State Harley Owners Group members converge for rally

Saturday, September 8, 2001

They were teal and purple and red and black, black, black -- hundreds of Harley-Davidson motorcycles resting handlebar to handlebar, all bearing the damp sheen of persistent rainfall.

Their owners gathered under the Osage Community Centre entranceway for a while, studying the skies and contemplating how to fill a Friday afternoon at the Missouri State HOG Rally when half the events were canceled due to weather.

But, as their bike logos proclaim, they live to ride.

So Barb and Arnie Fenske, in their national HOG rally commemorative T-shirts from 2001 and 1999 respectively, strode into the rain toward their Heritage model.

"The thing is, you ride awhile, you get wet, you ride a little longer, you dry off," said Arnie Fenske, 58.

The Lake of the Ozarks, Mo., couple were part of the rally that kicked off Friday and is expected to attract at least 3,000 Harley riders to Cape Girardeau. The Osage Centre is event headquarters, a place for Harley Owners Group members to mingle and 15 vendors to show off their wares.

It's the first time the rally has come to Cape Girardeau, and Terri Clark-Bauer, Convention and Visitors Bureau director, predicts the participants will have spent $1.2 million by the time they leave Sunday afternoon.

She started working to attract them two years ago after checking the group out at a rally in Lake of the Ozarks. Far from being the hell-raisers Harley owners sometimes are imagined to be, they were friendly and well mannered.

PR campaign

Clark-Bauer sent out packets to Harley clubs statewide. The envelopes were stuffed with letters from the chief of police and mayor inviting them here, souvenir Frisbees and artsy pictures of a Harley rider overlooking the Mississippi River.

Cape Girardeau got the rally, beating out favored Hannibal, Mo., which hosted it last year and at least four other times.

Local business owners embraced the idea, posting "Welcome HOG riders" signs and logos in their windows. The Coca-Cola Bottling Co. in Jackson, Mo., produced souvenir bottles of soda bearing the event logo and is the corporate sponsor of the rally's commemorative video.

And Fruitland, Mo., resident Wanda McGuire was thrilled to find HOG riders breakfasting in Frontier Food & Kitchen on Friday. She mentioned to them that her 63rd birthday was next week, and she'd never ridden a Harley.

They fixed that. McGuire rode on the back seat up and down U.S. 61 for 15 minutes.

"They were some of the sweetest kids I ever saw," she said. "The wife ended up taking pictures of us. I should have had them out to the house."

The hospitality appears to be working to make Harley riders feel at home. Danny and Sarah Lansford of Union, Mo., said they had reservations about coming to Cape Girardeau instead of Hannibal. By mid-afternoon Friday, they were proclaiming Cape Girardeau, and particularly the Osage Centre, a fine location.

"We were hesitant because it is a college town, and sometimes the kids don't watch when they're driving," said Danny Lansford, 44. "We haven't had any problems."

The two ride a metallic dark-green 2000 Ultra, which they call the "Cadillac of Harleys." It has thickly padded seats with built-in speakers and a trailer with a built-in cooler. It has everything a car has, they say.

"Except a roof," said Sarah Lansford, 41, toweling off the seats. They pulled on their black helmets -- his reads "Helmet Laws Suck" -- and rode off into the downpour.

Event for couples

The rally is very much an event for couples. They wear matching leather vests covered in pins from prior events and stroll arm in arm past the turquoise jewelry and Harley-Davidson headband displays.

That's because couples have the money and time to ride together after their children are grown, observed Rick Maple, 52, a maintenance technician from Pacific, Mo. He and longtime girlfriend Janice Lerch, 47, have been riding together for the last five years. They began right after she took motorcycle lessons and got her own bike -- there's no riding on the back for her. She has a Sportster, he has a Softtail Deuce.

"It's something both of us can do together," Maple said. "Twenty years ago, when we had kids, you couldn't get together and do this even if you could afford it."

The skies cleared for private parties at Minor's Harley-Davidson and at Arena Park. Activities continue today, including a 7 p.m. parade down William Street, Kingshighway and Broadway.

hhall@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 121

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