Rides, Rallies and Events Recap

Ralph Wayne's Vintage Backyard Nationals

Written by  October 31, 2004

This was the first time I’ve been to this event and man was
I excited. Having heard so much about Ralph Wayne’s from numerous friends, I knew
I was in for something unique and very special. I was supposed to go to
Fayetteville and cover the Bikes, Blues and BBQ Bike rally but after my visit to
Ralph Wayne’s I was glad I stayed in town. This “Free” event takes place in
Ralph Wayne Blackmore’s backyard and has grown into an event that is recognized
nationwide. I met people from as far away as California and Florida that came
for this show. I can honestly say I have never seen more vintage bikes in one
place other than in a museum. And I’m not sure they even had as many diverse and in
mint-condition rides. There was Norton, BMW, Honda, Agusta, Ducati, Moto Guzzi,
Cushman, Aprilla, Schwinn, Russian Ural’s, BSA, Excelsior, Henderson, and of
course Harley-Davidsons. And probably a few more that I missed. A large tent was
setup in the backyard and reserved for the best of the best and has been
provided by Bonnie of Armfield Tents for the past 12 years running. You can
find even more classic bikes all over the yard as well as up and down the
streets.
The catalyst for this event started back in the winter of
1991 when Ralph and his long time buddy and riding partner, Freddy Holter were
wrenching on one of Ralph’s Triumphs. As the night progressed, mass quantities
of beer were consumed (what else do you do while working on your bike) and they
came up with this idea of getting their friends and their vintage bikes together
for a picnic. Since that fateful night, the Ralph Wayne’s Vintage Backyard
Nationals has grown into an awesome gathering that’s sort of like a who’s who
of the Kansas City and Midwest bike scene since the fifties. One thing that
makes this event so special is that it draws everyone from the motorcycle
community together in one place to talk, eat, and drink while appreciating all
the vintage bikes that are brought here, as well as some of the newer ones. No
matter who are, where you’re from, what you ride or whether you’re a one percenter, a
RUB, or just an old fart with a bike your welcome here.
Well, there is one thing that isn’t welcome here and that’s
vendors. This show is strictly non-commercial, even though there are banners from
many local shops and businesses who donate to the show, like Hawg Wyld and
Gail’s Harley-Davidson. Ralph wants to keep this a free event. And most, if not
everything is donated and what isn’t, comes out of Ralph’s pocket. There are
a couple of donation buckets setup in the yard and everyone gives freely.
What other bike show can you attend that has free admission, free food and free
beer.
Now, this isn’t your normal bike show where there are
classes and trophies. It’s open to all bikes and all classes and there are no
trophies. Every bike in the Backyard Nationals gets a first place blue ribbon.
As Freddy Holter explained to me, “Back in the sixties, I would pour my heart and
soul into my cars and bikes and enter them into various shows, but would never
win as all the other guys were well-funded or had corporate sponsorship. So I
swore if I ever had anything to do with a contest I would have 500 classes and
everyone would be a first place winner.' With that being said, it’s obvious why
this show is a success and Freddy is in charge of making the awards.
Although this event takes place only once a year, Ralph’s
backyard, garage and picnic tables are used pretty much everyday of the week by
Ralph’s friends who have been dropping in to have a beer and swap lies over the past 20 to 30
years. Even local patrolman and friend Dan Mann used to come by with his fellow
officers on their on their bikes at lunch to shoot the breeze at Ralph’s. (see
photo below) They are just some of the group of friends who help with this event
and still get together every Tuesday night for taco night at a Lee's Summit
eatery. Ralph’s garage is pretty well assembled for other nightly rendezvous
complete with a TV, VCR, and refrigerator stocked full of beer naturally, for
all who drop by. And after all these years these guys still aren’t sick of each
other. Now that’s what I call brotherhood.

My buddy Johnny “T” from Central Harley–Davidson
introduced me to Larry Mallin, Tom Crawford & Russ Morgan whom I had recently
met at Johnny Dares. Russ is a well known local AHDRA racer and is touted as one
of the fastest in the area and is just an all around nice guy. And all being
good friends of Ralph’s, they took me under there wing and showed me around. Tom
ushered me into the garage and showed me Ralph’s 56’ Sportster that he bought
brand new but since has past it on to his son Jason, and one of  his current
rides a Moto Guzzi V7 Sport, plus a couple of pristine Triumph Bonneville’s.
Ralph Wayne had polio as a child and can’t really ride anything that’s not right
foot shift. So anything he rides needs to be vintage 1960’s or
earlier. But that’s obviously never stopped him or slowed him down.

Tom also introduced me to Jim Parr who used to own Jim Parr
Suzuki on Southwest Blvd back in the 60’s & 70’s and who is probably the oldest
biker at the event; or at least the oldest biker who rode in. Jim rode up on what
he called his “Harley look-alike,' which happened to be a Yamaha V-Star. Jim,
who is 85, says he used to ride a Gold Wing but it, like those Harleys got
to be too heavy and he got tired of falling over. He said Ralph has promised to
present him with an oldest rider trophy, but Ralph keeps telling him he couldn’t
get around to it and to come back next year. Jim thinks Ralph keeps telling him
that every year so he’ll keep coming back. I agree. Jim also spoke about the
picture he posted of himself on the bulletin board at Hub Cycles in Independence
3 years ago. He challenged anyone that knew him from the old days that still
rode to give him a call. He finally got a call from a guy that was about 20
years his younger but rode with him 40 years ago. What a hoot! So they started
riding together again and Jim even brought him to last year backyard party. Jim
also mentioned John Larson who is in his seventies and is a double amputee that
rode over 100 miles last year to attend, although he hadn’t been spotted yet.
Jim & Tom went on about John riding with Ralph and the boys back in 50’s and
60’s as part of an AMA sanctioned club called the “CYCOS.' Several of the
“CYCOS” members were flat trackers and raced professionally in the AMA and
attended the party as well each year. Although I didn’t get to meet any of them
I can just imagine how fascinating their stories would have been.

Don Abney (call me Elvis) that flew up from Florida for the
event, as well as to escape the hurricanes, as he lives 10 miles east of Lake
Wales, which was hit pretty hard by the recent cavalcade of storms. He re-counted
some very scary stories of flying trailers and roofs being ripped-off. Although
he apparently avoided having one land on him. Elvis reminisced about going to
Daytona for the first time in the sixties and watching the races on the beach.
“Who could have known it would grow to the event it is today just like the
Backyard Nationals have” he said. Make’s me wonder if at the airport they
announced “Elvis has just left Florida.'

With lots of bikes coming and going Dan Brian, another
of Ralph’s friends, helped me onto the roof of Ralph’s house for some aerial
shots of the yard and neighborhood. As of 2:45 p.m. there were over 500 bikes
parked up and down the streets, and at least a thousand people had come and
gone. Unbelievable! No wonder Kenno Clayton and Tom Livojevich cooked up around
1,000 pounds of meat. Which breaks down like this: 250 pounds of brisket, 175 pounds of
country ribs, 375 hot dogs, and a 200 pound hog, not to mention 300 pounds of potatoes and ten cases of niblet corn on the cob. That’s enough food to feed a small army or
at least a lot of hungry bikers. This was their second year as master chefs for
the show and they have it down pat. Great food, cool people and I’m having way
too much fun.

As night fell, the temperature started to drop and I was
caught without a jacket. Not wanting to leave just yet, I went in search of
some warmth. I hit up T-Shirt John, who also gives tirelessly to this event by
printing the Ralph Wayne shirts, jackets and stickers, but he had already
sold-out of just about everything. But being another giver at this event, he dug
through a box and presented me with a Ralph Wayne’s commemorative jacket which
just made the day and the night all that more special, if not warmer.  Thanks
again John.

It used to be that Ralph could greet each biker by name. 
But that luxury ended several years ago. 'Sometimes,' Ralph said as he looked
around, 'I'm overwhelmed.' But he shouldn't be. The event went flawlessly. On behalf of Cycle Connections Online Motorcycle Magazine, I want to thank Ralph and his friends
for having us and I hope to attend every year as I can’t wait to see
who’ll show up and what they'll be riding.

Review by Wayne Thompson

Photos by Wayne Thompson, Mike Schweder, Stripe, and
Chuck Kurtz.

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