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ABATE of Kansas 29th Annual National Labor Day Rally

Written by  September 30, 2004

While growing up in my hometown of Wathena, Kansas, at least once or twice a month during the summer, my family, friends and relatives would make the trek to Paradise Point at Lake Perry, Kansas to camp, fish, ski and party. We’d load our Honda 100cc motorcycles in the back of Dad’s old Chevy truck; tie the Jon boat to the top of a homemade truck rack my Dad had built, hook up the camper, and off we’d go.

Our caravan normally consisted of a few trucks pulling campers and boats, and there was even an old school bus our cousins had converted into a makeshift RV. I’m sure we looked like some kind of ragtag circus freak show going down the road, but we didn’t really care. Each camping trip to Lake Perry was an adventure of its own, and often included weather ranging from the occasional shower to a couple of full-blown tornados. Even today, it seems that many storms originate or come through Lake Perry, which is why I think it may very well be the Bermuda Triangle of the Midwest.

Labor Day weekend was always a popular time to visit the lake, and as far back as I can remember, that weekend always seemed to be popular among the bikers. We’d see them riding their Harleys all around the lake, but never really knew what was going on. Over 20 years later, I put two and two together and figured out the gathering of bikers I saw as a kid was the ABATE of Kansas National Labor Day Rally, which this past Labor Day weekend celebrated it’s 29th anniversary.

If you enjoy a good old fashioned biker get-together, this is the place to be. As soon as I pulled off Highway 92 and made my way through the registration area and into the campground, I felt as if I’d just ridden through a time warp and was back in the '70s. I’ve never seen so many Shovelheads, Panheads and Knuckleheads in one place at the same time! The entire campground was a virtual museum of new and vintage Harleys, Triumphs, Nortons, and about every other model of bike you could imagine. To say I was in HOG heaven would be an understatement.

I cruised down the main road through camp, known by many as “pervert row,” which I’ll explain later, and pulled into a grassy field behind the showers and handicap restrooms. Our plan was to hook up with John and Barb Small, owners of Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Shop, who had gotten there early and setup camp with several of their friends and fellow riding buddies. When we pulled into camp, I noticed a shiny new Big Dog Chopper parked next to several Harleys and a large RV trailer. I’d heard that John traded his Texas Chopper in on a Big Dog Chopper and knew the bike had to be his. Everyone was sitting in the shade of the RV and under a canopy that had been setup between the tents. After being introduced to everyone, I helped John and Carol Diaz setup their new tent. Since they had such a large tent, they had graciously invited me to roll out my sleeping bag on one side of the tent, which worked out great because I didn’t have to pack a tent on my bike.

Once we had setup camp, I grabbed my camera and John, Carol and I headed down the road toward the field events that was already underway. On the way there, I found out why they called the main drag through the campground, “pervert’s row.” Almost every camp along this strip had a large “Show Your Tits” sign facing the road. Some signs were handmade, while others looked as if they’d been professionally printed. I’m not sure if the signs were really necessary, because there was no shortage of nude and topless riders making their way up and down the strip. As we walked up the street, I stopped in to chat with several groups of partiers who were all more than happy to have their photos taken. I really enjoyed a visit with a group from Black Rose Machine Shop in Omaha, Nebraska, who had come down for the festivities. They had several cute girls in their group and also supplied me with a rum and coke to go. As I was just leaving their camp, a naked old man on a motorized standup scooter came buzzing down the road. When he saw my camera, he stopped and proudly posed for the camera. That’s just wrong!

After watching the field events, we made our way down another road toward the vendor area and main stage where Head East and several other bands would be playing later that evening. On the way there, we ran into Lydia and Wanda, who volunteered to lift their shirts for a snapshot. We also ran into John Kurtz, who had just pulled up on his ’49 Panhead with sidecar. Lydia, who was still heading in the same direction, told John that she loved Panheads and graciously peeled off her top to climb aboard his bike for another photo. As we got close to the vendor area, we ran into Tony, the ABATE District #8 Representative, who was eager to talk with us, even though he was just about to sit down to a big plate of cheese-covered nachos. I asked him about his orange Sturgis County Jail T-shirt and he mentioned that he would probably catch hell for being out of uniform.

As we walked through the vendor area, I noticed a dunk tank with a topless lady wearing a huge pair of sunglasses. Under the shade of a huge tent, Gayle Richards was cranking out some great biker jams and I quickly determined the vendor area was as good a place to people watch as 'pervert’s row.’ I couldn’t help but notice a small but aggressive group of ladies who were sporting their own sign demanding the guys “Show Your Dick Now!” Although it wasn’t totally unexpected, I was still a little surprised at how many guys were happy to oblige. That’s when things began to get a little out of hand, as the dick hunters turned their attention toward me. I tried to explain to them that I was a media professional and it would be unethical for me to participate in their continuous search of the male anatomy, but that didn’t seem to deter them. Before I knew it, they attacked like a school of hungry piranhas. Their hands were fumbling for my belt buckle and zipper, while I continued to snap photos and attempted to reason with them. When I turned around, I’d noticed that John Diaz, my wingman had taken off in a run up the street. He said later that it was not that he wanted to leave me to fend for myself, but because he was only wearing gym shorts and most of the dick hunters were bigger than he was. I finally talked them into letting me go in exchange for a group shot with me in the middle.

On the way back to camp, I met Justin Wiles who showed me his ’76 Kawasaki chopper. Justin pointed out a dent in his gas tank and explained that some idiot in a cage had run into his bike earlier that day and knocked it over. Even though his bike suffered a little damage, I noticed it didn’t stop him from entering the bike show the following day. Way to go, Justin!

Before reaching camp, I also had the pleasure of meeting Jennifer and her dog, Lou Cie Laver. When we got back to camp, everyone was still partying hard, and we joined in as we waited for night to fall so we could head back to the stage to see Head East play. As the night came, people got even more wild and crazy. The tent next to the stage was now filled to capacity and everyone was dancing, partying, and a good majority of the women were dancing on the tables and displaying their “wares.”

When Head East took the stage, everyone headed over to watch the show, and I managed to weasel my way to the front row so I would have a good shot of the stage. When the band took a break, it was time for the wet T-shirt contest. As expected, the wet T-shirt contest quickly turned into a fully nude dance contest. A perky young girl, who could have made the Olympics team, stole the show as she dazzled the crowd with a series of back flips and other acrobatic maneuvers. I especially enjoyed her midair version of the splits.

After the band had finished playing and the guys rolled their tongues back in their heads, we staggered back to our tents and passed out. The next morning it was cloudy and looked like rain, so we figured we’d hit the bike show, grab some breakfast, and I opted for getting the hell out of dodge before the rain hit. John and Carol decided to stick around, so I headed back to Kansas City on my own against one hell of a crosswind coming out of the south.

According to John and Carol, the hurricane hit that evening, so they made their way to the main tent to watch the craziness because the rain had forced everyone together. They partied in the tent all night before retiring to their own tent. The next morning was apparently a huge muddy mess and several riders dumped their bikes trying to get out of the muddy fields and onto the roads. John and Carol safely made their way out and made it home OK.

I had a great time at this year’s rally, met lots of interesting people, took hundreds of photos, and handed out lots of business cards so everyone could see their photos in our October issue.

If the ABATE of Kansas National Labor Day Rally sounds like fun, go to your calendar now and write it down. You don’t have to be an ABATE member to attend, but since this is a great organization, I highly recommend it. For more information about ABATE or to join, check out their web site.

Take care, and I’ll see you at the 30th Anniversary rally on Labor Day weekend in 2005!

Story by Mike Schweder

Photos by Mike Schweder and Leonard Filley