It was late April of nineteen fifty-four and the evening was clear and mild, with the temperature hovering around the seventy degree mark, a perfect night for riding.
The Jersey Ramblers had gathered on that Saturday night, at the local drive-in for our normal repast of hamburgers and cokes and our normal activity of harassing the roller-skating car hops who usually responded to our flirting remarks with sarcastic or witty replies and grins, or some, simply with dirty looks. We got plenty of those from the other customers too but those were generally ignored.
That night there were some fifteen or sixteen of us gathered. The bikes were a hodge-podge of makes and models; Harleys, Indians, a few Triumphs and BSAs and even a BMW. I was one of four of us riding with a pillion passenger, a casual girlfriend and club member by the name of Annie, a pretty girl with a wonderful sense of humor and a ready smile. My bike, at the time, was a brand new 1955 Triumph Tiger 100, which was just about broken in.
After an hour or so we all got tired of sitting around talking and admiring each other’s bikes and decided to ride down to Passaic and visit an ice cream parlor that offered a concoction called an Awful-Awful. This was a dish consisting of eight scoops of ice cream in a choice of flavors with bananas, strawberries and blueberries topped with three different syrups, nuts, whipped cream (real) and chocolate sprinkles. Normally, this thing was ordered by a couple who would share it but if an individual ordered it he or she would get it free if he or she could finish it along with a large Coke. The cost was high, a whole dollar, but well worth it to either impress the girlfriend or the rest of the gang if you could eat it all.
After eating our fill of ice cream we decided to take the back way home and enjoy the ride through the countryside. The route chosen was about fifty miles of good, easy riding two lane roads. Our road captain at the time was Little John, the antithesis of his nickname since he was about six feet four inches tall. I was elected to be tail end Charlie since I had the newest and most reliable bike and could race ahead and inform the group of anyone who broke down or went astray.
The night was perfect. The road had many small hills and when one was at the top of one of these the air was warm and pleasant. As we descended into the valleys the air got suddenly cooler and much more damp, making us glad of our leather jackets. The red taillights strung out ahead of me were like so many rubies strung on the necklace of the road, flowing up and over the hills and around the bends. The softness and warmth of Annie on the back of the dual seat made the evening complete.
Suddenly, there was a flash of many headlights in my mirror and with a roar and a brief glimpse of red satin jackets and spinning lights in front wheels the Red Dragons Social Motorcycle Club came motoring rapidly by us with grins and waves to disappear into the distance. They must have been doing at least seventy. John had set our speed at an easy fifty, only five miles an hour over the limit and we maintained that speed as the Red Dragons roared by.
A few minutes later there appeared, at a distance in my mirror, several red flashing lights, the cops, who were obviously chasing the Dragons. We were going too slowly to attract any such attention and it took no stroke of genius to realize that the cop had been chasing the Dragons for some time and if he caught us we would get the blame for their speeding infraction, a case of mistaken identity. I gassed the Tiger and passed the rest of my mates wildly tapping the top of my head to indicate “Fuzz” and pointing over my shoulder.
One by one or two by two the club riders peeled off into side roads to turn off their lights and hide until the threat had passed. By the time the cop had caught us there was only me on my Triumph and Lenny on his nice quiet BMW riding sedately down the road at the legal speed limit. We were pulled over and were questioned as to whom that bunch of wild riders were but all we knew was that a lot of motorcycles had passed us a while ago and we didn’t know who they were or where they were from. We were let go with a stern warning to ride safely and not to speed or make too much noise.
These then, were some of the aspects of riding in the nineteen fifties, fun, humor, companionship, adventure and yes, some tragedy. All these were a rich soup that made for memories that have lasted a lifetime, not so very different than today.
Author Robert F. DeBurgh learned to fly at the age of fifteen and has over twenty thousand hours of flight time. He has been a flight instructor, cargo pilot, mail pilot, bush pilot, mercenary fighter pilot and has served as captain for three airlines.