Rides, Rallies and Events Recap

Dorothy - A Grand Lady of Sturgis

Written by  August 31, 2004

When I departed from the campground at the end of the 2003 Sturgis Rally, I had already decided I wanted to try something different in 2004. It wasn’t that there was anything wrong with the campground. It was just that I had stayed there for several years, and I felt it was time for a change. As late as two weeks prior to this year’s rally, I still didn’t have a plan. Then I got a call from my friend Michael who invited me to make the trip with him. His intention was to leave on Saturday morning and ride straight through to Sturgis. On several past trips I have enjoyed traveling with Michael, also known as Catfish, so this was a welcome opportunity. Even better, he had made arrangements to camp out in a back yard within a few blocks of downtown Sturgis. He had heard about Dorothy’s place from a friend who had previously stayed there. The location sounded great, so I was definitely on board.

Arrangements were made to meet Michael and Walt, both from the Kansas side of the state line, at Platte City, Missouri. The weather was cool, and the first part of the trip went well. However, due to one bike and one rider not being in the best of health, we decided to camp out Saturday night at a KOA about 200 miles short of our destination. We weathered a thunderstorm during the night, and Sunday morning both the bike and the rider were ready to complete the trip. We arrived at the house late Sunday morning and were informed that Dorothy had not yet returned home from church. After setting up the tents, we spent some time checking out the place and visiting with fellow tenants. The house was great! There was a portable toilet and a portable shower in the yard, but we learned that campers were also permitted to use the indoor facilities. The house has a large sitting room in back with couches, comfortable chairs, and a table. We were informed that towels are provided, and coffee is on every morning. There were people from at least 7 states, and everyone was friendly.

All of this was terrific, but the best was yet to come. Later on, we had the privilege of meeting the owner, a lovely 80-year old lady named Dorothy. She doesn’t look or act a day over 70. We enjoyed visiting with her now and then throughout our stay. She spent every morning during the rally at Grace Lutheran Church helping to prepare breakfast for the bikers. She has enjoyed opening her home to bikers for many years. One afternoon, I was visiting with my friend Smokey, and we decided to see if Dorothy would like a ride on the Anaconda, his 10-passenger Harley trike. She was very surprised when she emerged from her house to see a 20-foot-long Harley limo sitting in her driveway. She had not been on a motorcycle for many years, but she was ready to go when Smokey offered to take her for a ride through downtown Sturgis. Seeing Dorothy ride down the street in the back seat of the Anaconda, I felt I was looking at the queen of Sturgis. It’s hard to say which of the three of us was having the most fun. Smokey presented Dorothy with a special Sturgis version of the Anaconda t-shirt. The following day, she graciously agreed to take time from her busy schedule for an interview.

CC: You were a young lady at the time of the first Sturgis Rally. What do you remember about how it got started?
Dorothy: I don’t remember paying a whole lot of attention to it at the time. We just knew that every year the motorcycles would come into town. It would usually be just a little group, and the Chamber of Commerce would have a picnic or a barbeque or something for them in the park. Then they would have the races at the half-mile track down the street. That was the big thing. As my kids grew up that was the thing they liked to go to with my husband. The races were the highlight of the event.

CC: The races were sponsored by the Jackpine Gypsies?
Dorothy: Yes. There was a time when they had a few problems and I don’t think they raced up there but that’s all been resolved. My brother remembers being 12 years old and sneaking into the very first race. He was just a kid and thought the races were wonderful even then. My family always liked the short track races too. I’ve been to the races to sell tickets for charity fund-raisers a few times, but I’ve never owned a motorcycle and never learned how to ride one. I’ve never been adverse to them like some people. A few Sturgis residents are just opposed to this whole thing.

CC: There was a little more of the bad element in the earlier days of the rally, wasn’t there?
Dorothy: There was a lot more. In fact someone mentioned at the church breakfast this morning it’s just funny to watch these people come in. They are such a different type than those who used to come through these doors. I’ve never really had any trouble here, but one time I remember a friend of mine was selling tickets for the breakfast and some guy came in with a rather offensive t-shirt on. She said that she preferred that he not come in wearing that shirt, and he looked down and realized what he had on. Then he went outside and turned it inside out and came back in for breakfast. I guess if you make your morals known, people will respect them. As I said, I’ve never had any trouble. People have always been respectful and have been careful not to use bad language around me. Especially since my husband has been gone, almost five years, people have told me not to worry about what goes on in the back yard. They’ll make sure everyone does what they are supposed to do. They just kind of police it for me. And when everybody leaves here on the last day, I can’t find one scrap of trash in that back yard. They completely clean it up. I have a good group of people who stay here.

CC: Dorothy, do you recall when you realized that the rally was going to be a huge event? Was there a noticeable change at some point, or was it gradual growth?
Dorothy: It kind of gradually grew for a time but then it just took off. I can’t really recall how long ago. I helped sell raffle tickets on a motorcycle for the American Cancer Society for quite a few years down on the street. We did that for about 8 or nine years, and it was a good fund-raiser for us. At first we just stood out on the street and sold tickets. It kept getting bigger until we had to have a booth to even be able to do it. Over the last 10 years or so it’s gotten so that it’s hard to walk down the street.

CC: Have the downtown streets been reserved for motorcycles only during the rally for many years?
Dorothy: They were doing that already when we were selling tickets, but I don’t remember how much before that. It’s been done that way for quite a while. Even though the bikers are coming earlier now, they are still sticking to the rule of not closing the street off before Saturday morning at the beginning of the rally no matter how busy it gets. It’s much busier than it used to be.

CC: Does the rally cause you any inconvenience?
Dorothy: It doesn’t bother me. I can still go to the grocery store in the morning if I need to. I just walk over there from the church and get what I need. There are a few who don’t want anything to do with the bikers. Some are kind of paranoid about it and won’t go down town during the rally. A lot of them leave town during the rally. A few of our church members refuse to help with the breakfast because they hate to mingle with the bike people.

CC: Are they still worried about the “bad bikers?”
Dorothy: I don’t know what they are worried about. When I was down on the street selling tickets for so many years I got used to the bikers. I walk around among them, and I never have felt uncomfortable even with the gang members and such. They seem to be keeping a lower profile. I thought they had been told that they couldn’t wear their colors on the main street, but I found out that’s not true. I guess they have to be careful where they wear them because of each other. They seem to kind of police themselves. When they are in a group, they make sure their people maintain whatever standards they set for themselves.

CC: Is the rally a big boost for the Sturgis economy?
Dorothy: I suppose so, but there are lots of expenses associated with it. My husband was a county commissioner, so he knew all about how much was spent due to the rally.

CC: Your church provides a biker breakfast each morning during the rally. Have you been doing that for a long time?
Dorothy: We started out doing other things. We had a food stand on the back of a pickup quite a few years ago. Later we had a fried chicken supper at the church. These things didn’t really take off, but once we started doing this breakfast it really did. We’ve been doing it for quite a few years. Yesterday we served 750, and this morning there were 600. Some religious groups prefer not to mix with the bikers, but our thought is this. Why shouldn’t be mingle with them and provide a service for them. It’s certainly not going to hurt our image, and it might help it. CMA meets upstairs in our church every day during the rally. To me it’s a kind of outreach. If you take time to visit with the bikers and be nice to them as they come through, they are going to have a better image of what these staid Lutherans are about.

CC: Please talk about the housing you provide during bike week. How many rooms do you rent in addition to the camping in back?
Dorothy: Counting the living room and the office downstairs I have six rooms, so I usually have about 12 people in the house.

CC: How do you determine how much to charge?
Dorothy: A lot of locals rent, and most of them charge a bit more than I do. After starting out years ago, it was hard to raise the rent very much since I have many of the same people coming back year after year. I’ve raised it a little bit but not very much. I used to charge $10 per night for tents. Now it’s $12.50.

CC: How much is the rent for a room?
Dorothy: They are $50 per couple. That’s probably as cheap as any in town.

CC: I take it you don’t need to advertise.
Dorothy: It’s almost always repeaters or referrals, the same people or people who have heard about me from their friends or relatives who have stayed here. I could rent out twice as many rooms if I had them. I have a niece here in town who rents, so when I couldn’t take any more I gave them her name. She rents her own house and another one that belonged to her grandfather. A lot of my relatives rent. My husband’s sister and her husband rent their whole house out. They are staying in their yard in a camper and renting their house to about six couples. A lot of people do that. It’s good money, and they usually get the same people back. Many of the house renters are vendors or law enforcement people.

CC: What’s it like to rent to the motorcycle people?
Dorothy: I have absolutely no complaints. The house and garage are wide open for everyone to come and go as they please. I don’t know how you could do it any other way. I can’t be here every minute to see that people are doing what they are supposed to. I just have to put them on their honor. I get up and go to the church every morning before most of the renters are up. I start coffee on the back porch and they are on their own from there. Deb normally has washed and dried at least half of the towels before I get back from the church. My renters are kind to me. Maria brought me my guest book several years ago. I have people coming from Kansas City today who called ahead and asked if I could use some tomatoes and cucumbers. I said I could, and then she asked if I would like some squash as well. I guessed then that they were coming in a car. She confirmed that they were hauling their bike, saying that they were a little too old for a long ride like that. People have brought me peaches from Colorado. Some people bring me a gift every year. People show their appreciation.

CC: Do you recall your first motorcycle ride?
Dorothy: Yes. I was up in northern South Dakota working for my uncle in a little store up there. I was about 17. He had some kind of motorcycle. Out on the prairie some of the roads were just like two tracks through the grass. We were out on one of those roads, and he wanted me to drive it. Well, the tracks were like two ruts, and I managed to tip it over on my leg. It hurt, but it didn’t break the skin so I didn’t think too much about it. Pretty soon the pain got worse and they took me to the doctor. We found out I had blood poisoning, and I had to go home and hot-pack it. Finally it opened up and there was a hole in my leg. There is still kind of a dent there where the injury was. Since then I have not had much experience riding motorcycles.

CC: Do your tenants offer you rides?
Dorothy: Yes, I’ve had lots of offers. I’m not really afraid of them. I just never have taken the time, I guess.

CC: You did take time to ride with my friend Smokey on the Anaconda trike. What did you think of that experience?
Dorothy: I thought it was just a barrel of fun! I was a little disappointed that I didn’t see many people I knew, but I did see one lady during my ride, and I can’t wait to see her again. She’s in the Red Hat Society with me, and she’s always out doing things. She’s from the South, and I heard her shout, “Well hi, Miss Dorothy!” I thought maybe we’d run into some of my family, but the chances are pretty slim in that crowd.

CC: When this Cycle Connections article is published, is there someone in your family with a computer who can show it to you?
Dorothy: Oh, I have a computer in the living room. You can show me how to get to it if you like.

At that point we went to Dorothy’s PC, and she was able to easily access and browse through the magazine. She’s really a remarkable lady! I’m keeping Dorothy’s full name and address a secret. I want to be sure there is room for my tent in her back yard again next year!

Story and photos by Stripe