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20th annual Ralph Wayne’s Vintage Backyard Nationals

By Michael Mihalevich

KANSAS CITY, MO., OCT 6–They were there at 7:00 a.m. lining up, waiting patiently in the cold, 40-degree weather under overcast skies for T-Shirt John to unload his truck with the boxes of commemorative Ralph Wayne apparel. They were hoping, against the odds and rumors, that this was not going to be the last of the annual Ralph Wayne’s Vintage Backyard Nationals. There were more than 1,400 motorcycle enthusiasts and more than 700 motorcycles surrounding Ralph’s urban residence at East 100th Street and Tullis Avenue in Kansas City, Missouri, by mid-morning Saturday. It was estimated by highly reliable sources that more than 4,000 people made their way through Ralph’s backyard during the day.

There's always a happy crowd around the beer trailer

There’s always a happy crowd around the beer trailer

Ralph’s Backyard Nationals is always the best biker party of the year. Put together by a core group of Ralph’s friends and acquaintances volunteering their time, talents and money, the Backyard Nationals attracts the most eclectic group of bikes, bikers and partiers you could possibly envision. Along with all of the interesting bikes and great people that you have the opportunity to mix with, there is free beer and free food available throughout the day. This event has remained non-commercial from the very beginning. The camaraderie is fantastic. The crowd control has been self-enforcing, and there have been no significant incidents throughout the entire 20 years. Donation containers were strategically placed around the yard and most people attending gladly made cash offerings to help cover the expenses.

It’s difficult to grasp that the annual Ralph Wayne’s Vintage Backyard Nationals have been happening for the past 20 years. Most people don’t even work at the same job or live in the same house for 20 years. Yet some of these former “Cycos” have been hanging together since the ’50s and ’60s. The first of the Backyard Nationals actually occurred in 1991 when a dozen former Cycos rode their bikes over to Ralph’s.

Former Cyco and Backyard Nationals co-founder Fred Holter and his wife Mary cooked a pot of chili and grilled some brats, and Ralph provided a couple cases of beer for the first get-together. Fred and Mary had made up “blue ribbon awards” for everyone who rode in for the bike show, so that everyone was a winner. Everybody had such a good time that they decided to do it again. The following year they posted flyers on bulletin boards of bike shops around Kansas City and a couple hundred riders showed up for the 2nd annual Ralph Wayne’s Vintage Backyard Nationals. And as they say, the rest was history.

David Dikeman takes in the Backyard Nationals with his riding pals Honey and Baby

David Dikeman takes in the Backyard Nationals with his riding pals Honey and Baby

Armfield Tent Rental has provided a tent for free for all of the backyard parties. This year the very large red and white tent provided covered premium parking for about 40 beautiful vintage bikes in Ralph’s backyard. A few examples of the striking machinery, 25 years old or older, found under the tent this year included Ralph Wayne regular Bill Clay with his meticulously restored ’71 BSA 650 Thunderbolt that belonged to his dad.

Jim and Joan Vandergriff of Linwood, Kansas, were under the tent in the backyard with their strikingly restored ’39 500cc Ariel Red Hunter, silver ’75 Norton Café Racer, and soon-to-be-sold 1939 BSA—all classic examples of British motorcycles.

Coast-to-Coast Motorcycle Cannonball Endurance Run rider Steve Simpson rode in on his incredibly unique 1928 Harley-Davidson JD. Dr. Kenny Cox D.D.S. rode to Ralph’s on his impressively restored 1937 Harley-Davidson sidehack rig powered by a 45″ WL Flathead motor. R.C. Ellis rode his fine original-condition 1925 Henderson with sidecar from Lee’s Summit, Missouri. R.C. has owned and ridden his Henderson for 20 years. Elizabeth Castillo, fellow motojournalist and MSF RiderCoach, got to display her brand-new ’47 EL Harley-Davidson that Jack “The Motor Man” Larson of Larson Machine in Belton built with a 74″ motor for her. Sam Dakin of Louisburg, Kansas, even brought his record-holding ’87 Sportster-powered Salt Flats racer to the backyard tent.

Commemorative gold ribbons, in place of the traditional blue ribbons, were awarded to these and other classic vintage machines until the supply of a few hundred ribbons was depleted. In addition to the veritable treasure trove of exotic motorcycles displayed, you were welcome in Ralph’s backyard no matter what you rode.

Kevin Neal officiated the wedding ceremony for Ralph's son Jason and his fiancée Abby, with Tim Dow (l) standing in as best man and T-Shirt John handling ring bearer duties

Kevin Neal officiated the wedding ceremony for Ralph’s son Jason and his fiancée Abby, with Tim Dow (l) standing in as best man and T-Shirt John handling ring bearer duties

Others in attendance included Rosie Verts from Sedalia, Missouri, there with his one-and-only ’63 Bultaco with a Cates hardtail frame and no brakes. Bob and Bill Doll brought a beautiful California lavender ’72 GT 750 Suzuki, a stunning red ’53 Moto Guzzi Astore and an exquisite blue and white ’74 GT 750 Suzuki. Uncle Dick Daugherty from Hannibal, Missouri, rode his ’92 Evo Softail Harley with Jeff Bradley from Brussels, Illinois, on his ’60 FLH Harley to Ralph’s backyard bike party. Nationally known dog trainer David Dikeman (Dikeman Dog Training) was also in attendance and brought the custom motorbike he built with a trailer to haul his miniature longhair daschunds Honey and Baby to visit Ralph’s backyard.

Lonie and Debra Shearer rode to Ralph’s again with Phyllis and Don Shearer and daughter Gaylin. Phyllis and Don were celebrating their 57th wedding anniversary at Ralph’s Backyard Nationals. This is the 12th year they’ve celebrated their wedding anniversary at Ralph’s, riding down from Grinnell, Iowa, on the ’99 Harley Trike that Don built. Bill Brown of Lenexa, Kansas, rode his highly modified ’02 Honda Silver Wing with sidecar pulling a trailer carrying a Honda Trail 110.

Celeb Wally LaFond, Kansas City’s Bonneville Salt Flats record holder, can always be found amid any Ralph Wayne gathering. And Jacquie Mann, widow of late biker lifestyle artist David Mann, once again joined in the mix at the backyard party, as well.

Ralph’s son Jason Blackmore and his fiancée Abby Bailow decided the Backyard Nationals provided an ideal opportunity for them to exchange vows and be married, since it was already a significant gathering of friends and family. Longtime friend Kevin Neal secured his credentials to perform the ceremony for Jason and Abby. Tim Dow stood in as best man, T-Shirt John and his son carried out the ring bearer duties, and “Heavy Duty” was the “flower person.” Abby’s father Arthur and stepmother Diane flew in from Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, to attend their daughter’s wedding and experience the Backyard Nationals party firsthand.

“My pops is one of, if not the most genuine, sincere and honest people you will ever, ever meet,” Jason Wayne Blackmore shared after the wedding ceremony. “His passion and knowledge of motorcycles is unrivaled, except for maybe Freddy Holter. He has an infectious laugh and is a master storyteller. And he would seriously give you the shirt off his own back if you asked him for it. What started out as any other given day at my dad’s house 20 years ago, a few friends standing around talking about motorcycles and drinking beer, hasn’t really changed much 20 years later. There’s just a few more friends hanging around, talking about motorcycles and drinking beer. Here’s to 20 years of the best fucking motorcycle party ever!”

The party continued throughout the day and into the night with Captain Joe, Paula, Buzz, Gary, Kathi, Bill, Greg, Connie, Ashley, Ron, Kerby, Debbie, Phil, Marty, Toons, Wally, Eddy, Jerry, Russ, Mayhem and countless others running around in green staff shirts helping cook and serve 2,200 hot dogs, 60 pounds of beans, 40 pounds of potato salad and 40 pounds of coleslaw to hungry bikers. Twenty-eight kegs of beer were available on a self-serve basis from the beer trailer. (Naturally there was always a happy crowd around the beer trailer.) After all the food was consumed, the beer kegs were drained, darkness settled in and people and bikes began to drift away. The stalwart volunteers were left to clean up after the party that was an end to an incredible era of 20 years of annual Ralph Wayne’s Vintage Backyard Nationals.

“I want to thank all of the sponsors, contributors, all those who helped and all of those who attended to make the last 20 years of annual Vintage Backyard Nationals a success,” Ralph Wayne Blackmore expressed very late Saturday night (actually, early Sunday morning). Unfortunately, this year was definitely the last year that the Backyard Nationals will be held at East 100th Street and Tullis Avenue. However, there are already rumors that the annual Backyard Nationals could possibly be resurrected at a different venue. Keep your fingers crossed and don’t give up hope.


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