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15th annual Ralph Wayne’s Backyard Nationals

By Michael Mihalevich

Vintage iron and free beer

A day to savor classic bikes and friends

Kansas City, Mo., Oct. 6—Once again, Kansas City’s best-kept motorcycle-rally secret came alive for one fine fall day, like Brigadoon. Fortunately, we only had to wait one year for this magical rally to return to Ralph’s backyard at the corner of East 100th Street and Tullis in the southeast corner of Kansas City.

Ralph Wayne’s Annual Vintage Motorcycles Backyard Nationals is a gathering of true motorcycle enthusiasts. Far fewer wannabe bikers are found in Ralph’s backyard than at your typical commercial motorcycle rally because you actually have to be a biker to find out about this event. You have to visit a bike shop and see the flyer on their parts counter, or you have to actually know a biker who will tell you to mark down the first Saturday in October on your calendar for Ralph’s Annual Backyard Nationals. Once you attend, you will be hooked, as is the case with the few thousand bikers who stop by during the day.

This year I rode in from Arkansas, just to get to Ralph’s. Riders from 21 to 81; tattooed and not; patch holders and loners; male and female, all join in for a fun neighborhood gathering featuring a fabulous collection of vintage scoots under the big-top tent, provided free of charge by Armfield Tent Rental, and along the streets surrounding Ralph’s house. Bikers and bikes of all makes, models, or vintages are all welcome in Ralph’s backyard.

As with any traditional motorcycle rally, cold beer is available, but the beer is free in Ralph’s backyard. Yes, free beer. Ralph and his friends accept donations from local bike shops, and anyone filling their cup is encouraged to donate to the beer fund, since eventually someone has to pay for those 30 kegs of beer that fuel the one-day party. Once again, despite the fact that there were hundreds of bikers partaking of free beer, no one attempted any stupid biker tricks, and no one dropped their bike—at least not in public. Ralph’s neighbors truly appreciate the fact that no one got out of line enough to make a nuisance of themselves.

Free food was available, also. This year’s fare consisted of about 3,000 hot dogs, polish sausages, and hickory smoked dogs, 70 pounds of chili, 80 pounds of baked beans, and 90 pounds of potato salad, plus relish, catsup, mustard, and hot dog buns. This is probably a good time to thank the food staff volunteers: Bev Mitchell, Larry Magness, Gary and Kathi Monnig, Mike Judy, and Marvin Harness. Also, Shannon and the Grand Saloon helped get a discounted deal on the beer and food for this annual event. Thanks guys and gals.

The bikes at Ralph’s backyard party range from world-class vintage collectibles to “does that hunk of junk actually run” two-wheeled rides, along with the occasional sidecar thrown into the mix. A few examples include an original condition 1912 Indian ridden into the backyard by Dave Wiglesworth of Lenexa, Kansas. His dad bought the bike in ’62. John Stansbury of Overland Park, Kansas, brought in a 1918 Ivor Johnson bicycle with a Smith motor wheel, sporting an Indian logo, that was attached to the rear. Apparently there are only about 40 of these in existence. I didn’t actually see him ride it, but I saw it run.

A few more of the classic machines included an original condition ’37 Harley with sidecar, ridden to the event by Kenny Cox of Kansas City, Missouri, who’s owned the bike for the past 30 years. Bob Peters of Prairie Village, Kansas, rode over on a beautifully restored ’62 125cc Ducati Bronco. Steve Hatfield showed up on a classic ’65 Honda Super 90, but I don’t think he rode it all the way from Ft. Walton Beach, Florida. Jon Meulengracht’s ’74 Moto Guzzi Eldorado was one of the “newer” classics available to admire in Ralph’s backyard.

If you rode in on a bike that was more than 25 years old, you were eligible to be awarded one of the coveted Fred Holter Blue Ribbon awards, as long as you got there before Fred ran out of Blue Ribbons. Fred and Ralph are technically the founders of Ralph Wayne’s Annual Vintage Motorcycles Backyard Nationals. They rode together as members of the Cycos, a local motorcycle club, in the ’50s and ’60s.

One winter, about 15 years ago, while doing a little wrenching and sharing a few beers, Fred and Ralph decided it would be fun to get together with some of their riding buddies for a backyard party, swapping motorcycle stories while chowing down on some chili and imbibing some cold beer. Fred decided that they should have a bike show, and that everyone who rode in would be a winner. Fred and his family continued to pduce hundreds of handmade Blue Ribbon awards for the Backyard Nationals over the past years. Unfortunately, Fred’s wife Mary was not up to the task this year, so Fred had to purchase commercially made Blue Ribbon awards to be handed out to continue the tradition.

Another tradition that continued this year was the collectible special event garments provided by T-shirt John. John applies a variety of Ralph Wayne designs to a variety of T-shirts, collared shirts, sweatshirts, and jackets for consumption by the masses. He went through more than 800 wearables during this year’s party. I happen to be wearing a very nice long-sleeved gray T-shirt with a 15th Annual Ralph Wayne’s Vintage Backyard Nationals logo on the front. Thank you, John.

In recent years, Ralph has honored one individual in attendance with a plaque. One year it was for the rider of the oldest bike ridden in. Another year it was for the oldest rider who rode in. This year it was for the oldest Cyco- Motorcycle Club member. The plaque went to John Larson, at a mere 78. John rode in with his son Jack, in the sidecar attached to Jack’s Panhead Harley.

One unusual occurance this year was the appearance of a streaker. He was wearing only tennies and a ballcap. I didn’t quite catch the brand of tennies or the logo on the ballcap, but the ladies did observe that he was quite buff. I observed that he was in good enough shape to run about three blocks without collapsing from exhaustion. I hope next year’s streaker will be a comparably buff female.

To make sure that you do not miss out on a great day with great people, and a chance to ogle marvelous motorcycles without any velvet ropes or Plexiglas barriers, while slugging down your fair share of free beer and free food, put this note on your calendar of events: Saturday, October 4, 2008, the 16th Annual Ralph Wayne’s Vintage Backyard Nationals. It will be here before you know it.

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