Cycle through history
Until the building was demolished, Boy Scout Troop 38 of Ephrata met in the basement of the old Washington Avenue Elementary School.
Boy Scout troops are divided into patrols, and at that time, one of 38’s patrols was The Snoozers. A member of that patrol was Harley Davidson. I know, I was patrol leader of The Snoozers.
Harley’s dad was a part of an informal motorcycle club which met behind the house on the northwest corner of Maple and Franklin Street in Ephrata. There, they tinkered with their Indian and Harley Davidson bikes, strapped on their kidney belts, donned their leathers, and roared off on gypsy tours. Local legend has it that Harley’s father named his son hoping the company would give him a new bike. They did not. But Harley seemed to enjoy the moniker, although when I met him later in life he was riding a British made BSA.
I can think of no good reason why the Cocalico Valley should be a hub of motorcycle activity. Ephrata Cycle and Sports is one of two Honda dealerships in Lancaster County. Frank’s, JR’s, RTS Cycle Werks and Superior Motorcycle Repair are highly respected dealer/supplier/repair/maintenance facilities. If your tastes run to custom made choppers you can have your wildest dreams built on two wheels at The Jebby Shack in Akron. The longest standing motorcycle club in Lancaster County, Garden Spot Motorcycle Club, has its facilities on Rt. 272 between Reamstown and Adamstown. And, of course, anyone who lives along Main Street in Ephrata is aware of the First Sunday gathering at the American Legion.
When a bunch of enthusiasts gather in a garage you have the seeds of a club. In 1936, eight bikers gathered after work at Shorty Enck’s bicycle shop in Akron to fiddle with their temperamental Indian Motorcycles. In 1939, they registered with the American Motorcycle Association (AMA) as the Garden Spot Motorcycle Club. Their first meeting house was in a garage behind the Orioles Club in Denver. At the time, racing was a big part of the program. They sponsored AMA-sanctioned races and time trials at Wingenroth Meadows near Denver. One of the founding members, Walter Troxel, was killed in a race at the Reading Fairgrounds. As club activities increased, they moved from the Denver garage to an old trolley car in Stevens. In 1950, the current location was bought and the existing building expanded to the current club house. Over the years the club has had its high and low moments, but renewed interest in motorcycles has swelled numbers.
The racing tradition continues with club sponsorship of members who race at Timonium, MD. The club sets up riding excursions both within Pennsylvania and to adjoining states. There are social events and at least three local, and round robin, “Poker Runs.” This takes a bit of explaining.
A course is marked out with dollops of lime at turning points. Rules of clubs differ but, for example, one mark may mean turn right, two turn left. At points along the course there will be a can containing some item such as bottle caps, nuts, bolts, cards etc. The rider retrieves one of these items to prove the route was correctly followed. The course ends at the club house where tokens are traded for cards from a poker deck. The rider with the highest hand wins the prize. In the past, trophies were given &tstr; these days it is equipment or a gift certificate to a supplier. The Garden Spot Motorcycle Club is a family-oriented organization who invites anyone who loves motorcycles to join the fun.
According to Charles (Chuck) Aughinbaugh, owner of Ephrata Cycle and Sport, the Honda dealership, the First Sunday motorcycle gathering at the American Legion in Ephrata is one of the three largest scheduled gatherings of riders in the country. According to a representative of the Legion, they routinely serve 1,500 breakfasts on the first Sunday of the month. I have seen the parking lot, Cocalico Street, and the baseball diamond behind the pool full to the creek. Riders come from a 100-mile radius to talk and mostly show off their rides. If you have any interest in machinery you should take a look. Some of the bikes are beyond belief. I have two stories on the origins of the gathering.
A co-worker in the late 1980’s was a regular attender with his club. He claimed the gathering started when The Cloister Diner offered free breakfast on the first Sunday of the month to anyone riding a motorcycle. Aughinbaugh contradicts on good authority. He remembers getting together four or five bikes in the mid ‘80s and running down to The Cloister Diner for breakfast. It is agreed that the gathering started in the parking lot of the Cloister Diner and spilled over into the larger lot at Moyers/Gerber. When the property became The Ephrata Business Center, the parking lot became unavailable and visiting riders were invited to the parking lot of the American Legion.
It was following one of the First Sunday gatherings that my brother met one of the Cocalico Valley’s true characters. They decided get breakfast at Dave’s Dinner in Adamstown. Cassie Kochel, there celebrating her 90th birthday, noticed the bike and started a conversation. Later we met at her home in Adamstown, a place full of the many trophies she and her husband won riding Harleys since 1946. Among her pictures were the two of them in riding trousers, high lace boots, kidney belts and peaked caps. In another picture, they were posed in their black Pagoda Motorcycle Club uniforms perched on their full dress Harley. She is still a member of several clubs although she no longer rides. She is living motorcycle history, still full of the joy of the ride.
In the 55 years I have been riding motorcycles the sport has changed. The roaring Harley that passes you is more likely driven by an accountant or the Mayor of Lancaster than a longshoreman or construction laborer. The club colors on the sleeveless vest are more likely to be that of the Christian motorcycle club than the Sons of Satan.
And the destination of a club ride is more likely to be an ice cream parlor than a bar.