Not long after the first Harley-Davidsons rolled off the production line in 1903, motorcycle enthusiasts began to form riding clubs. Yet motorcycle clubs still in existence from those early days are few and far between. The Reading Motorcycle Club is part of this rarified group, and in its 100th year its members published the History of the Reading Motorcycle Club—1911–2011.
This handsome hardbound tome contains a thorough and compelling history of one of the oldest clubs in the world; a real labor of love for the club members who participated in its making. The effort was spearheaded by the Reading Motorcycle Club 100th Anniversary Book Committee, composed of RMC members Rich Keller, Dennis Christman, Jeff Homan, Doug Strange, Randy (Razz) Ravel, Steve Goggins, Paul (Pop) Frey, Paul (Rocket) Royer and Peter Keiser (deceased), although I’d be remiss by not mentioning that many current and former members helped, as well.
Committee members began their efforts five years before the book was printed, putting out the word that photos and information about the club were needed. Snapshots, newspaper clippings, memorabilia and oral histories started coming in, with the committee scanning, journaling and cataloging every one. Most of the items sent in had never been seen in public because they came from the private collections of old-time members or their families. The result is a rare glimpse into motorcycling culture from its very beginnings, making this book a significant addition to any motohistorian’s library, and a fascinating read, to boot.
The book is organized in a loosely chronological fashion, with chapters describing Reading MC’s early years; the club’s move from downtown Reading to its current location in Oley; the constant improvements to the clubhouse and surrounding property; community and charity involvement; competition; and finally, holidays, parties, anniversaries and memorials.
According to the book Harley-Davidson: The Legend, Reading MC is documented as being the 10th oldest motorcycle club, with several of the 10 now defunct. The club holds American Motorcyclist Association Charter #4, with History of the Reading Motorcycle Club tracing the origins of the club back to 1911 when it received its charter from the State of Pennsylvania. Through the hundreds of photos, newspaper clippings and other memorabilia gathered, interspersed with the written memories of club members and their families, the book beautifully chronicles the first century of the club’s existence. Of note are the beautifully preserved four-page panoramic photos of club members in 1911, 1912 and 1913, juxtaposed against group photos of nearly 400 club members taken in 2010.
The book also covers some of the challenges the club has faced through the years. One account reveals that when a Pennsylvania state representative introduced legislation in 1923 to require every motorcyclist to purchase a bond, early political activism by Reading MC actually helped save the sport in that state! Also included are descriptions of several periods in the club’s earlier history when membership numbers diminished, as well as the reinvigoration of the club in the ’60s and subsequent steady growth. Poring over the photos and perusing each chapter made it obvious that nowadays the club enjoys camaraderie; a true brotherhood that would be enviable to any group.
Once the Oley property was purchased in 1928, the club had a place to host larger events than were possible in downtown Reading. As the membership grew, the clubhouse and grounds expanded, including the addition of a scramble track for competitions (the track was eventually scrapped and a drag strip built instead, reflecting the changing tastes of the racing public). The club put on other competitive endeavors as well, such as polo, dirt track, observed trials and a host of field games. Reading MC is thought to be the first organization to sponsor officially sanctioned hill climbs, which began in the late teens and continued through the ’30s. Many old-time racing photos are included in the History, as well as profiles of early club members who participated in these competitions. Today, Reading MC boasts a full schedule of drag racing throughout the riding season, with racers and spectators coming from miles around. The drag strip is now fully macadam with a concrete start pad, paved return strip and computerized timing equipment, and the track offers food vendors, overnight camping and spectator seating.
History of the Reading Motorcycle Club clearly illustrates the popularity of Reading MC’s parties and other social activities. The club also gives back to the community and veterans via fundraising events. Reading MC doesn’t forget about its former members, either, and has held an Old Timers Day every year since 1988, honoring those who had at least 25 years of good service to the club.
Reading MC’s first recorded anniversary party was held in 1961 to celebrate 50 years. Sometime after the event, the club decided to mark its anniversary from the year of its incorporation in 1914, and the 65th anniversary party held in 1979 was the first open to the public. These annual parties have expanded to huge three-day weekend extravaganzas, complete with camping, food and liquid refreshments, drag racing, field games and other entertainment. In fact, the club’s 98th anniversary party will be held the weekend of July 26–28, 2012, and you’re all invited!