Hollister Independence Rally

A Road Trip and a 70 Year Legacy

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By Perry and Traci Nelson


Well here we go; Traci and I venture off from the 119 degree heat in the desert,  also known as Phoenix, Arizona; we chose to travel at night. Because the trip was over 1,500 total miles we planned to stop in Los Angeles to visit my cousin. So that cut the trip travel time in half each way.  

If done correctly you can have a really fun motorcycle trip through Arizona and California in the summertime. Bring plenty of water and watch your cell phone weather channels for updates, these are your best friends on a trip like this.

We did run into some wind which is really hard to predict because you cannot see it on your cell phone using a weather app –there is no app that tells you what the gusts are right outside of Palm Springs California through the 29 Palms area. Common sense however would tell you that if there are 1,000 windmills in that particular area chances are it’s going to be pretty windy…So I put tighter clothing on with less wind resistance. We were loaded down and our Road King was handling it pretty well.

This is one of the longest trips we’ve taken on our 2013 Harley-Davidson Road King that we bought from Rick and Julie Hatch’s Eagle-Rider in Tempe, AZ. Rick set us up with a nice windshield and running lights which really helped. I would not do a long trip without a windshield. The windshield really helps to protect Traci n me from not only the rain, but wind, bugs, birds, rocks, and any debris that flies up. The need factor for a windshield became very relevant when a golf ball-sized bug smashed into the windshield at 80 mph.

Driving through California was to say the least enlightening.  We were prepared for the traffic jams but it’s been awhile since I white-lined and everybody on a motorcycle in California white-lines. Unlike Arizona where if you attempt to white line the cars and trucks move towards the line more so you can’t get through. So I was shocked that what seems outright crazy in Arizona, seems absolutely normal and is widely accepted in California.  And other drivers are nice about it…huh?  People from Arizona like us are really not used to this …ok I’m going to keep rolling on this…

For our S/W friends traveling through California: NOBODY on a motorcycle stops behind a car or truck during gridlock on California freeways…Everybody I saw for about the 2 hours we were in traffic, white-lines… or as Cali’s call it, lane splitting.

When we got into town on Thursday we went to go check out “Johnny’s” a bar that was in the 1953 movie “The Wild One.” It’s hard to miss with a bigger than life-size photo/poster of Marlon Brando out front in his biker threads from the movie.  Hollister is the birthplace of the bad boy biker image the movie glamorized, but nowadays those attending are more mild than wild, and just want to enjoy a party with great music and motorcycles to look at.  The Hollister Police Dept. prohibits any weapons in the event area to make sure it stays that way.

We did look up a little history on Hollister. Hollister was put on the map after World War 2. What was reported on at the time as “The 1947 Hollister Motorcycle Riot” was not really as reported. On July 4, 1947, 4,000 ‘Straight-Pipers’ rode into Hollister. Their plan was to party and watch the races. The partying got a little out of control. The local police stated at the time that the bikers “did more to harm themselves than they did to the town.”

The press, including Life Magazine, blew the story up. The events were portrayed in the movie “The Wild One” with Marlon Brando. Keeping in mind motorcycles had been around for 40 years with no real prejudice against motorcyclists… well… that all changed after this blown up story and movie. The stereotypical “bad news biker” was born. There were only seven Hollister police officers in Hollister on July 4, 1947.  

Not unlike today, local merchants who were there during the first rally in 1947 welcomed the extra revenue brought into the Hollister economy. A few folks we spoke with who were there in 1947 described it best:  

1) Catherine Dabo and her husband owned a hotel in Hollister at the time– “We were totally booked.  Every room was full, we had people sleeping in the halls, in the lobby, but they were great people; we had more trouble on some regular weekends! I was never scared; if you like people, they like you. Maybe if you try telling them what to do, then look out! The motorcycles were parked on the streets like sardines! I couldn’t believe how pretty some of them were. It was great for our business; it gave us money we needed to pay our debts, and our taxes. They all paid for their rooms, their food, and their drinks.”

2) Bertis ‘Bert’ Lanning, local mechanic at the time: “Main Street was packed, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as the papers said. There was a bunch of guys up on the second floor of the hotel, throwing water balloons. I didn’t see any fighting or anything like that. I enjoyed it. Some people just don’t like motorcycles, I guess.”

3) August ‘Gus’ Deserpa, lived in Hollister at the time. He was the smiling young man seen in the background of the famous ‘Life Magazine’ photo: “I saw two guys scraping all these bottles together, which had been lying in the street. Then they positioned a motorcycle in the middle of the pile. After a while this drunken guy comes staggering out of the bar, and they got him to sit on the motorcycle, and started to take his picture. I thought that wasn’t right, and I got around against the wall, where I’d be in the picture, thinking that they wouldn’t take it if someone else was in there. But they did anyway. A few days later the papers came out and I was right there in the background.”

4) Mark E. Gardiner, not at the rally: “From late Friday afternoon to early Sunday morning, the overwhelmed Hollister police (and many bemused residents) watched the ‘straight pipers’ stage drunken drags; wheelie and burnout displays; and impromptu relay races right on main street. Most of them ignored the sanctioned races going on at Memorial Park. In total 50-60 bikers were treated for injuries at the local hospital. About the same number were arrested. They were charged with misdemeanors; public drunkenness, disorderly conduct, and reckless driving.  Most were held for only a few hours. No one was killed or raped; there was no destruction of property, no arson, or looting; in fact, no locals suffered any harm at all. On Sunday, 40 California Highway Patrol officers arrived with a show of force and threats of tear gas. The bikers scattered, and returned to their jobs.”

Back to the present:  Official Celebrity Rally Host Erik Estrada, star of the iconic TV series “CHiPs” which ran from 1977-1983, was onsite speaking with attendees too. Erik has appeared in numerous shows and movies both in the US and internationally.  Life has fulfilled his original interest to be a police officer; after his TV role as a CHP officer, he has served as a real life full time deputy sheriff with Bedford County, VA and as a reserve police officer in Muncie, Indiana and St. Anthony, Idaho.  While on duty he’s been filmed patrolling on a police motorcycle, putting his skills and background to good use in this real life ‘role’. Erik has also served as the international “face” of D.A.R.E.  

Here at Hollister, Mayor Ignacio Velasquez spent about five hours with Erik during the Rally, catching up– When he was 13 years old in Los Angeles, Ignacio was in a group of BMX bicycle riders who actually appeared in several episodes of CHiPs! There is a new CHiPs Movie that came out March 24, 2017 where Frank ‘Ponch’ Poncherello (Erik’s part) is played by Michael Pena. There are a lot of motorcycle stunts in the movie like the original series…well maybe a little fancier. I remember the original series CHiPs  where they had those big old Kawasaki bikes.  

We had a wonderful lunch at the Running Rooster; one of the top 5 home made Avocado Pizzas I’ve had.  

We went back to the event area Saturday morning and the Rally was on fire. There had to be 50,000 more bikes than on Friday. We checked out Monty Perlin’s Globe of Death and Stunt Show, bought souvenirs, checked out some cool bands, and some of the coolest bikes in California lined up 3-wide.  

The Corbin IMBBA Sanctioned Bike Show and Slow Bike Races were opportunities to compete and win or admire the skills involved, and you could enjoy performances by Skynnyn Lynnyrd (Skynyrd tribute, featured on Quick Throttle’s Band Page), Charlie Brechtel Band, Cruella (Motley Crue tribute), Caravanserai (Santana tribute), and many more. A ton of things to see and do 70 years in the making.   

2018 will be the start of the next 70 years at Hollister Independence Rally.  Be there and be a part of the NEXT 70 year legacy of Hollister Independence Rally.

Check more pictures from this year’s Rally in our Gallery at quickthrottle.com   

*Photo of Erik Estrada with Skynnyn Lynnyrd-  Skynnyn Lynnyrd Facebook.

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