When several good things come together, great things come out of it. We got to witness firsthand how spectacular that is.
By JD Gore and Jody Davison
When we were asked to cover an event, “Rockin’ the Red Horse” in Ellensburg, WA, we thought, sure, why not? We didn’t know what to expect. We had heard of it but didn’t have even the slightest idea of what was in store for us.
We knew that an old 1930’s service station and garage were converted into a 1950’s style bar and diner, and that it is family owned and managed by Bruce Crossett and his two daughters Nicole and Breanna. What we didn’t know is, that the Nodding Donkey Bar and the Red Horse Diner were two parts of one great destination, well worth the stop. We also didn’t know what a great time we would have and quickly realized that this is a must visit site for anyone in the area.
When we got into Ellensburg Friday afternoon, we were ready to park our bikes. The 320 miles were a joy and uneventful, minus the typical hard winds. We checked into the newly renovated Econo Lodge with a lake view, and unloaded. Our room looked inviting, but we wanted to get down to the Diner. We then took a short two-mile ride and found the Red Horse Diner, conveniently located from our hotel. Our first impression was WOW! What a cool place. We walked the grounds outside; with the nostalgic gas pumps, signs and bikes parked out front there was an immediate consensus that we were glad we came. Then we walked into the Diner. I’ve never seen such a collection of classic old-time signs in my life. We were seeing familiar metal ad signs that took us back many years to our youth. So much to see and yet we have a mission, so we stopped our swivel-necking and searched for Nicole and Bree, to let them know we made it.
We found Bree tending to the Nodding Donkey Bar with a couple other gals. They were juggling drinks and orders of food as quickly as they could, as the place was buzzing. The line for drinks went out the door onto the back patio. We looked around back and could see the American Honey Band was setting up as they were scheduled on stage at 7:30pm. Nicole was exceptionally busy but stopped to say hello. It was obvious that the efforts by the Crossett family to swing such a big event wasn’t just an everyday task. Hard work and a passion went into this affair, one an entire family can enjoy. Jody and I were still reeling from our first impression and walked back through the Bar, then into the Diner, settling in at a table. We met up with Darrel and Sue Wright, sitting in a booth the four of us grabbed a bite. The food was quick and as tasty as you could imagine. Darrel and Sue were locals and shared their past experiences of great times and of the family environment at the Red Horse Diner and Nodding Donkey Bar.
We then headed out back as the band started up, leaving the diner full of bikers and locals. Just walking through the diner takes an effort. There is so much to recognize and find in the old memorabilia in every nook and cranny, it’s difficult to not stop and take it all in. The crowd out back had grown, with music lovers and couples playing games. The atmosphere was very festive and full of good cheer. The country sound of the band was great. After a few hours we called it a night and rode the short distance back to our hotel in the dark, the snow capped peaks of the Cascades to the north no longer visible. Saturday was going to be a full day of activities: food, drinks, bikes and a poker ride.
Saturday morning came with a check-in for the poker ride between 8 and 10am with many eating breakfast and prepping for the ride. One very cool aspect we noted is that there is room for RV’s and toy haulers to park on the grounds of Red Horse Diner. So those arriving with show bikes or just wanting to haul bikes there and then ride is an option. Tent & RV camping was an option this weekend too with many takers.
Inside the Nodding Donkey bar there were raffle tickets for a custom made quilt. The quilt had a Harley Davidson theme of old T-shirts. The funds for the quilt went to the local Nerdy Girls Robotic team. Nerdy Girls Robotics is a group of young teen ladies that design and compete in robotics. You can check them out on FB, they are a hip group of gals. A special shout out to Beryl Kelly of the One Wrench Garage, for making such a fantastic quilt.
The vendors, Motorcycle Outfitters and Psycho Wear had set up shop in the grass out back. Near the vendors, the VFW, BACA and Nerdy Girls had canopies up, shielding them from the sun so they could share their stories. There was going to be a 50/50 drawing later in the day for VFW post 683. The VFW is a great cause, it helps veterans in the community. And there were swag bags drawings as well for the lucky ticket holders. The biker party was beginning to kick off, as we could hear bikes starting up in front to begin the poker ride.
Kickstands up no later than 11am, the 166 poker riders were going to cover about 135 miles of mostly back roads and stopping at key locations. There would be a best and worst hand, so anyone had a chance. Another topic to mention is the fact that this event is open to the whole family. There aren’t any age restrictions to enjoy the diner, outdoor garden, vendor and live music area. Everyone is made to feel welcome. Later, after the bikes return from the poker ride, music and good times were rolling with the trains out back, and all were having a blast.
When the band stopped for a break, Bree and Nicole announced the winner of the best and worst poker hands. Cheers and jeers went up as their hands were called out and they walked up to collect. After the celebration for the poker hands quieted, they drew for the 50/50 drawing. That winner pocketed just over $400. The other half went to the VFW. Then the sisters with help from Nerdy Girls and Beryl, presented the quilt to the lucky winner. Everywhere you looked there was laughter. The comradery and just plain old fun party type atmosphere was indeed a joy. It was something you wish would just continue. The Road Fever band was hammering out some great old rock, when we settled onto our bikes and headed for the hotel. 11pm isn’t too late but the next day was going to be another full day.
Sunday morning started with cones in the parking lot, separating an area for bikes entered in the bike show to be parked. Men of Fire were selling some cool T-shirts and were partnered in the bike show providing the trophies. They’re very supportive of this event and their positive relationship with the Crossett family is evident. Walking around you get to talk with the owners of the bikes and recognize their personal flair that comes out in how they have customized their bikes.
In the background, live music had begun as the Nick Mardon Blues Trio band took the stage. One of the judges, Keith of Lacky Customs Rods, had a room next to ours and we had chances to visit this whole weekend. He was on a thirty-year old Road King with a 26” front tire that he rode from the Seattle area. The quality of the bike he built as well as his knowledge and friendly manner made him a perfect judge. I enjoyed Keith’s willingness to visit and admired his character. But in looking at the cool bikes, he was in for a tough job.
And the moment we all were waiting on was upon us. The winners in the four categories were, “Old School” Christopher Hoops with his 1961 HD FL. The “Best Bagger” went to Keith Brown and his 2013 HD Streetglide, painted with nightmarish clowns. The next winner took the final two trophies, “Best Custom” and “Peoples Choice”,handed to Jerry Penor for his version of a 2013 HD FLSTC Heritage. His white Heritage with pinstripe and “bedroll blanket stereo” was a head turner.
The trophies handed out and congratulations given, now was the next and final part of this event, time for us to leave. New friends were made and future adventures talked about and planned. All in all there was no official count on attendance. But I would guess there were at least several hundred. The people coming and going were constant like ocean waves. The parking lot was full of bikes and vehicles. At any given time, there seemed to be as many people inside as there were outside. One thing for sure, all attending were pleased.
As we were loading up our bikes a gentleman said we should take the Canyon Road from Ellensburg to Yakima, it would be well worth it. Well, we made it home and the parts that were well worth it were too numerous to count. But we can assure you, next year we will return to The Red Horse Diner and Nodding Donkey Bar. We will take Canyon Road. And we will enjoy the hospitality, good times and music provided by the Crossett family, Men of Fire, the new and future friends on this journey to such an amazing destination.