Once a year there is an event that should not be missed. It’s called ‘The Old Timers Motorcycle Banquet’. Back a few years ago it was held at the Holiday Inn in Wilsonville, Oregon. We would fill the lobby with leaky bikes and stand around and chat about the ‘good old days.’ During a dinner of rubber chicken and broccoli that you couldn’t cut with a sharp knife, speakers told of their lives in the motorcycle world. It was the people who spoke and everyone else that attended that made the event worthwhile.
One year as I was ‘glad-handing’ my way from table to table, I came across some fellows wearing the same blue sweaters. The Flying Fifteen Motorcycle Club. I had heard of this club and I knew that it had a rich history, so naturally I wanted to join. Without so much as introducing myself or any other formality, the first thing I said was: “I want to join, where do I sign up?” My request was met with a series of requirements and by-laws that I knew I would never be able to fulfill. I slunk away dejectedly, feeling a little too old, too fat, too something; I just didn’t know what. I knew a couple more stiff drinks would help, so the bar was my next stop. My attitude was adjusted and I re-entered the banquet hall with a renewed confidence.
Having learned a valuable lesson, I came upon another table of men all wearing the same green & white baseball jersey. The Boozefighters Motorcycle Club. I introduced myself and then made the following statement: “If I buy all of you a Bud Light, can I join your club?” The answer was yes and I was invited to sit down. Throughout the course of the evening, and many Bud Lights later, I learned that this club was created by former airmen after WWII. They would ride around California staging impromptu races, hill-climbs and tours. In 1947 they found themselves in Hollister, California, looking for a little fun. What they got was a write-up in Life magazine with a phony picture showing a guy on his bike amid a sea of beer bottles. It didn’t help that the incident was made into a movie called the “Wild One” starring Marlon Brando and Lee Marvin. Everything was blown out of proportion for the movie world and a ‘legend’ was born.
One of the original founders of the Boozefighters Motorcycle Club, along with John Cameron, was William Forkner ( aka Wino Willie ). He served in the Pacific Theater during WW ll as a waist gunner/engineer on a B-24 Liberator. This aircraft was a four engine heavy bomber that saw action in Europe as well. Many were shot down, with the loss of the ten man crew, while fighting to secure the Allied victory. Naturally these airmen wanted some ‘action’ when they got back home, and motorcycles provided just what they needed. Wino had a bike before he went onto the service, so naturally a bike was first on the list when he was discharged. The motorcycles of the day were Harley-Davidson, Indian, Triumph, Velocette and almost anything else with two wheels and a motor. It wasn’t so much about what you rode in those days, it was just important that you were a ‘rider’. Most models of bikes were big and slow with lots of heavy fenders and other doodads. This led to a trend known as ‘bobbing’ or bikes called ‘Bobbers’. Striped down machines that would go faster because they were lighter. Wino and the boys rode all over California after the war and in 1947, Hollister was one of the stops during a Fourth of July weekend. What’s important is not so much what really happened that weekend. I mean other than the Life magazine article and the bitchen movie. What was important is that I spent the evening sitting with a real American hero. A no bullshit guy who has literally, ‘been there, done that’.
The crazy thing about the evening, as it progressed, was that the younger boys who were escorting Wino didn’t seem to care for me that much. While at the same time, Wino himself seemed to like me more and more. The whole thing ended at 4am in Wino’s room with 9 guys passed out on the floor ( you had to watch your step ). Willie and I were polishing off a bottle of cheap bourbon and Canada Dry ginger ale as a mix, and of course talking in voices that got louder and LOUDER. Finally DP, the leader of the younger crowd, sat up from his position on the floor and said; “Make him a member already! Anything to get him to stop talking, for Christ’s sake! We’ve got to get up in three hours, we need some sleep!” Well…….,I, Don Van Kirk ( aka Uncle Don ) am the only member of the Boozefighters Motorcycle Club in the state of Oregon . I belong to Pack 13, known as ‘The Nomads’. The member nearest to me lives in Bridgeport, Washington. The rest are scattered throughout Arizona, New Mexico and a few other SW states. ( read warm climate ) The main body of the current club is still in California and every year they return to Hollister on the Fourth of July. I have never been there, but a good friend, ‘Mr Happy’, rode his 800 Virago down for the fiftieth reunion in 1997. He remembers it being really hot, having a carnival-type atmosphere and way too may people. I don’t know if Wino Willie would have approved or not. He passed away three weeks prior to the event.
I get my green/white jersey out every so often and wear it out drinking and such. I never have worn it to a motorcycle event where it might actually get ‘recognized’ ( maybe someday ). I’m not afraid of showing my ‘colors’ and getting into a rumble or anything like that. It’s just that some things are bigger than wearing a T-shirt from the Hard Rock Cafe, Acapulco, to show people how cool you are. The part I like is that I knew Wino Willie and I matched him highball for highball of bourbon & ginger that night. That’s the real reason I’m a member, because Wino Willie made me one, not because I rode all over California with DP and the boys. ( and my mother said drinking wouldn’t get me anywhere )
God Speed Wino.
“You live the life, that you learn to accept” by Faye