Rides, Rallies and Events Recap

Ham ‘N Jam – Peoria, Illinois

Written by  July 31, 2005

“It's all for the kids,” said a sweaty Mike Loveless with a broad smile on his face and a gleam in his eye. It was curious that he was in such a good mood, considering he was hobbling around on a broken foot (suffered earlier in the day) in 90+ degree heat, scrambling to put the finishing touches on the setup for this year's Ham 'N Jam. Loveless is the Director of Crusaders for Kids, and this was their biggest event of the season.

Ham 'N Jam is an annual motorcycle rally, festival and musical show put on by Crusaders for Kids, a children's charity in Peoria, Illinois. This year it was held on July 8 and 9 in Mapleton, a bedroom community just outside of town. This was the sixth annual Ham 'N Jam and their first year at this venue, but according to Loveless, it won't be their last.

“These people have been fantastic! They've made a great place for us and they support us 100%.” He was referring to the owners of “The Corner Farm,” where the event was held. It's a sometimes farm combined with a part-time event facility, with steel buildings and plenty of open ground. Bring in one of the best mobile sound stages in the Midwest,
a bunch of generators, national musical acts to perform, tons of volunteers to help, and sponsors like Miller Lite, Jack Daniels, and Southern Comfort, and you have the makings for the best biker party this area has ever seen.

It soon becomes evident that the phrase “It's all for the kids” is almost a mantra, as it is chanted over and over by the unlikeliest of people all weekend. Bikers, radio DJs, musical acts, food and drink vendors, bartenders, and off-duty policemen and firefighters. An eclectic group to be sure, but each time someone says it they have a
look in their eye and a tone in their voice that shows they believe it. The setting is beautiful, the smell of barbecue fills the air, and the sounds of motorcycles mix with music coming from the stage. Club members readily set aside their colors, hundreds of volunteers answer questions and provide assistance - and everywhere is a non-stop party.

Loveless explained the charity's beginnings and its purpose. “I had put together a few local charity poker runs, and donated the proceeds to a burn camp for kids. When you give, say, $10,000 to a national charity, you would normally feel pretty good. But compared to the millions given by corporations, our donations were pocket change.”

Bob Hirsch is Crusaders for Kids' treasurer and co-founder, and he added, “So I was listening to Mike complain about how this money was being raised here but spent elsewhere, and it struck me that we could help the local kids with the money we raise.” Thirty days later, Hirsch asked Loveless to meet him at a local bar, and handed him a stack of papers. “What if we held one hell of a biker party, and gave all the
money to local kids?” he asked. Loveless looked down to see the 501(c)(3) paperwork, filing Crusaders for Kids as a not-for-profit charitable organization, and smiled. The venture needed three board members, and Chris Anderson was only too happy to join in.

And, raise money and have a hell of a biker party they do. Ham 'N Jam boasts “The Largest Poker Run in the Universe” (they've never been challenged on that claim), which was attended by 1100 bikers this year and stretched over 100 miles. They have nationally known musical acts such as Molly Hatchet, April Wine and Rick Derringer. There are always two nights of musical events - on Friday, the blues, and on Saturday,
rock and roll. Don't forget the massive beer tent, burnout competition, wet T-shirt contests, 50/50 drawings, bike raffle (featuring two bikes), vendors and the whole works.

The attendance has steadily grown over the six years Crusaders for Kids has held it, and this year was bigger than ever. Over 5,000 bikers roared past the cornfields and rural roads to attend the event, along with lots of people in cages. Many camped in tents or RVs right on the grounds. The event started on Friday afternoon and charged without
pause through Sunday morning.

It's no wonder Ham 'N Jam is beginning to gain national attention, as it is probably the most affordable rally you can attend all year. Participation in the poker run gets you entrance to the grounds, or you can just pay the $10 at the gate. Beer sells for $2 a can, mixed drinks for $3, and Butch Epley runs “The Snake Pit,” where you can get a
complete barbecue meal (slow-smoked all night right at the venue) for $3 a plate. Camping is free with admission.

Corporations are starting to take notice as well, as Crusaders for Kids gets donations and sponsorships from OneSource, Caterpillar, Trilogy Apparel, J&T Transportation Services, Advanced Audio, DC Cycles, Suzi Davis Travel, The Ultimate Tan, Iron Hustler Excavating, Wind and Fire, Reiman's Harley-Davidson, local police departments and firefighters, and many others. Additionally, media outlets 97.3 River Country, Rock 96.5, and WXCL 104.9 promote the event.

Loveless, Hirsch, and the countless volunteers have promoted Crusaders for Kids for exactly the right reasons, and have kept their word by donating every cent of the proceeds to local children. “Our first rally, which was nothing more than a few local bands playing on a flatbed trailer, raised about $12,000, and we used it to refurbish a wheelchair, to add some lifts to handicapped vans, to pay some medical bills, and to donate to some other local groups,” said Loveless. Since then, we have donated over $110,000 to local kids. It's very gratifying, and it makes all the work worthwhile to see a grown man
break down in tears because you helped his child.”

”Without fail, they always ask us how they can ever repay us for the generosity that the biker community has shown them,” said Hirsch. “And we tell them that we want nothing in return, however, most of them start coming to our planning meetings and volunteer to help.” In fact, about half of the volunteers at the rally have been touched in some way by
the organization's assistance. Even Friday night's emcee, a local radio DJ, stopped the show to thank Crusaders for Kids for helping her family with two of her brothers' medical needs.

I asked Loveless and Hirsch why people from outside the community should consider coming to an event that is geared toward helping the children around Peoria. Loveless shot back without hesitation, “Sick kids know no borders. Whether you are helping a kid across the street or across the country, the result is the same - a child who needs help gets it. And that's gotta make you feel pretty good.” Hirsch was quick to point out, “And, because it's a hell of a biker party!”

As I shook their hands and rode away, I noticed I had a wide grin on my face, and I'm sure I had a gleam in my eye. After all, I had just been to a hell of a biker party, it's all for the kids.

Story & Photos by Bruce Stimpson

Also make sure to check out these future events:
Hodge Run – September 24,2005
Frost Your Buns – April 1,2006
Ham 'N Jam – July 7-8, 2006