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16th Annual Ralph Wayne’s Backyard Nationals

By Michael Mihalevich

No degrees of separation

The biggest little biker party in Kansas City

Kansas City, Missouri, Oct. 4—There were hundreds of friendly bikers, hundreds of classic bikes, hundreds of free yummy hot dogs, hundreds of free cold beers, hundreds of handmade commemorative T-shirts, four reasonably clean porta-potties, and perfect early fall weather. It was the best damn one-day party you could put together.

The 16th Annual Ralph Wayne’s Vintage Motorcycles Backyard Nationals finally came back to Ralph’s backyard after a full year of waiting since last October’s party ended. The first Saturday in October is always one of the most anticipated dates on my calendar. I’m probably biased, but there are at least a few hundred other Kansas City bikers who agree with me. Out of all of the other motorcycle-related events in the Kansas City region throughout the year, Ralph’s backyard is the most fun.

They began to arrive early Saturday morning at the corner of East 100th Street and Tullis in the southeastern corner of Kansas City. Most arrived under their own power, but some were trucked or trailered in. Many are in original condition, others exquisitely restored to better than new. Some were 90 years old, but most were younger models. Some resided under the big top and others were sitting under the trees. No, I’m not talking about the bikers; I’m talking about the bikes. Oh well, I guess all that applies to the bikers as well.

At Ralph’s Backyard, you come to see the bikes, but you stay to visit with the people. The people are friendly, despite the diverse lifestyles, and there are no strangers in the backyard. It seems that instead of the usual six degrees of separation, at Ralph’s it’s more like one degree of separation. You also have the opportunity to mingle with the past half century of Kansas City’s motorcycling heritage.

Of course Ralph Wayne Blackmore and his ’70 Triumph Bonneville were there. Unfortunately Ralph’s co-conspirator (or co-founder, if you prefer), Fred Holter, was unable to attend, but his wife Mary, son Dean, and brother George (60K) were there on his behalf. Donnell Shiflett, founder of Donnell’s Motorcycles, was at the party, as well as people from Engle Motors, Shawnee Cycle Plaza, Knobtown Cycle, Blue Springs Harley-Davidson, Gail’s Harley-Davidson, Harper’s, Dells, Cyclops, and other dealerships around town.

“Ducati Mike” rode in from Versailles, Missouri, accompanied by his 21-year-old daughter Sarah, who rode her own 250cc Honda the 150-mile trip to Ralph’s backyard. Sarah’s Motorcycle Safety Foundation instructor and writer for Wide Open Motorcycle Magazine, Elizabeth Williams, was at Ralph’s, accompanied by a friend who rode her Harley from Springfield, Missouri. Stripe, a motojournalist for Cycle Connections and contributor to Easyrider, also arrived on his Harley for the party.

John Stouffer rode his ’48 HRD Vincent to the backyard, leading a group of friends on the 90-mile trip from Marshall, Missouri. Dale Keeseeker parked his ’48 Egli-Vincent under the tent after his journey from Washington, Kansas. Kenny Bright had a spot under the tent reserved for his BSA Gold Star after his trip from Ponca City, Oklahoma. A couple of hardy souls even rode a pair of Panheads—the tank-shift, foot-clutch variety—all the way from Chicago, just for the party at Ralph’s.

Jim and Joan Vandergriff brought out a few museum treasures in the form of beautifully restored 1917 and 1942 Triumphs, as well as Jim’s favorite, a 1939 AJS. John Stansbury gave people the opportunity to get up close and personal with a recently completed restoration of a 1911 Johnson Motor Wheel. Roscoe showed up in the backyard on his unique ’47 Knucklehead that he spliced the back of a ’48 Servi-car onto. Jack “The Motor Man” Larson was also back with his one-of-a-kind ’39 Harley. Kenny Cox returned on his original condition ’37 Harley and sidecar.

Elvis and Lee Ann Abney garnered the long-distance travel distinction again by coming in from Nalcrest, Florida, for Ralph’s party. Kansas City’s Wally LaFond had the distinction of the “most fun summer,” since he set a new Bonneville Salt Flats record on his ’06 Triumph Thruxtron that he also rode to Ralph’s. Jacquie Mann, widow of late biker lifestyle artist David Mann, once again joined in the mix at the backyard party.

If you missed the 16th Annual Ralph Wayne’s Vintage Motorcycles Backyard Nationals, you missed one hell of a great block party. You also missed seeing Bill Clay, Mudball, T-Shirt John, Matt the Barber, Greg the Cop, Bev, Ashley, Jerry, Corny, Roach, Rosie, Kerby, and many others. And you missed out on seeing an amazing collection of museum-quality motorcycles in the backyard without any barriers between you and the machines. You also missed out on free beer.

If you’d like to experience the epicenter of motorcycling’s grassroots rally, make plans to attend the 17th Annual Ralph Wayne’s Vintage Motorcycles Backyard Nationals on the first Saturday of October. You can also donate to the cause to help continue the tradition, and help defray the costs of all of the food, beer, and miscellaneous expenses that it takes to put on this noncommercial backyard biker block party.

Last but not least, if you ride your 25-year-old, or older, motorcycle to Ralph’s backyard, you will be awarded one of the coveted blue ribbons celebrating the Vintage Motorcycles Backyard Nationals. Ralph and Fred never imagined their little get-together with a few biker friends would evolve to such an event. Skip over the “six degrees of separation” and experience Ralph’s backyard for yourself. You’ll be glad you did.

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