. It was a pre-fab steel structure, all adorned in very weathered yellow-and- white paint. Night or day there always seemed to be a group of motorcycles parked there. English and American bikes, choppers, cafe, and desert racers mostly. So, on one Saturday morning “The Kid” wheeled his bronze head AJS 500 “Lunger” into that assemblage of esoteric iron, parked, and entered “The Big A”, domain of the Boozefighters.
Now you must realize, that was 45 years ago, and although my first love was/is motorcycles, my father being an ex-Indian factory rider, and later, curator/ manager of a Class A speedway racing group, there were always motorcycles around my digs. So, my association with the Boozefighters, although a milestone in the maturing process of a 17-year-old “Jitter Bug”, as a memory seems to be a bit jaded and faded now. At that time in my life my blind lust, rage, and total obsession was motor car racing. This brings me to an explanation of this somewhat languid preface. Motorcycling was an ongoing lifestyle, and my association with these cats wasn’t any big deal at that time. I’ll try to assemble, in retrospect, a chronology of those times. However, to do so I must rely on very old, much-used, often-abused gray matter. I only hope there is still enough electrolyte to sustain the surge of electron activity necessary to separate fact from fiction, myth from reality, and alas, truth from fantasy. Please bear with me.
In retrospect: The Boozefighters M/C, L.A. (MF)
To the best of my knowledge the original Boozefighter was a B-25 airplane, part of a World War II squadron first operating in England, then later based in North Africa. I don’t know much more than that; however, I do recall seeing the Boozefighter logo painted on a B-25 in a weathered photograph that was taped to the wall in the Big A. I do believe the embryo of the club grew from that aircraft’s flight crew. The Boozefighters were, by 1940’s social standards, a wild and uncontrollable gang. However, I saw them as a rebellious free spirit, marching to the beat of a different drummer, a drummer on speed maybe, but certainly a different drummer.
How soon the public forgets! A few months prior to the club’s founding these cats were defending liberty. Fighting in an air war, killing and being killed was daily routine. Then quite suddenly it was over. The excitement waned. However, the momentum of adrenaline-induced violence continued on into civilian life. Compounding the frustration in the search for the lost years.
The Big A! A beer bar in back of a run-down gas station in South Central Los Angeles. Meeting place and hangout for the post-war, “outlaw”-prototype motorcycle club. The club was the people. Cats with names like Wino Willie, Jumpin’ Joe, Yo Yo, J.D. Jones, Fat Boy and his ol’ lady Dago, Igor, Curly Cantlon, Louie Thomas, Stinabalm the Swede, and bartender/owner Fat John. There were more. Some riders that tasted fame, like Arch Johnson, Don Hawley, Chuck “Feets” Minert, and Long Beach Triumph race bike builder A.J. Lewis. Altogether there must have been 50 or 60 active members. The old man who operated the gas station figured he was gettin’ too old to run the lube rack and do mechanical repairs, so he sub-let the outbuilding to Fat John and the club. They removed the lube rack platform, covered the ram post with a homemade wooden bar, assembled a bunch-of stools, bought a beer/wine license, and the club was in the bar business. The wings were sawed off of the sign on the roof, leaving just the big letter “A”, hence the name “Big A”, the focal point of Boozefighters’ activities.
There were other clubs of contemporary stature, but none remains in the annals of serendipitous mayhem with the verve or mystique of the Boozefighters. (Most likely due to their participation in the infamous Hollister Fourth of July weekend of 1947, and the subsequent “Wild One” movie, loosely based on that happening.) I guess the oldest of the motorcycle clubs still in operation at that time was the Thirteen Rebels, a group founded by movie stunt men back in the 1920’s.
The Yellow Jackets and The Orange County M/C also predate the Boozefighters. Sister organizations were The Rams, Checkers, The North Hollywood Crotch Cannibals, and The Gallopin’ Goose M/C. The Hell’s Angels back then were a group of young cats in San Bernadino. How time changes things.
Day-to-day routine activities were cruisin’ the bars, partying, and checking out the weekly races around the L.A. area. Speedway at the Lincoln Park (located on the south turn of the long-time abandoned Legion Ascot Speedway, i.e., the original Ascot), the 1/4-mile at Rosecrans and Western Avenues, the Box Springs Grade TT in Riverside, Nail Flats (nicknamed “Rusty Nails”) near San Pedro, and Coriganville, a western movie set and racetrack up near the town of Newhall.
I remember one Sunday evening.We were returning from a TT race at Coriganville. Each of us bought a gallon jug of wine to suck on all afternoon, while sitting in the hot summer sunshine.We were gaggling home, with pit stops at several bars along the way when someone suggested we fall into DeMay’s drive-in, a local hot-rodder hangout, for supper.We were pretty well wasted, tired and dirty — dirty? No, filthy! Vile! Repugnant! Yo Yo sat at the counter and ordered first a bowl o’ chili, then hogged down an order of spaghetti with meatballs, finishing up with a milkshake. Now Yo Yo looking his best resembled a cross between Dr. Frankenstein’s monster and Charlie Chaplin, let alone sweating all day at a dusty race course. He was one of those tall skinny red-necked cats. When he starts to walk, first his head starts nodding like he means yes, then his shoulders pick up the movement followed by his hips and pelvis undulating in the exact opposite cadence of what his upper body is doing. Next he swings each leg forward, dragging his toes, and then drops his foot down in what you might call a “clop step”. He was wall-eyed, right side if my memory serves me, with a “cue-ball” haircut.
Well, it was warm and steamy in the restaurant, and with the mixture of red wine, pasta, chili, tomatoes, beans, hamburger, onions, milk, ice cream, chocolate, digestive enzymes, stomach acids, and assorted herbs and spices it wasn’t long before the laws of physical science and chemistry sprung into action. Yo Yo had a problem. He dropped like a dead buffalo. There he was, sprawled on the floor, eyes rolled back, lids half closed in a slack jawed coma. His face bore the jaundice pallor of a night nurse’s panty hose. We could have just left the cat crapped out on the floor, but Wino Willie thought it would be best to remove him. Wino grabbed his feet and drug him out into the parking lot. There weren’t many patrons in the place and I could see only two car hops working. Only five or six cars; I guess Sunday nights are slow. Now most of us were all for leaving this “Mother” there in the lot. But Wino was loyal to a fault and declared we should take him home. But how?
He never would have made it on a pillion post; if we tried to drag him some sober judge would have called it
premeditated murder. So the only thing to do was to commandeer a motor car and drive him home. Now I’m not clairvoyant or psychic or anything like that, but I figgered it was time to start my bike and wait by the driveway.
There was a young man and his date sitting in this real clean, dark blue 1934 Ford coupe’ eating their dinner. It was probably fate, or maybe just not this kid’s day. Wino walked up to them and asked, real nicely, if he could use their Ford to take Yo Yo home. I guess Wino didn’t care for the response to his inquiry, cuz the next thing I saw was Wino pulling this young fellow out of his car and putting him flat on his back! The girlfriend seemed to be losing her composure. Wide-eyed, screaming, she sat frozen, petrified with fear. She wasn’t about to leave a car that was surrounded by wild and drunken bikers, and there just wasn’t room for Yo Yo to sit inside. Wino slipped into the driver’s seat and started the engine. Meanwhile three or four of the other cats picked Yo Yo up and sprawled him over the hood. There he was, on his back, head on the cowling vent, arms stretched out to either side, and his legs dangling down over the headlamps. I was beginning to think in a short while this scene might, somehow, get a bit out of control! So I pulled the clutch and slipped the AJ into first screw. I did hear the little voice deep down in my conscience tell me I should do something about this. I thought the only heroic thing I could do, at this point in time, was to got my little white innocent 17-year-old ass out o’ there! The last I saw of Yo Yo for the next 30 days or so, was himself riding around DeMay’s parking lot on the hood of this ’34 5-window, regurgitating a four inch fountain of red vomit about a foot-and-a-half straight in the air, and this hardened, blond professional car-hop, wide-eyed, face blanched, fist clenched, and screaming, “Call the cops, God damn it, somebody call the cops!”
There was this bar on South Main Street (about 185th Street) in an old Airstream trailer, called “Johnny’s Crash Inn”. No connection to Fat John at the Big A. The Crash Inn was common meeting ground for the Boozefighters and the Gallopin’ Goose M/Cs. John opened about six each morning; some of these cats couldn’t make it if they had to go more than four hours without a drink. One morning this old cat shows up in a 3/4-ton pickup truck with two or three juke boxes in the bed. He asks John how business was and if he could put one of his jukes in the bar. John told him right up front that he didn’t think that was such a good idea, but this cat was real insistent and told John he could keep 50% of the profit. Five cents a tune wouldn’t pay the rent, but this was most likely the only gig the geezer had going for him, so John said, “What the hell, if you want to take the chance, knock yourself out.” The old man brought the thing in, loaded it up with records, and plugged it in. It was truly a thing of beauty! Round top, convex front, a lot of glass tubes with lava-lamp stuff bubbling up the front and soft lights that would change color. Well, this electric wonder sat there a week or two with hardly a play. If it wasn’t that it was all enclosed I’m sure the big stack of 78-rpm records would have been covered with dust. These cats just weren’t interested. It wasn’t that they didn’t like music, they just didn’t appreciate Connie Francis, Von Monroe, Doggy in the Window, or hits from My Fair Lady. Maybe you could have got them to go to the Bach Festival if you could convince them they were giving away free Bach Beer!
Then one night the inevitable happened. During the course of a somewhat untempered discussion, centering on the subject of one fellow’s inability to substantiate the exact origin or even the identification of his father, he implied the other gentleman’s mother was performing sexual exhibitions in a socially unacceptable manner. Civil decorum waned, and an altercation ensued. The glass front of the music machine was smashed, broken bits and lava crap all over the floor, the soft lights no longer changed color. A shame really, but as with most catastrophes, there was one redeeming asset. One now had access to the inner workings of the musical marvel. So it wasn’t long before Bing Crosby’s White Christmas was replaced by Big J. McNeally’s Good Rockin’ at Midnight. Stardust gave way to Drinkin’ Wine Spolie-Ohlie, and Little Doggis in the Window became Sneaky Pete Beat Your Meat. Next to go was the coin box, then a rewire job that made it possible to play the thing by just plugging it into the wall. When the old man came back to make his collection he just stood there staring at the machine. After a while he turned, eyes watering, to look at John. Then he just went away. From then on the main attraction at the Crash Inn was the free juke box. “I told the cat I didn’t think leaving that thing here was a good idea,” was all John could say.
Every Friday night all the cats would go to Lincoln Park for the Speedway races. The Boozefighters came to own this old Pierce-Arrow limousine. They painted it bright green, wrote “Boozefighters” on the sides, and adorned it with the club logo, an old drunk’s head, eyes half shut, and flies buzzing around. Friday nights we would meet at the Big A, pile into the “Greenhouse”, and motor to Lincoln Park. We would share a couple gallons of wine at the racetrack, then return to the Big A and drink till 2 am. It was one of those Friday nights that found Fat Boy and Yo Yo drinking beer together after the race. Fat Boy was a kinda short stocky cat, not really fat at all. He worked construction jobs all his life and had a hard well- tanned body. He looked much like, and had mannerisms similar to, Burt Reynolds, the movie star. Dago was Fat Boy’s old lady. A blond-haired olive-skinned Italian girl who rode a 74-inch Harley-Davidson with Drake wheels and rods, Texas Machine Shop cylinders and spacers. That sucker must have been out to 90+ cubic inches. A Wico magneto, locked on full advance, she could stand on the pedal and kick that sucker through like a lumberjack. She made a living shagging for Rapid Blueprint Co. When you shag for a living you just show up every morning, get in line and they call you as needed. Every day is payday, and you can collect in cash if you wish. Such was the reputation of the Boozefighters, when she wore her club sweater to work she just rode to the head of the line and no one would dare say a thing!
Now I was sitting in the bar with Curly Cantlon, Yo Yo was sitting with Fat Boy and Dago had crashed in the back seat of the greenhouse. Yo Yo was carrying on about how horny he was after 30 days in Lincoln Heights (L.A. County Jail). He kept talking about how he was going to take his last $10 and see if he could score a street walker up on the Avenue. Fat Boy says, “Why do that and take a chance on getting the clap or somethin’ worse? You could give me the $10 and crawl in the back seat with Dago! She’s so wasted that she’ll probably think it’s me anyway.” “You really don’t mind?” “Hell no, what are friends for?” So Yo Yo hands Fat Boy the $10, and slips out to the parking lot. Curly and I are right behind him; this was something not to be missed. Fat Boy put the money away and ordered another beer. Outside it was darker than King Kong’s arm pit. You could just make out Yo Yo quietly opening the car door and pulling himself in, pants and skivvies around his ankles. All was dead quiet for a few moments. Then “What the hell do you think you’re doing, you son of a bitch, get the fuck out of here!” Yo Yo didn’t even get the door closed before he hit the ground like he was blown out of a cannon. Dago, her blouse open and belt unfastened, on top of him kicking, scratching, biting, slugging, and yelling at the top of her lungs. She sat on his chest with her knees dug into his shoulders, punching him in the face with both fists. Yo Yo was able to crawl away, after Dago wore herself out hitting him. He drug himself back into the Big A, pulling up his draws, bleeding from the mouth, lips and cheeks swollen, and plopped down by Fat Boy. “That didn’t take long, how was it?” “How was it! How was it! I want my money back!” retorted Yo Yo. “What do you mean, you want your money back?” Fat Boy smiled, “A deal’s a deal! Didn’t I set the whole thing up for you? If you’re not romantic enough to win her over, or man enough to subdue her, that’s not my fault! Just to prove I’m your friend I’ll buy you a beer — hey John, set one up for my friend, will ya?” Yo Yo wiped his mouth with his sleeve, and drank the beer. Curly turned to me and said, “Fat Boy was right, you know.” I said, “Yeah, but what about Yo Yo, he let her get on top – now there’s a gentleman!”
I could tell you more, but I think you’ve got an idea of what life was like with the Boozefighters, how it was and all.
RIDING THE BEAR: Further Adventures of the Boozefighters, 1948
40% Fiction, 50% Facts Out of Context, and 10% Shuck n’ Jive!!
by Papa Jim Brewer
Yoyo knelt beside the silver-grey and chrome Royal Enfield scrambler, fitting a spare clutch cable. He was just finishing up, having already fit extra throttle and brake cables, attaching them with bits of safety wire. The front mudguard was resting along with license plate, head and tail lamps, and a rat’s nest of wire by the garage wall. It seems that all week he had been fitting and tuning the big lunger. He had taken the week off from the “Gunk-rack” job he had with Louie Thomas’ Modern Cycle Works in East Los Angeles. Early Monday morning he had the cylinder head down to the Foster and Lewis machine shop to be de-carbonized and to have the valve seats cut to a three-angle configuration. Tuesday found him carefully aligning the inch- and-a-quarter GP Arnal carburetor to the inlet manifold and port. This tall, skinny, wall-eyed “Okie” was dead serious!
It was Friday afternoon. Wino Willy and I had ridden to Yoyo’s digs just to check and see if he was ok. The last time we had seen him was Sunday night down in front of the “Big A”. He was so drunk that Fat Boy had to start his old Scout and Big John had to hold him by the shoulders while he mounted up just to keep him from falling over. Jumpin’ Joe depressed the clutch, Fat Boy jammed it in gear, and we all pushed him out the driveway, watching him weave his way into traffic, disappearing east on Firestone Boulevard. Everyone else walked away laughing, but I stood by the curb for a long while, listening for a siren that never came. I guessed if he didn’t fall off or forgot where he lived, he must’a got home!
“That’s it,” Yoyo said as he pulled himself up and stood grinning at us. “You cats want a drink?” If it had been anyone else I would have considered that a foolish Question, but coming from Yoyo — we just followed him into the kitchen where he passed around the last three fingers of Mission Bell Port that was left in the gallon jug.
“Well, I’m all ready,” mused Yoyo. “Hawley said I could use his truck if I would haul his bike, all his shit, and get someone to help pit for him.”
“Where did you get that scoot?” quizzed Wino. “Well, let’s just say I’ve got a ‘Silent Partner’, a ‘Sponsor’ who has complete faith in my riding skills.” I wish he hadn’t said that till I swallowed the mouth full of wine that ended up being blown through my nose into the sink. After regaining my composure I just nodded my head and tried to keep a straight face. No sense hurting Yoyo by turning his covers; we just let it be.
Chapter 1: The Setting
If you grew up in L.A., “Riding the Bear” was a rite of passage. It was like running with the bulls, or cliff diving in Acapulco. The Big Bear race has been run since the 1920’s. In the early days it would start from the town of Mojave. The riders would line up along the railroad tracks. When the train whistle blew, it was over the tracks, across the desert, and up the mountain to Big Bear Lake. It wasn’t a “Hare and Hound” back then, just a flat-out motorcycle race! First cat to get to the lake won. Each team would set up their own fuel stops. Most likely the first somewhere between the Silver Lakes and Stoddard Mountain, next maybe around Peter’s Hill or Rabbit Springs and the third always at Holcomb Creek Crossing. Then it was up the mountain. Through rock washes and fire breaks, deer trails and foot paths to the town of Fawnskin, which is just across the lake from Big Bear City. Circa 300 miles of desert and mountains, as the crow flies, that is if you could find a crow dumb enough to fly that route!
Quite often there would be an inch or two of snow on the high desert, melting into slush, and then frozen again as you start up the shady side of the mountain in the afternoon. Although you could nail 75 or 80 miles per hour on the open plain, it was much like a steeple chase, leaping over rocks and pucker bushes that would launch a rider into the air, like riding over a ramp. Then sand pits and rock washes would slow you to a dead stop. You had to pick the bike up and lead or carry it over, around or through the maze. Not a small feat if you were Indian, Harley, or Henderson mounted! On the mountain the snow took its toll. With drifts sometimes ten feet deep, more than one rider, completely exhausted, would fall and expire before help could reach him! Some lost riders would light their bikes on fire to attract rescuers. A burning tire makes a great signal. Of 300-plus miles, less than 100 feet are on some kind of pavement, where you would cross the highway and at the finish, in Fawnskin. You would come down this hill on a city street, and have to come to a complete stop, feet on pegs, in a chalk-marked box. Give that a try on an inch of ice with stagger-block knobby tires! Even when you’re not all worn out! First rider to the finish was the winner.
In later years the event turned into a true “Hare and Hound”, sanctioned by Harley-Davidson’s own AMA, sponsored by the Orange County M/C, and open to all riders. (However, in 1948, the event was sponsored by the Hollywood Three Point M/C.) There were mandatory check points where a rider had to sign-in on a control card. The route was marked with lime by a “Hare” rider who was always an expert, most likely a former Big Bear winner. He would take off about a half hour to 45 minutes before the starting “bomb” would go off. “Catch the ‘Hare’, win the race!”
There had been a lot of national defense building in the high desert during the war years. Apple Valley and the surrounding area became more populated. Housing tracts, homesteads, small farms, and the like were flourishing. So, in the interest of public relations and good will, from 1946 on the Bear would start from the North Lucerne Valley (near Highway 247), make a wide figure-eight pattern across the desert, returning twice to the starting line, then split to Big Bear Lake. This new route made refueling a lot easier, since the crews could just hang out at the starting line, drink a little wine, and “Shuck ‘n Jive” till their rider came through twice, then bug-out to Holcomb Creek Crossing, at a dirt road just north of Green Valley. After topping off there, bag-ass for Fawnskin and the finish.
Chapter 2: The Players
J.D. Jones was a tall, skinny old man. He rode an old Harley-Davidson JD that he said he bought new. He kept his head shaved because his old lady always got her toes tangled in his hair when they “did the thing”. He wore a full red beard and mustache, graying a bit around the edges, and when he’d grin you could see where he only had a few front teeth, long and a little yellow. Seems he grinned and squinted his eyes most all the time. He used to be a member of the original Thirteen Rebels M/C. About the oldest club around L.A., they did a lot of movie stunt work back in the twenties and thirties. He still liked to show off with a bit of trick riding, and I guess he was about as good as most of the cats that did that kinda stuff. I really liked ol’ J.D. He may have had a two digit IQ but you could trust him. He was unassuming and would mind his own business.As he would put it, he was just a “Motorcycle Ridin’ Fool!”
J.D. and I were the first cats to show up at the “Big A”. It was the Saturday morning about 9:30. It was cold, been cold all night. Horizon to horizon the sky was black clouds. It hadn’t rained; maybe if it had, it wouldn’t have been so cold. We didn’t have long to wait. Fat Boy and his old woman Dago came riding up with Wino Willy just behind them.
“Where is everyone else?” I ask Fat Boy. “Over to Andy’s,” he replied, “we’re supposed to meet over there.” Andy’s was a beer bar over on Atlantic Avenue near Slauson called The Vulture’s Roost. This had to be the baddest one beer bar in L.A. It was a haunt of The Yellow Jackets and Gallopin’ Goose M/C. We lit’em up and cruised over.
Cold in L.A. is damp, wet cold and riding felt like getting hit in the face with needles. There was ice in the gutters and as we traveled east on Firestone, past the tire plant, you could see wee bits of soot hanging in the air from the smudge pots.
We pulled up in front of the Roost. There must have been 70 or 80 riders milling around in the lot. Andy opened up and had the coffee pot on. We parked, and went in for a cup. I walked back to the AJS and undid the straps, holding my sleeping bag. I pinned Yoyo sitting in Don Hawley’s truck. It was a lowered 1934 fern-green Ford. In the bed, along with Yoyo’s Enfield, he had Don’s “Arie-out” (a hybrid Ariel Red Hunter frame with a Shell Motors 101 Scout engine and Bermans clutch and gear box. This is the same bike Hawley campaigned around Southern California’s flat tracks for the next few years). The Enfield was all covered up with a bed spread. This isn’t right, Yoyo not flaunting the scrambler in front of all these cats. J.D. and I tossed our bags in alongside the bikes, tool box, gas cans, spare wheels, and “stuff”.
Man, this looked like a Jive circus! Cats wearing colors from The Gallopin’ Goose, The Boozefighters, The RAMS (Raggedy Ass Millionaires), The Crotch Cannibals, The Yellow Jackets, even the very prim Pasadena M/C, and more. It wasn’t long before engines were started, trucks began moving, when I started the AJS, J.D. Jones was already pulling out, we were under way. East to Lakewood Boulevard, then north onto Rosemead, east again on Foothill, we were “gaggling” to the high desert, it was the Big Bear weekend, and it was great! Johnny the Jug jumped back on the pillion of his new Tiger 100, grabbed a handful, and flew to the front of the group. J.D. stood on the seat of his old porker, stretched arms straight out to either side, and performed a “human cross” at 70 miles per hour. Truly a “Ridin’ Fool”, to quote J.D. There was this BIG blond haired chick on a Square Four that rode along side and kept grinning at me. Everyone called her Amazon. I smiled back but left it alone. Her old man was “White Fence”. I didn’t want that kind of trouble!
In San Berdoo we stopped at a beer bar for lunch. J.D. went across the street to a “Piggley-Wiggley” Market and came back with a gallon of Mission Bell. He gave one of those “Ridin’ Fool” grins, and threw away the cap. The weekend was definitely underway!
One of the cats in The Gallopin’ Goose was John Galliano, “Johnny the Jug”. His dad was Italian, his mother Mexican-American. A good friend of Don Hawley’s, they worked out together at Redpath’s Gym. Johnny the Jug was a real Adonis. Coal-black hair, olive skin, and Roman nose, he was a “Lady Magnet”, one of those cats that would work out on Muscle Beach Sun- day afternoons. He was riding up with us and was going to help us gas Hawley at Holcomb Creek. Then there was this other young cat who used to party with us. A big moon-faced high-school football player named Irving Kertzenbalm. This kid was BIG! I’d say 260 by 6’6″ at least. He played football at Inglewood High School, but had eyes to become a professional wrestler, like Gorgeous George. He already had a name picked out: “Swede Kertzenbalm, the Smorgasbord of Death!” I’ve watched television for the last 45 years and still hope one day to see “Swede” conquer the mat. Seeing Swede riding with Yoyo in the truck I couldn’t help but muse; if those guys could find a dumb-looking third cat with a “Prince Valiant” haircut, they proverbially could come up with a movie contract! Swede was the crew man Yoyo had promised Don for the use of the truck. I can see it now! Wino Willy, Fat Boy, and the Swede topping off Don Hawley’s gas tank at a high-speed pit stop. That could be the start of a beautiful fist fight.
Victorville was jumpin’. Bikes everywhere. Cats wearing colors from all the western states. The bars were overflowing; all the restaurants had lines of folks waiting to scarf. We cruised around for a while and soon ran into this cat from the Jack Rabbits M/C who knew Wino Willy. He told us about this Mexican Cafe just east of town on Highway 18. I’m not sure I remember the name — Mama Lupe’s, or Sister Lupe’s — anyway, the beer was cold and the food good. We checked it out. Seemed to be a hangout for the local sodbusters, an old day-coach railroad car with a Quonset hut attached to the rear. As we pulled into the parking lot, you could hear the juke box wailing, “Out in Petersburg everything’s fine, all them cats are drinking that wine, smashing out windows and kickin’ down doors, they’ll drink a half gallon and scream for more!” Sounds like a class place to me! Once inside we sat down, ordered a round of “Red X” (Lucky Lager) and schemed on supper.
There were four girls waiting tables. Our waitress was a tall, slim twist with dishwater blond hair, and just about enough “good stuff” wiggling to stop conversation. We were all on separate checks so she moved from one to the other taking orders. I sat at the end of the table so she took mine first. When she got to Johnny the Jug she broke out in a big grin (the “Lady Magnet” seemed to be working). When she left us and moved between tables, chairs, and people on her way to the kitchen, I couldn’t help but think she moved like a snake with hips. The Jug caught me pinning her, and gave me a wink. I just closed my eyes, nodded my head, and smiled. She brought us another round of beer, said our dinners would be here soon. She wore Levis that looked painted on and a kinds peasant blouse, loose, low-cut, and made out of an old Japanese WWII flag. It had a big, round, red spot on the front, with Japanese writing down the sides, under her arms.
Our dinners arrived and as she set the plate down in front of the Jug he asked, “When do you get off work?”
“Anytime I feel like it. I don’t work here; Eddy, the owner, lets me fill in for tips on crowded nights.”
After supper we all had one more “Red X”, all except Yoyo. He was drinking Delaware Punch, being in
training and all.
We paid our bill, left a tip, and started toward the door. The Jug turned around and called back, “Hey Meatball, you coming with us?” Her smile grew into a wide grin as she pulled the pencil from in back of her ear, and tossed the order pad on the counter. Yoyo was in the truck and out to the road by the time we got our bikes started. Jug tickled the carburetor, and before he could crank it through, Meatball was on the Tiger’s pillion and groping for the pegs. Fat Boy turned to Dago, “Looks like the Jug got him a pillion fairy.” Dago just looked bored and kicked her big stroker Harley to life. Yoyo and Swede led the way and we were on the road again.
Even though it was biting cold, the high desert air was crystal clear and sweet, and dry. When it’s 80 degrees in Los Angeles and 110 in Victorville, the high desert always seems more comfortable. But, the air is thin, and it was far from 110 degrees. I have no idea just how cold it was, but it hurt to take a deep breath, and I couldn’t feel my hands or feet, and the cold even cut through my thermal knickers. Shit, I was colder than a Klondike sewer rat!
We had been going east; now we turned north, off the pavement. The dirt road turned into a sand wash. It was near the old Sidewinder Mine in a place they called “Crash Canyon”. As we rode north on the creek bed, you could smell the smoke of fires, and we soon saw other riders camped out on the sand. We pulled up, and I rode over to the side of the canyon where the earth was a bit more solid. I pulled the AJS onto the stand and J.D. pulled in beside me, along with Wino, a cat named Curly Cantlon, and a couple of Yellow Jackets. This is where we were to meet “our racers” in the morning.
J.D. started to scrape away the brush so we could bed down. Fat Boy and Wino started a little fire with dry brush and twigs. I walked across the creek and picked our sleeping bags out of the truck bed. A tiny sliver of moon broke through the overcast and as far as you could see up the canyon folks were camped. I walked back and threw J.D. his bag and we rolled them out. I stripped to my knickers and crawled in. Johnny the Jug and Meatball were already in the sack, their clothes tossed all over. I don’t somehow think their minds were focused on neatness. They were about 10 or 12 feet from J.D. and me. The sleeping bag was left unzipped. It was cold, but not as cold as when we were riding, so leaving the bag open gave more room to move around inside. I didn’t think their minds were focused so much on “sleeping” either! There was about four or five inches of Mission Bell left in the jug, so J.D. and I passed it back and forth while we watched the skin show. J.D. was thinkin’ out loud, “Man, if Big John could get a floor show like that, he could have a cover charge down at the ‘Big A’.”
“If he could keep his license, it would be more like an ‘uncover charge’,” I added.
All at once Meatball sat straight up and in a loud whisper said, “Don’t they call this place the Sidewinder Mine? What would we do if a snake slithered into our sleeping bag?” Johnny the Jug grabbed her shoulders, pulled her back into the bag, and rolled over on top of her, “The only snake you have to worry about is already in the sleeping bag.” Fat Boy broke up and gave out a raucous “Haw, haw, haw!” Dago gave out with “Shut up, shit! If you’re going to fantasize, beat your meat and go to sleep.” Then we all broke up! I thought to myself, that Dago is one cruel old woman, when she wants to be.
The sky had cleared some. I could even see a few stars, now and then as the clouds were passing. The wine was gone, J.D. was comatose, and the fire had become an ashtray of embers. At last the day’s hype was mute, once in the arms of Morpheus.
Too soon the “visions of sugar plums” were blown out of “my wee little head” by a God-awful racket coming up the canyon. It was this old flathead, orange Dodge pickup, weaving through sleeping bags and around motorcycles. From behind the wheel came this honky nasal whine, “Joanne? Joanne? I know you’re here somewhere, where are you honey? Joanne?” Meatball jumped out of the bag and started pulling on her Levis. By now John the Jug was out of the bag too.
“What’s happening?” “It’s that God-damn Eddy, he owns the restaurant, remember? He’s my landlord; he owns this lousy house trailer I’ve been living in.” She told the Jug, “We get it on sometimes, ya know, just for the rent. He doesn’t own me, though! Nobody owns Me, nobody!”
Eddy’s truck has stopped and the headlights were shining on Jug and the Meatball. She crossed her arms in front of her. They were really cold, her in her Levis and the Jug buck-ass naked. Eddy walked toward them, stopped and picked up the blouse, looked at it, then threw it down again. This Eddy was something else. He stood about 5’10”, a stocky red-neck farm boy. He walked up to Meatball, reached out with his fat left hand and grabbed her by the hair. His face was flushed, and in the headlamp’s glare you could see tiny red and blue veins that turned his puffy cheeks into road maps. He held his right hand up, palm open as if he were going to cuff her. He looked like he was in pain.
“What are you doing here? Why are you here with him and not home with me?” His eyes were welling up.
“Why am I here with him?” she clipped. “Why am I here with him and not with you? Drop your pants and everyone will know why I’m with him and not with you!”
That did it. The dam burst, tears rolled down his fat, puffy cheeks. He tried to say something; his mouth moved a little but nothing came out. He slapped and backhanded her three or four times across her face. By now Fat Boy, Jumpin’ Joe, the Swede, and myself were standing around the principals, closing in and ready to throw dukes. The Jug said, “Just let it be; let them work it out. It’s not our business. Besides, the point spread is too wide.” The code governing such things is clear. Never fight over a woman or money. They come and they go; you just wait a while and they’ll be back. Eddy dragged her by the hair, her scratching and kicking to the truck, threw her in and drove away. By the time I looked back to the Jug he was in his sleeping bag, with Meatball’s blouse rolled up under his head, like a pillow. No honor lost here, I reasoned.
Yoyo yelled out from the truck where he was nesting, “Will you cats knock it off, I’ve got to get some sleep if I’m going to ‘practice my art’ in the morning.”
The clouds had moved back in; it was overcast. The morning sky was once again covered with gray. We were camped on the west side of the canyon and between the east canyon rim and the cloud cover was a shaft of bright sunlight that struck my eyes like a dagger. J.D. was up, dressed, and grinnin’ like an ape. “Come on Jim, get up! Me ‘n the Jug got the fire goin’ again.”
“How the hell can you do it?” I ask.
“Do what!” I replied. “Drink port wine all day, have five or six beers with a double order ol chili verde for your supper, drink some more wine, stay up half the night watchin’ people screw, sleep in a frozen food locker on a bed of sand, and be so wide awake and so GOD-DAMN ugly at the crack of dawn?” The daggers that were in my eyes suddenly leaped to the small of my back when that crazy bald-headed asshole grabbed the foot of my sleeping bag and poured me out on the canyon floor.
I rolled up the bag and looked for the truck. It was gone! I guessed Yoyo couldn’t wait to go “practice his art”. Up front of where the truck was parked set a new dark-blue Ford station wagon. “What’s that?” I ask J.D. “That’s Don Hawley’s girlfriend’s new car. She and four of her coed pals from Compton College drove Hawley up here this morning.” I turned my head, ever so slowly, to see Dangerous Don sitting on his haunches by the fire. He was holding a paper cup of coffee. I walked over, “Where did you get the coffee?”
“I brought it with me, and there’s some buns and stuff in the wagon; knock yourself out!”
I walked over and looked in the back window. There was this big United Airlines thermos, paper cups, half-and-half, sugar and a couple of pink boxes from Canter’s of Fairfax, with sticky buns and bagels. My mouth felt like a mouse crept in during the night and gave birth, so I was quick to help myself to coffee and a big ol’ sticky bun. I walked back to the fire to thank Don for breakfast. “Hey, you cats are helpin’ me refuel, I got to take care of my pit crew!”
“Where’s your rib?” I ask “She and her friends took a hike up to the bushes on the rim, they had to take a leak, it was a long drive, we drank a lot of coffee. It’s getting late, we better slip,” he added. You could hear bike engines starting up and down the canyon. I took the last hit on my coffee, watched as the little campfire jumped to life, and finished the bun.
Don Hawley and I went back a long way. We went to “different schools” together! We used to hang out at the Clock Drive-In on Atlantic Avenue and Whittier Boulevard, and see each other at the midnight drag races on South Avalon, the old divided highway. If ever there was a natural racer it was “Dangerous Don” Hawley.
J.D. walked over to the fire, unbuttoned his Levis, and started pissin’ it out. Soon he was joined by Jumpin’ Joe, Fay Boy, next by Wino Willy and Curly Cantlon. White steam rose in a great billowing cloud. The coeds had come back and one of them snapped a picture. The last time I ever was in the “Big A”, I remember that snapshot taped to the old yellow steel wall. Five of my boyhood heroes pissin’ out a fire in Crash Canyon on January 4th, 1948.
Chapter 3: Riding the Bear
We gaggled up Highway 247 and turned right on this dirt road that was the starting line. It was one of those roads that was scraped out of the desert with a bulldozer blade. There was a rise on the shoulders where the earth ended up after the scraping …just east of this rise was the starting line.Over on the other side of the road, to the west, was a big parking area. The Los Gatos M/C were there in force with a big banner on poles that was stretched across one end of the parking lot. These cats came down from Northern California every year, from the very early days of the Bear, with a gang of expert riders. Groups from other clubs too established their pits at the west side of the road, in front of the parking lot.
There were bikes everywhere. Most every make and vintage. Mostly AJS, Matchless, BSA, and Ariel 500 Singles. The 500 Singles were the most popular. They were light (by 1948 standards), “torquie”, fast and would pull the side of a mountain like a tractor. Other makes in abundance were Zundapp, Norton, Velocette, BMW, NSU and Jawas. Of the twins the most abundant were Triumph Speed Twins, Tigers and Trophies; AJS; Matchless (Bud Hare was on a Clay Smith 600 Matchless from his cam shop in Long Beach); and BSA. Other bikes spotted were Panther, Royal-Enfield, Douglas, Harley-Davidson, Indian, and a 61-inch Crocker ridden by Ed Johnson, the famed L.A. flat tracker. Of course there were a bunch of “corn-popper” two-cycles. BSA Bantams, Dots, Villers, James, DKW, Francis-Barnetts, Jawas, etc., ridden mostly by young, novice riders. Many started, in fact they would fly off the start; few finished, always late, too late to be scored. Most blew up and/or crashed in the first 50 miles or so. How things have changed in 45 years!
We spotted Don’s truck about in the middle of the pits. Yoyo had the bikes unloaded and was tinkering with the Enfield. Ross Bernstein, the Shell Motors tuner, had the Scout on a rear-wheel stand. He had already run it, had the plugs out, and was making a carburetor mixture adjustment. The “cheerleaders” drove the station wagon back into the parking lot. J.D., Wino Willy, and I followed them. I could use some more coffee, and the “buns” looked good too! One by one the rest joined us and we established Boozefighters’ headquarters around the Compton College delegation.
There must have been a hundred or so bikes running around us, racing out into the desert, checking out their scoots. Carburetor and spark-plug checks. Tire style and pressure checks. Chassis adjustments and last-minute sprocket selections. Some of the Indian and Harley riders had stretched frames and chains on their rear wheals. There were a few pits that had blankets stretched out on the ground, feverishly trying to put engines or gearboxes back together. The air was thick with exotic fuel and castor-oil smells. “Nine o’clock, one hour to go,” someone said. I walked to Don’s pit. There were a few flakes of snow in the air, a few tiny bits of crystal jewels delicately held in the fingers of the dry brush.
I’ve never ceased to be overwhelmed by the Big Bear Hare and Hound. In 1948 there were 377 official entries, times five crewmen; add 1,500 spectators, equals 3,385 people. In 1954 there were 986 official entries!
The snow was falling steadily now, a light snow but enough to cover the desert with one or two inches. Don and Yoyo had taken their bikes to the starting line and the hare was getting ready to take off. The starting line was about a hundred feet east of the road and ran parallel.
More riders filled the starting line as the hare took off. I don’t recall who the hare was — a member of the Hollywood Three Pointers M/C. He carried limesacks in a newspaper-boy’s bag draped over his shoulders. AJS mounted, and cookin’! We watched as he sped up the desert incline, passed the Big Rock hill, where the starting bomb would soon go off, and disappeared over the ridge that lay about a quarter-mile due east.
I ask Don, “How do you follow lime markers in the snow?”
“You don’t have to. He’ll leave a big mud trail, and unless you’re leading, there will be no doubt where the course runs.”
I gave Don and Yoyo a pat on the back and walked down the starting line to check out the other racers. Everyone had been running their engines to keep them warm. I saw Triumph-mounted, our man Arch Johnson; and movie stars Keenan Wynn on an AJS and Larry Parks on a brand-new Gold Star BSA his wife, screen star Betty Garrett, had given him as a Christmas gift the week before. The riders with sponsors or some with club affiliation wore vests or silken “bibs” (like Class ‘A’ speedway riders) proclaiming their benefactors. There was half-mile ace Bert Brundage on a Frank Cooper AJS, Aub LeBard on a LeBard and Underwood Matchless, and auto racer and speedway star Mack Bellings on a Milne Brothers Ariel Red Hunter, to name a few. One by one the engines were shutting down, with the start approaching. You have to start with a dead engine, then when that starting bomb goes off, kick your bike to life, and “bug out”. The riders were getting “antsy”; every eye was trained on the Big Rock hill.
It’s the waiting, you know. It’s the waiting that seems so hard. You know you’re good. You’ve proven that to yourself over and over again. You’ve proven it to others, your sponsors, the people that have come here to help you, and to the fans who have come to watch you. It’s become dead quiet now. The more focused you become, the more quiet it seems. You wait, and wait. Steve McQueen summed it up in the 1971 movie LeMans: “A lot of people go through life doing things badly. Racing is important to men who do it well. When you’re racing, it — it’s life. Anything that happens before or after is just waiting.” When I look back at the memory of it, the mind’s eye picture of the Big Bear, of THAT Big Bear, I remember the waiting. It seems hour ago that the hare left. “Will 10 o’clock ever come? God, it’s quiet, this waiting.”
|Field meet at Big Bear|
The bomb burst! Engines started, clutches engaged, and a square mile of California’s high desert turned into a plowed field. Clouds of snow and dirt rose in a plume from each machine as they sped off toward the horizon. I strained to see who was leading as they crested the quarter-mile knoll. I looked for Hawley who was wearing a Shell Motors sweater over his leathers, but with 300 riders moving at 80 miles per hour over rough country, I — I walked back to the truck, is what I did.
Ross Bernstein was sorting out tools and spares, setting up for our first pit stop.We were servicing Don Hawley, Arch Johnson, and, oh yeah, Yoyo. We split up into two groups. Group A was Bernstein, Fat Boy, and Johnny the Jug. Group B, Curley Cantlin, J.D. Jones, and myself. Swede Kertzenbalm and Jumpin’ Joe would drive the truck, see to all the gear, and be the official “go fetch it” gang. Group A would work the first stop, when the riders would come through the starting line on the first pass. Then they were to bug out for the Holcomb Creek Crossing and gas stop number three. Our group, Group B, would see to the second gas stop, when they passed through again. Then we would toss our gas cans and stuff into the station wagon and bag ass for the finish at Fawnskin. There Group A would meet us.
Bernstein set out two sets of gas cans: the first for Hawley, the second for Johnson and Yoyo. He “hipped” me to the scam. The Scout had been tuned to run on a special Don Francisco “gas mix”, the red and yellow cans. The solid red cans held Flying “A” 100 plus. Don Francisco was a local fuel mixer who was playing with nitro blends and such even back then!
The snow had stopped. The clouds were beginning to break up, the sun was poking its rays through the overcast, here and there. Jumpin’ Joe was snoozing in the truck cab. I ask Swede if he would like a cup of coffee and we walked over to the wagon. The co-eds had covered the windows with blankets. I lifted the tailgate to the sounds of giggles and shrieks! The girls were changing their clothes, getting ready for the pit stops. It was Don Hawley’s idea. If there were a bunch of chicks dressed in tight sweaters, white short shorts, and Li’l Abner boots, standing in the pit, jumpin’ up and down, wiggling all over, and screaming their lungs out, there was no way he could not see where his pit was! I closed the tailgate and they handed us cups of coffee through the window.
We walked back to find the truck backed into the pit. Ross Bernstein had all the tools and spares we might need laid out in the bed like an operating room table.
Everyone was in their pit area, all ready and once again waiting. There was a quiet that comes with the snow. A stillness that slows the adrenaline flow. Everyone’s eyes were turned toward the road. If you can picture this dirt road, scraped out of the desert floor by a bulldozer’s blade, with great mounds of earth lining either side, where curbs would be if this were a city street. Then you can see that crossing the road meant having to navigate two big old jumps! The riders would return from the east, crossing the road to the west, and into the pits.
At first it was a buzz. Like a bee, getting louder. Sounding like an angry bee. Louder still, like a hornet. A lone rider, flat out and cookin’. His engine raced as he hit the first jump, shifting gears in the air. He cleared the second jump and came into our midst. It was the hare, sliding the AJS scrambler into the Hollywood Three Pointers M/C pit. Refueling took about 10 to 15 seconds. He grabbed a drink of water (?), clean goggles, and split like a scalded dog. Due west. The co-eds came running from the station wagon in ski caps and coats. There was no rush. The hare had a 45-minute head start on the field. That head start proved to be closer to 30 minutes in reality. The hounds were closing in.
The time passed more quickly now than it did waiting for the start. It didn’t seem long before the first riders were arriving. The girls had their coats off and were lined up, ready to do their stuff!
First rider over the jump was Matchless-mounted Aub LeBard, followed a few seconds later by Dutch Sterner on an AJS. About a minute later came Nick Nicholson on a Branch Motors Velocette. A couple of moments later a gaggle of 10 or 15 riders were coming over the jump into the pits. Looked like ducks popping up in a shooting gallery. Next rider to “pop” over was number 88, Don Hawley, followed by 40 or 50 more. Upon pinning Hawley, the “co-ed chorus line” went into action, like football cheerleaders, high-kicking, screaming and just plain jumpin’ up and down! Man, did it work! Don pinned the pit right off. Not only that, it confused the competition something fierce. All these cats were checking out the girls! Riders were running into each other, falling down, missing their pits, and even their pit crews were smitten in slack-jawed wonder. Fat Boy had the funnel in Don’s tank and Johnny the Jug was pouring in fuel. Bernstein asked Don if everything was ok, he nodded and said that he could blow off these cats at will. He was laying back to let the eager beavers beat down the brush. It was easier to get lost by missing lime if you were up front, plus cooling it now saved the machine for when times got tough. Arch Johnson had pulled up in back of Hawley and the “A” Group rushed to service him. Our riders, most of the riders, wore those black foam-rubber war-surplus goggles, and our riders got clean ones at each stop. Hawley took a big gulp of water and was off, followed a few seconds later by Arch, to the cheering and screaming of “Follies Femme-Fatale”.
More riders were pouring over the pit jump now. It wasn’t long before Yoyo came on the scene. The gals went into their act once again, with a repeat of the first chaotic “rapture of lost demeanor”. He was serviced, in and out like a pro! — the Enfield sounded great. I was amazed! Swede said he was counting and figured YoYo was 78th out of 337 starters! Could it be his benefactor was right? New! Yeah? New!
The girls were back in coats and hats and headed for the station wagon and its wonderful heater. Ross picked up all his spares and loaded the truck. He set out the gas cans and a tote-box of tools. “If you need more than this, it’s all over, anyway,” he told me. With a pat on the back, he jumped in the truck alongside the Swede. Fat Boy, Jumpin’ Joe, and Johnny the Jug mounted up and “A” Group was off to the creek crossing.
It was almost noon. Riders were straggling in one by one. Some realized, when they met the leaders coming through the starting line pits for the second lap, that it was all over, and started packing up. You have to finish within one hour after the first hound arrived in order to “sign-in” and be counted as a finisher.
|Feets Minert (?), 1951|
The hare led the field by 22 minutes on this second pass. First rider at pit stop two was Aub LeBard, followed by Velocette-mounted Nick Nicholson (it is a picture of Nick Nicholson on a Norton at the Isle of Man TT that has become our club logo), Harley rider Tex Luce, and speedway star Ernie Roccio on an AJS. Harley-Davidson-mounted Royal Carrol.1 Jr. and Ernie McAfee (who was killed during the running of the last sports car race held at Pebble Beach, driving an RSK Porsche) on a Branch Motors Velocette were side by side in a dragrace into and out of their respective gas stops. The girls were once again “on stage” to welcome Don Hawley, who by now had worked his way to 7th overall! Curley Cantlon and I gassed “Dangerous” Don. It was a routine stop; clean goggles, and he was back in the hunt.
Arch Johnson was in 22nd place when he rode in. He had gone down hard jumping out of a rock wash. Tweaked the handlebar and put a big dent in the Tiger’s tank. The knees of his leathers were worn through and blood soaked long-johns were peeking through. He climbed off and grimaced as he did a couple of deep knee bends. All the while I was pouring gas, J.D. and Curley were yanking on the handlebar. I must admit, they got it pretty straight. The engine had died; I climbed on and after five or six tries, it lit off. Arch was back on and set sail with vengeance.Yoyo was next. Curley said that he had “practiced his art” all the way up to 64th. I was flabbergasted! J.D. gassed him up; one of the show girls handed him clean goggles and gave him a kiss on the cheek. That must have worked like a shot of nitro! Yoyo was standing on the pegs and spinning the wheel clear out of sight.
|Don Hawley, 1959|
Hawley’s main squeeze drove the station wagon up to where the truck had been parked, and while the co-eds were getting into warmer garb, “B” crew was stowing the Sear in the back. The sun was out now and it was getting a bit warmer. We drank some more coffee and polished off the buns. It was a little after lpm when the girls pulled out and J.D., Curley and I mounted up and took off for Pawnskin and the Finish.
Chapter 4: The Finish
You didn’t need a road map to get from Lucerne to Big Bear Lake that Sunday. It looked like the Harbor Freeway at 5 o’clock! I’m sure that from the air it looked like an ant trail to a sugar cube. Even though the sun had come out to warm things a little, it was colder than a barfly’s heart on the shady side of the mountain. There was ice in patches on the road and rivers of water flowing where there was no ice. As we climbed the mountain, lookin’ down from each switch back, you could see a steady column of riders, trucks and cars with bike trailers behind us.
Dago, the Amazon, and some of the others had split from the desert early, and were already in Fawnskin when we arrived. They had parked their bikes within a block of the finish and made sure the rest of “The Crew” had parking space. It wasn’t a hard thing to do when you were wearing Boozefighters or Gallopin’ Goose colors. The co-eds weren’t so lucky though. They had to park the station wagon about a mile away, so J.D., Curley and I ran a shuttle and packed ’em to the finish line. It was almost 3pm and long shadows, and about two feet of snow on the flat meant the temperature was descending rapidly. J.D. had bugged out and come back with a half-gallon of the “Red Staple of Life” and we passed it around.
It wasn’t long before the hare came sliding in. His buddies from the Hollywood Three Pointers M/C lifted him off a very tired AJS scrambler and carried him around on their shoulders. The officials had the sign-in sheet ready, and the finish judges were at their stations.
The first rider in was Dutch Sterner at 3:22, five hours and 22 minutes on the Cooper Motors AJS. Frank Cooper was hugging and patting him on the back, “This won’t hurt winter sales at all,” he said. Tex Luce of the Four Aces M/C, North Hollywood, was next in, but later was disqualified for missing a hidden check. Harley-mounted Swede Belin was scored in second place, but while he was stopped in the box and standing on the pegs, he was bumped from behind and replaced by a Matchless-mounted and “Big A” patron, Aub LeBard, South Central Los Angeles AJS and Matchless dealer who signed in finishing 3rd. Rider after rider slid into the finish and signed in.
|Dutch Sterner, 1948 Big Bear Race|
The official finish “window” lasted one hour from the time Dutch Sterner arrived. Ninety riders were officially credited with finishing. That didn’t mean more riders weren’t going to make it to the finish. Cats would be straggling in til midnight and after, some riding, some riding two up, hell, some would even be walking to the finish! Arch Johnson finished 31st, and had to have help getting off of his bike. He said that Hawley had gone down and slid into a snow drift. “I couldn’t stop; if I had I wouldn’t have been able to help him anyway.” Don dug himself out and finally finished 51st. He killed the engine and rolled out of the “Box”, with a big grin. He didn’t look beat at all. “Wild Man” Ed Bandini from The Yellow Jackets M/C said he saw Yoyo crash hard a mile or so before Holcomb Creek Crossing.
After a while, Bernstein and Kertzenbalm drove up in the truck. J.D. asked about Yoyo. “He came walking into the Holcomb Creek gas stop holding his shoulder, said he had crashed and wiped out the front wheel and forks. Johnny and Fat Boy are staying with him til we get back.” We chucked the “Aeri-out” in the truck and Bernstein was off.
I packed Hawley to where the station wagon was parked; the co-eds had no trouble at all getting a ride. The basic crew decided we were going home via Skyline Drive. I ask Dago if she were going back to the creek and ride home with Fat Boy. “That son’bitch can find his way back without me holding his hand,” was her reply. Amazon rode back with us too. We stopped for dinner in Running Springs. Dago and Amazon sat together in the cafe, snickerin’ and giggling a lot. I’ve often wondered about their “relationship” but not enough to ask Dago! I remember how she kicked the shit out of Yoyo, when he had romance on his mind! If you ever find yourself in Running Springs, there’s this little cafe next to the Union gas station that makes the best banana cream pie in the world.
The ride back down the mountain was much more carefree on the southern side. There was no ice and very little snow, and although the temperature was falling, at the moment it was warmer than it had been all weekend. We rode through San Bernadino, Pamona, and stopped in Covina for gas. By the time we hit Pasadena we had run out of adrenaline and Mission Bell. It was a bit warmer in Los Angeles than when we left. The co-ed that was driving pulled into the closed gas station and parked the wagon by the pumps. Don was asleep in the back with the other young ladies. We rode past them and parked in front of the “Big A”. Big John hadn’t returned yet, so we sat on the asphalt and kicked back against the building. Dago and Amazon dropped out when we rode through South Gate, where she and Fat Boy lived. J.D. Jones was nodding off, Curley Cantlon and I were shuckin’ when Jumpin’ Joe and Big John rode in, John unlocked the padlock and swung open the door. On went the lights and radio. “You cats want a beer?” Now, that was a silly question!
Headlamps shown through the door. It was Berstein driving Don’s truck. Yoyo was sprawled in the passenger’s seat. We left the bar and gathered around. Yoyo was passed out drunk. Still in his leathers, unzipped and open to the waist, he clutched a plastic bag full of ice to his shoulder. “I think he’s got a busted shoulder,” said Bernstein. “We’ve kept him drunk so as to keep him quiet.” Don Hawley walked up, and tossed me our sleeping bags. “I hope that Okie didn’t barf in the truck!” The plastic bag was leaking a stream of ice water straight over his belly and down to his huevos. If he couldn’t feel that, he was anesthetized! Hawley and Bernstein got into “Harem Hawler” and drove off.
Kertzenbalm arose from the bed of the truck. He had been sleeping next to the “Aeri-out”.
“Where’s the Enfield?” I ask.
Swede shook his head. “Still in the desert, man. The whole front end is crashed. Forks, wheel, triple clamp, the whole fuckin’ thing, wasted!”
“And you didn’t bring it back?” I added.
Well, as the tale did unfold, it seems Yoyo’s “silent partner”, his “sponsor”, the “benefactor with complete faith in his riding skills”, was truly a “silent partner”, seeing as he didn’t know Yoyo had his bike! On the Friday night before he took the week off, Yoyo pinched the Enfield. It seems he was helping the salesmen push the used bikes off the lot and into the service shop at closing time. Yoyo made sure the Enfield went into the “gunk rack” instead of being locked inside. When everybody cut out, Yoyo just rode that sucker home.
About this time some of the other cats started riding in. The radio was kickin’, the beer was flowing, and the party was starting, serious like. Kertzenbalm slipped behind the wheel and started the truck.
“Where ya going?”, asked J.D.
“I’ve got to get Yoyo home and cleaned up. I’m going to take him into work in the morning.”
“Take him to work!?” I questioned. “Shit! This cat needs to be in a hospital, not a motorcycle shop,” I added.
“That’s the whole idea, man- Yoyo ain’t got no insurance plan, so he’s going to punch in, then tell Louie that he slipped and fell down in the gunk rack! That way he can get fixed up and his Workman’s Comp will pay for it!”
“Don’t you think they’re going to think it’s a little funny, a Royal Enfield scrambler is pinched off the lot the day before Yoyo takes a week off, he comes back to work the day after the Big Bear all beat up and hung over, and breaks his shoulder before he even starts work?” Swede looked at me with his mouth open, and before he could say anything else I added, “When you get him home, look in the garage. You’ll find a mudguard, lights, and a license plate; you better get rid of them, because if Louie Thomas’ mind works like mine, there’s going to be cops out there looking around before noon!”
Swede shook his head, smiled, and said, “Man, do you think anyone would ever believe Yoyo would ever Ride the Bear?” As the truck drove away, I thought, “Some day they’re going to put a plaque on a cell at Lincoln Heights Jail with Yoyo’s name on it.” Shit – I wonder what Yoyo’s name is?
Four or five riders from Gallopin’ Goose came riding in and filled up where the truck pulled out. One of them was Johnny the Jug. Sitting on the pillion, hanging on to one of those cheap suitcases, the kind you can buy in the five-and-dime that’s made out of pasteboard, sat Meatball. God, she looked bad, like someone pushed her face into a garbage disposal. She turned her head away. Both eyes were blackened, she had a cut on her forehead, another on her upper lip. Her jaw was swollen on the right side, black and blue, from her cheek to her chin. I’m sure she was crying, but how could you tell with her eyes swollen shut? The Jug helped her down and held her up, walking her to the can. She left her suitcase on the Triumph’s seat. It slid off, and broke open on the ground. Some of her stuff spilled out. There was a chalk “Cupie” doll holding a feather like a fan in front of her, three or four pair of knickers, the pastel kind with the days of the week on them, a cigar box with old letters inside, and one of those hydrometers with a “So/no-go” gauge on it.
Didn’t feel much like a party anymore. I tied my sleeping bag to the AJS and pumped her to life. J.D. was by the door, sucking on a “Red X”. We waved to each other, I kicked into first screw and engaged the clutch.
The Los Angeles cold was back, damp and slick, but the air was a bit refreshing on my face and in my hair. Yoyo came around a few days later and everyone signed his cast. He never demanded it, but he gained some respect after his ride. Oh yeah, he bailed out this time; he didn’t go to jail. Lucky this time!
Two years later I saw The Jug and Meatball, still playing house, pretty as a picture, still with all that “good stuff wigglin'”!
Article posted on Sport-touring.net forums, August 2008
Partial article from MotorcycleKB fourms, November 2004
Wing Nuts Motorcycle Club blog
Brilliant article, read it all in one go. All those British bikes, brought back a lot of memories for me, when I was younger and there was nothing else that mattered but bikes and your mates.
“Papa Jim” Brewer was most likely a friend of the BFMC, not a member.
His stores were actually published in a couple of “Moto Monterey” newsletters as that’s where I originally obtained them. Used OCR to scan both stories into text files. I first posted them to the rec.motorcycle.harley newgroup, and they then started circulating all over the internet.
I was contacted by the BFMC a whole bunch of years ago, and asked to include a disclaimer as they didn’t have any records of “Papa Jim” Brewer as a member.
Those stories were eventually published in Chapter 12 of “The Original Wild Ones” softbound book.
Thanks for that, as mentioned I tried to get in touch with “Moto Monterey” but couldn’t find any current contact info. I’ll add this to the article.
the reference to the B-25 aircraft sounds as though it has no basis. That’s unfortunate, as it may be true
The story I have is a drunk & non member named Walt Porter named the club in 1946, so where did this aircraft story stem from
Hi, this is Del Kuhn’s wife, Vicky. Del Kuhn, who is almost 87, ( I’m adding: plus a Natl. AMA inducee, won the Bear Run in 52 & the only Greenhorn 3 time winner) saying that he ‘knows a little about racing.’
He wants to share his views on this article contructively. He was a Hill Topper from Long Beach, Ca.in the 1940s & 50s & knew many of guys listed. He’s still sharp and while reading this article, says, though you have the gist of the Bear Run itself, there are a lot of errors in how it went down, guys were NOT working on their m/c on blankets or anything, they WERE ready! Plus some the ID photo captions are also incorrect. Example: A photo that looks like the guys are running to their mc is NOT the Bear Run but a field meet, guys competing in 1 of the contests they had. We have a LOT of photos and even film/video of similar events. Another of your photos says ‘Aub LeBard'(Del’s idol) with the trophy at Catalina in 1951 but it’s really Feets Minert. He’s glad that people are interested in the ‘old days of mc racing’ and said there’s not too many of ‘us old riders around.’ He said the article isn’t bad considering that the writer probably got it second hand but glad that there’s effort & interest.
We were just looking for another site when we came across yours. Long live m/c riders. May you all age like a vintage m/c and keep your ‘engines’ running smooth.
Vicky, much thanks for the response: I should reiterate that I didn’t write the original articles, they were written for / published in a newsletter called “Moto Monterey” back in 1991: likewise, the photos were contributed by Wingnuts MC. Both may well contain inaccuracies, but I don’t have the knowledge or facilities to correct them myself and rely on folks like you and Del to set the record straight. I will edit the post to include your comments, and if you would like to contribute anything further to the blog I’m sure our readers would be very appreciative. Please feel free to contact me through email at firstname.lastname@example.org 🙂
That is a great right up, but one question, there is a MF posted above, what does that mean or where did it come from?
I don’t understand your reference to “a MF” ?
“Papa Jim” James Harry Brewer was my father. He passed away in 2008. We grew up hearing the motorcycle stories! He wrote this story later in his life. 🙂 I have never heard him refer to himself as “papa Jim” other than in this instance. He was known fondly as Jumpin’ Jim. Feel free to email me if you desire any further information.
Thank you for the comment. I’d love to read and/or publish any of his other stories that you may have.