Las Vegas, Nev., Jan. 6–8—Sin City, as it is so fondly known, plays host to thousands of assorted events, shows, conventions and all-out wing-dings every year. On any given weekend the desert metropolis can be inundated by hundreds of thousands of party animals that converge on the 113 square miles of incorporated city that is also known as the “Gambling Capital of the World.” For this extended weekend, the huge 20th annual Vintage Motorcycle Auction & Races put on by MidAmerica Auctions was the main reason the Thunder Press crew rolled into town, but we quickly discovered that this wasn’t the only game going down in “Glitter Gulch.”
The South Point Casino and Spa, located at the southernmost end of Las Vegas Boulevard South, was home to the three-day event that would see 504 motorcycles, most of them vintage, pushed across the stage as bidders vied for the auctioneer’s gavel. An assortment of vendors lined the outer perimeter of the convention hall and down at the far edge of the building flat track racers zipped along the oval, banging bars and battling it out for the top spot. As vintage was the theme of the weekend, it was appropriate that one of the races was a seniors class, one of whom was 69 years old!
In between bouts of hot and heavy bidding action on stage, it was a ball watching the riders fly around the corners at the races, bikes sliding across the oil-streaked concrete, but the ventilation system of the building left a bit to be desired and the exhaust of the bikes had race fans nauseous and stinky, since the fumes permeated everything. For some of us, however, the stench just brought back fond childhood memories of growing up around the track. We were in our element.
Across town, where we were not so “in our element,” was the annual CES electronics convention, where all the newest gadgets were showcased, including smart TVs that require a mere wave of a hand (no hand-held remote anymore) to control, 3-D glasses, and sets that hang on the wall and are as thin as your hand. Lady Gaga is the new Polaroid dog ’n’ pony show these days and over 140,000 attendees fell from the sky to scope out the controversial entertainer as she posed and pimped the company’s product line.
Another event that was in full swing and heavily attended was the annual Adult Video News awards. No one had bothered to tell us that the entire porn industry had converged to celebrate the most extreme in their world and hold a pornographic version of an Oscar award show down on the strip. We had to finally ask a cabbie what was going on since by all outward appearances we were convinced the circus had come to town.
Slots, sluts and sleds
It didn’t take too much to figure out which event people were attending. Like members of the animal kingdom, people’s attire seemed to indicate their natural habitat. Those attending the porn convention were much more… um… “colorful” than those 3,124 of us who were simply in town to kick the tires on old machines, or even those who came to fiddle with the newest electronic gadgets. People-watching was at its all-time, in-your-face, living-color premium high and we spent a great deal of our time with mouths agape as we stared at the get-ups and garb that traipsed along. Hallelujah and pass the popcorn, there’s a dwarf in a fur coat and blinking platform shoes casually strolling along with a strikingly tall woman with bubble gum pink and blue hair in a micro-miniskirt topped by a glittery bikini bra and… well, hey, we were wide-eyed and mesmerized. Everybody knows that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, so you’ll just have to use the wild side of your imagination and fill in the blanks when I tell you that every configuration of oddity and specialty act imaginable was roaming the boulevard and these two were among the more mundane.
Of course, eye candy is all in the peepers of the beholder, so it was back to the auction where our crew was happily oohing and ahhing at the display of machinery. For those of us who appreciate the mechanically geriatric genre, this was utopia. There’s just something about vintage bikes that sends the mind wandering towards what these machines have been through, their experiences and owners; what kind of changes they have seen in their decades on this earth.
The simplicity of the engines of these motorcycles causes palpitations and sets the mind racing back to a simpler time, and the gearheads among us can’t contain our euphoria. Of particular interest for us was the fact that the auctioneer and staff each had extensive knowledge about their products in general and read a brief description and back-story about each item as they came to the stage. The proceedings seemed to double as a history lesson in motorcycles. In addition to the folks there to ogle the offerings in person, there were another 6,000-odd people who were watching or bidding from afar via the Internet.
In their 20th year of doings here in Vegas, the MidAmerica folks seem to have it down pat. With two live auctions a year, one in Las Vegas, the other in St. Paul, Minnesota, they represent everything from automobiles and memorabilia to road and race bikes. For this event, however, it was all about motorcycles.
There was a lot of interest in the two Motorcycle Cannonball bikes that were up on the block. Rick McMaken’s 1915 H-D J V-Twin, the class 3 winner, was sitting next to its brother competitor, Doug Feinsod’s 1915 Indian that came complete with several of the original route maps and the autographs of many of the riders on the recent Cannonball ride that took competitors across America on pre-1916 motorcycles. All told, there were a total of eight Cannonball riders spied among the bidders and sellers, including Dale Walksler, Fred Lange, Vince Martinico, Urban Hirsch, Bill Rodencal and Jeff Decker, as well as Doug and Rick.
At the beginning of the auction we had a chat with Doug, rider number 18 in the event, who was nervously fidgeting. He shared that he didn’t really want to sell his beloved Indian and secretly hoped it would return home with him. By the end of the auction it turned out that Rick’s H-D from the Motorcycle Cannonball returned home with its owner while Doug’s Indian would be finding a new home in Canada. A short time later Doug was spied fondling a new love with lust in his eyes. “This is a really nice bike,” he was overheard telling the seller as he ran his hands over the seat.
The prettiest girl at this party was not necessarily the one who was taken home by someone other than who brought her, however. A perfect example was the 1938 Brough Superior that was meticulously restored yet returned to the floor unsold, while the newer 1939, slightly more “broke in” lady was snatched up for the princely sum of $256,800 including fees, and represented the highest sale of the three-day event.
As a matter of fact, the ones that most consistently returned to the bullpen unsold were the newer bikes. Among the many on that list were a 2001 Yamaha bobber, a 2006 Santee and a 2004 H-D FXDI. A very sharply painted 1960 FLH Custom called Acid Trip (due to the paint job) brought a high bid of $26,000 yet didn’t meet reserve. The 2005 FLHT Harley-Davidson with the black and white paint job depicting Marilyn Monroe, dubbed “Norma Jean,” drew a high bid of $31,000 and it too was unsold. Steve McQueen’s personal monkey wrench, however, went for a tidy $1,000.
Seeing the light of day
As the auction wound down to the last few items, a nice little 1919 H-D J model was pushed out onto the stage as the dwindling crowd sat listening to the back-story. The owner had brought along original paperwork, rider’s gear, and information about the bike and the bidding took off. By the time the sound of “Sold” echoed across the venue, Dale Walksler, owner of the Wheels Through Time Museum out of Maggie Valley, North Carolina, had scored himself a great little time machine with an interesting story to boot.
Turns out the engine is an original factory race engine and Dale, now the third owner, has himself committed to uncovering the history of this exciting discovery. “This bike was the sleeper of the auction. I came Wednesday and looked at this bike and knew immediately what it was. The three-digit number tells you it’s a race motor right off the bat. I didn’t say anything to anyone. Bill Rodencal from the Harley-Davidson Museum looked at it too and he didn’t say anything either. Did you see the paint on that bike?” he asked. “It has a special factory-order racing motor and nobody noticed it. It has 1929 plates, and basically hasn’t seen the light of day from 1929 to 1995! It’s almost perfect! I’m going to research this thing and find out its story.” Stay tuned, folks. We’ll keep you posted on this killer find and the history that Dale will no doubt be unearthing as he digs through the archives.
After a weekend of sun, sin and sales down in Glitter Gulch, Thunder Press spoke with Ron Christensen, the director of operations for MidAmerica Auctions, Inc. He said, “I was pleased with the prices paid for the quality motorcycle. Buyers told me they were getting a quality machine at a fair price and sellers were pleased with the prices paid considering what they thought current economic conditions were to bring to the auction. Several motorcycles brought double what the sellers expected.”
He went on to say, “The mid-winter timing, since people are looking to get away, and the ease of getting to Las Vegas where there is fun, sun and cool motorcycles, as well as 20 years of hard work and customer service, is what sets this auction apart from others.” By event’s end, some $5,000,000 in sales had passed across the stage. For the MidAmerica schedule of events, go to www.midamericaauctions.com.