First Annual Wallowa County Thunder Run

It started as a dream, and that dream turned into a whisper, and the whisper turned into a chorus of thundering motorcycles as the men and women who rode them descended upon the towns of Joseph and Enterprise, Oregon for the First Annual Wallowa County Thunder Run.

For the four days from August 21st (Thur) to August 24th (Sun) at the Wallowa County Fairgrounds in Enterprise, The Wallowa County Thunder Run (WCTR) had a full schedule of events with the highlight of this year’s run being the unveiling of the “Bronze Bike.”

The citizens of Wallowa County opened their arms and extended the welcome mat to all those who ride their chrome and steel machines. With a picturesque backdrop of the Wallowa Mountains, (often referred to as “The Alps of Oregon”) there are plenty of breathtaking, scenic views to experience as you ride the beautiful countryside. There are some 4,000 square miles of mountainous range consisting of the Wallowa Mountains in the northeast, and the Blue Mountains in the eastern part of the range.

The people of Wallowa County get it that tourism is their livelihood. What used to be a logging community during the 80’s suffered economically as heavy restrictions were placed on that industry. The area started to rely more on tourism, and with the help of the opening of three bronze factories in 1985, along with its already existing agricultural base, the economy stabilized.

Artist and motorcyclist, Dick Cross, had the dream to create a life-sized motorcycle made from bronze which would be a tribute bike honoring all bikers from the past, present, and future. Gary Bethscheider, principle promoter of the WCTR has always dreamed of bringing a motorcycle run to his community. The community as well, adopted the dream to have a life-sized motorcycle made out of bronze adorn their streets. With the creativity of the artist combined with Gary’s vision for the run, along with a herculean effort put forth by him, the financial support of his sponsors and volunteers, this year they made it happen!

Thursday, the campground opened for camping at 9 AM and the vendor area was in full-swing. Rattlesnake Harley-Davidson had set up shop, and there was a “BBQ Chicken and Beer Feed” at 6:30 PM. If you had served in the U.S. Armed Forces and had an ID card, your meal was free. Thank you for your service! Live music was played by “Wicked Mary” along with a special jam session with professional Country and Western singer Ron Keel, otherwise known as, “The Metal Cowboy.”

Friday was the big day, the highlight of this year’s run, the unveiling of the “Bronze Bike.” First, the American Legion provided an all you can eat breakfast for $10. There was a poker run sponsored by American Legion Post #43 that started at 9 AM and ended at the “Stubborn Mule” at noon where a pre-party for the unveiling of the Bronze Bike was already started.

It was a dream come true for artist Dick Cross with the unveiling of the bike at 1 PM. For seven years prior to the WCTR, “The Bronze Bike Rally” was held in Joseph annually, and some of the proceeds of the rally every year were supposed to be contributed to Dick for the completion of the “Bronze Bike.” Dick never received one dime, so with a heavy heart he decided to end the whole thing.

When Gary Bethscheider heard that, he decided to approach Dick to see if he could rekindle his dream of creating the “Bronze Bike,” and fulfill a dream of his own as well (which was to bring a motorcycle run to his community). Through his own means, and from the generous donations from his sponsors, “The Bronze Bike” was completed and unveiled to the public on August 24, 2014. It was decided that the “Bronze Bike” had to be finished before the run had started, rather than to try to funnel profits afterwards with the hope of raising enough money to do so. Now that’s integrity!

I had a chance to talk to Dick shortly before the unveiling. He is an “Old School Biker” who as an artist wanted to create a tribute bike that would honor all of those who ride. He was one of those who hired on to one of the bronze factories with the sole purpose of learning the process of creating art made from bronze. He told me that it had started one day while having a conversation with his good friend, “Cowboy.”

“I wonder if I can turn this piece of clay into a life-sized bronze bike? “ said Dick

“Well, you’re going to need a hell of a lot more clay than that in order to do it,” was Cowboy’s quick reply.

The “Bronze Bike” was more than just a piece of art, Dick told me. He encouraged everyone to sit on it and enjoy it. Many did so throughout the duration of the run and had their pictures taken. Even when it is finally given a place in the town of Joseph, people will be allowed to do the same.

After the unveiling of the spectacular Bronze Bike’ it was time for the parade. Fifty motorcyclists assembled to escort the Bronze Bike to the Wallowa County Fairgrounds from Joseph, which was 6 miles. They had a police escort and it truly was a chorus of thundering motorcycles. Everyone enjoyed live music by the bands “Homewreckr” and “Color Bind” that evening.

Friday it rained on and off, hard. Many of the participants hunkered down to wherever they were staying. It was a disappointment that the rain prevented many from going to the evening’s activities. There were five participants that arrived on Thursday, camped out for the entire weekend, and they never let their spirits get down due to the rain. They were Dave Olson and his girlfriend Kelli Carney, their good friend Trampus Dugan, and a couple of other bikers whom I only knew their first names: John and Wayne. Even after a night of partying, and discovering that the tent floor had six inches of rain, they kept their spirits high. Way to go guys!

On Saturday the American Legion once again had an all you can eat breakfast for ten bucks, and there was another 100 mile poker run. Rattlesnake Harley-Davidson had displays and plenty of giveaways. There was a 50/50 cash raffle at noon; and, Ron Keel performed from 12:30 to 2 PM.

The “Biker Games” took place at the outdoor arena in the fairgrounds. Screw the rain! Biker and winner of three events, Mark Boni and his wife, came to compete. One by one Mark destroyed the competition in the slow races. Anyone who rides knows that it takes a lot of skill to keep the bike moving forward without putting a foot down while the bike is going slow. Gary Bethscheider and his wife won two events, but the games were far from over.

Local boys, Geoff Nohr, and Greg “The Wildman”, along with Mark Boni, and a couple of other bikers had impromptu drag races. They all put on one hell of a show, and I’ve been told that it is going to be an integral part of nest year’s game. I can’t wait! For the rest of the day everyone partied, walked the grounds while shopping the vendors and looking over the “Show and Shine” competition. It was an enjoyable day and evening.

Sunday the vendor area opened once again, and as all good things come to an end, “Biker Church” was the last scheduled event on the agenda.

Gary Bethscheider and his supporters, along with his volunteer crew really cut their teeth putting on the event. There will be some changes made for the next year’s run, which I’m sure will be for the better. They plan on having it start on a Friday, and have more events scheduled for Sunday.

As the area is beautiful, and a wonderful place to ride, I can’t wait to be there for the next year. Put this one down on your calendar, August 20th to the 23rd of August, 2015 for Wallowa County Thunder Run. It will be a great time, and I’ll see you there!