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Bill's Bash No. 5

Written by  September 30, 2004

Twice a year, once in the spring and then again in the fall, Bill Brown of Lenexa, Kansas is in heaven -- motorcycle heaven -- so-to-speak!

Brown, the motorcycle maintenance instructor at Johnson County Community College, has been riding motorcycles most of his life. His dad rode motorcycles. His brothers ride motorcycles. His wife Joyce rides a motorcycle. Bill's children and grandchildren ride motorcycles. To say, motorcycling is in his blood would be a gross understatement. Some might argue he has motorcycle oil flowing through his veins rather than blood.

“I've been riding as long as I can remember,” Bill says. “I had a Whizzer when they first came out. It didn't run very well, it always was breaking down, but I learned how to work on it and I enjoyed riding it everywhere.”

Bill considers himself lucky to be riding motorcycles today. Nearly 20 years ago, he was driving his car north on Highway 69 one night. It was two lanes at the time. Coming to the top of a hill near Louisburg, he saw oncoming car lights drifting into his lane. He kept turning to the right trying to avoid a collision. But the oncoming lights kept coming directly at him and they hit head on. He was conscious as he waited for emergency personnel to arrive and then cut him free from his car. His back was severely injured.

“Doctors told me they didn't know how I survived,” Bill recalls. “Then they told me I would never walk again, and that I probably would be a quadriplegic.” Pausing and reflecting on those words, he tenses his mouth tight to one side, raises one eye brow and then gives a nod with his head.

“I knew that wasn't going to happen,” he said. “My hands were my life, because I used them to work as a mechanic, and to build things. And I knew that I was going to have to walk again. The thought of not being able to ride a motorcycle again, well . . .”

Bill began a long, extensive, and agonizing rehabilitation period with one goal in mind: to get back to his normal life as soon as possible. “It was painful,” he said. “I would have to do exercises where they stretched my muscles to keep them from shrinking because I wasn't able to use them. It was terrible.”

But over time, Bill began to get feeling and movement back in his arms and legs. He eventually began taking steps. “Then the doctors told me I would probably have to walk with a cane the rest of my life, and I knew I didn't want to do that,” Bill said.

He eventually threw the cane away. Bill, although there is a noticeable limp, now gets around, works on cars and motorcycles, builds things at his home, and still is able to enjoy riding one of his motorcycles.

Today Bill has, well, he's not sure how many motorcycles he has in his large garage specially built to house and work on his motorcycles. They range from a miniature Indian, with sidecar, to his Helix, his BMW with a sidecar (which he took this past summer to Spokane, Washington, for the National BMW Rally), Honda, several Mopeds, his trail-riding three wheelers, his Honda Goldwing, his Honda Silverwing Scooter, and his Harley-Davidson, which is a Topper scooter just to mention a few.

Bill, Joyce, and their two grandchildren live on a large piece of land north of 87th Street on Gleason Road. There's plenty of land for youngsters to learn to ride motorcycles, and for older, but young-at-heart people to have fun riding one of his many bikes. And Bill enjoys watching people having fun.

“I had always wanted to do this,” he said the day of the latest Bill's Bash, which was Saturday, September 18. “But I had to get it past my wife first,” he added, his eyebrows raising up and down followed by a big smile. “She even looks forward to this, now.”

The first picnic, there were maybe eight motorcycles and ten people. There were a few more at Bash No. 2. At Bash No. 4, there were nearly 100 people and more than 60 motorcycles.

“If it hadn't rained so much this morning, there would have been at least that many here for this picnic,” Bill said. But he wasn't displeased with the turnout for Bash No. 5. As long as people enjoy themselves, and get plenty to eat, he figures it's been a good bash.

In the biker community throughout the Kansas City area, there is an annual event called Ralph Wayne's. Once a year, for the past several years, Wayne hosts a bike rally at his home in southern Kansas City, Missouri. There's food, drink, vintage bike show and music; they even sell Ralph Wayne T-shirts. Motorcycles are parked in his yard, and up and down the street throughout his neighborhood.

Does Bill want his Bash to match that of Wayne's? “No,” Bill says quickly. “That would be too much work. This is about the right size.”

Well, the right size for now. But who knows what will happen as the word of Bill's Bash gets out to the biker community. He might have to start selling I Survived Bill's Bash T-shirts!

Story and photos by Chuck Kurtz