BY ROBERT “COOCH” KUCZERA
There are the famous and the not so famous motorcycle legends. Jack Kirchgesler was a not so famous, but truly a legend. It was faith in how I met him seeking shelter until a hailstorm passed during Sturgis bike week of 2002. Whereupon he became a Sturgis friend and historian whom I visited for the last five years due to that accidentally meeting him… literally. Last year when I met him and for the first time his charming wife Mary Jo, I promised to write another article for his unknown version of the birthing of Sturgis Bike week and his motorcycling life. Sadly Jack Kirchegesler departed us this past March 3, 2008, at the age of 91. The story below is extracted from a Sturgis article I wrote back June/July 2004 courtesy of Chicagoland Motorcycle News now known as Gearhead News. Jack loved this story I as it was an accurate version of the birthing of Sturgis Rally and Races that he felt needed to be on record, from his eyes. He was proud when it was published. So in his memory the following story is slightly revised, to keep my promise to a special motorcycling friend that I met in Sturgis and became one of my reasons to return to Sturgis year after year. My motorcycling treks will be somewhat absent without his presence in his woodshop and our luncheons at the Golden Corral in Rapid City, but I will forever cherish his motorcycle tales and kindness, when I visited with him. Thank you, Jack for your friendship, and being one of the reasons for me returning to Sturgis annually.
In memory of Jacob B. “Jack” Kirchgesler 1917-2008
Why Do Motorcyclists Go To Sturgis?
Sturgis Rally and Races is coming upon us shortly. This rally is held early in August (8/4-8/10 for this year) and has been going on for 68 years. There are many reasons why we attend these motorcycle rallies year after year. It could be the riding the back roads of our beautiful nation, the racing, the bike shows, the parties or simply just your annual vacation plans. South Dakota simply has some of the most beautiful roads in the country for motorcyclist to enjoy. On any day you can head out to the faces at Mt. Rushmore, Custer State Park for possible buffalo sightings, the Badlands for white-sanded escapism or nearby Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. This rally has brought together one of the most recognized collection of motorcyclist across the nation because of its surrounding beauty, that, in of itself, makes it a travel destination. Those that return each year become life long friends. For me my reasons for going back to Sturgis annually are my friends Maynard Rude, Jack B. Kirchgesler, Don Abernathy forever know as “Pops”, and Karl “Big Daddy Rat” Smith.
Sturgis bound reason number two, Jack B. Kirchgesler.
Back in 2002 I was headed to the Sturgis Visitor Center to restock some motorcycle magazines for a company I used to work for and was hit by a Ford dually. Shooting across the street his front fender hit my crash bar and took me out. The accident is a whole another story. Fortunately basically I was okay, thank God for it not being my time. The bike was not. Another Sturgis friend, Maynard sent his son Lee to pick up my bike. After checking it out, Maynard stated the frame was tweaked and the front rotor and rim were bent, but he could have it ready for riding by the end of week. He offered me another bike from his shop, but being I was bruised and still somewhat shocked, I opted for a ride back to camp in his truck. When he dropped me off, he once again explained any of the bikes were available in his garage if I needed one. It took a couple of days of coaxing by (Don Abernathy Reason #3) to get out of the campground to have some fun. Eventually I borrowed an older 1200 Sportster from Maynard, just to get around. I figured the good Lord maintained my body parts, so why let this accident hold me back.
Midweek I was headed into Rapid City for the Brother’s of the Third Wheel Trike show. I attend each year to deliver some catalogs and promote the Rat’s Hole Custom Chopper Show at their gathering at the Berry Patch campground. Cruising down highway 90, all of a sudden one of the infamous hailing thunderstorms started crossing the Black Hills. Well, since this was not my bike, I had no rain gear, and absolutely no protection on a Sportster to ride out the elements. I needed to find protection. I had to pull off the highway and ended up on some side street. The crosswinds started flinging garbage cans, newspapers and the hail made driving dangerous. Still recovering from my accident I was not going to chance getting into another one! I pulled into a driveway for protection and to wait out the storm. An older gentleman poked his head out of his workshop doorway and invited me in. He immediately pointed to a metal sign on his wine cellar door, which read, Authorized Motor Harley Davidson Cycles-Kirk Cycle Co. We introduced ourselves and started talking motorcycles.
Jack B. Kirchgesler told me he had a motorcycle delivery service back in the late thirties and early forties and that he eventually became the first authorized Harley dealership in Rapid City, South Dakota, from 1941 until 1963. Jack mentioned he also was a longtime member of the Rapid Baron Motorcycle Club. The population of Rapid City is approximately 80,000.What directed that 1200 sportster into his driveway? Remember the old saying. “that things happen for a reason”.
I spent nearly four hours with this professor of motorcycling history in the Black Hills. His knowledge and memory amazed me, at that this time in 2002, he was 85 years young.
Jack has an unbelievable wealth of knowledge and adamantly contests the birthing of the Sturgis Rally and Races. Reviewing archives of old black and whites, it seemed plausible that the Rapid City Riders had been racing at the Sturgis fairgrounds before the Jack Pine Gypsies. But they were not recognized because they were not AMA sanctioned, thus making them outlaws. Learning that these outlaws (non-sanctioned AMA riders) might have birthed Sturgis was very marveling. Albums and albums of pictorial references supported his comments throughout the night. When asked if he knew Sturgis legend Pappy Hoel, he stated Pappy and he were bitter enemies. He stated, “Clarence, aka, Pappy Hoel had an Indian dealership and I had a Harley dealership”.
“He hated my guts, he did not like competition”, Jack said. Whereupon he showed me an old ad that Pappy had ran back in the day stating thirty reasons why Indian is the best motorcycle. Jack said that got him very mad so he gave them an answer. He showed me the ad he wrote in 1948 stating 80 reasons why Harley-Davidson is the most popular, largest selling and serviceable motorcycle.
Jack continued with his Harley dealership until 1963 and gave it up because of financial reasons .He is now settled down to making award winning Sturgis Wines (over 30years), and art from the autumn leaves of South Dakota. Last year a book,“The History of Motorcycling in the Black Hills”, was published and my friend Jack provided many of the vintage photos. It was dedicated to him and he advised me it was just an “okay” book. He stated someone still needs to tell the truth and that the book doesn’t. So I would like to tell you his story, right or wrong, of how Sturgis got started.
The Sturgis races started because of the Rapid City Motorcycle Riders. Among them a top rider by the name of Albert Nelson that raced at the Rapid City Fairgrounds for fun. The local horse club kicked them out of the Rapid City fairgrounds because all the commissioners claimed they were rutting the grounds for horses. So eventually, the riders would go up to the track in Sturgis where they then held car races.
This club of motorcycle racers known, as RPM (Rapid Pioneer Motorcycle), were just a bunch of local motorcycle riders who would race for fun. They were considered outlaws, as they were not sanctioned riders. The racing continued for several years in Sturgis. These motorcycle races were eventually taken over by locals from Sturgis. Jack stated. “These local people were Clarence Hoel and the Jack Pine Gypsies whose first sanctioned event was in 1938”. The Rapid City Riders had been racing for fun in Sturgis before that sanctioned event.
There is a picture in the Black Hills Motorcycling book in which some of the Rapid City Motorcycle riders are at a starting line. As I looked at the picture Jack asked me if I knew who the flag starter is in the picture. The motorcyclist back is turned and Jack indicates it is Pappy Hoel starting the outlaws at this particular race. If Pappy is the starter for the outlawed riders, did the Jack Pine Gypsies start the races in South Dakota?
I loved the dedication of Clarence Hoel’s wife, Pearl in keeping the Sturgis racing history alive about the Jack Pine Gypsies and her continuing goodwill to encourage all to enjoy the Black Hills. But this unknown storied version needed to get on the record for my friend Jack. Jack stated to me he was hoping someone would come by and write a story about the Sturgis races and how they got started, as he truly remembers.
Jack B. Kirchgesler comments are now on record. My statements are not as a historian but as a friend to Jack to tell the truth from his eyes. At his age (87 now) and having a retention bank to remember 80 reasons to buy a Harley. Why should I doubt another Sturgis unknown legend by the name of Jack B. Kirchgesler who was the first Harley Davidson dealer in South Dakota. I will not challenge Jack’s version as he gave me shelter, friendship, knowledge and a reason for returning to Sturgis year after year.
This gentleman has contributed to the true spirit of what motorcycling is about in South Dakota. Even though his name recognition is not like that of Jay Leno, Peter Fonda, or Branscombe Richmond, nor did he ever want to be. He deserves to be recognized as true a motorcyclist legend that became a life long friend, because we met at the Sturgis Rally and Races in August. Here’s hoping that someday he becomes part of the Sturgis Museum’s real history.
PS: This year when I arrive in South Dakota I will bring a photo and a story about our motorcycle tire knocking sessions at the Golden Corral in Rapid City, to be mounted permanently. Thereupon his story will be on record for all to see, of what an unknown legend knew about the History of Motorcycling in the Black Hills.
Godspeed to my Sturgis Friend…… Jacob B “Jack” Kirchgesler.