By Tracey “Gypsy” Kohman
I drove past it the first time. It was easy to do… there were only a few visible homes on that stretch of road. As it turned out their clubhouse wasn’t visible. As I came back around and pulled to the side of the road, I was greeted by a handwritten sign that said, “Bikes only, please call for a ride” with a phone number. The dirt road had no visible end.
About that time another car pulled over and a man got out and the car drove away… he greeted me with a huge friendly smile and said he had a ride coming and I could tag along down to the clubhouse. He showed me where to park my car and made small talk and in moments a man driving a mule appeared… I got into the front seat and the man who accompanied me sat in the back. Both told me the history of the long driveway to the clubhouse… our ride took probably about five minutes. In that time, I could see that both men were filled with pride when discussing the history of their club, the Niagara County Motorcycle Club.
At the end of the driveway a canopy was set giving shade to the men selling tickets. I was introduced to Kenny, who told me some stories about their club… including how one winter the members got on their bikes to help search for survivors of a plane crash… It was easy to see why they were all so proud to belong.
I stayed at the canopy with Kenny where I was introduced to the club prez, Russel, and watched as the bikes came down the dirt road and began to fill up the area around the clubhouse… I looked over the bikes, on one side were kickstart… older bikes with lots of personality… some on their way to being refurbished, some not, having retained their original beauty.
I continued to where the band was setting up to say Hi and tell them I would be videoing their performance. They were excited and welcoming. From the small stage I could get a good view of most of the clubhouse. Along the fence in the back were a couple motorcycles that were rusted out beyond recognition… near that was a wooden fence that created two makeshift restrooms, one men’s, one women’s… a nearby member was excited to show me the insides of them… about halfway across the yard there was a huge tree… with several bikes attached to it at varying heights… some were three-fourths of the way up the tree trunk.
I asked one of the passing members about this, who with a big smile told me, “Well they were all on the ground when they got put there.” He suggested I find Sean, “the guy who knows everything,” he could answer any questions I have.
I found my way to the clubhouse, where I met Sean. He eagerly escorted me through the clubhouse, showing me the pictures on the wall of old news articles, and some pictures of those who were members throughout the years. Beginning with Walter and Anna Kohl, who founded the club in 1940. They are the third oldest (active) club in New York, behind Yonkers MC (1903) and Springville Travelers (1937).
Referring to the plane crash in 1953, a small single engine plane carrying four students from Newfane, NY, and due to land in Arcade, NY, didn’t show up when it was expected to. At the time motorcycles were the closest things to off-road vehicles available, and several club members offered their services. In the snow, they joined the search efforts.
He went on to tell me how the clubhouse came to rest in the clearing where it now stands. In WWII it had been a temporary housing barracks for Nazi POWs. They purchased the knock-down structure from the Army Surplus at Niagara Falls Air Force Base in 1948. It was to be erected on a farm owned by Harry Schyler of Molyneux Corners. It took nearly a year to erect it… and it sits comfortably snuggled away in what used to be an orchard, in a clearing that seems almost untouched by time.
In August 1949, the club hosted their first official event at the clubhouse, the Annual Western NY Gypsy Tour and Rally. It lasted two days. Crowds gathered to take part in the events, including a scavenger hunt, contests and a movie. The club also served dinner to their guests.
About the bikes in the tree, Sean said, “All the bikes in the tree were Japanese motorcycles that had been burned and hung up there. I asked a thirty-year member, Ed Goodman (now passed) about it once. I asked, ‘How does one plant a motorcycle tree?’ He thought for a minute and replied, “A lot of acid I’d guess.”
Around me the clearing was filling up quickly. So much that parking space for bikes was running out. The entire event reminded me of an old fashioned family barbeque. They had games and contests where everyone was cheered on… they had burn-out pits, where they offered “free tire replacement” or “$100 gift certificate for a tire.”
Everyone had come together for a great time… fun… food… and to ride… and that’s what they got… A great time.